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Little Book of Purity (Excerpts from Various Sources on the Virtue of Chastity)

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Little Book of Purity
Excerpts from Various Sources on the Virtue of Chastity

Confessions, St. Augustine, Chapter 30

Obviously thou commandest that I should be continent from "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." Thou commandest me to abstain from fornication, and as for marriage itself, thou hast counseled something better than what thou dost allow. And since thou gavest it, it was done -- even before I became a minister of thy sacrament. But there still exist in my memory -- of which I have spoken so much -- the images of such things as my habits had fixed there. These things rush into my thoughts with no power when I am awake; but in sleep they rush in not only so as to give pleasure, but even to obtain consent and what very closely resembles the deed itself. Indeed, the illusion of the image prevails to such an extent, in both my soul and my flesh, that the illusion persuades me when sleeping to what the reality cannot do when I am awake. Am I not myself at such a time, O Lord my God? And is there so much of a difference between myself awake and myself in the moment when I pass from waking to sleeping, or return from sleeping to waking?

Where, then, is the power of reason which resists such suggestions when I am awake -- for even if the things themselves be forced upon it I remain unmoved? Does reason cease when the eyes close? Is it put to sleep with the bodily senses? But in that case how does it come to pass that even in slumber we often resist, and with our conscious purposes in mind, continue most chastely in them, and yield no assent to such allurements? Yet there is at least this much difference: that when it happens otherwise in dreams, when we wake up, we return to peace of conscience. And it is by this difference between sleeping and waking that we discover that it was not we who did it, while we still feel sorry that in some way it was done in us.

Is not thy hand, O Almighty God, able to heal all the diseases of my soul and, by thy more and more abundant grace, to quench even the lascivious motions of my sleep? Thou wilt increase thy gifts in me more and more, O Lord, that my soul may follow me to thee, wrenched free from the sticky glue of lust so that it is no longer in rebellion against itself, even in dreams; that it neither commits nor consents to these debasing corruptions which come through sensual images and which result in the pollution of the flesh. For it is no great thing for the Almighty, who is "able to do . . . more than we can ask or think,"  to bring it about that no such influence -- not even one so slight that a nod might restrain it -- should afford gratification to the feelings of a chaste person even when sleeping. This could come to pass not only in this life but even at my present age. But what I am still in this way of wickedness I have confessed unto my good Lord, rejoicing with trembling in what thou hast given me and grieving in myself for that in which I am still imperfect. I am trusting that thou wilt perfect thy mercies in me, to the fullness of that peace which both my inner and outward being shall have with thee when death is swallowed up in victory.

Introduction to the Devout Life, On Purity, Chapter 12

PURITY is the lily among virtues—by it men approach to the Angels. There is no beauty without purity, and human purity is chastity. We speak of the chaste as honest, and of the loss of purity as dishonour; purity is an intact thing, its converse is corruption. In a word, its special glory is in the spotless whiteness of soul and body.

No unlawful pleasures are compatible with chastity; the pure heart is like the mother of pearl which admits no drop of water save that which comes from Heaven,—it is closed to every attraction save such as are sanctified by holy matrimony. Close your heart to every questionable tenderness or delight, guard against all that is unprofitable though it may be lawful, and strive to avoid unduly fixing your heart even on that which in itself is right and good.

Every one has great need of this virtue: those living in widowhood need a brave chastity not only to forego present and future delights, but to resist the memories of the past, with which a happy married life naturally fills the imagination, softening and weakening the will. Saint Augustine lauds the purity of his beloved Alipius, who had altogether forgotten and despised the carnal pleasures in which his youth was passed. While fruits are whole, you may store them up securely, some in straw, some in sand or amid their own foliage, but once bruised there is no means of preserving them save with sugar or honey. Even so the purity which has never been tampered with may well be preserved to the end, but when once that has ceased to exist nothing can ensure its existence but the genuine devotion, which, as I have often said, is the very honey and sugar of the mind.

The unmarried need a very simple sensitive purity, which will drive away all over-curious thoughts, and teach them to despise all merely sensual satisfactions. The young are apt to imagine that of which they are ignorant to be wondrous sweet, and as the foolish moth hovers around a light, and, persisting in coming too near, perishes in its inquisitive folly, so they perish through their unwise approach to forbidden pleasures. And married people need a watchful purity whereby to keep God ever before them, and to seek all earthly happiness and delight through Him Alone, ever remembering that He has sanctified the state of holy matrimony by making it the type of His own union with the Church.

The Apostle says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:”  by which holiness he means purity. Of a truth, my daughter, without purity no one can ever see God; 88 nor can any hope to dwell in His tabernacle except he lead an uncorrupt life; and our Blessed Lord Himself has promised the special blessing of beholding Him to those that are pure in heart.

The Imitation of Christ, Resisting Temptation, Chapter 13

SO LONG as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation. Whence it is written in Job: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer lest the devil, who never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour, find occasion to deceive him. No one is so perfect or so holy but he is sometimes tempted; man cannot be altogether free from temptation.

Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed. The saints all passed through many temptations and trials to profit by them, while those who could not resist became reprobate and fell away. There is no state so holy, no place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us—in sin we were born. When one temptation or trial passes, another comes; we shall always have something to suffer because we have lost the state of original blessedness.

Many people try to escape temptations, only to fall more deeply. We cannot conquer simply by fleeing, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies. The man who only shuns temptations outwardly and does not uproot them will make little progress; indeed they will quickly return, more violent than before.

Little by little, in patience and long-suffering you will overcome them, by the help of God rather than by severity and your own rash ways. Often take counsel when tempted; and do not be harsh with others who are tempted, but console them as you yourself would wish to be consoled.

The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways. Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are.

Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks.

Someone has said very aptly: “Resist the beginnings; remedies come too late, when by long delay the evil has gained strength.” First, a mere thought comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight, and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him.

Some suffer great temptations in the beginning of their conversion, others toward the end, while some are troubled almost constantly throughout their life. Others, again, are tempted but lightly according to the wisdom and justice of Divine Providence Who weighs the status and merit of each and prepares all for the salvation of His elect.

We should not despair, therefore, when we are tempted, but pray to God the more fervently that He may see fit to help us, for according to the word of Paul, He will make issue with temptation that we may be able to bear it. Let us humble our souls under the hand of God in every trial and temptation for He will save and exalt the humble in spirit.

In temptations and trials the progress of a man is measured; in them opportunity for merit and virtue is made more manifest.

When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.

Some, guarded against great temptations, are frequently overcome by small ones in order that, humbled by their weakness in small trials, they may not presume on their own strength in great ones.

Introduction to the Devout Life, How to Maintain Purity, Chapter 13

BE exceedingly quick in turning aside from the slightest thing leading to impurity, for it is an evil which approaches stealthily, and in which the very smallest beginnings are apt to grow rapidly. It is always easier to fly from such evils than to cure them.

Human bodies are like glasses, which cannot come into collision without risk of breaking; or to fruits, which, however fresh and ripe, are damaged by pressure. Never permit any one to take any manner of foolish liberty with you, since, although there may be no evil intention, the perfectness of purity is injured thereby.

Purity has its source in the heart, but it is in the body that its material results take shape, and therefore it may be forfeited both by the exterior senses and by the thoughts and desires of the heart. All lack of modesty in seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, or touching, is impurity, especially when the heart takes pleasure therein. S. Paul says without any hesitation that impurity and uncleanness, or foolish and unseemly talking, are not to be “so much as named”  among Christians. The bee not only shuns all carrion, but abhors and flies far from the faintest smell proceeding therefrom. The Bride of the Canticles is represented with “hands dropping with myrrh.”  a preservative against all corruption; her “lips are like a thread of scarlet,” the type of modest words;  her eyes are “dove’s eyes,” clear and soft; her “nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus”  an incorruptible wood; her ears are hung with earrings of pure gold; and even so the devout soul should be pure, honest and transparent in hand, lip, eye, ear, and the whole body.

Remember that there are things which blemish perfect purity, without being in themselves downright acts of impurity. Anything which tends to lessen its intense sensitiveness, or to cast the slightest shadow over it, is of this nature; and all evil thoughts or foolish acts of levity or heedlessness are as steps towards the most direct breaches of the law of chastity. Avoid the society of persons who are wanting in purity, especially if they are bold, as indeed impure people always are. If a foul animal licks the sweet almond tree its fruit becomes bitter; and so a corrupt pestilential man can scarcely hold communication with others, whether men or women, without damaging their perfect purity—their very glance is venomous, and their breath blighting like the basilisk. On the other hand, seek out good and pure men, read and ponder holy things; for the Word of God is pure, and it will make those pure who study it: wherefore David likens it to gold and precious stones. Always abide close to Jesus Christ Crucified, both spiritually in meditation and actually in Holy Communion; for as all those who sleep upon the plant called Agnus castus become pure and chaste, so, if you rest your heart upon Our Dear Lord, the Very Lamb, Pure and Immaculate, you will find that soon both heart and soul will be purified of all spot or stain.

On the Vice of Impurity, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Second Point

All that I have said on this subject, has been said, not that anyone present, who has been addicted to the vice of impurity, may be driven to despair, but that such persons may be cured. Let us then come to the remedies. There are two great remedies; prayer and the flight of dangerous occasions. Prayer, says Saint Gregory of Nyssa, is the safeguard of Chastity. "Oratio pudicitiae praesidium et tutamen est". And before him, Solomon, speaking of himself, said the same. "And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it, . . . I went to the Lord, and besought Him" - Wisdom 8:21. Thus it is impossible for us to conquer this vice without God's assistance. Hence, as soon as a temptation against chastity presents itself, the remedy is to turn instantly to God for help, and to repeat several times the most holy names of Jesus and Mary, which have a special virtue to banish bad thoughts of that kind. I have said immediately, without listening to, or beginning to argue with the temptation. When a bad thought occurs in the mind, it is necessary to shake it off instantly, as you would a spark that flies from the fire, and instantly to invoke aid from Jesus and Mary.

As to the flight of dangerous occasions, Saint Philip Neri used to say, that cowards - that is, they who fly from the occasions - gain the victory. Hence, you must, in the first place, keep a restraint on the eyes, and must abstain from looking at young females. Otherwise, says Saint Thomas, you can scarcely avoid this sin. Hence Job said: "I made a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin" - Job 31:1. He was afraid to look at a virgin; because from looks it is easy to pass to desires, and from desires to acts. Saint Francis de Sales used to say, that to look at a woman does not do so much evil, as to look at her a second time. If the Devil has not gained a victory the first, he will gain it the second time. And if it be necessary to abstain from looking at females, it is much more necessary to avoid conversation with them. "Tarry not among women" - Ecclesiasticus 42:12. We should be persuaded that, in avoiding occasions of this sin, no caution can be too great. Hence we must be always fearful, and fly from them. "A wise man feareth, and declineth from evil: the fool leapeth over, and is confident" - Proverbs 14:16. A wise man is timid, and flies away; a fool is confident, and falls.

The Spiritual Combat, How We Are to Fight Against Impurity, Chapter 19

IN ENCOUNTERING THIS VICE we must use special tactics and greater resolution. In order to do this we must distinguish three phases of the operation------the first, which precedes the temptation------the second, during the temptation------the third, which follows the temptation.

1. Before the time of temptation we must avoid all persons and occasions that would expose us to sin. If it is necessary that we speak to such people, do it as speedily as possible; speak only on serious subjects with corresponding modesty and gravity. We must not permit the conversation to become familiar or frivolous.

Do not presume on your own strength despite the fact that after many years spent in the world you have remained firm against the force of concupiscence. For lust often achieves in one instant what whole years could not effect. Sometimes it will make long preparations for the assault. Then the wound is more dangerous when it comes least expected and under a disguise.

It must likewise be noted, and every day experience proves this, that the danger is always greatest on those occasion where there is the least appearance of evil. Here it is founded on the plausible pretenses of friendship, gratitude, obligation, or on the merit and virtue of the persons involved. Impure inclinations imperceptibly insinuate themselves into such friendships through frequent visits, prolonged conversations, and indiscreet familiarities until the poison reaches the heart. The reason, then, is so blinded that it even connives at amorous glances, tender expressions, and facetious liberties in conversation which bring violent and almost irresistible temptations.

a. Be cautious------run away------you are more susceptible to occasions of this sin than straw is to fire. Do not rely on your own strength or on some resolution you have taken to die rather than offend God. Despite your good intentions, frequent exciting conversations will enkindle a flame that cannot be extinguished. The impetuous desire of satisfying your passions will make you deaf to the warning of your friends. You will lose the fear of God, your reputation and even your life will be disregarded. Not even the fear of the flames of Hell will be able to master the fury of the sensual fires enkindled in your heart. Look for safety, then, in flight. There is no other way to escape. Too much confidence will end in eternal destruction.

b. Avoid idleness. Determine what you have to do, and then fulfill exactly the duties of your position in life.

c. Obey your superiors promptly; do what they command. In the things that are most mortifying and opposed to your inclinations, be even more cheerful.

d. Never judge others rashly, particularly in regard to impurity. If any are unfortunate enough to fall into such disorder, and even if the affair becomes public, you must not treat them with scorn and contempt. Rather pity their weakness, and take advantage of the occasion to humble yourself before God, acknowledging that you are but dust and ashes. Redouble your prayers and avoid with greater care all dangerous company, however insignificant may be your reasons for suspecting it. For if you permit yourself the liberty of severe judgments on your neighbors, God will permit you, for your punishment and amendment, to fall into the same faults for which you condemned others, in order that by such humiliation you may discover your own pride and rashness, and then you can find proper remedies for both.

Although it is possible that you would avoid these degrading sins, yet be assured that, if you continue to form these rash judgments, you are: in great danger of ruin.

e. If you discover that your heart is rich in spiritual comforts and joys, you must be on guard against a secret complacency with yourself, against imagining that you have attained perfection and that the enemy can no longer do you any harm because you apparently have nothing but scorn and contempt for him. The greatest caution is necessary here to prevent a relapse.

2. We come to an examination of the actual time of temptation. In the first place, we must determine whether the cause of the temptation is exterior or interior.

By an exterior cause is meant curiosity of the eyes or ears to the point where decency suffers, vanity in one's dress, too tender friendships, and indiscreet familiarities. Modesty and decency are the proper remedies for this evil; they shut the eyes and ears to those things that cloud the imagination. The real remedy, as we have said, is to run away from all such occasions of sin.

Interior causes proceed from a pampered body, from many bad thoughts that come from evil habits or the suggestions of the devil. When the body has been pampered too much, it must be mortified by fasting, discipline, and other austerities which, however, must always be regulated by discretion and obedience.

From whatever source unchaste thoughts may arise, we can drive them away by serious application to our proper duties, and by prayer and meditation.

Your prayer should be conducted in the following manner. When you see these thoughts present themselves and attempt to make an impression, recollect yourself and speak to Christ crucified saying: "Sweet Jesus, come to my rescue, that I may not fall a victim to my enemies." On certain occasions you may embrace a Crucifix representing your dying Savior, kiss the marks of the Sacred Wounds on His feet and say with great confidence and affection: "O adorable, thrice holy Wounds! Imprint your figure on my heart which is filled with evil, and preserve me from consenting to sin."

In your meditations I am not of the opinion [as several authors are] that, when the temptation is most violent, you should consider the degrading and insatiable nature of these sins in order to establish a hatred for impurity, that you should consider how they are followed by disgust, remorse and anxiety, even by the loss of one's fortune, health, life, honor, etc. These considerations are not appropriate to the situation and, instead of freeing us from the danger, they frequently only increase it. If the understanding drives away evil thoughts, these reflections naturally call them back.

The best way to become free of these is to remove not only the thoughts themselves, but also the reflections directly contrary to them. In attempting to dissipate them by their contraries, we merely renew the impure ideas and unconsciously imprint them still deeper. Be satisfied with meditation on the life and death of our Savior. If, while you are doing this, the same thoughts should return, even more disturbing than before, as may possibly happen, do not be discouraged or abandon your meditation, do not exert yourself in driving them away. Ignore and despise these miserable deceits of the devil and persist, with all possible attention, in your meditation on the death of our Savior. Nothing can be more effective in putting your enemy to flight, despite his determination to resist.

Conclude your meditation with some prayer such as the following: "O My Creator and Redeemer, save me from my enemies through Thy infinite goodness and the merits of Thy bitter passion." But remember, when you say this do not think about the particular vice from which you are endeavoring to free yourself. The least reflection on it may be dangerous. Above all, do not waste any time disputing with yourself about how much you may have yielded to the temptation. Such scrutiny is an invention of the enemy, who under the deceiving appearance of an imaginary duty, attempts to renew the attack, or at least hopes to make some impression with the bad thoughts he had poured into your mind. When, therefore, it is evident that you have consented to the evil, let it suffice to tell your spiritual director in a few words just what has occurred. Do just as he advises, and do not trouble yourself further with it.

You must be sure, however, not to conceal anything because of shame or any other reason. If humility is necessary to conquer our common enemies, it is infinitely more so in this case because this vice is, for the most part, a just punishment for pride.

3. After you have conquered the temptation, you should conduct yourself as follows. Although you enjoy complete peace and consider yourself safe, avoid with the greatest care all objects that tend to temptation.

Exclude them completely------from your mind, even if they seem to be virtuous or good. These perversions are the illusions of a corrupt nature or traps laid by the devil, who would transform himself into an Angel of light in order to drag you down with him into the darkness of Hell itself.

So can a catholic enjoy a vacation in Cancún, Florida or on a yacht cruising Caribbeans with mixed sex friends?

Michael Wilson:
Depends; a vacation of married couples together is good, if the boundaries of decency and common sense are respected. I remember an experience from my parents; they joined a Country Club, mostly because my Dad love to play Golf; they were invited to a social event with other members of the Club; dinner, drinks and dancing; there was mostly married couples and husbands would sometimes invite the wives' of other men to dance; my Dad never allowed anyone to dance with my Mom; and objected to the whole idea. My parents never went back to one of those socials. But latter they were to find out that there was break-ups in marriages and "affairs" that stemmed from those dances. People who play with fire will get burned. Our Lady of Fatima stated that the majority of people who go to Hell is because of sins of impurity. We can see that the corruption in our present society is mainly though sins against the 6th and 9th Commandments, encouraged through the visual media.

I never was into dancing and after I got married doing that with not my wife always was subjectively very weird for me. I am not sure about the objective measure here though.

Knowingly exposing self to an occasion to sin in grave matters is indeed already a sin. For instance a sin of lust while enjoying sun and sea front in Florida on a crowded beach.

But one does not have to a beach in order to be exposed to nudity. Pretty much every pubic venue, whether it is a shopping mall or a  gym or a popular hiking trail is full of people  wearing extremely revealing outfits. You will not find a trad there necessarily. 

I guess I am asking what is the limit in this regards. Not for other people but for Catholics.

Michael Wilson:
A good way to look at it is not: "How far can I go before its a sin?" but "How can I do this (go to the beach; movies: shopping plaza etc. etc) without exposing myself to the near occasion of sin? For example: go to the beach during the off-season; malls, early; hiking in colder months. Etc. Etc. Also keep in mind that one person's near occasion of sin is not necessarily that of an other's.


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