english version  

한 국 어

«Why Chastity?»
Relazione al Terzo Corso Intensivo per Insegnanti dei Metodi Naturali
Roma, 6 novembre 1993

The answer to this question is very simple: because we are human persons. This simple answer explains all that I am going to develop here: connecting chastity to the human person we affirm that chastity is an exigence of humanity in man. As a consequence, two concepts require clarification: “humanity of man” and “exigence”.




What is the definition of “human person” ?

In my early youth (in the times of God’s alliance with Noah), we could afford the luxury of enjoying some hobbies. Studying music, or “musicology“, was one of these. Our Maestro, who is now a rather well-known musician and composer, firstly introduced us to the world of classical polyphony, and he taught us how to understand and to have a taste for polyphonic music.

He first gave us some practical advice. First of all, he told us, you have to listen to polyphony, making the difficult effort to hear one voice at a time, as if the other four, five, fifteen or sixteen voices — like in some Flemish polyphonies, were not playing. And so on, one voice after the other.

After the first listening, he was used to tell us, listen to all voices together, but polyphonically. I remember this advice. I always keep it in my mind, above all when I have to answer such serious questions as the one we have posed: “What is the definition of human person”?

Let’s listen first to the SINGLE VOICES of polyphony.


Analytically, let’s see which parts or dimensions constitute the human person.

We needn’t make long talks or long reflections to realize that each of us express, and can express himself/herself, in three fundamental ways, three ways which are essentially different from one another, as as are three voices in a polyphony.

1. Every person acts corporally: he/she has a body.

2. Every person acts psychically (mentally): he/she has a psyche.

3. Every person acts spiritually: he/she has a spirit.


We needn’t reflect long to understand that the experience everyone of us has of himself or herself is really different when performing a free choice (=a spiritual act), with a spiritual act), with respect to, for example, crossing the road, he/she suddenly realizes that a car is coming at top speed. In the second case, the reaction is immediate, namely escaping, running across the road so as not to be run down.

The first is the experience of of an an eminently spiritual activity: choosing freely. The second is the experience of a reaction, which is simply psychic, psychological: the realization of a serious danger for our life and the immediate reaction of self-defence.

I don’t want to further develop this first moment of our listening to “voices separated one another“: body, psyche, spirit.

Actually, the true problem of each definition of man is to know, to learn the way way the three dimensions of a human person come together, the way they symphonize, the way they unite in the human person. Now we have to concentrate our attention on this aspect in particular.


Before going on, I need to make a short parenthesis, which is of a certain theoretical difficulty. We are going to speak about one of the deepest concepts the human mind has ever tried to understand: the concept of unity.

I now open this parenthesis: in the world we live, we experience the different degrees of unity. There are realities that have a lesser unity than others, there are realities that have a a greater unity than others. For instance, the unity owing a hoard of stones is certainly a unit. In In fact, these stones are “together”, they exactly form a stack of stones. This unity of a hoard of stones is really different, being of an infinitely higher degree, from the unity possessed by St. Peter’s Dome. St. Peter’s Dome also is made of a stack of stones all together united. However, we realize that the unity of St. Peter’s Dome is infinitely superior to the unity simply possessed by a stack of stones. From this example we can deduce an affirmation which is very important: we see that the concept of unity is fulfilled in different ways and degrees. There are namely various degrees of unity, and therefore different degrees of constituting the different parts, different degrees of symphonyzing the different voices. Here my parenthesis ends.


Going back to the question I have posed: how are the three parts constituting the human person — body, psyche, spirit — composed? What is the degree of unity which keeps them together, united?

We answer this question saying that it is an integral unity. This is also a fundamental concept in our reflection. When do we come to face with this type of unity, which we define as integral ? The integral unity is constituted by the following four qualities:

1. There is a plurality of parts. In our case, three: body, psyche and spirit.

2. There is a a subordination of a part on another, according to an order of objective difference in value. The objectively less important part is subordinate to the objectively more important part.

3. The subordination of the inferior part to the superior part maintains the subordinate part in its particular being. The subordinate part is not destroyed, because of this subordination and as a subordinate part.

4. Due to its subordination, the subordinate part not only is not destroyed in what characterizes it, but it is elevated to a way of acting, to a dignity that it could never reach but for that subordination.


Let’s consider now how these four characteristics of integral unity, or of the way the various parts are composed in unity, can be applied to the human person.

1. Plurality of parts: we have already mentioned that the person is a composition, he/she is not a simple reality; he/she is not God; he/she is not simple substance. The person is body, is psyche, is spirit.

2. Each one of these parts is placed in relationship to the other, according to a hierarchy of subordination and respectively, a hierarchy of superordination. Body is subordinated to psyche; body and psyche — from now on we will speak about “psycho-physic dimension” for brevity — are subordinated to spirit.

Objectively speaking, spirit is more than psyche, psyche is more than body. I do not wish to demonstrate this aspect, but we could speak about it in the discussion.

3. This subordination does not destroy subordinate parts at all. The human body doesn’t cease to be a body, because it is subordinated to the spirit. The human “psychism” doesn’t cease to be a “psychism”, because it is always subordinated, integrated with a spiritual reality. Some psychic reactions are the same in men and in animals. To a certain extent, ethology, which exactly studies this aspects, also involves the “chapter” of human ethology. At the same time, biologists and geneticists know the deep identity — so to say to a certain extent — between the human body and the animal body, very well. So, you can see that the subordinate part maintains its own being.

4. The subordinate part, due to its subordination, is elevated to a dignity that it would not have, apart from its subordination.

For example, animals often eat in the same container, but eating in the same container doesn’t create a higher level of sociality among them. On the contrary, they often quarrel, while human persons sharing a meal at the same table put a deeper interpersonal communion into being. Considered in itself, eating in itself of animal is not different from man’s eating considered in itself. The reason why animal needs to eat is the same reason why man needs to eat. This act, however, the act of eating, performed by an animal as a living body and by man as a living body (because in man the part of living-body is subordinated to a superior reality), this act of eating is elevated to a dignity, to a being sign, which is much higher than the eating itself.

Animals are afraid that what they feel can be somehow a danger to their life.

Appear before your dog with a stick in your hands. Surely, he will not come close to you, to pay you his compliments. He runs away if he can, because he feels the danger. But animals can only be afraid of losing their life; the person is also afraid of losing the reason for which life is worth living. Animals are not able to have this fear, as their “psychism” is not integrated, not subordinated to a something which is more elevated than themselves.


We asked: how do the three voices composing this human symphony — body, psyche, spirit — unite?

We answer: they unite following a unity of integration, and we have explained what we mean by “integration”.


A question is now raisen: is this unity of integration a datum or a duty for the person? Namely, is the person the person an integral unity or does he/she become an integral unity?

The importance of this question, I believe is understood by everybody, because we start to see that we are leaving the discussion on what the person is and we are starting to approach a kind of reflection which involves not only our intelligence — we want to know who a person is — but it also starts to provoke our freedom, our responsibility. In more technical terms, we are leaving a more anthropological language, approaching a more ethical consideration. So: is he/she or does he/she become?


The answer to this question is the following: not or but and. That is, the person is a unity and becomes an integral unity.


a) The Person is a unity


Here we speak about one of the most difficult points of our human reflection on the person. What do we mean by “the person is a unity”? We mean that before assuming on himself/herself the responsibility of his/her own internal integration, the human person is already endowed with a unity of his/her own. He/she is already! The human person enjoys this unity — I repeat, because of the simple fact of living (existing) — before starting to experience his/her freedom and also apart from the practice of his/her freedom. That unity will be called substantial unity of the human person.


What’s the meaning of “the human person is substantially one, it is a substantial unity”? Before answering that question, I want to make an example. On this paper I have written a scheme of the thoughts I am communicating to you. Obviously I have written it in my mother tongue, Italian, then I have translated it into English. To write in Italian, I have to know the language — the meaning of terms, I have to know the Italian grammar — the laws which exactly rule this language, I have to learn the Italian syntax.

Taking these different and various words, and organizing them according to grammatical and syntactical rules I was able to write a page with a meaning; at least I hope so!

A very well-known Italian author, Alessandro Manzoni, did the same thing that I did yesterday evening in the same evening when I prepared these pages. He wrote down some pages that compose “I Promessi Sposi” (which means: The Betrothed; the engaged couple) when put together. The same thing: words of the Italian language in their exact meaning, set according to grammatical and syntactical laws, in order to express a concept, a vision of the person of Providence, of history, of God… let’s say an inspiration using a synthetic term.

There is an inspiration, there was an ispiration in Manzoni, as well as in me, I hope; namely the perception of a truth.

This inspiration expresses itself in a language, according to defined rules. The procedure is the same in both cases. Unfortunately for me, not for Manzoni, the two results have been quite different.

Even if, at the end of this talk, I burn these pages, humanity will not lose anything at all. Let’s try to imagine that the work “I Promessi Sposi” completely disappears from humanity. Let’s imagine that all existing copies in the world were being burnt by a strange accident, as if that work from that moment on never did previously exist. Humanity, as humanity, would be poorer, it would lose something which enriches itself just as humanity.

Is that possible? The same words, the same grammatical laws, the same laws of synthax. Why such a result?

That result is different for a very simple reason: the inspiration originating “The Bethroted”, “I Promessi Sposi” was very different from the inspiration which generated these pages. A page is nothing but the language expressing that inspiration, so that I can’t say: I keep the inspiration of “I Promessi Sposi” for the history of humanity, burning all “I Promessi Sposi”.

It is ridiculous, because the inspiration is embodied in that particular book. Here in this page, on the contrary, the inspiration is very different. I made this long example to help you to understand, I believe, this philosophical technical formulation by St. Thomas, which we have enunciated: the person is a substantial unity.

The person is a substantial unity; he or she doesn’t become it: body, psyche, spirit. What is inspiration in “I Promessi Sposi” is spirit in the person. What is the linguistic expression in “I Promessi Sposi“, according to well determined rules, it is his/her psycho-physical dimension in the person.

We cannot separate a written page from the inspiration, without destroying the inspiration. At the same time (the comparison here doesn’t fit very well) if we separate the human linguistic expression, that is the psycho-physical dimension, from the spiritual dimension — the spirit is and remains immortal — we no longer have a human person.

Here you can see how the faith confirms this rational datum, which we are speaking about, it is the dogma concluding our credo, the resurrection of flesh. Without it, the person would not be saved as a person, unless he/she — the person — doesn’t exist in a body.

So what is it then the “substantial unity”? It could be expressed in this way: man is a Person, e.g. a subject, because he is a Spirit. We owe to the Spirit our being persons. The body is “person“, as it is assumed by Spirit. This is what we say: the Person is a substantial unity. The Person is made in this way.

There would be some very, very important consequences to deduce, we limit our deductions to one. As a page of “I Promessi Sposi” is the same as this page — in spite of appearances, but it actually is very different — so although from a certain point of view the human body is definitely the same as an animal — I would say not, and also as a plant — but it is essentially different. Essentially different: because it is a body assumed by a spirit, that is Body-Person.

This is the dignity of the human person.


b) The Person becomes an integral unity


Each of the parts composing the person maintain their dynamism, their operational mechanisms, the body acts like a body, and it is the same for the psyche and the spirit. Hence the exigence of a process of integration, of unification, interior harmonization, in view of reaching that integral unity, which has its root in what the person is, but which must be assumed as as a task for freedom of the person, because the person bears in him/herself the symphony of various voices, the interior harmony.


So we have explained: why chastity?

Because we are human persons, and “human person” means this.




1. The concept of  “exigence”


What reality lies behind this term? What experience does it denote? I am going to take two very easy examples to explain this concept of “exigence”.

First example: we all easily understand the need for the rules of the road, that is of juridical regulation of our movements. These rules say whether we have to go right or left, who has the right of way, and so on. These regulations exclusively depend on the will of the legitimate legislator in their content. As a proof of this, a lot of these rules vary in in each different country. In England, perhaps you know it, you have to keep the left, which is exactly the opposite to what it is in Italy.

We face this experience: on one hand, our freedom of movement, on the other, a law a law that somehow limits our freedom. Mathematicians would say: two inversely proportional sizes; the much wider is the “size of freedom”, less wider being the other size, the size of the law, of the regulations. Another way to express this is the following: more law, less freedom.

The second example: in no civil code in this world will you find it written that a mother has to love her own child. The lack of such a law is easy to explain: such a law would be useless. It is useless because loving the fruit of one’s own womb is an exigence inscribed in every maternal heart. But pay attention here: the mother/woman is free to love or not to love her child, but her being mother in itself drives her, inwardly, to create a relationship of maternal love with this special person that her child is. I pray you to pay particular attention on this point. Can you see the essential difference between these two facts?

First fact: being the owner of a car doesn’t mean to me that I have to go right, rather than left; that left; that I have to to drive at a higher speed rather than at a lower one.

Being the owner of a car car leaves me completely indifferent with respect to these two possibilities: going right or left, fast or slow. It is exactly for this that there is an external law stating: everybody must go right.

Second fact: on the contrary, to be a mother doesn’t leave this woman, who is a mother, indifferent to the two possibilities: loving or not that creature who is her child, the only simple fact of being a mother demands this attitude of love. This aspect is so evident that no one would be shocked if tomorrow somebody would say: “From today onwards, we have to keep to the left and not the right”. On the contrary, when we see that a woman betrays this fundamental demand of her being a mother, we are spiritually upset! Don’t we say: how is it possible for a mother to behave like that? She must be out of her mind!


As a consequence, there are two kinds of exigences:

- the exigence of performing determined choices: going right, and not left; a requirement which finds its motivation, its explanation its in something not inherent in the acting person: in our case, the law of the State.

- the exigence that has its root in our own Being. Namely there is an exigence that arises, so to say, inwardly in everyone of us, that has its own source not from outside, but in the true heart of the human person.


I hope I could explain these two aspects: this is highly important also from a pedagogical point of view. I am going to open a short parenthesis to underline the importance of this.

When you, in your educational work, are asked — I am sure you were asked about it so many times — “Why does the Church forbid premarital intercourse?” You will answer then: “The Church does not forbid anything. The Church has nothing to do with it". And again: “Why does the Church impose premarital chastity?”. You will answer “The Church does not impose anything".

Is it right saying: why does the Government impose a law not exceed 110 km p. hour on the owner of a car built to go fast?

In the first case, the setting out of the question itself is wrong, because in that moment the Church only replies to that that man: “Perhaps you don’t know it yet, you may not be sure about it, (or you only know a little bit about it) to help you know it, I will tell you that in your heart, inside you, in your being a boyfriend or a girlfriend, there is written the exigence to be chaste”. You shall neither accept those ways of saying I have mentioned above. The Church has nothing to do with it.

When a teacher teaches the four arithmetical operations, he/she does not invent them. He/she only helps the children to be able to perform some intellectual operations with his/her intelligence, so as to grasp the perception of some mathematical laws. Here it is the same: the Church helps the person to read what is written in his/her heart.

This writing in the heart is not put into being by the Church.


We are now up to the third point, after having considered:

a. the humanity of the person;

b. chastity as an exigence of the person’s humanity.

We are now able to answer the question:




Chastity constitutes the integration of the psycho-physical dimension of human sexuality in the spiritual dimension of the of the same human sexuality, or in the proper personal dimension of the human sexuality.

The answer, because of its brevity, could not be grasped in all its extent. For this reason, we will stop for a moment, in order to explain the reason: why chastity?

Let me start by an example, once more taken from music. All those who have studied piano a little know that whoever begins studying the piano for the first time has to learn the so-called “pitch” of the hand and of fingers. A real pianist does not use one finger instead of another, by chance, when he/she executes a piece. Actually, in the musical scores for amateurs, numbers corresponding to fingers of the hand are usually put on the notes. In this way the student is guided to play a particular note with one finger instead of another (for instance finger 4 instead of finger 1). This means a very boring exercise, at the beginning, but the piano teachers do not make any exception about its importance. Why? Because any musical performance is above all a manual performance: it’s hands that perform it. Therefore hands must be extremely docile to the impulse, the reading of the score. For this reason, for any musical performance there are some levels:

I level: the hand must obey,  must be obedient, docile. But you understand that this first level requires a much deeper one.

II level: this level is very elementary, and it is obvious. I can’t read a piano composition if I am not able to read music. I need to be able to do that. Here “reading” means “being able to read” not only in a material way, but in order to understand passages. Playing slowly where you have to play “slowly” and not where you have to play “assai presto”. It means that the pianist-learner must learn to to do a reading interpretation. But this level is not yet sufficient.

III level: this is the most difficult one. If we stay at these two levels, musical performances can also be perfectly provided by a trained hand; provided the hypothetical pianist is able to read-interpret a score in a perfect way, any musical performance only bearing these two levels would be a mere mechanical event. A third level is is necessary to have a real musical performance, because while playing, the performer must performer must reproduce the same artistic inspiration which created that page.


He should live the same experience again.

Here, at this level, we have the criterion of selecting the big performers and the average or worst performers of musical compositions. The criterion is the ability to live again, to identify oneself, to feel again exactly in the same way, the experience lived by the artist in the very moment in which he created that page. Take these three levels into consideration: docility of the hand to the reading, interpretation, docility of the reading, interpretation of the original inspiration. You can go the inverse way. To be clear (for didactical clearness, to explain clearly), I started from the lower part. Actually any good performance proceeds inversely: it is the inspiration that leads the reading-interpretation, which, in its turn, is carried out by the pianist’s well trained hand.


We go back to the answer given to the question: why chastity?

a) chastity operates as an analogous event.

There is a biological dimension in human sexuality. Human sexuality is also an essentially biological event. There is a psychological dimension of human sexuality. There is a sexual psychism, through which masculinity is attracted by femininity and conversely, before any reasoning: this is the psychism.

There is a spiritual dimension.

Chastity in the human person is what docility of the hand is in the piano performance, as chastity makes the psychophysical dimension docile to the spiritual dimension, namely it subordinates it.

b) What is the spiritual dimension of human sexuality?

We know enough about the biological dimension of human sexuality, or, at least, we know the way to learn more about about it. In this century, above all, our knowledge of the psychological dimension is much wider and deeper.

The spiritual dimension of human sexuality: we can describe this dimension by a word: love. This is the spiritual dimension: love as ability of the human person to make a gift of him/herself. It is a free act of giving, free, then. It would be a contradiction to speak about a “faced” gift. It is a free, gratuitous gift.

What are we giving? We are making a gift of ourselves, of our own person. What was inspiration in the example I made — the higher, deeper level — is here the ability of self-donation.

Chastity is, then, an exigence of the human person, because it is what makes possible the capacity of the gift of the self sexually expressed, as this ability is sexually expressed.

As the docility of the hand and the ability to read and interpret a musical score is what makes it possible to re-express the artistic inspiration, here by chastity we can express the gift of the self in and through sexuality. This is sexuality.

Fundamentally, inside the Christian experience we know that this virtue can assume two forms:

• conjugal chastity

• virginal chastity

whether the ability of the gift of the self is inspired by conjugal love, or by virginal love, conjugal love has a precise nature and structure, conjugality. Virginal love has a precise nature and structure: consecrated virginity.




In the speech we have had so far, we have talked about the “human person“, man-woman. Actually, anyway, this way of saying is an abstraction, because in every days life there exists this man, this woman.

Our speech must be be substantially continued, thinking about man from a historical point of view, that that is, considering the human person in his/her actual condition. On the contrary, we are not saying what is false, because abstraction doesn’t mean falsification, but we are running the risk, because of the nature of the abstractive process, of not considering things which are of the outmost importance, as in this case. The actual historical condition in which a man lives is the really important aspect, that this process of abstraction we have followed so far has not taken into consideration. We will do it now, shortly.


We have to ask a very important question, not a very easy one: what do we mean by “historical condition”?

Does this mean that we live in we live in 1993 and not in 993, namely a thousand years ago? Does it mean that we live in the so-called modern or post-modern culture, and not in the medieval culture? When theology speaks bout “historical condition”, it does not mean that. For theology, for the faith in the Church, there is a chronology, a history then, which is much more important than the chronology by which we divide history into ancient times, the medieval age, the modern age, the post-modern age. The chronology we are referring to is the following one:

I Period: Man in his original condition.

II Period: Man who loses his original rights, and who is not yet redeemed.

III Period: Fallen man but who is redeemed by Christ.

IV Period: Man in eternal life.

This part of my reflection points at historicizing what has been said up to now, the answer given to the question: “why chastity?” within these fundamental stages of the history of the human person.


I. Man in his original condition of justice

The Church tells us that in this condition man enjoyed the gift of integrity. Here we remember a concept that has been already expressed. What does “gift of integrity” mean? Man and woman experienced in themselves a wonderful experience of interior peace and of reciprocal harmony. In those harmony and peace, the above mentioned four features of integrity were accomplished.

I open a parenthesis: St. Thomas says that sexual pleasure would have been endlessly more intense, if man had not fallen from his original right. The consequence of original sin is also the lowering of sexual pleasure, according to St.Thomas. This is true if we consider all that we have said so far: because subordination does not destroy the subordinate part, but its subordination heightens it.

As a consequence, the more subordination, the more the subordinate part shines with incomparable beauty, transparency and dignity. This is one of the specific applications spoken of by St. Thomas. This is the original condition of justice.


II.The Fall

What does it consist of? It means the loss of integrity, namely interior disintegration. In fact, the Bible says that after the fall, the two felt ashamed of each other. This was the “signal” that, inside them, something very serious had happened. They could not show themselves to each other, without running the risk of being seen by the other no more as a person deserving respect and love, but as possible object of fruition. The person knows that, he/she defends himself/herself by covering himself/herself.

Did you notice how, after the fall, everybody accuses everybody? The Lord comes as the judge: this is a very popular but very deep way, in in which this truth is expressed. Adam lays the blame on Eve. Eve lays the blame on the devil. Everybody is accusing everybody. The original integrity has been disintegrated. We all carry inside us the sign of our condition of original justice, and more evidently, the sign of the original fall.

The sign of our original justice: the nostalgia every man and woman experienced in themselves for beauty, truth, transparency, purity in their relationships.

At the same time, it is the experience each man and woman feels every time they are not not treated as persons, but as objects of fruition; every time they are not treated as they should be.

The experience of original justice has left in everyone of us an indelible sign. The faith in the Church tells us that the sin has not destroyed, has not corrupted the original goodness in our person.

The sign of our fall: for this inability we feel, we come true according to and in that integration I mentioned above.


III. The condition of redemption

The redemptive act of Christ is also redemption of the body, not only of the Spirit. St. Paul repeats this aspect several times.

“Also” means that the Christ’s redemptive act enables man and woman still to make a gift of themselves. That act makes them also able to create again in themselves that harmony, that unification, the integration of the psycho-physical dimension of human sexuality in the spiritual sexuality. The Sacrament of Marriage and the charisma of the consecrated virginity are the great gifts which express the power of the redemptive act of Christ. They mean exactly and they fulfill the power of Christ’s redemptive act, as an act also redeeming human sexuality.