Summary Against Modern Thought: Against Universal Continence

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The good of the species requires proper sex. Not perversion.


1 Now, just as in the case of the opposition to the perfection of poverty, so also have some perverse-minded men spoken against the good of continence. Some of them try to destroy the good of continence by these and like arguments.

2 In fact, the union of husband and wife is directed to the good of the species. For the good of the species is more godlike than the good of the individual. Therefore, he who completely abstains from the act whereby the species is preserved commits a greater sin than he would if he abstained from an act by which the individual is preserved, such as eating and drinking and the like.

Notes Lo, the Catholic church is not against sex. Masturbation is not sex. Inserting a penis into a rectum is masturbation.

3 Again, by the divine order, organs are given man that are suited for procreation, and so are the concupiscible power that stimulates him and also other similar endowments related to it. Hence, he who completely abstains from the act of generation seems to act against the divine ordinance.

4 Besides, if it is a good thing for one man to be continent, it is better for many, and best for all to do so. But the conclusion of this would be the extinction of the human race. So, it is not good for any man to be completely continent.

5 Moreover, chastity, like the other virtues, lies in a mean. Therefore, just as a man acts against virtue and is intemperate if he devotes himself entirely to matters of concupiscence, so also does he act against virtue and is he without feeling who totally abstains from matters of concupiscence.

6 Furthermore, it is impossible for some feelings of sexual concupiscence to fail to arise in a man, for they are natural. Now, to resist these feelings of concupiscence fully and, as it were, to wage a continuous fight against them produces more disturbance than if a man indulges moderately in concupiscent activities. Therefore, since mental disturbance is most incompatible with perfection of virtue, it appears to be opposed to virtue for a man to observe perpetual continence.

7 Such, then, seem to be the objections against perpetual continence. It is also possible to add to them the command of the Lord which, we read, was given to our first parents in Genesis (1:28; 9:1): “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” This was not revoked, but seems rather to have been confirmed by the Lord in the Gospel, where it is said: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mat. 19:6), when He speaks of the matrimonial union. But those who observe perpetual continence clearly act against this precept. So, it seems to be illicit to observe perpetual continence.

8 However, it is not difficult to answer these objections in terms of the things that were established above.

9 For we should keep in mind that one type of rational explanation is to be used for things which belong to the needs of the individual man, while a different one applies to the things that pertain to the needs of the group. In regard to things pertinent to the needs of the individual man, it is necessary to make provision for each person. Now, of this type are food and drink, and other goods having to do with the maintenance of the individual. Hence, each man must make use of food and drink. But, in the case of things that are necessary for the group, it is not necessary for the assignment to be given to each person in the group; indeed, this is not even possible.

For it is clear that many things are needed by a group of men, such as food, drink, clothing, housing and the like, which cannot all be procured by one man. And so, different tasks must be given to different persons, just as different organs of the body are directed to different functions. So, since procreation is not a matter of the need of the individual but of the need of the whole species, it is not necessary for all men to devote themselves to acts of generation; instead, certain men, refraining from these acts, undertake other functions, such as the military life or contemplation.

10 From this the answer to the second argument is clear. Indeed, the things that are necessary for the entire species are given man by divine providence, but it is not necessary for each man to use every one of them. For man has been given skill in building and strength for fighting, however, this does not mean that all men must be builders or soldiers. Likewise, though the generative power and things related to its act have been divinely provided, it is not necessary for each man to direct his intention to the generative act.

Notes Why does he keep mentioning the necessity of soldiers? Because soldiers are necessary.

11 As a result, the answer to the third objection is also evident. Though it is better for some individuals to abstain from the things that are necessary for the group, it is not good for all to abstain. The same situation is apparent in the order of the universe, for, although spiritual substance is better than the corporeal, that universe in which there are spiritual substances only would not be better but more imperfect. And even though an eye is better than a foot in the body of an animal, the animal would not be perfect unless it had both eye and foot. So, too, the community of mankind would not be in a perfect state unless there were some people who direct their intention to generative acts and others who refrain from these acts and devote themselves to contemplation.

Notes This is like a coach’s locker-room speech for good reason.

12 Moreover, what is objected fourthly, that virtue must lie in the mean, is answered by what was said above in regard to poverty. For the mean of virtue is not always taken according to the quantity of the thing that is ordered by reason, but, rather, according to the rule of reason which takes in the proper end and measures the appropriate circumstances. And so, to abstain from all sexual pleasures, without a reason, is called the vice of insensibility. But, if it be done in accord with reason, it is a virtue which surpasses man’s ordinary way of life, for it makes men share somewhat in the divine likeness; hence, virginity is said to be related to the angels (Mat. 22:30).

Notes Priestly celibacy—meaning, bachelor priests, and being unmarried therefore no sexual intercourse—is also good, in limited number.

13 In regard to the fifth argument, it should be said that the solicitude and occupation which encumber those who are married, concerning their wives, children and the procuring of the necessities of life, are continuous. But the disturbance which a man suffers in the fight against concupiscent tendencies is for a limited time. For this decreases as a result of a man refusing to consent to it; in fact, the more a person indulges in pleasures, the more does the desire for pleasure grow in him. Thus, concupiscent feelings are weakened by acts of abstinence and other corporeal practices suitable to those who have the vow of continence.

Moreover, the enjoyment of corporeal delights distracts the mind from its peak activity and hinders it in the contemplation of spiritual things much more than the disturbance that results from resisting the concupiscent desires for these pleasures, because the mind becomes very strongly attached to carnal things through the enjoyment of such pleasures, especially those of sex. For enjoyment makes the appetite become fixed on the thing that is enjoyed. And so, for those people who devote their attention to the contemplation of divine things and of every kind of truth, it is especially harmful to have been addicted to sexual pleasures and particularly beneficial to abstain from them. Now, this is not to suggest that, although it is generally better for the individual man to observe continence than to engage in matrimony, the latter may not be better in a particular case. Hence, the Lord, having mentioned continence, says: “All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given” (Mat. 19:11).

14 To what is asserted in the last objection, on the ground of the precept given to our first parents, the reply is evident from what has been said. Indeed, that precept is concerned with the natural inclination in man to preserve the species by the act of generation; however, this need not be carried out by all men, but by some, as we said.

15 Now, just as it is not expedient for every man to abstain from matrimony, so also it is not a good thing to do so at all times, if the increase of the race requires matrimony: whether because of a lack of men, as in the beginning when the human race began to multiply; or because of the small number of the faithful, in which situation they should multiply by carnal generation, as was the case in the Old Testament. Thus, the counsel of practicing perpetual continence was reserved to the New Testament, when the faithful are multiplied by a spiritual generation.

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