Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chastity, celibacy, and continence.

Jimmy Akin covers it.

I was going to write something about it as it applies to some of the discussions related to the controversy surrounding the 'New Homophobes' and their interpretation of chaste friendship.*  Their arguments are so complex and confusing, I have trouble understanding what they are saying at times. 'Truth is simple and pure and should be able to be transmitted to and understood by a barmaid' - I read somewhere that Einstein actually made such a claim about unified field theory.

Jimmy Akin is able to communicate with such simplicity and clarity, that no one should walk away confused.  I'll list his points here, but to read his complete definition of terms, click his name at the end of the quote:
What is continence?
Continence refers to what people think celibacy and chastity refer to—that is, not having sex.

What is celibacy?

Celibacy is the state of not being married.

What is chastity?

Chastity is the virtue of being sexually pure.

It comes from the Latin word castitas, which originally meant “purity,” and which came to refer specifically to sexual purity. 

Chastity will take different forms depending on whether one is celibate or married... 
What about unmarried people who aren’t consecrated or clergy?
All unmarried people are called to exercise chastity by observing continence.
The difference between ordinary unmarried people, on the one hand, and the consecrated and clergy on the other, is that ordinary unmarried people can get married.
They are not in a stable condition of life in which they are obligated to remain.
They are in a state of potentiality which they could leave by embracing one of the three vocations: marriage, holy orders, or the consecrated life.
Thus, everyone is called to exercise the virtue of chastity, but the form that takes will depend on their state of life. - Jimmy Akin

Chaste, continent, celibate same sex friendship.

As Akin points out, single people who remain unmarried are called to exercise chastity by observing continence  - no sex.  As in the case of same sex attracted persons, they live a chaste, celibate life.  That does not mean they must live alone, they can have same sex friendships, share an apartment and a house, and so on.  In fact, healthy same sex friendships are important for ssa people to live a balanced celibate life.**  The Church says living out of this (homosexual) orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option.  But the Church does not forbid chaste friendship and mutual support.  

Indeed, the Catechism points to disinterested same-sex friendship as a help and support.  This can come about in those situations wherein two persons have lived together for a long time, and after a deeper conversion perhaps, returned to Church teaching on sexuality and marriage.  (Spiritual direction is critical in such cases.)  Friendship centered upon Christ with the purpose of living in fidelity to Church teaching and mutual sanctification is certainly not forbidden by the Church.  However, living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option. - CDF

What does disinterested friendship mean?

As one friend put it:
A 'chaste lifestyle' for two ssa men does not and cannot include identifying as a 'couple'. Living together as a gay “couple” is effectively what I will refer to as “pseudo-spousing” just as much as a cohabiting man and woman are “pseudo-spousing” with or without sexual activity. This is a hugely important point to make and is one that dovetails with the CCC’s noting that the call to chastity for homosexuals involves disinterested friendships (the very opposite of “eros”), not 'couplehood'.

I agreed with my friend's important qualification.  At best, the arrangement might be seen as irregular, not unlike - yet not the same as - the case of a divorced and remarried man and women who agree to live chastely, as brother and sister, in order to be reconciled to the Church.  In the case of the married and divorced it is an imperfect accommodation, a pastoral exception permitted after spiritual direction and counsel, and sacramental reconciliation (confession).  This is often done provisionally, in cases involving children or estate, and complicated financial/economic problems.  In my experience it more frequently occurs when one of the spouses becomes ill or is incapacitated.

Two single men or women as friends.

Same sex friends are not in the same position, precisely because they cannot be spouses.  Even if civil law permits civil unions or ss marriage - in the eyes of the Church, their state in life is not changed.

In the past I may have inadvertently blurred these lines.  I believe I have used the analogy with divorced and remarried individuals presumptuously.  Personally, privately and publicly I have always maintained ss relationships have no affinity to marriage, precisely because the spousal dimension is impossible.  Likewise, romantic and sexual interest in one another isn't sustainable without outside stimulus. (This also helps explain why two longtime friends would not necessarily present an occasion of sin for one another.)  When sexual interest wanes, homosexual 'couples' look outside the relationship for sex and 'romance' - sometimes they may do it together, or singly, sometimes it is just heavy reliance on pornography or voyeurism at the gym.  In my experience, many delude themselves that consent is the determining justification for such behavior, maintaining their relationship has simply evolved into some sort of 'open marriage'.  Despite what they say, the entire idea that it is the same as traditional marriage in the first place is a falsehood.

Having said that, when and if chaste, celibate and continent same sex friends live under the same roof, they must be especially careful to avoid representing themselves or identifying themselves as a couple, as well avoiding giving the impression their lifestyle is a sort of substitute or compromise of gay marriage.   In my opinion that would be advocating the gay lifestyle, leading to a misunderstanding of Church teaching.

I hope this is understandable to my regular readers and friends.

*This post is actually in response to a question raised by Mark in the com-box of a post on Spiritual Friendship Blog here.

**SSA persons do well to form same sex friendships with heterosexual persons.


  1. So if Felix Unger and Oscar Madison had been two single men, with SSA, that would be fine? But I'm thinking Oscar wasn't fabulous enough. And what about Bert and Ernie? If they were human and had SSA, and had learned to spell, that would be okay too, right?

  2. Yes. But Tinkie Winkie would have to move out on his own - unless he was willing to give up the purse - in that case he might be allowed to stay.

  3. Abstinence refers to action and = not having sex. Continence resides in the will and = not willing what is unchaste (though it is often accompanied by disordered passions). Chastity resides in the passions and = (specifically) having properly ordered sexual desires and (globally) the successful integration of our sexuality within our lives. Celibacy refers principally to a positive state of holding in reserve one's entire being for God, even one's sexual dimension.. defining it negatively (by what it is not, that is = not getting married) does not touch upon the essence of celibacy.

  4. Unfortunately, Terry, this "don't identify as 'a couple'" idea boils down, essentially, to word-policing. What does "a couple" mean? It can mean a variety of things. Yes, it's important that two male "friends"/partners not think of themselves as in "the exact same thing" as the natural institution (and, for Christians, Sacrament) of Matrimony. Beyond that, your distinctions are JUST as fuzzy as you accuse ours of being (exactly because we're dealing with an area, organic human relationships and social constructs, which don't tend to admit of very sharply defined "categories" as if we're talking about Essential Forms).

    Frankly, besides Marriage itself, the deposit of faith has no category of "couplehood" period. Even betrothal is not "Of the Faith" and certainly modern things like the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship of modern "dating" is not either. But that doesn't make them "wrong." On the other hand, if "non-marital 'couplehood'" is ok for straights, it's ok, period. "But...they COULD get married" really is neither here nor there if they are not.

    Call it an "imperfect pastoral concession" if you will. Fine. If the concession can be made for the divorced and remarried whose REAL spouses are still living, it can be made for a gay couple. I doubt anyone doesn't think of the "brother and sister" as a "couple," and I doubt they think of their life as just some sort of tragic accommodation."

    The Church's definition of "cohabitation," by the way, necessarily includes either a presumption of sexual activity or presenting of the couple as married, holding out to be so. Merely "sharing a domicile" is not actually forbidden; there is no substantial difference between a "boyfriend and girlfriend" who live down the street from each other, those who have two apartments in the same building, and those who have two rooms in the same apartment. Maybe in a very strict Early Modern world where living arrangements were necessarily more indicative of more sharply defined relational categories in society...but the truth is that there has always been an organic informal spectrum, and no more so than today.

    No one is "pseudo-spousing" unless they claim to be married and present themselves as married when they're not (and that, I'd think, is something done MUCH more often by the divorced-and-civilly-remarried than by the gays). Maybe instead of worrying that two men together are promoting some sort of "lifestyle" and causing "confusion," you should just work on emphasizing the essence of what marriage is. If you are worried about two men "pseudo-spousing," it's like you've already conceded that the essence of marriage is merely something like "domestic partnership" (rather than the one-flesh union) and at that point you WILL seem a homophobe for trying to deny that to gays (since, UNlike the one-flesh union, there is nothing in particular about domestic partnerships that essentially exclude two men or two women).

    As for your anecdotes about open-relationships and such...well, I'd keep an eye on the current generation. In the past, gays had no social acceptance, so such things were more common. Nowadays I think we're seeing more of a new equilibrium being reached among Millennials. On the one hand I know some ABSOLUTELY monogamous gays and gay couples who just want to raise kids and have the white picket fence. On the other hand, I know plenty of polyamorous open-relationship straight couples now. It is not clearly a 'gay/straight' difference anymore at all, so much as an individual personality difference.

    1. "It is not clearly a 'gay/straight' difference anymore at all, so much as an individual personality difference."

      That's part of it. Not an ideology of course.

      And do keep an eye on those Millennials. :).

    2. Unfortunately, Terry, this "don't identify as 'a couple'" idea boils down, essentially, to word-policing.

      It is more than that. Actually, there is serious reason for Catholics NOT to identify as a couple.

      Story here: http://fox4kc.com/2014/01/30/same-sex-couple-says-priest-denied-them-communion-due-to-relationship/

  5. What if they presented themselves as a chaste couple?

    1. Well, this post is 5 years old and I would say it doesn't matter how they identify if they are living chastely and celibately, like brother and brother or brother an sister. If they sincerely believe what the Church teaches and abide by it - who am I to judge.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.