Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, April 03, 2006

Chastity Liberates the Soul

Station at Saint Chrysogonus' in Trastevere

The titulus Chrysogoni, yet another of Rome's twenty-five parish churches in the 5th century is today's Station. As the name tells us, a Greek Christian of that name dwelt here; the basilica dates to before 499. St Chrysogonus was a Roman officer in the army and martyred c. 300 by Diocletian. His name is included in the Roman Canon. Since 1874, the Trinitarians have the custody of this basilica. A few months ago, I was amazed to discover that the Trinitarians, a 12th-century religious order had a habit (at least in its current incarnation) very much like that of the Order of Preachers...

The readings for Monday in Passiontide (Dan 13:1-62; Jn 8:1-11) were originally appointed for Saturday in the Third Week of Lent when the Stational church is fittingly Santa Susanna, a clear allusion to the Susanna mentioned in the First Reading. What can it say to us in Passiontide, as we contemplate more intensely the Passion of the Lord?

Susanna's plea, "Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me" (Dan 13:43) can clearly be applied to the Lord. The Gospel too highlights the Lord's sinlessness in comparison to those around him; He alone is the guiltless and sinless one, who will be put to death. And yet, such injustice seems to stir up a sense of deep compassion in the Lord for those who are condemned to death. Commenting on Jesus' response to the woman caught in adultery, fr Conrad Pepler OP says: "Our Lord, who could know sin only in us, is as full of love and mercy as the rectitude of justice... justice too must be chastened by love and mercy."

In addition Conrad Pepler, inspired by the example of Susanna, discusses chastity of life which finds its perfection in Christ and he explains how "the whole purpose of Lent is to being a true love of God by chastising all natural and sensual inclinations and desires that attach the soul to earth." As he says:

"We ought to realize that chastity is legitimately applied to the whole Christian life, as well as to the special virtue that regulates sexual emotions and desires. Strictly speaking, an unchaste person is one whose desires and happiness are mixed with the pleasures of his sensual nature, one whose soul is bound down to earthly and fleshly things. Consequently in the wide and general sense a chaste man is one whose soul is free from entanglements or contamination from the things of this creation. Chastity thus liberates the soul, for 'chastity taken in this sense is a general virtue, because every virtue withdraws the mind from pleasureable union with illicit things. Principally, however, the essence of this chastity consists in charity and in the other theological virtues, whereby man's soul is united to God' (ST IIa IIae, 151, 2). The love of God grants perfect freedom.

This freedom from contamination with worldly pleasures necessarily implies the stringent asceticism characteristic of all great lovers of God. Chastity implies a process of chastening and chastisement, and purity means purification. Without the severest self-denial this chaste love of God is unattainable... In other words, the chaste soul is detached from all creature pleasures and is attached in the most intimate union to God alone...

Thus Susanna (right, by Rembrandt), whose name means 'lily', and who is an emblem of chastity, has learned to be detached from all earthly things. She enjoyed the luxuries of bathing with sweet-smelling oils and balls of soap in her husband's 'paradise' when the world took its rest in the baking heat of the noonday sun. She must have enjoyed, too, all the goods of a chaste married life. Life must indeed have been very sweet to her. Yet she had the highest spirit of detachment, the spirit of the martyr who is not even attached to his own earthly life. The union of love of God that is called charity is shown most perfectly in the acts of the martyrs..."
(Lent, 176-179)

And the King of Martyrs is the Lord Himself, crucified for the love of poor wretched sinners. As we come to the final fortnight of Lent, it's not too late to intensify our observances and renew those we have failed to keep up. The Lord will surely have compassion and pity on us (as he had on the woman caught in adultery) and by His grace He will unite us to His Cross if we ask Him, transforming us with divine charity so that we may imitate His chastity of life, His total love of God and neighbour.

May the holy martyrs, Chrysogonus and Susanna pray for us.


Anonymous Mr DG Fulton said...

"Strictly speaking, an unchaste person is one whose desires and happiness are mixed with the pleasures of his sensual nature, one whose soul is bound down to earthly and fleshly things. Consequently in the wide and general sense a chaste man is one whose soul is free from entanglements or contamination from the things of this creation."

Humans are indeed creatures of flesh, of physical sensations and perceptions. There is no better evidence of God's inherent understanding of this than the Incarnation itself--the rendering of the divine into a sensual form. Catholicism recognizes the importance of earthly things; the sacraments require matter in addition to form. While discipline and restraint are laudable, pure asceticism is no more true to the nature of humans than monophysitism is to the nature of Christ.

5:20 am  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Mr Fulton,

Thank you for your comment and for rightly pointing out that it would be a heresy to deny the proper pleasures of our humanity and our embodiedness as well as the goodness of matter in creation; a heresy which St Thomas Aquinas and the Order of Preachers has devoted itself to combating.

I think Fr Conrad Pepler OP uses "earthly and fleshly" things in the Pauline sense, where it is linked to "pleasurable union with illicit things" as he says in the next sentence.

I don't believe that the Dominican author I am quoting here actually refers to "pure asceticism" (as you put it), whatever that may be. And we are not just referring to mere discipline and restraint either but detachment from the things that bind us to 'the world' (as Paul puts it).

Perhaps I should have quoted more from Fr Conrad, for he goes on to say:

"But detachment does not, indeed it cannot, consist in the total removal of the things that give us pleasure on this earth, but rather in an attitude of mind toward them."

He goes on to say that absence of something is not the same as detachment, eg someone who has not committed an impure act may yet be seething with lustful desires.

Finally, he quotes St John of the Cross and says that "This spirit of detachment, 'whereby the soul is detached from all created things, from all actions and powers of its own, that is, from its own understanding, liking and feeling' appears in every virtue..."

I suggest that this detachment is the attitude of Christ and the martyrs which makes possible the Cross and it is this attitude of mind and heart that I am calling our attention to in Passiontide.

I hope this adds some balance to the post and any omission is entirely my fault. We ought to note too that preachers may tend to overemphasize a point in the making of it (as St Paul surely did) and thus, an excerpt like this does not fully convey the totality of Fr Conrad Pepler's thinking on the matter.

9:59 am  

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