The bond between man and wife is one of the closest, and nothing can be more gratifying to both than to know that they are objects of mutual and special affection. On the other hand, nothing inflicts deeper anguish than to feel that the legitimate love which one owes the other has been transferred elsewhere. Rightly, then, and in its natural order, is the Commandment which protects human life against the hand of the murderer, followed by that which forbids adultery and which aims to prevent anyone from injuring or destroying by such a crime the holy and honourable union of marriage a union which is generally the source of ardent affection and love.
In the explanation of this Commandment, however, the pastor has need of great caution and prudence, and should treat with great delicacy a subject which requires brevity rather than copiousness of exposition. For it is to be feared that if he explained in too great detail or at length the ways in which this Commandment is violated, he might unintentionally speak of subjects which, instead of extinguishing, usually serve rather to inflame corrupt passion.
As, however, the precept contains many things which cannot be passed over in silence, the pastor should explain them in their proper order and place.
This Commandment, then, resolves itself into two heads; the one expressed, which prohibits adultery; the other implied, which inculcates purity of mind and body.
To begin with the prohibitory part (of the Commandment), adultery is the defilement of the marriage bed, whether it be one's own or another's. If a married man have intercourse with an unmarried woman, he violates the integrity of his marriage bed; and if an unmarried man have intercourse with a married woman, he defiles the sanctity of the marriage bed of another.
But that every species of immodesty and impurity are included in this prohibition of adultery, is proved by the testimonies of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose; and that such is the meaning of the Commandment is borne out by the Old, as well as the New Testament. In the writings of Moses, besides adultery, other sins against chastity are said to have been punished. Thus the book of Genesis records the judgment of Judah against his daughter-in-law. In Deuteronomy is found the excellent law of Moses, that there should be no harlot amongst the daughters of Israel. Take heed to keep thyself, my son, from all fornication, is the exhortation of Tobias to his son; and in Ecclesiasticus we read: Be ashamed of looking upon a harlot.
In the Gospel, too, Christ the Lord says: From the heart come forth adulteries and fornications, which defile a man. The Apostle Paul expresses his detestation of this crime frequently, and in the strongest terms: This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication; Fly fornication; Keep not company with fornicators; Fornication, and an uncleanness and covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you; " Neither fornicators nor adulterers, nor the effeminate nor sodomites shall possess the kingdom of God.
But the reason why adultery is expressly forbidden is because in addition to the turpitude which it shares with other kinds of incontinence, it adds the sin of injustice, not only against our neighbour, but also against civil society.
Again it is certain that he who abstains not from other sins against chastity, will easily fall into the crime of adultery. By the prohibition of adultery, therefore, we at once see that every sort of immodesty and impurity by which the body is defiled is prohibited. Nay, that every inward thought against chastity is forbidden by this Commandment is clear, as well from the very force of the law, which is evidently spiritual, as also from these words of Christ the Lord: You have heard that it was said to them of old: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.
These are the points which we have deemed proper matter for public instruction of the faithful. The pastor, however, should add the decrees of the Council of Trent against adulterers, and those who keep harlots and concubines, omitting many other species of immodesty and lust, of which each individual is to be admonished privately, as circumstances of time and person may require.
We now come to explain the positive part of the precept. The faithful are to be taught and earnestly exhorted to cultivate continence and chastity with all care, to cleanse themselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God.
First of all they should be taught that although the virtue of chastity shines with a brighter lustre in those who make the holy and religious vow of virginity, nevertheless it is a virtue which belongs also to those who lead a life of celibacy; or who, in the married state, preserve themselves pure and undefiled from unlawful desire.
The holy Fathers have taught us many means whereby to subdue the passions and to restrain sinful pleasure. The pastor, therefore, should make it his study to explain these accurately to the faithful, and should use the utmost diligence in their exposition. Of these means some are reflections, others are active measures.
The first kind consists chiefly in our forming a just conception of the filthiness and evil of this sin; for such knowledge will lead one more easily to detest it. Now the evil of this crime we may learn from the fact that, on account of it, man is banished and excluded from the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all evils.
The abovementioned calamity is indeed common to every mortal sin. But what is peculiar to this sin is that fornicators are said to sin against their own bodies, according to the words of the Apostle: Fly fornication. Everysin that a man doth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body. The reason is that such a one does an injury to his own body violating its sanctity. Hence St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says: This is the will of God, your sanctification; that you should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God.
Furthermore, what is still more criminal, the Christian who shamefully sins with a harlot makes the members of Christ the members of an harlot, according to these words of St. Paul: Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot is made one body? Moreover, a Christian, as St. Paul testifies is the temple of the Holy Ghost ; and to violate this temple is nothing else than to expel the Holy Ghost.
But the crime of adultery involves that of grievous injustice. If, as the Apostle says, they who are joined in wedlock are so subject to each other that neither has power or right over his or her body, but both are bound, as it were, by a mutual bond of subjection, the husband to accommodate himself to the will of the wife, the wife to the will of the husband; most certainly if either dissociate his or her person, which is the right of the other, from him or her to whom it is bound, the offender is guilty of an act of great injustice and wickedness.
As dread of disgrace strongly stimulates to the performance of duty and deters from the commission of crime, the pastor should also teach that adultery brands its guilty perpetrators with an unusual stigma. He that is an adulterer, says Scripture, for the folly of his heart shall destroy his own soul: he gathereth to himself shame and dishonour, and his reproach shall not be blotted out.
The grievousness of the sin of adultery may be easily inferred from the severity of its punishment. According to the law promulgated by God in the Old Testament, the adulterer was stoned to death. Nay more, because of the criminal passion of one man, not only the perpetrator of the crime, but a whole city was destroyed, as we read with regard to the Sichemites. The Sacred Scriptures abound with examples of the divine vengeance, such as the destruction of Sodom and of the neighbouring cities,' the punishment of the Israelites who committed fornication in the wilderness with the daughters of Moab, and the slaughter of the Benjamites. These examples the pastor can easily make use of to deter men from shameful lust.
But even though the adulterer may escape the punishment of death, he does not escape the great pains and torments that often overtake such sins as his. He becomes afflicted with blindness of mind a most severe punishment; he is lost to all regard for God, for reputation, for honour, for family, and even for life; and thus, utterly abandoned and worthless, he is undeserving of confidence in any matter of moment, and becomes unfitted to discharge any kind of duty.
Of this we find examples in the persons of David and of Solomon. David had no sooner fallen into the crime of adultery than he degenerated into a character the very reverse of what he had been before; from the mildest of men he became so cruel as to consign to death Urias, one of his most deserving subjects. Solomon, having abandoned himself to the lust of women, gave up the true religion to follow strange gods. This sin, therefore, as Osee observes, takes away man's heart and often blinds his understanding.
We now come to the remedies which consist in action. The first is studiously to avoid idleness; for, according to Ezechiel, it was by yielding to the enervating influence of idleness that the Sodomites plunged into the most shameful crime of criminal lust.
In the next place, intemperance is carefully to be avoided. I fed them to the full, says the Prophet, and they committed adultery. An overloaded stomach begets impurity. This our Lord intimates in these words: Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Be not drunk with wine, says the Apostle, wherein is luxury.
But the eyes, in particular, are the inlets to criminal passion, and to this refer these words of our Lord: If thine eye scandalise thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. The Prophets, also, frequently speak to the same effect. I made a covenant with mine eyes, says Job, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin. Finally, there are on record innumerable examples of the evils which have their origin in the indulgence of the eyes. It was thus that David sinned, thus that the king of Sichem fell, and thus also that the elders sinned who calumniated Susanna.
Too much display in dress, which especially attracts the eye, is but too frequently an occasion of sin. Hence the admonition of Ecclesiasticus: Turn away thy face from a woman dressed up. As women are given to excessive fondness for dress, it will not be unseasonable in the pastor to give some attention to the subject, and sometimes to admonish and reprove them in the impressive words of the Apostle Peter: Whose adorning let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel. St. Paul likewise says: Not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire. Many women adorned with gold and precious stones, have lost the only true ornament of their soul and body.
Next to the sexual excitement, usually provoked by too studied an elegance of dress, follows another, which is indecent and obscene conversation. Obscene language is a torch which lights up the worst passions of the young mind; and the Apostle has said, that evil communications corrupt good manners. Immodest and passionate songs and dances are most productive of this same effect and are, therefore, cautiously to be avoided.
In the same class are to be numbered soft and obscene books which must be avoided no less than indecent pictures. All such things possess a fatal influence in exciting to unlawful attractions, and in inflaming the mind of youth. In these matters the pastor should take special pains to see that the faithful most carefully observe the pious and prudent regulations of the Council of Trent.
If the occasions of sin which we have just enumerated be carefully avoided, almost every excitement to lust will be removed. But the most efficacious means for subduing its violence are frequent use of confession and Communion, as also unceasing and devout prayer to God, accompanied by fasting and almsdeeds. Chastity is a gift of God. To those who ask it aright He does not deny it; nor does He suffer us to be tempted beyond our strength.
But the body is to be mortified and the sensual appetites to be repressed not only by fasting, and particularly, by the fasts instituted by the Church, but also by watching, pious pilgrimages, and other works of austerity. By these and similar observances is the virtue of temperance chiefly manifested. In connection with this subject, St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: Every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things; and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. A little after he says: I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest, perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. And in another place he says: Make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence.Back