Sunday, 5 June 2011

A traditional Catholic theologian on avoiding sexual temptations

This translated extract from J.-P. Gury's Compendium Theologiae Moralis (1862) shows the developed Catholic teaching on the avoidance of sexual temptations that prevailed between the Council of Trent and Vatican II.

It is underpinned firstly by a consciousness that sensual stimuli can give rise to sexual feelings and secondly by a firm desire to exclude such a result as far as possible.  To the contemporary mind, its approach is bound to appear excessive.  It is not very surprising that a Catholic theologian rules out looking at pornography and touching other people's genitals.  Perhaps more surprising is his disapproval of such things as embraces of a non-sexual nature between friends.  He goes so far as to affirm that people of the opposite sex should not have physical contact at all, particularly if they are young.  This would presumably exclude ordinary social contact such as shaking hands, as well as the touching involved in games and traditional styles of dancing.

Gury's work also has the familiar hallmarks of the post-Tridentine manuals of moral theology: it is systematic and detailed, dealing in specific cases and oriented toward giving advice to the confessor.


Chapter I.  On unconsummated sexual sins

Sins of this type comprise shameful kisses, touches, looks, conversation and reading.


Article I.  On impure kisses and touches

The following is laid down:

413. - I.  Truly impure kisses and touches, or kisses and touches which are directed to the impure parts of another person (especially one of the opposite sex) without a serious reason, can scarcely ever be free from mortal sin, even if sexual feelings are absent, due to the imminent danger of lust which they entail.

II.  Kisses and touches directed to the honourable or less dishonourable parts constitute mortal sins if they are carried out for reason of sexual pleasure.  They are venial sins if they are carried out for reason of levity, as a joke, out of curiosity, etc.  However, they are free from all culpability if they are carried out according to the custom of the country for reason of courtesy or honourable good feeling.  The reasons for the foregoing are obvious.

414. - III.  Touches and kisses even directed to the honourable parts are not easily excused from mortal sin if they are carried out capriciously or too often, particularly between young people of the opposite sex, in the absence of any necessity, even if the motive is purely non-sexual pleasure.  The reason is that carnal feelings and sexual pleasure necessarily arise from repeated or capricious acts of this kind....

The following may be concluded:

415. - 1.  No blame attaches to a mother or nurse who kisses her children or the children entrusted to her.  The same is true of other people who kiss children of a young age, even those of the opposite sex, at least ordinarily.

2.  Young people of the opposite sex who in various regions embrace each other decently and without sinful intent are not necessarily guilty of mortal sin, although they should be warned about engaging in such frivolity due to the danger which it entails.

3.  However, kisses directed to unusual parts of the body - e.g. the chest, the bosoms - are considered to be mortal, especially among people of the opposite sex, even if they are capriciously carried out, particularly if the tongue is used.  The same is the case if they are lengthy, repeated, etc....

5.  Touches directed to the wrongful parts of a person of the same sex, or the parts next to them, even through clothing, can ordinarily not be excused from mortal sin, unless by chance they are carried out from insolence, as a joke or out of levity and they are not lengthy or pre-planned.  Virtually the same thing can be said of women who touch each other's breasts, even through clothing, because the sensitivity of those parts means that touching brings with it a proximate danger of sexual pleasure.

6.  Even less, therefore, can touches directed to the wrongful parts of a person of the opposite sex by excused from mortal sin except in cases of necessity, even if they are carried out only for a very short time, because they engender a very great danger of ejaculation or sexual pleasure.  However, servant-girls who touch the indecent parts of children while they are dressing them are probably not to be held to be guilty of mortal sin, unless they linger in doing this or derive carnal pleasure from it.

V.  Considering the matter in itself, it is no more than a venial sin to touch lightly and without lingering the fingers, hands and face of a person of the opposite sex, in the absence of any impure intent and any feeling or danger of lust, if (for example) this is done from sheer levity, unless there is a particular danger that arises due to one's own or the other person's weakness.

However, because in such hazardous matters it is not always readily apparent what is a venial sin or a mortal sin, and moreover there is often a proximate danger of sinning seriously even in engaging in behaviour which does not in itself involve more than a small degree of sinfulness - e.g. if it is carried out frequently and lingeringly between people who are inclined towards lust - a confessor must take the greatest care to prevent his penitents, particuarly the younger ones, from touching people of the other sex at all.


Article II.  On looking at obscene things

The following is laid down:

417. - I.  Looking at shameful things is, in the absence of a sufficient cause, to be regarded as a mortal or venial sin depending on the intention of the individual in question, the degree of shamefulness involved and the danger of yielding to sexual feelings....

II.  Looking at grossly impure sights, particularly in relation to persons of the opposite sex, without a serious reason cannot in itself be regarded as less than a mortal sin, even if sexual feelings are absent, because it produces a proximate danger of lust....

The following may be concluded:

418. - 1.  It is not in itself a mortal sin for people of the same sex to look at each other while naked in a spirit of levity when swimming together or getting washed, particularly if they are prepubescent children....

2.  It is a mortal sin to look at the impure parts of a person of the opposite sex, or the neighbouring areas, except where they are seen from a long distance or for a very brief moment.  This is because looking at shameful things in this way is highly provocative of sexual feelings.  It does not cease to be a mortal sin if the impure parts are seen through a very slight and diaphanous covering, because such a sight increases lust rather than lessening it.... - An exception applies where the person looking is a boy or a very old man, or very lacking in sexual feelings, since such people would not be much aroused....

3.  Looking at the honourable parts of a person of the opposite sex, even a beautiful person, is not in itself a sin.  If, however, it is done out of some degree of curiosity or capriciousness, it will generally be a venial sin.  However, it is nothing less than a mortal sin to look at a person for a long time where there is a danger of impure desire or capricious pleasure, particuarly if doing so has an effect on the individuals' emotions.  A fortiori, this is also the case if the other person is the object of excessive love on the part of the person looking.

4.  Looking at the less honourable, but not shameful, parts of a person of the opposite sex (e.g. their arms, ankles, neck, the upper part of their chest) is not in itself a mortal sin where there is no danger of yielding to impure feelings.  Generally, however, it is nothing less than a mortal sin to look without cause for a significant length of time at the naked breasts of a beautiful woman, due to the danger connected with such a sight.  However, it is not a mortal sin, in the absence of any special danger, to look at mothers or nurses who are breastfeeding children or to set one's eyes on the naked chest of an old women or a young girl who is not yet developed.

5.  Looking at obscene pictures out of sheer curiosity is not considered to be a mortal sin, in the absence of shameful pleasure or the risk of it.  - In practice, however, a man who looks at a depiction of the shameful parts of a woman can scarcely be excused from mortal sin, because he will have difficulty in avoiding shameful pleasure unless he does it only for a very short space of time and from a great distance....


Article III.  On impure conversation and reading

419. - I.  It is a mortal sin to speak, sing, write or listen to disgraceful things for reason of sexual pleasure or where there is a danger that one will probably yield to sexual pleasure.  - However, if there is no impure intent or danger of yielding to lust, and at the same time there a legitimate reason for talking about, writing about or listening to such things, there is no sin.

II.  It is a mortal sin to read books that are wholly obscene, even if one does so out of curiosity or for recreation, because such books inherently pose a great danger of provoking lust, and, besides, there is never any sufficient reason to make reading such material acceptable....

III.  It is not in itself a mortal sin to read love stories which are not truly obscene, although in practice reading such material is very dangerous, particularly for younger people....

The following may be concluded:

420.  1.  In general, it is a mortal sin to carry on conversations, even out of levity, concerning marital intercourse, concerning what is allowed and forbidden for spouses, concerning the methods of preventing conception, of masturbating, etc., especially if this takes place among young people of the opposite sex....

3.  It is also a mortal sin to talk about one's own shameful sins by way of boasting....

5.  Romantic conversations with people of the opposite sex are not always to be regarded as mortally sinful, although they are full of danger, especially if they are lengthy, often repeated or carried out in secluded places....