My Two Cents on Anthony Esolen’s article Modesty and Charity

Richard Avedon | Photography and Biography
Photo by Richard Avedon

As always, another good article by Anthony Esolen which can be read at the link below.  Do read the whole thing, because there is a lot of good content.

https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2018/01/15/modesty-and-charity/

Here are some of the highlights that particularly stood out to me…

The following line made me laugh at the image he conveys

…we cannot talk about sexual modesty without the prudes of vice fainting away, for fear that “theocrats” will sweep them to some faraway castle, there to terrify them with gifts, poetry, and courtship…

 

Boys ought to temper their aggression, even their happy aggression, around girls. That includes off-color talk. To do otherwise is to say, “I am in charge here, I do what I want, and to hell with you.

So also with immodest dress. A woman who dresses to show off her form in a provocative way is saying either, “I want you not to look at my face but at more important things lower down,” or “To hell with you.”

Yes.  We have a lot of that “to hell with you” attitude in our society today.

If I see a woman whose dress seems like a strip of plastic wrap, to be used once and taken off, thoughts of sex come immediately to mind, which is what the woman intends unless she is a fool. So I check myself and turn aside. I don’t want to think those things.

Right. As a Christian he has an obligation to self-mastery even when others aren’t displaying it. The woman has an equal obligation to modesty which, if she’s Christian, she should know better.  If she’s not, we do have to deal with living in a fallen world that we should try to influence as best we can.  However, I think that even non-Christians can see the reasonableness of the Christian position which affirms obligations for both sexes to be considerate of the other.

It won’t do to say, “Don’t think them. ” [sexual thoughts]

As humans, we will have thoughts and images come to mind in response to our environment. The key with the Christian is to not entertain those thoughts but to turn your mind away from them. Once you choose to entertain them, you have engaged your will and have now sinned. [But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28] This principle is not just for men either. It’s for women too. Christ may have been addressing men when he spoke but there’s nothing special about women in that they are not prone to this sin. Although, the temptation will be less or more easily overcome generally for women.

Every human strength also betrays a weakness. A woman’s sensitivity to feelings – sensitivity without which the human race could never have survived – is also a temptation to choose just the right word to hurt the most. A man’s inclination to roughness against the stubborn resistance of the natural world – roughness without which the human race could never have survived – is also a temptation to violence.

Right. The strengths and weaknesses of both male and female have an effect on civilization and both can have either noble or disastrous ends.

Charity, forbearance, an honest admission of one’s susceptibility to sin, and consideration for the susceptibility of others, particularly members of the opposite sex, whose feelings are sometimes quite different from ours, should govern our choices in dress, speech, and physical deportment.

That’s the key right there. Getting most people on board with it is another matter.

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Do We Really Need to Focus on the Masculine and Feminine So Much?

With all the talk of sex and gender and what it means to be a man or a woman these days, we have seen an explosion of books and blogs on the topic.   Catholic women have been studying for years to determine what St. John Paul II fully meant by the feminine genius.  Now men and women are also exploring “the masculine genius.”  A quick internet search of either phrase will bring up essays, blog posts, youtube videos, and books on the subjects.  It’s not just Catholic literature that explores these ideas-it’s everywhere.  Protestant denominations, the toxic secular Red Pill manosphere/Red Pill women sites, PUA’s, feminists, and every sexual orientation humanity can think of has something to say on the topic.

I’ve been thinking about these themes for many years myself and the conclusion I’m coming to is that unless we begin to teach real virtue again and have people come to a deeper understanding of it, we will continue to chase our tails trying to nail down definitions of masculinity and femininity.  Without this foundation of not only understanding the virtues but of incorporating the self-discipline to actually discern which ones are our strengths and which ones are our weaknesses along with working on growing in them, we will never have the wisdom to discern the truth of anything else.

I do happen to think that we need to be able to define masculinity and femininity, man and woman, fatherhood and motherhood.  These conversations are really important to have because of the assault on these terms which tear at the very fabric of society.   However, until we convince people of the wisdom in understanding and gaining virtue and virtuous living, we will be severely limited in the scope of our understanding man and woman.  Virtue is foundational and without it other concepts are built on nothing but sand.

Here’s a good overview and description of the virtues.

http://catholicbible101.com/thevirtues.htm

How Far Should a Woman Go to Be Modest for the Sake of Keeping Men Chaste?

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‘Eve Tempting Adam,’ by Johann Carl Loth

Modest dress in women will ONLY be a help to the men who are ALREADY working on keeping their thoughts chaste. It’s a service of love for our brothers who want to see the women around them as sisters and not as objects of their uncontrolled lust.

Men who already walk around with the intent to indulge in looking at women’s figures to titilate their own lustful thoughts, will salivate just as much over the woman who is obviously dressed to attract sexual attention as they will a woman who has taken care to keep covered from about no more than mid-thigh to the top of her cleavage. As long as she is dressed prettily but not dowdy or in a tent that completely hides her form, she is prey to the weak man who doesn’t even try to master himself in this area. There’s not a darn thing she can do to keep him from having the thoughts he’s going to have. It’s his sin, not hers.  It’s not on her to hide the femininity God gave her by depersonalizing herself in garb that hides her true form altogether.

Women don’t need to ask men what is modest. If we are in any way honest with ourselves and it’s our intention when we buy clothes and get dressed, to not explicitly try to gain sexual attention, then we will most likely pick out appropriate clothing. It’s ok to want to look pretty and well put together and that’s not immodest at all.

Examples

Modest in a way that reflects femininity and will be a help to men who have already decided to gain mastery over lustful thoughts…….

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Modest to the point of depersonalization (complete denial of the female form) in an attempt  to keep already unchaste men from thinking nasty thoughts.  It is not necessary for women to go this far.  Men have a responsibility to overcome their own sin and to master their sinful inclinations.

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Summary

Women can choose to be a help to men in their quest to keep their thoughts chaste and we can choose to recognize and honor our own dignity in how we dress.  Men can have a weakness in this area but ultimately it’s up to the man to decide to have dominion and mastery over himself.  Until he desires this and attempts it, there’s not much individual women can do to help him without completely hiding the fact that we ARE women with a female form that God has given to us.   We are not responsible to keep men from sinning to the point that our very being as women must be denied, covered up and formless.  It’s not our job to completely take the responsibility of self-mastery from individual men.  Each man is responsible for himself and for his own sin.

Random Thoughts on Men, Women, God and Theology of the Body

Some random thoughts inspired by  St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  The thoughts shared are not ones that I’ve fully fleshed out (but have revised somewhat from the original post when published) but are more of a train-of-thought put down in writing so that perhaps I can come back to them later in more depth.  If these ideas inspire some of your own, please share them in the comments. We all benefit from hearing and considering different points of view.

Males in a certain way highlight the image of God as One.  One who is other to his creation like a father is outside the process of nurturing and growing new life.  A father relies on the mother’s willingness to accept him, nurture and develop the life of their child within her, and to make room for him within the mother/child bond.  God, too, does not impose on us.  He reveals Himself and calls us to accept Him, cooperate with Him in creating new life, whether physically or spiritually, so we can share with Him the fruit of our works.  Our working with God reveals to us our dignity as sharers of His image.  St. John Paul II wrote “The man—even with his sharing in parenthood—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother… ”  “Fathers must insert themselves into the bond between mother and child as a ‘second other’ by an initiative very much like that of adoption.” wrote author John W. Miller in Biblical Faith and Fathering: Why We Call God Father.

Philip saw a lecture on this artist, Brian Kershisnik and said that this painting, entitled "little father" was how he felt when he saw his wife breastfeeding their children--helpless.
Little Father by Brian Kershisnik This painting seems to depicts the feeling a new father has in relation to his wife and child. It’s important that mothers make room for the father within the mother/child bond and to nuture and encourage all the family relationships, as shown in the painting below.

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Females in a certain way highlight the image of God as Trinity insofar as she features the deep interpersonal intimacy and communion among and between persons.  Pregnancy shows this communion in the most obvious way in which the bond between mother and child which is so exclusive and deep that even though they are two distinct persons, they seem as one.  God desires to share His intimate life and love of the persons of the Trinity with us.  He wants us to be in relationship with Him in which He lives in and through us.  He desires this deep and intimate communion with us so much that He uses the humble instruments of  bread and wine, “the work of human hands” in which to transform them into His body and blood so that we can have His very life living within us.  St. John Paul II wrote “In the light of  the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings—not only towards her own child but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more.”

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Another painting by Brian Kershisnik. “Climbing Mother” This painting seems to show the deep communion between mothers and children. The children seek out her care, nurturing, warmth, comfort and the safety of her arms. This is much like how we seek the comfort and support of God when we are at our most vulnerable.

To be clear, to highlight a certain aspect of God for the male and female, doesn’t mean one should be limited by it because each of us is called to fully image God as both One and Trinity as an individual.  However, man and woman together is also a full image of God in that each person is wholly and completely a human person whose dignity as such should be respected just as each person of the Trinity is a recognized person but they are also called into intimate communion to serve one another in love.  Man and woman shouldn’t be thought of as 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 but rather should be seen as 1 + 1 = 3.  This is most clearly seen in the creation of a new human life.  The child is not a portion of two halves that made a whole in which now there are thirds.  This is another whole person from two whole persons.

In order to be fully integrated as a human being, we need to fully develop ourselves and understand who we are as an individual and to understand the dignity we have as a unique soul who has been endowed with the ability to reason and to have dominion over our place in the world.  However, as an individual it is not good for us to be alone as it was not good for Adam to be alone.  We are called to communion with others to be able to give and receive love just as the persons of the Trinity have this reciprocity of love among them.

A male-centered world view and radical feminism seems to value individual autonomy and the role of dominion over the earth (the image of God that is One and that is more prominently featured in the male) over and above the more female-centered world view of interpersonal relationships in a communion of love (the image of God that is Three that speaks of a deep sharing of life and that is more prominently featured in the female.)

What needs to be brought to everyone’s attention is that neither is better than the other nor should one way of being be valued over the other because if either feature is missing, then you don’t have an image of the true God, you have a false god.  A solitary being (either male or female) who has no “other” (whether a complementary partner or a life concecrated to God) to fulfill the purpose of communion is stunted and sterile, physically and spiritually.  They remain a solitude.  Beings who look for communion but only to fulfill themselves without recognizing and respecting the “other” as another person with their own dignity, will consume or take all of another so that the “other” no longer exists.  This also produces a sterility that fails to multiply.

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To be human as an image of God is to recognize your individual dignity as a person and to respect the individual dignity of other persons while sharing in communion with them by the giving and receiving of love.   This sharing in communion is not limited, of course, with other human beings but helps us to know and understand our relationship with God.

There must be a deep respect for the individual person and their liberty that comes from their dignity.  There must also be deep respect for that which is intimate and relational between individuals in a way that does not seek to dominate but to give and hope to receive in return.  Each individual should ask themselves how they can serve the “other” but shouldn’t seek or demand to be served but rather can indeed hope to be served in kind.  If that service is not returned by the one to whom it was given it is really no matter because every service rendered to another for God’s sake WILL BE richly rewarded by God at the perfect time and place of His choosing.  We can rest in this trust in Him.

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by Brian Kershisnik