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.

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.


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.

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

Image result for eve as temptress
‘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.


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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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.

Sexual Purity is a Virtue of the Soul That Sanctifies The Body

St. Maria Goretti on pilgrimage in the United States (Photo: Charlotte Observer)
St. Maria Goretti on pilgrimage in the United States (Photo: Charlotte Observer)

I came across a blog post at Zippy Catholic the other day that was a response to an ongoing debate in the comments section of another blog post at OnePeterFive about whether Saint Maria Goretti died to preserve her virginal purity when her attacker attempted to rape her or whether she died trying to prevent her attacker from committing mortal sin if he were to be successful in his attempt.

There were some commenters who were offended at the idea that she died preserving her purity or virginity.  They claim that it insinuates that rape victims who were not successful at warding off their rapist or who did not put up much of a fight due to being threatened with severe bodily harm or death, were damaged goods, rendered sexually impure or somehow sinful in not fighting to the death in preventing their rape.  There were other commenters defending that she did indeed die to preserve her purity.  There were some good points on both sides but sometimes that was lost in the lack of charity extended among the debaters due to speculation and assumptions about each other’s motives behind each of their arguments.  I think the offense comes in because it is assumed that by holding St. Maria Goretti up as an example of the value of purity, that it means victims of rape are obligated to fight to the death against their attacker lest they sin and ruin themselves.

When a woman is raped her sexual integrity is violated.  She does not will the rape to happen.  The bodily violation harms her physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Some of these wounds can be healed if she is made to understand that despite the harm done to her, it ultimately didn’t take away her worth or somehow make her dirty.  She has been sinned against and has had damage done to her but it doesn’t render her damaged goods.  She is not made impure or unchaste by what has been done to her.

St. Augustine taught this very clearly in The City of God, Chapter 18.  He wrote, “…purity is a virtue of the soul…what sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity? For if purity can be thus destroyed, then assuredly purity is no virtue of the soul; nor can it be numbered among those good things by which the life is made good.”  He goes on “I suppose no one is so foolish as to believe that, by this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost anything even of her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the violence done by another’s lust makes no impression on this bodily sanctity, which is preserved intact by one’s own persistent continence. ”

The commenters who are offended that she died to preserve her purity are right in that purity is not destroyed if a woman is raped.  Because it’s a virtue of the soul rather than the body, if a woman in her God-given freedom does not will to consent to intercourse but it is forced upon her, then she is still pure.

Another question comes to mind as well, “Is a virgin still a virgin, if she is raped against her will?”  Yes, she is, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Virginity.  The entry explains in the very first two sentences, “Morally, virginity signifies the reverence for bodily integrity which is suggested by a virtuous motive. Thus understood, it is common to both sexes, and may exist in a women even after bodily violation committed upon her against her will. ”

So what of Maria Goretti?  Because her virginity and purity would have remained, was it in vain that she chose to fight off her attacker to the death?  Absolutely not. Although her resistance to the death was not an obligation, it was an heroic act of love for God.  St. Maria Goretti exemplified heroic virtue, which goes beyond ordinary virtue, in her love for God above all things, even that of her very life.

Heroic virtue is a degree of perfection which, according to St. Thomas Aquinas,” belongs to the blessed in heaven or to a few of the most perfect in this life.”  Pope Benedict XIV wrote “In order to be heroic a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that ” An heroic virtue, then, is a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature, a new motive power stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations, capable of rendering easy a series of acts each of which, for the ordinary man, would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, diffulties.”

We know from St. Maria Goretti’s story that the incident in which she was murdered was not her first encounter with Alessandro. The defense of virtue that was considered in her canonization was not just the incident that lead to her death but her ongoing defense of it over a period of time.  He had been hounding her and sexually harassing her for months and she had vehemently refused and did what she could to run away from him.  This “habit of good conduct” combined with her great love of God taught to her by her parents and strengthened by the power of the Rosary said by her family each evening, all gave her an unshakable foundation on which her will was able to cooperate with the gift of supernatural grace given to her in order that she be a witness to the value of sexual purity before God.

For those who were raped and unable to fend off their attacker or who were rendered helpless under fear of the threat of death, St. Maria’s story should not make them feel as though they have sinned, are impure or have even lost their virginity if they were virgins when it happened.  If anything, St. Maria’s story should bring to light the horrible violation that is the sin of rape that was committed against them and against God.   Her story acknowledges the great value of the victim’s sexual integrity and the freedom they should have had to refuse and have that refusal be respected.

For most of us, we will not be called to martyrdom nor will we reach the highest degree of perfection attainable while we are still in this life.  However, by these stories of the heroic virtues of the saints, we should find inspiration to every day be striving after holiness and working towards that perfection we hope to have in the future as one of the blessed in heaven.

Here is a link to one of the better in-depth accounts of the story of St. Maria Goretti