Chastity comes from the Latin word castus, meaning “morally pure.” Being chaste means a person is keeping their body pure sexually, however Jesus extended this to also our minds. We often confuse chastity with celibacy but they are not the same thing. Chastity needs to be correctly understood and its worth upheld before people in our hypersexualised culture will even consider it a noble state of being as it was in the past and still is before God. To be chaste does not mean one does not have sex, nor does it mean that one is prude. To be chaste is to be morally pure. That is whether one is married or single or divorced. It is to experience people, things, places, entertainment and sex in a way that does not violate them or ourselves. It is about reverence for what God has created and for others with whom we relate. To have “moral purity” in the way we engage with the world and people around us. Ronald Rolheiser in his book “The Holy Longing” (1999 Doubleday Books) says that when we are chaste we “do not let impatience, irreverence, or selfishness ruin what is a gift by somehow violating it.” We lack chastity when we overstep the God given boundaries for our lives prematurely or irreverently. When we violate a God given gift or another person either physically or in our mind, we reduce its value and degrade it in a sinful way.
Thus I can be faithful to my wife but not be living chaste if I think about other women in my mind or through pornography in a way that is irreverent or crosses the moral boundaries God has ordained for his good world. Similarly single people can be celibate but not chaste in their actions and interactions with the world or others around them. More broadly to be “morally pure” extends chastity to the way we treat others in business, in the way we handle money, in our slander or gossip, in the use of power, and of course our sexuality both physically and in our minds. Our culture considers the overcoming or mocking of old fashioned chastity as a moral victory. As Rolheiser says, this claim could be taken more seriously if “this supposed sexual liberation had in fact translated into more respect between the sexes and into sex that actually – builds lasting community, more stable souls, and results in less exploitation of others.” Our cultures abandonment of chastity rather than liberate humanity has further enslaved it. God has reasons for his call to live godly and “chaste” lives. If we want a true image of a fully chaste person, we need look no further than Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace - Garry