The first passage in today’s post is inspired by this post over at Scott’s new blog. During the excellent discussion Deep Strength quotes a verse from the Book of Sirach. I wanted to include the whole passage, which concerns advice on how to deal with women:
Do not be jealous of the wife of your bosom,
and do not teach her an evil lesson to your own hurt.
2 Do not give yourself to a woman
so that she gains mastery over your strength.
3 Do not go to meet a loose woman,
lest you fall into her snares.
4 Do not associate with a woman singer,
lest you be caught in her intrigues.
5 Do not look intently at a virgin,
lest you stumble and incur penalties for her.
6 Do not give yourself to harlots
lest you lose your inheritance.
7 Do not look around in the streets of a city,
nor wander about in its deserted sections.
8 Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman,
and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another;
many have been misled by a woman’s beauty,
and by it passion is kindled like a fire.
9 Never dine with another man’s wife,
nor revel with her at wine;
lest your heart turn aside to her,
and in blood you be plunged into destruction.
Scott’s post focused on the visual, and it is no coincidence that Ben Sira has several warnings about “looking” as well. Men are visual creatures, and sight along can stir up passion to blind reason. Now, it is not a sin to look (alone), but that look can quickly escalate beyond merely a gaze. Hence, it is important that we not only learn to control ourselves, but also avoid instances of temptation as well. If we avoid the temptation in the first place, then we avoid the possibility of that event bringing us into sin in the first place.
There was a comment of Scott’s that I wanted to address from that post. He said this:
I once heard a Catholic priest on the radio say that if a man lusts after his own wife, he is committing the sin in this text. If I stop lusting after my own wife, just shoot me.
Now, my understanding of Catholic theology is still not where I would like it, but from what I do understand the sin of lust is disordered passion. Passion itself, if properly ordered, is not wrong. But when it strays from what God intended then it does become disordered and then it becomes the sin of lust. As a general rule, your wife making you passionate is not a sin. In fact, it is quite far from it, as Proverbs indicates:
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely hind, a graceful doe.
Let her affection fill you at all times with delight,
be infatuated always with her love.
From what I recall, disordered passion within marriage, aka, lust, would involve a deliberately selfish use of passion that would deny the other spouse the enjoyment of the conjugal act. Basically to intentionally try and deprive your spouse of pleasure and intimacy. That is when passion becomes disordered- at least, I’m fairly sure that is how it works. All of which means that a healthy passion towards one’s wife is no sin at all. In fact, it is what good intended, and thus a Good Thing.
Finally, on the subject of self control, St. Paul had this to say:
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; 4 that each one of you know how to control your own body[b] in holiness and honor, 5 not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)
I left that footnote in because another interpretation of that passage could mean “how to take a wife for himself.” But in a sense they are the same, because self-control can be exercised in different ways. For some it might be total abstention, and for others to direct our passion towards its proper place: within the borders of holy matrimony. For neither is an impure state, unless our thoughts make it so.