Chastity speakers, chastity blogs, chastity belts, chastity vows, chastity education, chastity veils, chastity books, chastity jewelry, chastity T-shirts. Come one, come all, get your chastity now. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the world has gone chastity crazy. Has the world really gone crazy over a biblical virtue? What does chastity really mean in the world today? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not all about saving sex for marriage. Actually, it can mean anything you want it to mean. Both the words chaste and chastity come from the Latin adjective “castus,” which means “pure.” The word chaste is found in the KJV Bible three times. According to the 1995 Holman’s Bible Dictionary, chaste means: “Holy purity demanded of God’s people with special reference to the sexual purity of women.” We all know we can never measure up to the level of purity Christ set while he was on earth. But did he give special reference to women? I can’t find that anywhere in the Bible. The 2005 New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality includes men in the definition: “Chastity has been associated with a state of a celibate lifestyle, typically of lifelong virginity, as in the case of Catholic priests, monks and nuns. Historically and outside of the religious life, concern for the preservation of chastity, understood as virginity, most often arose with regard to unmarried women.” However, the current Oxford Dictionary’s definition of chastity reflects more the sign of our times: “The state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or especially from all, sexual intercourse: vows of chastity.” How can a person be in a state and practicing it at the same time? “I think I’ll practice dying, be right back.” Or “I think I’ll practice virginity. Tell me when I’ve perfected it.”
Somewhere around the 16th century and the reign of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, it seems that virginity fell away from the definition of chastity and the word came to be associated with a vague notion of purity, void of any spiritual dimensions. The Renaissance also ushered in a new awareness of emotions, feminine beauty, and intellectual achievement. During this time also, history came to be associated with the written word, including sexual histories and romantic literature. An interesting and inescapable fact about virginity is that it requires a history. So what does a society do when they want to forget their history? They redefine the language to suit their culture. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, for example, female worth is connected with chastity and increased sexual pleasure, but not with anything of a spiritual nature. Indeed, with the advent of the printing press in the 15th century and creative writers like Shakespeare in the 16th century, histories became easier to record and stories became easier to tell. Thus, personal histories associated with chastity became as erasable as one of Shakespeare’s characters. Look at how we’ve devolved today. As Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage.” When the words become uncomfortable, change the script. When the world wants to tax you, change your identity.
Since all taxpayers are paying for abortions, contraception, STDs, unwanted children, etc., shouldn’t every one’s sexual history be public knowledge anyway? In Old Testament times, it pretty much was. If a man raped a woman, he was required to marry her. If a new bride was found to not be a virgin, she was stoned to death. Since chastity proved to be too heavy of a cross for pleasure-seeking man to bear, we find ourselves today with a definition of chastity that has been watered down to the point you can’t tell what the original definition was. Like a feature on a car, it has become but a specification on an object of pleasure, a value added bonus. Those who still associate a sacred element with sex (and thus chastity) are at constant odds with those who see sex as a recreational sport. As John Paul II said in 2009:
“A life of chastity, poverty and obedience willingly embraced and faithfully lived confutes the conventional wisdom of the world, because it is a proclamation of the Cross of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:20-30).”
It has confuted the world to the point to where those who do respect the human body and sexuality are fighting for every shred of authenticity that is left in the Christian vocabulary. Fighting for chastity to mean something more than “doing the right thing regarding sex.” When the world says the word chastity and means a device, we think of virginity. When the world says rainbow and means gay rights, we think of Noah and the flood. When the world says marriage and means a relationship of convenience between two people for sexual pleasure, we think of a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman. The devaluation of chastity has been on a progressive downhill path. When the dignity of marriage fell a notch, chastity fell a notch. Our sexual motivations went from a means to a higher spiritual end (i.e., propagation of the species) to a means of sexual gratification. And when biblical language was no longer passed to children, chastity became a smug idea that “only religious people understood.” Like a fog lifting off a hot drenched highway, teenagers could only see virginity in their rearview mirrors and exclaim “If only somebody had told me about that.” For those who have chosen chastity and the celibate life, it would be wise to keep Pope Pius XII words in mind: “Virginity is not a Christian virtue unless we embrace it ‘for the kingdom of heaven.'” Likewise, fidelity in marriage is not a virtue unless we embrace the goodness of procreation and raising children in Christian homes.
If we don’t embrace and defend the language of both lifestyles, all biblical vocabulary will become meaningless and Shakespeare’s characters will once again come to life today. From The Merchant of Venice:
“Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.”
html http://en.radiovaticana.va/storico/2009/10/20/address_of_his_holiness_john_paul_ii_to_the_bishops_of_malawi_on_their/en3-327730 https://books.google.com/books?id=bPOft7krR84C&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=chastity+virginity+dictionary+-.com&source=bl&ots=RgRpC3ygTR&sig=E5fQqdfKP06qEmIfZsFlMbAR7B0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBmoVChMI0-XX7fzyxgIVTymICh2TyQow#v=onepage&q=chastity%20virginity%20dictionary%20-.com&f=false http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=1225