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            Rebuilding the Moat Around the Castle of Chastity

Colleen McGuigan M.T.S.


I continue to be overwhelmed by the blessings that God bestows upon me.  Beyond the gift of being called into being, I think of the priceless gift of my family, who continues to love me into existence.  My parents willingly accepted the gift of children and have never disrespected their unique role as educators in my first classroom, my home.  I believe my parents realized and wholeheartedly accepted the fact that they were commissioned by God to raise new souls, new saints, unrepeatable masterpieces that will one day be exhibited in heaven, and it is only for this reason, and this reason alone, that my siblings and I have been enabled to humbly flourish in the hostile culture in which we were born. 

There were many early lessons I received in modesty and chastity, lessons that began with, "Would the Virgin Mary wear that mini-skirt?" or in evaluating my attire..."Am I someone beautiful for Jesus today?"  At the time, I seemed to be the only girl receiving simultaneous lessons in Christianity and fashion, which to me seemed highly irrelevant.  Then I grew up and realized to my surprise that these lessons were far beyond fashion, but were timeless truths of chastity and modesty.  These early lessons in virtue laid the foundation for a true understanding of how to love and be loved.  As an adult, I have counseled and consoled many of my peers who seemingly did not receive these lessons soon enough.  In conforming to cultural milieus, they unintentionally were objectified and thus sought after as objects.  Consequently, they did not receive the true love they deserved.  Their continual search for love, in all the wrong ways and circumstances, has presently rendered them incapable of giving or receiving authentic love.           

As a woman in the twenty-first century, I feel extremely grateful for the implicit and explicit lessons that I have gradually realized to be lessons regarding the true integration of love.  These lessons in love hinge upon the proper understanding of the integration of all that is embodied in the person.  I have been taught that all of my actions make me into the person that I am, and to separate my personhood from my personal acts and emotions would be to deny my full humanity.  Because my personhood is a reflection and a gift contingent on my Creator, I am bound to protect and respect it.  The call to preserve the God-given treasure that lies within me is the first movement towards the possibility of the full revelation of my person, the authentic gift of my whole self to another.  I remain eternally grateful for the handing down of the ultimate lesson in love and realize the need to show how modesty is integral to the universal call to love. I will try to show this in this paper.                                                       

My mother has always taught me that modesty is the moat around the castle of chastity.  This profound statement has echoed in my head many times, not always at my choosing, but nevertheless, this most fragile truth continues to revisit me.  What is the purpose of a moat?  A moat is constructed to protect a valuable property, a castle.  A moat is usually signified by a deep surrounding body of water often teeming with vengefully watchful animals.  This enclosure functions as a fortification against uninvited invaders.  When a moat is broken down, the castle and all that is contained within is overtaken, violated, and ultimately left in ruins.  I believe this analogy reveals a very significant truth regarding modesty as a safeguard to the precious virtue of chastity.  When the moat of modesty is destroyed, willingly or unwillingly, the person's interior castle of chastity is inevitably left vulnerable to be sacked and pillaged without recourse.         

In this paper I will first summarize major ideas regarding the virtue of chastity as set forth by Pope John Paul II who, then writing as Karol Wojtyla, beautifully “rehabilitated chastity” in his great book, Love and Responsibility.  I will then show how modesty is indeed the “moat around the castle of chastity,” again relying on this wonderful book and on Wendy Shalit’s Return to Modesty.

I. Chastity and Its Rehabilitation

Recognizing the eternal gravity of love between persons, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, then Karol Wojtyla, illuminated the desperate need to "Rehabilitate Chastity" in his all encompassing book,  Love and Responsibility.  He adapted this notion of rehabilitation from a study of Max Scheler, who sought to revive the notion of virtue.  Restoration implies the need to recover something that has been lost, replenishing the rightful good that has been misplaced or disregarded.  Scheler found modern man to be hostile to virtue, adopting an attitude of "resentment."  This resentment is born of the fallacious and deformed values that arise in misguided thought divorced from objective truth.  The weakness of this attitude is seated in the weakness of the will.  Commenting on this, Wojtyla says,

The fact is that attaining or realizing a higher value demands a greater effort of will.  So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect which it deserves, even see it as in some way evil, although objectivity requires us to recognize that it is good (p.143).

He points out the similar characteristic found in the cardinal sin called sloth, defined by St. Thomas as “a sadness arising from the fact that good is difficult.”  He further clarifies that this "sadness" does not invalidate its goodness, but rather, "...indirectly helps to keep respect for it alive in the soul" (p. 144).  Wojtyla seeks to reveal the full integration of beauty found in the challenging call of chastity.  In order to dispel resentment and misconceptions of chastity, he seeks to uncover the reality of chastity, which he understands as a function of attitude from person to person.  He accomplishes this task through a radical and comprehensive analysis of the true integration of love unique to persons, which is unveiled and protected in the virtue of chastity.

What is true chastity and why must it be protected?  Many spurious definitions of chastity are rampant in the modern mind, unleashing the resentment and brokenness of the person.  A methodological falsification of chastity has been constructed in order to prove it harmful to modern man, making it his enemy in the pursuit of human relations and fulfillment.   Empirical science has sought to prove chastity impossible due to man's insatiable need for physical sexual relief, which aligns man with non-rational animals who operate solely on instinct.  This mentality serves to further obscure the objective meaning of love and promulgate bitterness towards chastity.   Wojtyla believes resentment to chastity, an effect of original sin, can be overcome within the realm of love; what must be done first is to will the good of the other.              

In order to reveal fully the true definition of chastity and the need for its preservation, one must delve deeply into the true nature of love between persons, the love for which we were created.  This pursuit must not seek to suppress love, but rather intend to fully integrate all that is contained within the human person, avoiding fragmentation at all cost.  Wojtyla arrives at the unmistakable truth of love as a result of his comprehensive metaphysical, psychological, and ethical analysis of the nature of love.  His holistic approach brings forth a succinct understanding of the whole inter-personal nature of man. The total integration of personhood is given primacy in his analysis, for he believes:

Love cannot remain merely a subjective 'situation' in which sexual and emotional energies aroused by the sexual urge make themselves felt.  If it does, it cannot rise to the level appropriate to persons, and cannot unite persons.  For love to attain its full personal value, and truly to unite a man and a woman, it must be firmly based on the affirmation of the value of the person (p.145).

St. Thomas's definition of true love of friendship, wherein the lover seeks to know, will and do the good of his beloved, expresses this very same personal profundity.  Thus fully integrated human love develops through a total committed and responsible attitude toward the other, precisely as a person.

Pure emotion and/or concentrated sensual gratification directed towards another person, detached from the primacy of the person's true worth, is not love, but rather a defiled and disintegrated illusion of love.  Sadly, the contemporary world has latched onto this deprived self-seeking substitute, which fails to see love's true meaning and is therefore incapable of recognizing the wisdom of chastity.  Wojtyla states that the “powerful sensations and actions springing from sexual reactions and the emotions connected with them tend to deprive love of its crystal clarity” and thus a "special virtue is necessary to protect its true character and objective profile"  (p. 146). He explains that this special virtue, which is chastity, is "intimately allied to love between man and woman” (ibid.).  “The word 'chaste' ['clean'] implies liberation from everything that ‘makes dirty’” (ibid.).

Looking through the prism of chastity gives us the opportunity to affirm the pure and expansive essence of love and the beloved. Severing oneself from the bonds of unadulterated sensual gratification reveals a true self-respect which will inevitably protect against the objectification of one's body and therefore one's soul.  This is precisely why the proper understanding of chastity supported by modesty is of such grave concern for eventual human fulfillment in love.

Wojtyla continues his development of love, helping to clarifying the often misunderstood reality of chastity, saying:

To be chaste means to have a “transparent” attitude to a person of the other sex--chastity means just that--the interior “transparency” without which love is not itself, for it cannot be itself until the desire to “enjoy” is subordinated to a readiness to show loving kindness in every situation (p. 170).

Wojtyla’s clarity sheds light on the fact that chastity is not something to be understood as a negative oppression of the rights of the person, but rather a positive call to embrace the vast nature of love and therefore the mysterious depths of the nature of the beloved.  Chastity is not to be mistaken as a repression of one's sexual feelings into the subconscious, waiting to explode.  If it is treated as such, a negative outcome will inevitably ensue.  In order to be chaste one must experience sexual feelings; the key is how one properly integrates and directs these feelings.  Erroneous concepts of chastity belittle the virtue and may lead one to believe in an underdeveloped notion, which proclaims chastity to be "...one long 'no.' Whereas it is above all the 'yes' of which certain 'no's' are the consequence" (p. 170).  Wojtyla explains that true chastity does not result in the attitude of disdain for the body or for contempt for matrimony or the sexual life, but rather, "[the] recognition and appreciation of the true value of 'the body and sex' is conditioned on the 'revaluation'...the raising of these values to the level of the person…which is characteristic of and essential to chastity. Thus only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love "( p. 171).  This line of thought enables one to see what he calls "the dual content" of chastity: a positive component, which says "thou shalt love!" and a negative content that cautions, "thou shalt not use!"   Chastity requires a mature and patient humility, an inward transformation that yields a clarity of vision required for ultimate happiness in love.  Unchastity endangers persons, prevents fulfillment, and makes true love impossible!      

Chastity truly integrates love, raising it to the level of the person.  And it is only from this level that we are able to recognize chastity as a virtue.  Wojtyla states, “only in love as a virtue is it possible to satisfy the objective demands of the personalistic norm, which requires ‘loving kindness’ toward a person and rejects any form of the ‘utilization’ of the person" (p. 167).  Quite often the utilization of a person for pleasure or emotional fulfillment disguises itself as love, but objectively understood these complex situations are mere empty illusions of love.  It is for this reason that Wojtyla puts such great emphasis on the responsibility of the true lover.  He believes the greater the feeling of responsibility for a person's inestimable worth, the greater the love will be for that person.  The responsible action involved in the development of virtue brings with it a transforming power on the person who wills to participate in and be perfected by God's wise and loving plan of love.    

The external enactment of the virtue of chastity inwardly strengthens one's personhood.  This inward fortification enables a person to have a greater possession of self and his passions, which eventually allows for the true and liberating gift of the entire self.  In order to give oneself completely, one must fully possess oneself.   Self possession through the virtue of chastity is linked to what St. Thomas describes as the cardinal (Latin cardo; hinge) virtue of moderation.  Chastity hinges on moderation in that moderation allows for the subordination of sensual reactions (which are good in their proper sphere) to one's reason.  This subordination safeguards against the perversion of a natural good.  Wojtyla affirms the quest for moderation, as he realizes that true perfection can be expressed and realized above all in pursuing and desiring the good, by choosing to be a moderate person.  He further buttresses the pursuit of virtue through the words of Matthew's Gospel, calling all to "be perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).    

The inward transformation of virtue reinforces the powerful outward control needed to subordinate oneself to "...the greatest of these, love."  Realizing the need to grow in love through virtue, Wojtyla says that the virtue of chastity is a matter of “efficiency in controlling the concupiscent impulses set up by the reactions [of sensuality and affectivity.] Continuing, he says that “fully formed virtue is an efficiently functioning control which permanently keeps the appetites in equilibrium by means of its habitual attitude to the true good (bonum honestum) determined by reason” (p. 169). 

Continually assenting to reason eventually enables one to establish the habit of love, grown from the seeds of virtue.  It is for this reason that we see that chastity cannot be abstracted from love and vice versa.  This life-long call to true love can seem arduous, but the possibility of living virtuously is real for man because of God’s grace, because of divine strength, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).  The longer one dwells in the virtue of chastity, the freer one’s love becomes.  This virtue unlocks the shackles of the utilitarian mind set, and therefore one no longer needs to "scratch the scab of lust"  (St. Augustine). As Wojtyla tells us, the function of chastity is “to free love from the utilitarian attitude…which derives not only from sensuality or concupiscence as such, but as such, or more from subjectivism of emotions, and especially subjectivism of value judgments, which is rooted in the will.” Indeed, he continues,

The virtue of chastity, whose function it is to free love from utilitarian attitudes, must control not only sensuality and carnal concupiscence…but—perhaps more important—those centers deep within the human being in which the utilitarian attitude is hatched and grows. There can be no chastity unless the forms of volitional subjectivism…and the varieties of egoism which they conceal are overcome: the more successfully the utilitarian attitude is camouflaged in the will the more dangerous it is (p. 170).

A virtuous life requires a conversion of heart in order to derail the utilitarian objectification of the human person.  Speaking of the virtue of chastity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church profoundly proclaims "the heart is the place of decision." ( # 2563) In order to be virtuous in body, man must remain pure in heart and mind, for it has been revealed that, "...every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt 5:28).  This is a hard truth that needs constant attention and prayer.  Our contemporary utilitarian culture is driven by the vice of a disordered and disintegrated pleasure principle and must be stopped in its tracks. 

2. Modesty, the “moat” protecting Chastity

This realization places before us a monumental task and, with that, the invitation to truly rediscover the love which resides only in the human heart.  Soren Kierkegaard once said, "What distinguishes all love from lust is the fact that it bears an impress of eternity."  Real love must be revived and protected because it is a timeless gift bestowed upon mankind, requiring responsible stewardship.  Although we have been given the means to realize the truth of love and the virtue contained within, our culture continues to wage war on the castle of chastity, breaking down the walls of what Wojtyla calls, "healthy shame," and thereby draining the vital waters of modesty.

Modesty must be given its proper place in order to preserve the castle of chastity.  Like chastity, modesty has acquired over time many obscure and mistaken connotations and resentments, which need to be eradicated in order to yield a fuller understanding of man's purpose to love.  In her book, Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit offers many provocative and conclusive thoughts regarding modesty in the modern world.  She states, "...modesty is fundamentally about knowing , protecting that knowledge, and directing it to something higher, beyond just two" (p. 183).  I believe she is restating the truth that a love between a man and a woman should not be closed in upon itself, but rather left truly open to the Eternal Source, Who was the first to love and further the One who enables them to become a new "one flesh" reality.  Chastity protects the divinely ordained privilege of giving oneself away completely, as a gift, in marriage or in the celibate life.  Chastity provides the fundamental respect needed to preserve the body, which is meant to be an offering to the other. For example, in marriage, intercourse is not merely a sensory-emotional response, but rather a free and rational gift to the other.  The notion of "gift" necessitates the need for modesty, which must be properly understood.  

Modesty is the fortification that preserves chaste love, allowing for a specific invitation of one man and one woman, which is quite the opposite of prudery.  A puritanical or prudish view of the body denies the gift of sexuality, just as the hedonistic and utilitarian view of the body profanes the gift of sex, rendering it simply an act of carnal pleasure.  The prudish and licentious understandings of the body are actually opposite sides of the same coin, a coin without value.  Wojtyla does not puritanically deny the gift of sexuality, rather he shows that remaining open to God in marriage does not exclude the true integration of sensuality and enjoyment, which in itself is a natural response and is not morally wrong.  Through chastity, a couple is able to protect their gift of sexuality.  Wojtyla believes "an exuberant and readily roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich--if difficult--personal life may be made" (p. 109).  His words make explicit the necessity of a balanced sense of sexual integration, which I believe is one of our culture’s largest needs. 

Wendy Shalit's comprehensive study of sexual mores in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries leads one to conclude that man has been bombarded with sexual images, which have sexualized the culture, and compromised a woman's sense of modesty.  She believes the culture is urging women to have as much casual sex as possible.  And a woman's shyness and  "sexual rejection sensitivity will not be tolerated!" (p. 237).  Furthermore, she rightfully concludes that the most "compelling rationale for a return to modesty is our discovery that our culture of immodesty isn't finally as sexy as we thought it was going to be" (p. 236).  Like Wojtyla, she is calling on the troops for a counterrevolution against the utilitarian culture which objectifies women and encourages hedonistic impulses no matter what the compromise or consequence.  She believes the greatest defense in this cultural battle is that of true modesty, which she calls the "armor of hope."  I believe it is this armor that ultimately guarantees the true authenticity of love between persons. Shalit believes that overturning the logic of our sex-saturated culture requires women (and I add men, in their own unique way) to be "proud of their hesitation, their hopes, and their dignity" (p. 238).  Through the illumination of the works of Wojtyla, I might add, men and women need to also be proud of their "healthy shame," and their destiny as persons.  In part III the chapter devoted to “The Person and Chastity” in Love and Responsibility, which is entitled,"The Metaphysics of Shame," Wojtyla offers a profound understanding of the need for shame in relationships, which I believe reaches deep into the depths of modesty.  It is his discovery of shame that allows for the possibility of Shalit's "armor of hope."

Wojtyla interprets shame beyond the primitive understanding of concealment.  He states, “...the phenomenon of shame arises when something which of its very nature or in view of its purpose ought to be private passes the bounds of a person's privacy and somehow becomes public” (p. 174). Through this definition, he highlights the fact that the purpose of shame is to preserve a good, rather than to lament something which is bad by nature thereby causing one to feel ashamed.  He goes on to state that shame is distinct from fear and is only understood when attached to the value of the person.  Through his exhaustive study, he concludes that human beings show a universal aptitude to conceal themselves from the lustful gazes of other human beings.  He recognizes ulterior motives such as protection from harm and adaptations to various climates, yet he points out that beyond cultural customs of clothing or nakedness, the essential tendency is to conceal those parts of the person, which would make them to be "potential objects of enjoyment" (p. 176).  Shalit wonders if returning to a culture of modesty would even be possible, if notions of shame and modesty differ from culture to culture.  She mentions eighteenth-century France dress codes, Indian women hiding their shoulders, Chinese women's shyness regarding their feet and Muslim women covering their faces.  She concludes that the point is not about what part of her body she preserves, but rather the universal manifestation of shame across cultures and time.  I believe Wojtyla reveals a fuller dimension of shame, which could account for Shalit's analysis, when he says:

Shame is not only a response to someone else's sensual and sexual  reaction to the 'body as an object of use'--a reaction to a reaction--it is also and above all, an immanent need to prevent such reaction to the body in oneself, because they are incompatible with the value of the person.  This is the origin of modesty, which is a constant eagerness to avoid what is shameless (p. 177).

Therefore "healthy shame" functions to protect the very nature of personhood, which cannot be shared, unless the person permits this through the gift of self in love.  It is because of this shame that we come to see the essential value of the whole person (sexuality included), whose ultimate longing is to love and be loved, shared and experienced in their totality.

This need to be truly integrated and loved calls modesty into action. Chastity, the true openness to the entirety of love, is so precious that it demands modesty.  Unfortunately, this invaluable lesson has not been passed down to most men and women in our modern culture.  Quite the opposite lesson has been presented to women; society's lesson requires women to freely reveal as much of themselves physically as possible in order to be desired.  As women, females do not have the inward experience of male psychology and therefore can never be assured of the natural physicality which may arise in a man as a response to their lack of shame.  If this reaction is not properly directed, it can simply turn a woman into "raw material" to be used without her knowledge and/or consent.     

Wojtyla shows how, within marriage, shame can be absorbed by the true love shared by one man and one woman, who are totally and exclusively committed.  He points out that the utilitarian notion is incompatible with real love. Therefore in marriage, shame is absorbed by the self-giving love of spouses which subordinates sexual values to the affirmation of the value of the person.  Wojtyla explains,

 ...sexual modesty is not a flight from love, but on the contrary the opening of a way towards it.  The spontaneous need to conceal mere sexual values bound up with the person is the natural way to the discovery of the value of the person as such...it is not just a matter of protecting but of revealing the value of the person  (p. 179).  

It is thus obvious why we need to fortify modesty in order to preserve the destiny of love contained within the castle walls of man's interior.

My parents always taught my siblings and me to strive to be magnanimous beings, recognizing our lofty call, as children of God, which is to be holy. This requires the development, preservation and ultimately the complete gift of ourselves to another, be that directly to God or mediated through a spouse.  Living in this culture, it is quite obvious that this is a magnificent challenge for us all (lay and religious).

I recently read a meditation from Father Robert Barron, which gave me a greater understanding of my parents' wish for us to be magnanimous people in the world.  He writes,

To overcome fear is to move from the pusilla anima (small soul) to magna anima (the great soul).  When we are dominated by our egos, we live in a very narrow space, in the angustiae (the straits) between this fear and that,  between this attachment and that.  But when we surrender in trust to the  power of God, our souls become great, roomy and expansive (p. 158).

I believe we must first surrender ourselves completely to the King of our castles, Christ, in order that we might realize the nobility contained in our existence.  He is the one who wishes to reside in our souls, which are wedded to our bodies.  He gives us our ability and desire to fortify the walls around His Kingdom, the truly expansive Kingdom of love destined to be shared on earth and in heaven.  May we glorify the Father, in the micro-Kingdom of our humanity, so that He will truly recognize us as icons of Christ. 

It is my hope that this humble analysis brings to the fore what is truly at stake in our cultural battle for integrated love-- the eternal destiny of the human person  Paul writes to the Corinthians that no one who is impure can enter the kingdom of God.  When taken seriously, this fact can be quite overwhelming.  How is it possible to be pure in your heart, mind and body when we are surrounded by a shameless culture, motivated by the sexual utilitarian heresy?  I have come to realize that we must go directly to our Source, our Wellspring of Worship, Christ on the altar of love, in the Eucharist.  He is the purest of the pure, the One who offers the gift of himself on the cross.  At the foot of the cross we can offer all of our struggles, impurities and sinful ways, with the guarantee of their redemption and purification in his resurrection.  Through his complete gift of himself on the cross we come to realize our highest calling to love unto death, to love wholly without compromise, simultaneously revealing our ultimate destiny, union with and in Him.      




Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), Ignatius: San Francisco, CA

Barron, Robert (1998).  And Now I See...A Theology of Transformation,                   Crossroads Publishing Company: New York, NY

Shalit, Wendy (1999). Return to Modesty, Touchstone: New York, NY

Wojtyla, Karol (1993).  Love and Responsibility, Ignatius: San Francisco, CA

Copyright ©; Colleen McGuigan 2002

Version: 29th July 2002

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