Monday, May 11, 2015


Eleventh in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Luxuria (Lust)
Hieronymus Bosch
Pride resides principally in the mind, and thence sways over the entire man; avarice proceeds from the heart and affections; lust has its seat in the flesh. By pride, prevaricating man imitates the angel of whose nature he partakes; avarice is proper to man as being a composite of angelic and animal natures; lust is characteristic of the brute, pure and simple. This trinity of concupiscence is in direct opposition to the Trinity of God - to the Father, whose authority pride would destroy; to the Son, whose voluntary stripping of the divinity and the poverty of whose life avarice scorns and contemns; to the Holy Ghost, to whom lust is opposed as the flesh is opposed to the spirit. This is the mighty trio that takes possession of the whole being of man, controls his superior and inferior appetites, and wars on the whole being on God. And lust is the most ignoble of the three.

Strictly speaking, it is not here question of the commandments. They prescribe or forbid acts of sin - thoughts, words or deeds; lust is a passion, a vice or inclination, a concupiscence. It is not an act. It does not become a sin while it remains in this state of pure inclination. It is inbred in our nature as children of Adam. Lust is an appetite like any other appetite, conformable to our human nature, and can be satisfied lawfully within the order established by God and nature. But it is vitiated by the corruption of fallen flesh. This vitiated appetite craves for unlawful and forbidden satisfactions and pleasures, such as are not in keeping with the plans of the Creator. Thus, the vitiated appetite becomes inordinate. At one and the same time, it becomes inordinate and sinful, the passion being gratified unduly by a positive act of sin.

This depraved inclination, as everyone knows, may be in us, without being of us, that is, without any guilt being imputed to us. This occurs in the event of a violent assault of passion, in which our will has no part, and which consequently does not materialize, exteriorly or interiorly, in a human act forbidden by the laws of morality. Nor is there a transgression, even when gratified, if reason and faith control the inclination and direct it along the lines laid down by the divine and natural laws. Outside of this, all manners, shapes and forms of lust are grievous sins, for the law admits no levity of matter. No further investigation, at the present time, into the essence of this vice is necessary.

There is an abominable theory familiar to and held by the dissolute, who, not content with spreading the contagion of their souls, aim at poisoning the very wells of morality. They reason somewhat after this fashion: Human nature is everywhere the same. He knows others who best knows himself. A mere glance at themselves reveals the fact that they are chained fast to earth by their vile appetites, and that to break these chains is a task too heavy for them to undertake. The fact is overlooked that these bonds are of their own creation, and that every end is beyond reach of him who refuses to take the means to that end. Incapable, too, of conceiving a sphere of morality superior to that in which they move, and without further investigation of facts to make their induction good, they conclude that all men are like themselves; that open profession of morality is unadulterated hypocrisy, that a pure man is a living lie. A more wholesale impeachment of human veracity and a more brutal indignity offered to human nature could scarcely be imagined. Reason never argued thus; the heart has reasons which the reason cannot comprehend. Truth, to be loved, needs only to be seen. Adversely, it is also the case with falsehood.

It is habitual with this passion to hide its hideousness under the disguise of love, and thus this most sacred and hallowed name is prostituted to signify that which is most vile and loathsome. Depravity? No. Goodness of heart, generosity of affections, the very quintessence of good nature! But God is love, and love that does not see the image of the Creator in its object is not love, but the brutal instinct.

There are some who do not go so far as to identify vice with virtue, but content themselves with esteeming that, since passion is so strong, virtue so difficult and God so merciful to His frail creatures, to yield a trifle is less a sin than a confession of native weakness. This "weakness" runs a whole gamut of euphemisms; imperfections, foibles, frailties, mistakes, miseries, accidents, indiscretions - anything to gloss it over, anything but what it is. At this rate, you could efface the whole Decalogue and at one fell stroke destroy all laws, human and divine. What is yielding to any passion but weakness? Very few sins are sins of pure malice. If one is weak through one's own fault, and chooses to remain so rather than take the necessary means of acquiring strength, that one is responsible in full for the weakness. The weak and naughty in this matter are plain, ordinary sinners of a very sable dye.

Theirs is not the view that God took of things when He purged the earth with water and destroyed the five cities with fire. From Genesis to the Apocalypse, you will not find a weakness against which He inveighs so strongly, and chastises so severely. He forbids and condemns every deliberate yielding, every voluntary step taken over the threshold of moral cleanness in thought, word, desire or action.

The gravity and malice of sin is not to be measured by the fancies, opinions, theories or attitude of men. The first and only rule is the will of God, which is sufficiently clear to anyone who scans the sacred pages whereon it is manifested. And the reason of His uncompromising hostility to voluptuousness can be found in the intrinsic malice of the evil. In man, as God created him, the soul is superior to the body, and of its nature should rule and govern. Lust inverts this order, and the flesh lords it over the spirit. The image of God is defiled, dragged in the mire of filth and corruption, and robbed of its spiritual nature, as far as the thing is possible. It becomes corporal, carnal, animal. And thus the superior soul, with its sublime faculties of intelligence and will, is made to obey under the tyranny of emancipated flesh, and like the brute seeks only for things carnal.

It is impossible to say to what this vice will not lead, or to enumerate the crimes that follow in its wake. The first and most natural consequence is to create a distaste and aversion for prayer, piety, devotion, religion and God; and this is God's most terrible curse on the vice, for it puts beyond reach of the unfortunate sinner the only remedy that could save him.

But if God's justice is so rigorous toward the wanton, His mercy is never so great as toward those who need it most, who desire it and ask it. The most touching episodes in the Gospels are those in which Christ opened wide the arms of His charity to sinful but repentant creatures, and lifted them out of their iniquity. That same charity and power to shrive, uplift and strengthen resides today, in all its plenitude, in the Church, which is the continuation of Christ. Where there is a will, there is a way. The will is the sinner's; the way is in prayer and the sacraments.

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