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CHAPTER CXXXVIIArguments against Perpetual Continence, with Replies

ARG. 1. The good of the species is more godlike than the good of the individual. He then who abstains altogether from the act whereby the species is perpetuated, sins more than he would by abstaining from the act whereby the individual is preserved, namely, eating and drinking.

Reply. Things that belong to the necessity of the individual stand on a different footing from things that belong to the necessity of the community. In the necessities of the individual, individual provision must be made: everyone must make use of meat and drink. But in the necessities of the community it is neither needful nor possible for the office of meeting such needs to be assigned to every individual. Many things are necessary to a multitude of men, which no one individual can attend to: therefore there must be different offices for different persons, as in the body the several members have their several functions. Since then procreation is not a necessity of the individual, but a necessity of the species, there is no need for all men to be procreants; but some men may abstain, and devote themselves to other offices, as to the life of a soldier or a contemplative.

Arg. 2. By divine ordinance there are given to man members apt for procreation, and a force of appetite inciting him thereto: whoever then altogether abstains from procreation seems to resist the ordinance of God.

Reply. Divine providence gives to man endowments necessary for the species as a whole: still there is no call upon every individual man to make use of every one of these endowments. Thus man has a building capacity and a fighting capacity: yet all men need not be builders or soldiers; neither need every one apply himself to procreation.806806No economist desires this in our time. A corrupt society is threatened by a precisely opposite peril.

Arg. 3. If it is good for one man to lead a life of continence, it is better for many so to do, and the best thing of all would be for all to do it: so the human race would become extinct.807807If it is good for one man to blow a horn, it would be a good thing for the whole population to turn horn-blowers. — This precious style of argument, by no means an uncommon style, assumes that you cannot have too much of a good thing; which is true of faith, hope, and charity, and of all ends, as such but never means (notes, pp. 290, 299, 305). Celibacy, like poverty, is not an end in itself.


Reply. From things necessary to the community, though it be better for individuals to abstain, when one is given to better things, still it is not good for all to abstain. This is apparent in the order of the universe. Though a pure spirit is better than a bodily substance, still that would not be a better but a more imperfect universe, in which there were pure spirits alone. Though the eye is better than the foot, it would not be a perfect animal that had not both eye and foot. So neither would the state of the commonwealth of man kind be perfect, unless there were some applied to acts of procreation, and others abstaining from such acts and given to contemplation.

Arg. 4. Chastity, like other virtues, lies in the mean. Therefore he acts against virtue, who altogether abstains from the gratification of his appetites.808808He may or may not be acting virtuously, but at least he is not acting against the cardinal virtue of temperance, of which chastity is a part. Temperance is a negative virtue: its sole office is to restrain: it never urges any one to any gratification of appetite: “for inclination to the proper objects of any faculties does not belong to the habit, but rather is of the very essence of the said faculties” (Sum. Theol. 1a-2ae q. 31, art. 1, in corp.) Cf. Arriaga De habitibus et virtutibus, disp. 36, nn. 4, 5, 6; and Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 91, 95, ed. 3, a curious and little noticed point of Ethics.

Reply. This objection has been already solved in treating of poverty (Chapp. CXXXII, CXXXV, Arg. 6). Irrational abstinence from all [lawful] sexual pleasures is called the vice of insensibility: but a rational abstinence [from all even lawful forms of such gratification] is a virtue exceeding the common measure of man, for it puts man in some sort of participation of the likeness of God. Hence virginity is said to be allied to angels.809809   Celibacy can be justified on mere natural and rational grounds in this sense, that no cogent reasons are apparent making it a man’s duty under ordinary circumstances to marry. But celibacy does not amount to a virtue except when it is embraced on supernatural grounds, that is to say, on grounds of faith and love of God in Christ.
   The chapter next translated is the justification of the vow of obedience.

But though we say in general that it is better for one individual to observe continence than to use marriage, it may very well be that for some other individual the second course is the better. Hence the Lord says: Not all men take this word: whoever can take, let him take (Matt. xix, 11, 12).

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