Collect


Gradual for the Solemnity of the Trinity

Blessed art thou, O Lord, who beholdest the great deep: and sittest upon the Cherubim. Blessed art thou, O Lord, in the firmament of heaven: and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Part VII: Defiance

If I judge that a thing is true, I must preserve it. If I attempt to solve a problem, at least I must not by that very solution conjure away one of the terms of the problem. … There exists an obvious fact that seems utterly moral: namely, that a man is always a prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them. One has to pay something.
—Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

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This piece deals with a different aspect of the theology of sexuality than the rest of this series. In the preceding posts, I’ve been dealing with the doctrinal basis for, and details of, my Side B principles (along with a little background to the discussion in general). But this piece is picking up where my last left off, which was with the question: given the apparently pointless suffering that being Side B can involve, how can God—who is supposed to be love—require it of us? How can we believe in a God who would do this to us?

I consider this a specified form of the problem of pain in general. After all, it’s loneliness and the fear of loneliness that make Side B objectionable, together with the apparent meaninglessness of that loneliness (since God could presumably have either made homosexuality innocent or spared us from enduring it). And loneliness and meaninglessness are, perhaps, two of the greatest sources of pain in all human life. So that I think we may reasonably rephrase How could God do this to us? as, How could God, who is supposed to be perfectly good, make a world full of suffering?

And it isn’t a specially gay problem, obviously. Even forgetting the rest of history, the great-grandchildren of the women and men who saw—or forged—the camps at Dachau and Treblinka and Buchenwald, the thermonuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the prisons of Lubyanka and the Gulag, the carpet-bombing of Dresden, and the Rape of Nanjing, should know something about the terrible gravity of the problem of suffering.


When I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from three to fifteen minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. … We had two S.S. doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. These would be marched by one of the doctors, who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit to work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. … Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated.1

Knowing that that happened, and that what Christians mean by God could have stopped it and didn’t, can you believe that He exists? There must be a hundred religions in the world, but the reality of suffering justifies a hundred atheisms. The man who can't see that has a cold black pit where his heart was supposed to go.

Atheism and mysticism are the only two really satisfying answers.2 I’ll explain what I mean by mysticism here a little more in a moment, but I want to emphasize this point: there can be no mere waiving of the problem. We Christians do that too often and too easily—in this country, at least, where (for all our caterwauling) we are so comfortable, both in our persons and in our religion.

Whether the horrible reality of suffering is a fatal flaw in Christianity as such, or a mystery that the human mind is simply too limited to plumb, it is not an arithmetical puzzle with an easy, uncomplicated answer. Pretending so—being a Job’s comforter, explaining to the sufferer that it is secretly his own fault; or a pedantic busybody who just recites doctrine and refuses to acknowledge, still less to care for, the needs and aches of the heart, refusing to practice compassion in any sense of the word; or a religious blatherskite3 spewing pious idiocies about everything happening for a reason and opening doors and all that obnoxious crap—is an outrage and a scandal, and deserves to have its face spat in.4 It is noteworthy that Jesus never, even once, does any of these things. Or, if we insist on taking His remark that This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God in the manner of the third jerk, we may at least observe that He promptly backed that up by raising someone from the dead.


Guercino, The Raising of Lazarus, 1619

When I describe mysticism as one of the two possible responses to the problem of pain, then, I am not for one second proposing to whitewash the world, à la Chesterton’s optimist. The kind of mysticism I mean is the kind which says that God is so powerful that He can take evil—real, hideous evil—and use it to make a lovelier, richer good: a good that, with our inevitably limited perspective, we cannot see from here and now; a good that makes it worth our while to have endured injustice and pain, without pretending that injustice and pain are not important or not real. I mean, there’d be no question of redeeming them if they weren’t ugly.

For the alternatives would seem to be that suffering is too trivial to be worth correcting, a profound insult to all who suffer; or, that evil is finally victorious. Suffering is an unavoidable and indisputable fact. The Christian doctrines of redemption and judgment, the doctrine that what Hoess did can be made an instrument of good, is saying that evil never gets the final word, that it will be truly and really defeated on its home turf, that it has no right to be here and will one day be expelled.

As far as I can tell, the facts are consistent with both the atheist interpretation and the mystical. As I’ve written about a little bit before, I have other grounds for finding the mystical interpretation more satisfying.


Francisco de Zurbaran, Saint John of the Cross, 1655

Yet honestly, even if it came down to which view I prefer, I’d refuse to give evil the satisfaction of triumphing in my head. (I could never decide my views based on what I like better; but I do, in fact, like this one better, and we are talking about the response of the heart here.) The same revolt against suffering that makes me sympathize with many kinds of atheism makes another part of me unwilling to be an atheist, because that would mean letting suffering win. Fuck that. Loneliness and meaninglessness and mass murder and all the rest of it are evil, they’re ugly, they’re horrible, and they are going to lose. I consider that a damn fine world to live in.

This is exactly why Jesus chose to die. I mean, also a whole bunch of other reasons, but this one too. In choosing to be crucified, He was taking on the whole depth of human suffering, drinking the cup to the last drop, because He knew—no, as a man, He believed that His Father was greater than all of that, and could transfigure it all into glory, could see to it that the corrupt reverends, the oppressive officials, and even His own dear and cowardly friends would not have the last word.

Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. … Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. … Now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.5

So the agonies that being Side B can provoke are something that I’ll neither deny nor surrender to. To pretend it doesn’t hurt would be a lie. To let the hurting change what I believe would be a defeat that I can’t countenance. I’m sure other people operate differently; that doesn’t bother me. Every person has his or her own battle to fight. But this one is mine, and this is how I fucking fight.


From Margaret Hodges' version of Saint George and the Dragon, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

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1From the deposition of Rudolf Hoess at the Nuremberg Trials, quoted by William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 968-969.
2Unless of course one finds the case for Side A intellectually satisfying. This would not be waiving the problem, but discovering that the problem had been only a sort of optical illusion. I don’t find Side A finally convincing, which is why the problem arises; but, on the one hand, if I did, the problem wouldn’t arise over this, while on the other, it would arise over some other example of human suffering.
3From Old Norse blaðra ‘to speak inarticulately, talk nonsense’ and Anglo-Saxon scite ‘dung’ (whence ‘shit’). Thanks, Wiktionary!
4They don’t let you do that, it turns out.
5Hebrews 12.1c-2, 22-24, 26b-27, in the King James because it sounds way more badass.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Part VI: Making a Case for Side A

On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.
Dignitatis Humanæ (Declaration on Religious Freedom), Second Vatican Council, §1


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A newly baptized Malachi Selmys being held by his godmother, with his fairy godfather on the right
(hence my trip to Canada). This has nothing to do with this post, but I'm still kinda bubbling.


My series up to this point has been primarily aimed at building up a positive case for why I am a Side B gay Christian. I hinted at why I’m Side B rather than Side Y1 here; I've written more than once about why I left the ex-gay movement, so here I'll just say briefly that I’ve found both from my own experience and the testimony of others that ex-gay theory is intellectually unsatisfying, its practice is almost entirely ineffective, and its history is stained with psychological abuse. One thing I’ve written about very little is why I’m not Side A—except in my post on the clobber passages, and even there I said in so many words that those aren’t the primary reason I’m a traditionalist.


The positive case is of course more important. No one has a vocation of ‘No,’ and no one can have a theology of ‘No,’ either. Trying to pursue celibate chastity on that basis won’t work, and it’s a great recipe for hurting yourself to boot.2 But the positive case is not enough, for a few reasons, one of which is that the positive case for Side A is an attractive one.


Others, notably Matthew Vines in the popular sphere and James Brownson in the academic, have made that case more extensively than I propose to (since their work is easy to find). Now, there is variety among Side A believers, naturally. However, the argument for Side A that I find most convincing and appealing runs roughly as follows.



Thomas Cole, The Garden of Eden, 1828


God made mankind, and declared that it is not good for man to be alone: man is made for communion. There are multiple ways in which that human need is fulfilled, and God does call some people to celibacy. But for most people, the kind of communion that we find most powerful and fulfilling is being united to another person whom we love in marriage—a permanent, self-giving bond by which two people agree to share their hearts and even their bodies with one another. For gay men and lesbians, that kind of love is experienced for members of the same sex, rather than the opposite sex; and, especially since involuntarily infertile heterosexual couples have long been blessed by the Church, there is no obvious reason why homosexual couples should be excluded from enjoying the same blessing, by the Church or by her God. It is understandable that this should have been an unfamiliar idea to the authors of Scripture, for several reasons: most people are straight; categories of sexual orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world; and the brute fact is, there were cultural institutions like slavery that we unhesitatingly reject, which the Scriptures simply accept3—it doesn’t seem hard to believe that here, as there, Christian understanding has made an advance under the influence of the Holy Ghost.


Like I said, it’s an appealing case, not only emotionally but intellectually. I don’t for one moment assert that Side A Christians are dishonest, ignorant, or overwhelmed by wishful thinking. I assert that they’re incorrect, but that’s as far as I need to go and as far as I care to go. But, I do assert that they’re incorrect, and I wouldn’t feel that I’d done justice to this subject if I avoided explaining why I think so.


The first point is that, in the Catholic view—which was the universal Christian view until quite recently—marriage involves something more and other than a lifelong commitment to mutually sharing life with another person: it involves being open to life, that is, to childbearing. If God does not see fit to bestow life, that’s okay. But this can’t be excluded or altered, and it abides in the character of the sexual act. We believe that God cares not only about why we do things, but also about what things we do. If a couple can’t be open to life, even their wishing that they could be can’t change the facts; and, on Catholic premises, this means that while that couple may have a profound and, perhaps, deeply holy love for one another, that doesn’t make it the same thing as a marriage.




The Church has been teaching this, in so many words, for a long time. Support for this view is rarely, if ever, made explicit in Scripture, probably because it was taken for granted from time immemorial down to the nineteenth century.4 If you had told them that marriage existed to make people happy, they’d have laughed in your faces. And while I’m an incurable romantic by temperament, I’ve also inherited enough of my dad’s dry and cynical wit to say that the observable facts of human marriages and human romances line up better with our ancestors’ laughter than with our cult of matrimony.


Meanwhile the negative argument from Side A—that the Christian track record on things like slavery is a pretty mixed one (to put it generously), and that therefore this could be another instance of positive change in doctrine—has never been satisfying to me. That the Church has made such-and-such a mistake is a very good argument for her to repent of that mistake; it is not a good argument for anything else. It’s a good reason to analyze a belief carefully, especially if the only argument that’s being advanced in favor of that belief is that it’s traditional, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a traditional Christian, B, X, or Y, whose only stated reason for their views is tradition. And, speaking for myself, I’ve re-analyzed and found the belief at least as strong as it was before.


It also seems to me to fail to fully grasp the character of Christian tradition. It’s true that there have been slave-holding Christians since the beginning of the Church, and that the Church failed to oppose slavery firmly until the nineteenth century. But it’s also true that there has always been a kind of counterweight to this, in the form of Christians who have fought to improve the lives of slaves, limit the trade, and even abolish the institution: St Patrick, himself a former slave, was a major force against the trade in fifth-century Ireland, and similar criticisms can be found in the writings of Fathers like Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom. Or, to take a quite different example, the belief that babies who died without baptism would be sent to Limbo,5 rather than being taken into heaven, was a normal Catholic view for many centuries; but at the same time, since at least the fifth century, the Feast of the Holy Innocents presents the Church’s conviction that the pre-rational young can be not only innocents but martyrs. Or to take still another example, the Church’s dirtied hands in wars, especially religious wars: at the same time, there were always counterweights, like St Francis, who traveled personally to the Sultan in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade, not only to preach the gospel but, reportedly, to apologize for the sins and violence of Christians against Muslims.




The point is, when there is an apparent shift in the Church’s teaching, or at the least in her emphases, we generally find that the shift is from one strand of Christian thought to another that already existed. I don’t find that to be true about gay sex. There’s a variety of views in Christian history, to be sure: some harsh and some gentle, some sternly diabolical and some placidly medical. But they’re united in one thing, which is that none of them approve of it. The only context that the Church has ever recognized for righteous sexual intimacy is that of the marriage of one man to one woman, for life and open to life. There’s no counterweight.


And that makes it impossible for me personally to take any other view; at least, impossible to do so and remain a Catholic. I can’t truly convince myself that the modern view of homosexuality has been implicitly or subtly present in the Church’s teaching since the beginning. Other people may be able to believe this honestly, and I don’t begrudge them their convictions, but I just can’t.


Which leaves us with only the strongest and most tragic argument for Side A: how could God do this to us?


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1As I’ve dubbed it. For readers who are familiar with the Courage Apostolate, Harvest USA, or Regeneration Ministries, these are more or less what I mean by the phrase Side Y: not ex-gay, but generally resistant to gay identities and cultures, unlike Side B, which is more comfortable with them (though not giving them carte blanche).
2Not that pursuing celibate chastity in a positively constructed form is guaranteed to work; only that (in my opinion) pursuing it on a negative basis is virtually guaranteed to fail. Nothing is guaranteed to work—a fact which apologists for the Catholic view seem to have great difficulty accepting, and say too rarely. My hunch is that they are (perhaps unconsciously) afraid that admitting that chastity is not merely difficult but, for some people, a bitterly lonely, excruciatingly painful road to walk, constitutes a philosophical weakness in Catholicism. I don’t know whether it’s a weakness, but I’m quite sure that trying to avoid this truth is a scandal: people like me, who heard such glowing ‘reviews’ of chastity and then found out that it can mean enduring literal years of heartbreak, are apt to feel we’ve been lied to. Stephen Long has written with scathing accuracy on the casualties of this kind of moral triumphalism.
3When I say accept here, I don’t necessarily mean that the Scriptures approve of slavery. Plenty of people would argue, especially in the context of the Old Testament, that they do just that. I don’t take that view, personally; I consider it analogous to divorce, of which Jesus said that Moses permitted it because of the hardness of your hearts—or, as Msgr Ronald Knox put it in an Oxford lecture, that the Torah allowed men to divorce their wives out of fear that otherwise they might strangle them. But this can be set aside. The point is, even those Christians with a high view of the authority of the Bible are not bound in all cases to apply its teaching the same way as its original audience. I mean, in reading Philemon or I Peter or Ephesians, I’ve never heard of a Christian who felt obliged to go and buy slaves, or sell himself into slavery, or both at the same time, in order to observe the prescriptions of the text as the ancients would have.
4In saying this, I’m oversimplifying slightly. Our most distant ancestors, in the pre-Christian world, tended to accept both polygamy and divorce on grounds of barrenness, and the Church had a difficult time for a while in getting people to accept that a marriage which did not produce children was just as permanent as one which did; something along these lines seems to have been in Henry VIII’s mind. But of course, this is leaning in the opposite direction from the Side A view and its intellectual relatives.
5For those unfamiliar, the Limbo of Infants is a realm where, without being actively punished, a soul continues in its natural immortality without the special, supernatural joy of union with God that those in heaven enjoy. This would be the fate of those who died without baptism (whose souls are therefore not infused with sanctifying grace), but who also died without reaching the age of reason, at which deliberate sin becomes possible. Contrary to popular belief, Limbo is still a licit belief among Catholics, but the general opinion now tends to favor the idea that God extends grace to unbaptized children who die before the age of reason, in a way known only to Himself, instead of through the normal instrument, baptism.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Excursus: The Mudblood Catholic Drinking Game

It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.1
—St Thomas Aquinas

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The skyline of Toronto

I will be in Canada visiting some friends for the next week, so I probably won’t be curating the blog much, but I decided I’d like to leave you with a drinking game that’s thematically pertinent to my current series.

THE SETUP

To play, you will need:

· At least four players, one each from the four ‘sides,’ A, B, X, and Y (for explanations and examples, see this post). If you cannot get them to sit peaceably in a room together for an hour, threaten them with a handgun.

· One hour’s worth of YouTube or other video footage, divided equally among the four ‘sides.’

· A fifth of whiskey (minimum). You may choose another liquor if you are a giant pussy.

· Four shot glasses.

GAMEPLAY

Start the video(s) and pour each player a shot.

· Side A players must do a shot every time any speaker says ‘celibacy mandate’ or explains the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίτης. If a speaker alludes to the Levitical law against wearing blended fabrics, do two shots. If any speaker compares homosexuality to bestiality, everyone else do a shot.

· Side B players must do a shot every time any speaker brings up the history of friendship or is Dr Wesley Hill. If the speaker makes any kind of joke involving musicals, do two shots. If any speaker uses the phrase ‘the new ex-gay,’ everyone else do a shot.

· Side X players must do a shot every time any speaker uses the words ‘exotic’ and ‘erotic’ in the same sentence or says the phrase ‘father wound.’ If the speaker alludes to NARTH, do two shots. If any speaker states categorically that sexuality is genetic, everyone else do a shot.

· Side Y players must do a shot every time any speaker says ‘same-sex attracted’ or makes a reference to ‘speaking the truth in love.’ If the speaker says ‘the gay agenda’ or an equivalent phrase, do two shots. If any speaker clearly explains the difference between Side Y and Side X, everyone else do a shot.

OBJECT

The last person to die of alcohol poisoning wins.


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1I can’t tell whether this is Sheldonesque unawareness of the nature of humor, or a falsely bland, brilliant meta-troll.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Part V: Chrysalis

How long I lay on my bed sobbing for the one love of my life I do not know. Later, I heard Father’s footsteps coming up the stairs. … Suddenly I was afraid of what Father would say. Afraid he would say, ‘There’ll be someone else soon,’ and that forever afterward this untruth would lie between us. For in some deep part of me I knew already that there would not—soon or ever—be anyone else.
The sweet cigar-smell came into the room with Father. And of course he did not say the false, idle words.
—Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place


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In my last post I talked a little about Theology of the Body and its approach to sexuality. However, I didn’t talk about celibacy, except to note that at first glance, it doesn’t fit neatly into TOB. Since celibacy is implicitly the state of those who won’t or can’t marry, it’s extremely important—even apart from any question of homosexuality—so I’d like to take a crack at understanding celibacy in the same context.



St Macarius the Great, one of the earliest of the Desert Fathers, with a Cherub.


To do so properly, first, a few words on what celibacy is not. It isn’t running away from sex; that is, people do run away from sex, for lots of reasons, such as fear of intimacy or disease or responsibility; but a mature and integrated celibacy cannot be based on fear. Any renunciation of marriage or of sex that consists in aversion or enmity to the sexual nature of the body is essentially un-Christian, and, in Christians, a serious inconsistency. One reason that the primitive Church was so fiercely opposed to the Gnostic religions, even though they shared a deep reverence for virginity, was precisely that the Gnostics’ asceticism was based on despising the body. A Christian, by contrast, has always been permitted to discipline the body, and even to train it with great rigor; but he trains it as a soldier—he must not brutalize it like a jailer.


To get an idea of what Christian celibacy rightly flows from, I turn to St Paul:


All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise us up by his own power. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? … Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.1


The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. That is an extremely weird thing to say—partly because since when is the Lord for anything? I am by no means sure that I understand what St Paul is saying in that verse, but what I think he’s saying is something like this.


The body is the self as gift. Now, God’s design for sex is that we give ourselves completely—not withholding our future, or our fertility, or the integrity of an undivided heart—to one other person; and from this gift of self comes the family. But as glorious as that is, God didn’t design us only for familial happiness, still less only for sexual pleasure. To give sexually is one mode of the gift of self, but it is a mode that is, of itself, intimately bound up with time: the impermanence of everything we see, the subjection of creation to decay and death, is suggested by the whole scheme of sexual reproduction.2

To beget and rear children is, when you come to think of it, a rather fine act of defiance of the apparent futility of the world. For a creature that knows its life will end to choose to bring new life into the world, though it is doomed to die in its turn, can be a bold refusal of the despair death seeks to impose on us; it has a flavor of the absurd in Camus’ sense, or of Henley’s Invictus.


But without something more to the universe than a grand futility to defy, followed perhaps by a ghostly eternity, the defiance (if I may trust my own instincts) is going to pall horribly before the end. We need and want something more. We want something that’s forever, of which romantic love itself is an image—hence erotic love’s indefatigable habit of promising perpetual fidelity, despite the fact that, without the guidance of good thinking and good character, it’s as fickle as a whiskey dick.


I believe this is what the Church means when she describes celibacy as eschatological. To be a celibate, to renounce marriage and fertility for the sake of that something more, points to the end of time, when the economy of generation and corruption will cease to operate, and life as we know it will be taken up into a new kind of life: continuous with the old, but as different from it as a flower from a seed, or a butterfly from a caterpillar.




The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. I am out of my depth here. Yet I can’t help thinking, also, of one of the accounts of the Last Supper,3 which records Jesus’ words about the bread, not that it was given or broken, but simply: This is my body, which is for you. And then: I fill up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body.4


Is there some sense in which the body of the celibate is for others? I think that there must be, if only because, for the Christian, everything is for others: Even the anchorite who meditates alone, / For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of God, / Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.5 But in the same sense as the Eucharist? Isn’t that presumptuous, even blasphemous?


I don’t know. Certainly our bodies don’t confer supernatural life the way His does. Even when they are made a medium of grace to others, they are precisely a medium that conveys grace, whereas His contains that grace in Its own right. Yet at the same time, if (as St Peter says) we are all priests, we are priests of that single Sacrifice, spread throughout time and space. Only a few of us are Its priests in the sense of confecting and administering It in Its substantial form; all of us are priests of Its spirit and operation in the world. I don’t think it’s impossible that our bodies may—in a way, maybe, that we don’t understand or even perceive—be reserved from the sexual gift in order to be available as an invisible and supernatural gift to sustain others.


How that should be, I’ve no clue. I don’t even know that it’s the case. My last post had a little speculative theology; this is nearly all speculative.


The obvious explanation would be that the celibate has an undivided heart to devote to God and His people, and, as a brute fact, more time at his or her disposal. This seems to be what St Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 7. But something in me revolts against that explanation; merely having more time and attention to give to others seems like a very petty exchange for what seems to be, for most people, the greater part of earthly happiness. (Of course, I say that as someone who’s never been married and may not have any idea what he’s talking about.)




I feel as if I have some inkling of another and mysterious explanation, but I can’t articulate it, even to myself. The closest I’ve ever come is by analogy with this strange passage from Charles Williams’ The Forgiveness of Sins,6 discussing not sexuality but bloodshed:


Those who sincerely reject the Single Sacrifice may be driven back on the many types of it, even if—no, because the centrality of all the types is unacknowledged. But belief in the Single must refuse the multiplicity. The Rite of the shedding of blood for atonement or for achievement is accomplished. No other shedding of that kind is allowed, unless God permits and enforces [it] by physical states or spiritual or both. Women’s periods present the one; the death of martyrs the other; the Eucharist both.


I’ve never seen any other theologian explain, or try to explain, the spiritual significance of menstruation; but Williams was a mystic, that is, a realist, and knew well that if we are to take God’s creation of man seriously then we must actually take it seriously.


How could this truth—supposing that it is a truth—be true of the body of the celibate? I don’t know. I may find out one day but I don’t know now. In what way fertility, that is, the gift of life, can be communicated from an abstinent body … the only model that I know of is the Eucharist. How that can apply to our bodies and lives, I don’t know.


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1I Corinthians 6.12-15a, 18b-20, King James Version. For a more modern translation, click here.
2Maybe if humanity had not fallen, sexuality would be radically different in ways we probably can’t imagine. Or, alternatively, maybe we would have filled the earth and subdued it, and then stopped reproducing, transcending sexuality as we know it in a way that, again, we probably can’t imagine. But we would certainly have been sexual beings: original sin damaged and weakened us, but it didn’t change what we are as beings. Regardless, sexuality as we know it is bound up with the time process that, for us, means the inevitably of death.
3Specifically, that related by St Paul in I Corinthians 11.23-25. There is some variation among the manuscripts of this passage—some ancient authorities do include broken or given—but the bare which is for you is doubtless the correct reading, the participles probably being added (perhaps accidentally) by later copyists on analogy with the accounts in the Gospels.
4Colossians 1.24.
5T. S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘The Rock,’ II.41-43.
6And when someone goes out of their way to call something Charles Williams wrote strange, you’re in for a doozy. (This quotation comes from p. 196 in my copy, which is published in a single volume with He Came Down from Heaven.)