Monday, March 17, 2014

In the Company of Chastity: Augustine, Milton, Bonhoeffer, and Me

The essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust, but the total orientation of one's life towards a goal - Dietrich Bonhoeffer Letters and Papers from Prison. 

 I'm not exactly sure of the kind of chastity that Bonhoeffer was writing but I came across the quote when I started to look for the definition of chastity.  The following two, are, of course, pretty famous, almost as well-known as the vows of celibacy and chastity taken on by Catholic priests and other monastic orders of nuns and monks.

She that has that, is clad in complete steel. - John Milton Comus. 

Give me chastity and continence, but not just now.Augustine. 
Most people  equate chastity with virginity. Chastity, however, is not just about sexual purity (or even as Bonhoeffer puts it the "suppression of lust"), it is also about motive, the purity - chastity- of human intention. Chastity and honor go together for those who follow Jesus who said: Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matthew 5.8). In Psalm 73, A Plea for Relief from Oppressers, the psalmist explores why bad things happen to good people while the evil folk appear to prosper. He proclaims and confesses thus: Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But, as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. By the end, though, he catches himself and realizes he was like a "brute beast to God" and he closes very differently: You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Indeed, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to those who are false to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.

Chastity, as purity of intention, has been very useful for me in dealing with people with whom I don't get along. That's why Bonhoeffer's quote most resonates with me even though I have absolutely no idea of the context (although I can certainly speculate). When I am fully oriented to God's purpose and call for me - the goal is always the glory of God -  then I am chaste, pure, and I bring honor to God. My enemy's unkindness, unfairness, and knowing or unknowing unrighteous and immoral behaviors have no power over me. "And I will be to her a wall of fire all around," declares the LORD, "and I will be the glory in her midst." Zechariah 2: 5

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