Pollution is topical. Smoking is unhealthy, certain diets pollute the body causing illness, and the dangers of polluting the air, rivers, and sea, are evident, while human behaviour can pollute the mind and spirit. The New Testament warns against unchastity in sexual relations because Christ made chastity in word and deed an obligation for all. Chastity comes from the Greek word agnos, originally meaning dedicated, then, clean, unspotted, and so chaste, and stems from a new view of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, making chastity a strong obligation. St. Paul warns the Corinthians (I Cor. vii) that, though sexual passion itself is not sinful, it is to be gratified only within marriage. Unchastity brings mental and spiritual pollution degenerating body and soul, affecting religious feelings, killing them and excluding God, and leaving the door open to every sin. According to the Bible the unchaste are lost (I Cor. vi. 9 ; Ephes.v.5; Rev. xxi. 2.27)

Chastity in thought, word, and deed, is an ideal for which Christians need God’s grace, required of both sexes, of all ages and relations, married or not. It is the foundation of the single, or celibate life, for which a special grace to this end is given (Matt.xix.12; I Cor. vii.7), and the married life. The Church has not sufficiently promoted the single life as a particular Christian vocation, and one which the New Testament regards with special honour in witnessing to absolute chastity outside marriage. This does not disparage marriage nor exalt celibacy.

The 17th century bishop, Jeremy Taylor, placed equal value on both states of life, and claimed that some married people are better than some celibates. For him unchastity pollutes the human spirit, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and marriage is a picture of the union of Christ with His Church. His advice is practical, emphasising fleeing from temptation rather than arguing with it; mortification – a spare diet may be useful sometimes; meditation on the Divine presence, death, and the Cross. These are useful antidotes to the pollution of the human spirit in a sex-obsessed culture that inundates people with accounts of unchaste living in the words and images of the media.

A 17th century anonymous work, The Whole Duty of Man, first sees unchastity as sin against one’s own body, claiming that “… chastity consists in a perfect abstaining from all kinds of uncleanness, not only that of adultery and fornication, but all other unnatural sorts of it committed either upon ourselves or with any other. In a word, all acts of that kind are utterly against chastity, save only in lawful marriage”. Unchastity includes that of eyes, tongue, thoughts and imagination, which pollute the spirit, clouding the understanding, defacing the reasonable soul, and degenerating bodily health. It is a kind of sacrilege, a polluting of those bodies God has chosen for his temples, a self-destruction that brings upon it the judgement of God as the Bible testifies. ” To check the beginnings of the temptation, cast away the first fancy of lust with indignation; for if you once fall parley and talk with it, it gains still more upon you, and then it will be harder to resist; therefore your way in this temptation is to fly rather than fight with it”.

Sadly, the Report Something to Celebrate, did not start from these principles, but from certain cultural phenomena where sexual relations are conditioned by unchastity. Such a starting point would not have tried to accommodate the Gospel to philosophies of life diametrically opposed to the Christian vision of God, Man and Life, and would have led to different conclusions with a message of salvation for today’s culture. Perhaps this report needs a health warning.

Arthur Middleton