Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXVI – Immorality

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThe natural order of things brings us to a consideration of the Sixth Commandment, and at the same time, of the Ninth, as treating of the same matter – a matter so highly immoral as to deserve the specific appellation of immorality.

People, as a rule, are tolerably well informed on this subject. It is a knowledge acquired by instinct, the depraved instinct of our fallen nature, and supplemented by the experiences weaned from the daily sayings and doings of common life. Finally, that sort of journalism known as the “yellow,” and literature called pornographic, serve to round off this education and give it the finishing touches.

But, on the other hand, if one considers the innocent, the young and inexperienced, who are not a few; and likewise the morbidly curious of sensual tendencies, who are many, this matter must appear as a high explosive, capable of doing any amount of damage, if not handled with the utmost care and caution.

Much, therefore, must be left unsaid, or half-said; suggestion and insinuation must be trusted to go far enough, in order that, while the knowing understand, the ignorant may be secure in the bliss of their ignorance and be not prematurely informed.

They, for whom such language is insufficient, know where to go for fuller information. Parents are the natural teachers; the boy’s father and the girl’s mother know what to say, how and when to say it; or at least should know. And if parents were only more careful, in their own way, to acquaint their children with certain facts when the time comes for it, much evil would be avoided, both moral and physical.

But there are secrets too sacred even for parents’ ears, that are confided only to God, through His appointed minister. Catholics know this man is the confessor, and the place for such information and counsel, the holy tribunal of penance. These two channels of knowledge are safe; the same cannot be said of others.

As a preliminary, we would remark that sins, of the sort here in question as well as all kinds of sin, are not limited to deeds. Exterior acts consummate the malice of evil, but they do not constitute such malice; evil is generated in the heart. One who desires to do wrong offends God as effectively as another who does the wrong in deed. Not only that, but he who makes evil the food of his mind and ponders complacently on the seductive beauty of vice is no less guilty than he who goes beyond theory into practice. This is something we frequently forget, or would fain forget, the greed of passion blinding us more or less voluntarily to the real moral value of our acts.

As a consequence of this self-illusion many a one finds himself far beyond his depth in the sea of immorality before he fully realizes his position. It is small beginnings that lead to lasting results; it is by repeated acts that habits are formed; and evil grows on us faster than most of us are willing to acknowledge. All manner of good and evil originates in thought; and that is where the little monster of uncleanness must be strangled before it is full-grown, if we would be free from its unspeakable thralldom.

Again, this is a matter the malice and evil of which very, very rarely, if ever, escapes us. He who commits a sin of impurity and says he did not know it was wrong, lies deliberately, or else he is not in his right frame of mind. The Maker has left in our souls enough of natural virtue and grace to enable us to distinguish right and wrong, clean and unclean; even the child with no definite knowledge of the matter, meeting it for the first time, instinctively blushes and recoils from the moral hideousness of its aspect. Conscience here speaks in no uncertain accents; he alone does not hear who does not wish to hear.

Catholic theologians are even more rigid concerning the matter itself, prescinding altogether from our perception of it. They say that here no levity of matter is allowed, that is to say, every violation, however slight, of either of these two commandments, is a sin. You cannot even touch this pitch of moral defilement without being yourself defiled. It is useless therefore to argue the matter and enter a plea of triviality and inconsequence; nothing is trivial that is of a nature to offend God and damn a soul.

Weakness has the same value as an excuse as it has elsewhere in moral matters. Few sins are of pure malice; weakness is responsible for the damnation of all, or nearly all, the lost. That very weakness is the sin, for virtue is strength. To make this plea therefore is to make no plea at all, for we are all weak, desperately weak, especially against the demon of the flesh, and we become weaker by yielding. And we are responsible for the degree of moral debility under which we labor just as we are for the degree of guilt we have incurred.

Finally, as God, is no exceptor of persons. He does not distinguish between souls, and sex makes no difference with Him. In this His judgment differs from that of the world which absolves the man and condemns the woman. There is no evident reason why the violation of a. divine precept should be less criminal in one human creature than in another. And if the reprobation of society does not follow both equally, the wrath of God does, and He will render unto every one according to his and her works.