A Postscript on the Virtue of Chastity

In my review of Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, I argued that she has embraced and is promoting a flawed understanding of the human person and sexuality that is incompatible with the Church’s theological anthropology—despite her abundant good will and sincere intentions to the contrary.

In this brief postscript I would like to highlight one particular result of Tushnet’s adoption of this flawed anthropology: a misrepresentation of what it means to live the Christian virtue of chastity. In her book, Tushnet writes: “You certainly don’t need to accept any one school of theology—such as natural law—in order to accept and live by the Catholic ideal of chastity.” 

Setting aside the mistaken notion that natural law can be seen, from a Catholic perspective, as “one school of theology” among others, this formulation demonstrates Tushnet’s misunderstanding of what it means for a Catholic to live chastely.

One cannot advocate that people don’t have to accept natural law and at the same time claim to uphold and embrace the Catholic understanding of sexuality, morality, and chastity. The Catholic understanding of chastity is based precisely on the natural law; it is based not only on the belief that our sexuality has a proper telos and that we can discover this telos through the use of right reason—but also on the conviction that we can rightly and harmoniously order our sexual passion and attraction in accord with this telos. That is, a woman can rightly order her sexual passion and attraction toward nuptial union with a man; a man can rightly order his sexual passion and attraction toward nuptial union with a woman.

As a virtue, then, chastity is not simply a matter of sexual morality: knowing the difference between good and evil and actually choosing to pursue good and avoid evil. Rather, chastity is an acquired power of the soul, a dynamic disposition (a habitus) that enables one to actually experience harmony between one’s sexual passions and attractions and one’s true good (one’s sexual telos)—and not the contrary.

Consequently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that chastity includes accepting the objective truth regarding God’s design for one’s sexuality and working to bring one’s sexual passion and attraction into harmony with God’s design—not creating or embracing an alternate sexuality (lesbian, gay, queer, etc.):

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. (CCC, 2337)

I understand that Tushnet wishes to uphold the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Nevertheless, in the end, her flawed understanding of the human person and sexuality unfortunately opens the door to the redefinition of the very truths she sincerely wishes to uphold.

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About Bill Maguire 20 Articles
Bill Maguire earned his Master's in Theological Studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He served for two years as the managing editor of Communio: International Catholic Review and has worked with youth and youth adults in various capacities: youth minister, campus minister, and adjunct professor of theology.