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Eunuchs for the kingdom and the three c’s of sexuality

Christ is calling each one of us to chastity, so that one’s sexual powers—emotions, affections, actions—are all ordered to their proper end.

(Image: Annette Sousa/

In Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord says that “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). Should this be taken literally? There are rumours that the third-century theologian Origen did. And Peter Abelard most certainly suffered that fate, at the hands of some ruffians hired by the uncle of his paramour Eloise, when his relationship with her went sour.

Christ, of course, did not intend for us to take this too literally—or, more accurately, too physiologically, for there is always a literal sense of Scripture (cf CCC 115-116). To get to what He did mean, we might go back to what may be called the ‘three c’s’ of sexuality.

First, there is celibacy–the state of not being married, and, secondly, continence—not having sexual relations. Neither of these is necessarily virtuous. There are lots of libidinous bachelors and bachelorettes and one need not dwell long on the legions of ‘in-cels’—involuntary celibates—many of whom, we may sadly presume, are not continent, giving release to their sexual urges through the so-called ‘solitary sin’ or, euphemistically, self-abuse, which does violate continence.

The third, and the only one that is truly a virtue–to which Christ is calling each one of us in this exhortation—is chastity, which the Catechism defines as the “successful integration of sexuality within the person” (par 2337). That is, one’s sexual powers—emotions, affections, actions—are all ordered to their proper end.

Chastity may be lived in celibacy, which implies continence, in which case one’s sexuality is ‘sublimated’, not expressed in a romantic way, still less a genital way. The energy that would have gone into such is used instead for other purposes, especially apostolic work, but also prayer, exercise, and so on. There is an entire literature on this channeling of sexual energy, unfortunately much neglected in our ecclesia moderna, where there is much talk of mercy, and not much of moderation and bringing to heel one’s desires.

Chastity may also be lived in a conjugal way in marriage, wherein one’s sexual affection is directed to one particular person—that is, one’s spouse—and kept within proper limits of virtue, affection, and care for the other, and not as a sexualized object. These conjugal acts are virtuous, meritorious, and chaste. The marital bed is not always a garden of sexual delights. There are, and must be, periods of continence, during pregnancy, illness, to avoid pregnancy for serious and proportionate reasons. These may be long term, if one’s spouse becomes disabled, and in the debility of old age. Many saintly couples have taken a pledge of continence, after their conjugal life has run its term, and they want to give more of themselves directly to God.

The pernicious and damnable error of the modern Freudian era is that it is impossible to be continent, that one must ‘release’ one’s sexual urges in some way, eventually. But this spiritual and psychological falsehood goes farther back than Freud. Martin Luther, tortured by his constant impure thoughts, came to the conclusion the concupiscence was unconquerable, which is why he urged everyone to marry, even monks and nuns, choosing for himself Katherine von Bora, a Cistercian Sister, after ‘freeing’ her and her companions from the strictures of the convent.

So it continues, into our educational system, where students are not only presumed, but encouraged, to be sexually active, to ‘explore’ each other’s bodies—all in a ‘healthy’ way, of course, contraception freely provided.

What cannot be accomplished by education, they complete with entertainment, by cajoling, mockery, or derision, even if it be of the apparently anodyne and comedic sort. Examples abound, but two examples come to my own vague memory.

The first is Billy Joel’s 1977 hit song Only the Good Die Young, whose opening verse runs as follows:

Come out, Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Aw, but sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one

Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done

‘Things you might have done…” Hmm. Thomas à Kempis says that we rarely regret things we did not say, but often regret those we did. And perhaps more to the point may we regret to a greater degree things we did do, like losing one’s virginity, than those we did not. It is not inevitable, and certainly not desirable, that one has sex before marriage. Sexual sorrow is sorrow indeed.

Then there was a 1992 Seinfeld episode—those of a certain vintage who recall the self-confessed ‘show about nothing’—called ‘The Contest’, where Jerry and the rest of the cast make a bet as to who can hold off the longest from masturbating. The term is never used, of course (it was not allowed back then, which says something), but euphemisms abound. Ironically, the code-word is who can remain ‘master of my domain’ and ‘king of the castle’, before the inevitable succumbing to some imagined succubus.

That said, they were onto more than one unwitting truth here. For are we not all meant to be ‘kings—or queens—of our castle’, controlling our sexual desires, rather than they controlling, and inevitably disintegrating, us? In other words, we must all be prepared to be ‘eunuchs’ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, at least for a time, if not for life. The devil may tempt us that we are bound to ‘give in’ at one point—as Joel sang, it comes down to fate—but that is quite simply a damnable lie. If we can be continent for one day, why not three? Or thirty? Or three thousand?

Also, there is a caveat, namely, the deep wound of original sin, the primordial fragmentation of our powers, inclining us to sin. Hence, without the grace of God, we would inevitably fall, and are preserved from the most lascivious vices by His divine assistance. There but for the grace of God go I

But with that grace, what can we not do? Quia non erit inpossibile apud Deum omne verbum (Lk 1:37). In the next life—where, as Leo XIII says, we will truly begin to live—we will neither marry, nor be given in marriage, and sex will be no more. In that beatific vision, the joy—the true ecstasy—of soul and body in the glory of God far exceeds anything we can imagine or experience—even the true and holy joys of the marital bed—here and now.

Woe to those who forego that birthright for a bowl of lukewarm pottage.

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About John Paul Meenan 8 Articles
John Paul Meenan, M.Sc., M.A., teaches theology and science at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Ontario, Canada, with a particular interest in the relationship between faith and reason, and how the principles of our faith should impact and shape the human person and modern culture.


    • Mutilation of the human body is a serious sin. The monstrous, secret practice was tolerated by the Church for young boys destined for church choirs [a means of retaining high pitched voices] – until Pius X formally prohibited the practice.
      No, a seminarian, nor anyone is permitted to castrate himself. Christ primarily refers to persons who practice chastity as a spiritual form of being a eunuch.

  1. An elderly Catholic couple, divorced and remarried in their youth, and now practicing continence through necessity and desire, are still excluded from Communion. Such a couple, hoping to progress in holiness in the time left to them, seek the mercies of the Sacrament of Penance. Is there still a reason this should be denied to them, including a lifting of excommunication in the internal forum? Can a concern for public scandal take precedence over the particular care for their souls?

    • Mauro, the issue is always scandal to the public, example the congregation having knowledge that a couple is divorced and remarried outside the Church. An article Thomas Nash CWR 2016 Serving Catholics Well discusses your question:
      “And when they progress to living as brother and sister, in conformity with FC 84, canonist Edward Peters notes that Canon Law provides that their reception should remain discreet/private, because the norms of Canon 915 refer to the objective nature of their ‘manifest grave sin,’ which remains as a public reality, even though they are living as brother and sister privately, something which can’t be determined by a minister of Holy Communion”.
      Often penitents who are divorced and remarried outside the Church and with knowledge of a confessor are living as brother and sister they receive the Eucharist privately, and during Mass approach the priest dispensing the Eucharist with arms crossed upon their chest and receive a blessing instead.
      Insofar as the elderly couple who physically cannot have relations, the concern of the confessor may be scandal due to their not have lived as brother and sister when they were able to make the sacrifice. Parishioners are generally aware, and would consider that a sham. Also, some couples who are divorced and remarried outside the Church and continue to have relations, attend Mass, and approach the priest with arms crossed solely for a blessing. Previous pontiffs including Benedict XVI have commended those who do so as receiving Our Lord spiritually. Salvation then is available for such couples despite their manifest adultery. This would be the option immediately available for the elderly couple.

      • While scandal is always a major issue, the primary matter is living in a state of adultery. There are frequently mitigating elements that condition [mitigate] culpability that are known by God and work in their, the divorced and remarried favor. A 2018 commentary in Where Peter is by Fr Paul Fahey, Communion for Divorced and Remarried: A Defense of Amoris Laetitia, argues that such mitigation absolves the divorced and remarried of grave sin. The fallacy in this is that such mitigation must be proved. Amoris Laetitia ‘proves’ sufficiency by granting primacy to individual conscience, and by undermining the permanence of intrinsic evils such as adultery, granting benefit of the doubt to presumed sufficiency of mitigating circumstances.

      • “Previous pontiffs including Benedict XVI have commended those who do so as receiving Our Lord spiritually. Salvation then is available, by implication for such couples despite their manifest adultery”. What’s implied in receiving Our Lord spiritually for those living in adultery is a sincere desire for repentance [as potential converts are susceptible to salvation by desire], and the renunciation of their sin of adultery and abstinence from sexual relations.
        If death were to occur prior to complete reconciliation with Christ and the Church, they may conceivably be granted mercy based on the strength of their desire for repentance. Nevertheless, while in this world they cannot be permitted to receive the Holy Eucharist as suggested by Amoris Laetitia.

  2. Just think, if everyone were celibate humanity would end.

    “constant impure thoughts” How impure are they?

    “Also, there is a caveat, namely, the DEEP WOUND of original sin, the primordial fragmentation of our powers, inclining us to sin.” I would argue why would a loving and all omniscient God cast “original sin” on all of humanity? I know that MY God knows that the vast majority of his humanity will never see a Baptismal.

    • Thank you for your comment, MorganD.

      To clarify: I agree, it is not always clear how ‘impure’ sexual thoughts, especially of the involuntary sort, really are. We are sexual beings, after all, and transient thoughts, based on our innate attraction to the opposite sex, are part of our human nature. We should, however, try to purify such imaginings, many of which are dredged up from that wound of original sin, exacerbated by our personal sins, past and present. Luther’s problem was that he just gave in, without the battle for continence, interior and exterior.

      God did not cast original sin upon us – we did that to ourselves. Original sin is simply the effect of the first, primordial, sin of Adam and Eve. On the contrary, God provides the remedy for original and personal sin – the salvific sacrifice of Christ, and the sacraments which flow therefrom.

      More to say, but I hope this helps as an initial reply.

  3. The Catholic flexible basis for Salvation is always overstepping Jesus Christ. This why I can’t come back to Catholicism. Your particular brand of being Arminian, includes these open speculations about people’s eternal future. The sorry state of people sincerely confused about who is the true author of their salvation under your withering scorn.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Eunuchs for the kingdom and the three c’s of sexuality – Via Nova
  2. Eunuchs for the Kingdom and the Three 'C's' of Sexuality « Catholic Insight
  3. Becoming Eunuchs for the Kingdom: What Gives? « Catholic Insight

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