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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.

      • James. As an aside the only instance of a credentialed Church representative sanctioning self castration is when the Apostle Paul recommended that the circumcisors finish the job on themselves.

  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.

    • We are not responsible for involuntary impure thoughts, so long as we do not accept them or voluntarily prolong them. I don’t think that makes the thoughts pure. If we do accept them or prolong them, then we ARE responsible.

      If you wish to stop thinking about something, it is best to think of something else. It might help to plan ahead of time what you will think of instead. Preferably something that will make any tempting demons very unhappy.

  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.

    • I don’t understand what you are saying. What, to your way of thinking, is the “Catholic flexible basis for Salvation”? How is this “overstepping Jesus Christ.”

  4. The CHURCH. OBSESSION WITH SEXUALITY & ASSOCIATION WITH SIN. The greatest infliction on humanity is the Church’s inability to embraces its own humanity. Sexual interpretation oppression and repression based on some male patriarchial shame based ideology and interpretation is a special type of insanity. May your God give you an much needed upgrade in human sexuality.

    • Hmmm. Nope. As I wrote six years ago:

      “Why are Catholics so obsessed with sex?”

      I’ve been asked the question more than once; you have probably heard or seen it as well. In my experience, it has never been asked because I was talking about sex. It usually comes out of the blue, almost as though the person asking the question—a question often uttered more as an accusation than an inquiry—is, well, obsessed with what he thinks the Church is constantly discussing. The conversation goes something like this:

      Me: “Why do you think Catholics are obsessed with sex?”
      Him: “Well, the Church is always telling Catholics what they can or cannot do—”
      Me: “So you’ve heard quite a few homilies about sex recently?”
      Him: “Um, no. I’m not a Catholic. [Or: “I haven’t been to Mass for 20 years.”] I’m talking about the pope. I don’t want the pope in my bedroom.”
      Me: “I don’t think the pope wants to be in your bedroom—”
      Him: “Why can’t the Catholic Church just let people make up their own minds about sex?”

      The point, then, is they don’t like the fact the Church teaches that sex belongs in a certain place (in a life-long marriage), comes with responsibilities (not just pleasures), and is oriented toward both unitive and procreative ends (again, not just momentary pleasures separate from marriage). I’ve also found that some people like to criticize Catholics for having too many kids and lambast the Church for making sex a “dirty” topic and “unnatural” thing. What becomes clear very quickly is the lack of knowledge about what the Church actually teaches (no surprise, that) and an equally sad lack of knowledge about the nature and meaning of sex.

      Read it all.

      • I am not reading all of that because from what I have already read it is apparent that it is a nonsensical response not rooted in reality.

        What reality boils down to is this: the sex lives of anyone who is not you or your consenting partner has absolutely nothing to do with you and is absolutely none your business. Full stop.

        It’s more than a little disturbing that you seem to care so much about other people having sex. Is it because you are jealous they are not having sex with you? From PUAs to incels that is a typical male emotion. I am so sorry that your own sex life is so hoerible and completely unsatisfying that you feel the need to mock, bully, disparage, and control others. Maybe you should seek out help for your own problems rather than trying to inflict your problems on the rest of the population. I promise you that if you put in the time and work on yourself, your life will improve vastly.


        • Hmmm. Let’s see: smirking deflections, ad hominem remarks left and right, refusal to engage in reasonable points, personal insults, emotive nonsense, and infantile jabs.

          As expected. Let me know when you decide to graduate from junior high and engage with reality. For example, this mindless comment: “the sex lives of anyone who is not you or your consenting partner has absolutely nothing to do with you and is absolutely none your business….”

          There’s a very real sense, of course, in which I don’t give a damn what “consenting adults” do in the bedroom. The problem, of course, is the consequences of their actions never stay in the bedroom. So, we have decades now of children born outside of wedlock (around 40% among whites, 70% among black, etc); children raised without fathers, leading to rising crime and drug addiction, etc.; serial monogamy/divorce, which further fractures familial relatonships, which then leads to social breakdowns; STDs; emotionally damaged people (ranging from multiple broken relationships to abuse); and then all of the costs to society, which are certainly economic but go much further and deeper than that. But, again, you won’t learn about this in junior high, so…

          • You fail to understand that everything you wrote still adds up to what other people do is literally none of your business.

            “So, we have decades now of children born outside of wedlock (around 40% among whites, 70% among black, etc); children raised without fathers, leading to rising crime and drug addiction, etc.; serial monogamy/divorce, which further fractures familial relatonships, which then leads to social breakdowns; STDs; emotionally damaged people (ranging from multiple broken relationships to abuse); and then all of the costs to society, which are certainly economic but go much further and deeper than that.”

            Seriously why do you even care?

            Your little rant contributes nothing to society except for creating more contempt towards Catholic busybodies who insert themselves beyween everyone else’s legs, Carl.

            Mind your own business. It’s not that hard.

          • “Seriously why do you even care?”

            Your 7th grade classes don’t include anything on civics, or “social studies”? Sad. Some day, perhaps, you’ll clue into the devastating effects of out-of-wedlock births (to pick just one, but obvious, example).

            You’re obsessed with the sexual acts. I’m focused on the real world consequences that inevitably follow from sexual activities and relationship/”relationships”.

            Regardless, you prove Frank Sheed’s decades-old observation correct: “The typical modern man practically never thinks about sex.”

          • Carl: When I see the exchanges like those you have covered, the people attacking the Church teachings don’t face up to the acts of aggression that are engaged in by the sexual revolutionaries. The in your face pride movements, the forced sexual indoctrination in the governmental schools, and the forced DEI indoctrination that takes place at the workplace with the threat of job termination hanging over the employee’s heads. Very Soviet. Sexual zampolit political officers to enforce sexual ideological purity.
            This doesn’t even begin to cover the total incoherence of the sexual revolution. Women’s rights when the sexual revolutionaries can’t even agree what a woman is. Their views make sex a fill in the blanks operation with anything animal, vegetable, or mineral. The sexual revolutionaries are such shape shifters that I don’t trust one word that comes from out of their mouths. What they say one day they will contradict the next. The sexual revolution is founded on quicksand. How can the next generation be built on such a flimsy, substandard foundation? Civilizations do not flourish under conditions of chaos. In your response you give excellent examples of this chaos. The sexual revolution is going down the same Jacobin road that the French Revolution did on its way to the madness of the Rein of Terror.

        • Add to Carl’s list of costs: US $43 billion in 2022 for persons with HIV/AIDS. The average lifetime cost to an individual with HIV varied from about half a million to slightly over $1 million in 2019 dollar values.

          Compare these with average costs of treatment for acute MI, CABG, and a year followup, in contrast, was $12,000 for acute MI, $38,000 for CABG, and a range of $1,000-60,000 for followup. Despite these cost estimates being based on 2015-16 values, they are considerably less than costs for HIV treatment.

          • Syphilis is on the rise again, especially in our state. If we care about people we share the truth with them about marriage & family & what happens when we ignore God’s plan for those.

  5. In other words if you cannot take the lessons of honesty and they go against your personal interpretation they will not be published. PERFECT EXAMPLE of shooting yourselves in the foot over & over. It’s so horribly noticeable!

    • The prior question might be whether moral evil, wherever it exists, is attributable to the Creator or, instead, originates in we creatures?

      If not the former (the split personality of a Manichaean “god,” which allured St. Augustine until his conversion), then we encounter the mystery of “origin-al sin.” This tendency–not Luther’s assertion that mankind is totally depraved—is a universal mystery. The only two exceptions being the undivided simplicity/humility of Mary, the Theotokos, and the enabled Incarnation of Jesus Christ into the created world, and who restores and elevates our shared human nature into His divine nature…but who then suffers crucifixion for this effort: the Scandal of the Cross.

      So, back to the violated gift of human sexuality, a good read for all (!) includes the following meditation, for example:

      “Some Father of the Church, such as John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, thought that if Adam had not sinned there would have been no marriage, with the sexual procreation that is now its distinguishing feature, because in the way in which it is now exercised, human sexuality is the fruit of original sin. However, from a more biblical and less Platonic perspective it must be said that rather the reverse is true: that, had there been no sin there would have been no virginity, because there would have been no need to question marriage and sexuality and subject them to judgement.

      “Poverty, chastity and obedience are not a renunciation—or worse, a condemnation—of a created GOOD [italics], but a rejection of the EVIL [italics] that has come to overlay that good. Therefore they are by definition a proclamation of the original goodness [!] of created things. They are a way of imitating the Word of God Who, by taking flesh, took on all that belongs to human nature, but did not take on sin (cf. Heb 4:15).”

      (the preacher of the papal household, Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap, “Virginity: A Positive Approach to Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” Alba House, 1995, pp. 45-46).

      • How do the saints that you cited explain the command to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis, and the one flesh union of husband and wife that took place before the Fall? Our deviation from God’s will from Original Sin is not confined to just the sex act.

        • And what does “before” actually mean in the context of both time and eternity? Some theologians proposed that the age of innocence lasted not more that a few seconds. Pope John Paul II speaks wisely of both “original sin” and “original innocence,” in his “Theology of the Body.”

          Very, very true, your observation that “sin is not confined to [disordered versions, yes?] of the sex act.” Cantalamessa, cited above, makes the connection: “Lust is carnal pride and pride is spiritual lust” (p. 57).

          History in a nutshell! Think der Synodal Weg and it malignancies…

          • The creation of the woman and the decree of the one flesh union took place before the Fall. Eve was made from a rib of Adam. She was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She was physically consubstantial with Adam, thus the one flesh union. The special creation of Eve was to model the consubstantial nature of the Trinity, and to establish Adam and Eve as the foundational progenitors of the human race. God is timeless. The name YHVH/YHWH is an amalgam of the three Hebrew words for existence, past, present, and future. His time is not our time. Our time was where Adam and Eve were brought into corporeal existence. The special creation of Eve is an image and a likeness as rendered in a universe that is subject to time. Adam and Eve were both present during the temptation by the serpent. The time interval between the creation of Eve and the Fall doesn’t negate the need for Eve to physically exist prior to the Fall.

          • GregB,
            We read: “The time interval between the creation of Eve and the Fall doesn’t negate the need for Eve to physically exist prior to the Fall.”

            Thank you for restating my own point in your own words. And about translations, and reinforcing your comment about “bone of bone and flesh of flesh”, there’s this:

            “It is interesting to note that for the ancient Sumerians the cuneiform sign to indicate the noun ‘rib’ coincided with the one used to indicate the word ‘life.’ As for the Yahwist narrative according to a certain interpretation of Genesis 2:21. God rather covers the rib with flesh (instead of closing up its place with flesh) and in this way ‘makes’ the woman, who comes from the ‘flesh and bones’ of the first man (male) [….]” (John Paul II, “Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis,” 1981, p. 68 fn., an early part of the cumulative “Theology of the Body,” audiences of September 1979-November 1984).

  6. God is our Creator. We were created in God’s image and likeness, being made male and female. Through the one flesh union of husband and wife we were were given a share in God’s image and likeness as Creator, by procreating the human bodies of our offspring. God provides the eternal soul. In the creative act of bringing into the world our progeny God is our Host and we are the invited guests. Does God get any say so in the sex act that He created, and its image and likeness? How trustworthy are we in using this gift from God?

  7. Eve was already talking with the serpent whereas she should have turned to the Lord in the instant and denied the invitation of the dialogue: “He said you should not even touch it.” She took up with “instructing the serpent” and she would then bring what she had enjoyed doing, for Adam to share in the same juncture-experience.

    If we take the two trees in the middle of the garden for Adam and Eve, or mankind, as they stand innocent with God, where the tree of life is Eve and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is Adam, respectively; it can be discerned that Eve stepped away from God and Adam and took over for the bearing knowledge of good and evil, not her role, while a little later Adam accepted to try to turn the inversion into life which would not be his role either.

    It seems clear in the contexts of both accounts of Creation that Original Sin got into everything including the first sexual union and Eve’s firstborn is conceived in sin.

    The lesson we do not have from Eve and Adam is the instantaneous turn to God. That is on top of receiving from the the original sin. The suggestion coming from Pope Francis, or, seemingly offered by him, is that instantaneous inner action can be considered rigid and closed. At the very least it can be observed that, in this area as in some others areas, he is not clarifying as he should and what he should.

    Someone is complaining how inappropriate it is to criticize the Pope publicly. If the bishops are involved and tangled into the same errors and help smother down what should be coming to light, how else is one to reach to the Holy See.

    • It is Jewish tradition that the fig tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that the olive tree was the tree of life. Christ cursed the fig tree on Holy Monday so that people would not eat of its fruit and sin. Christ went to the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper. Gethsemane translates to oil press foreshadowing Christ being crushed for our sins during His Passion and Death on the Cross. The Cross of Christ is the tree of life.
      Everything in the Garden of Eden was put there by God, and were the things that are God’s. Adam and Eve didn’t have God’s permission to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit both had thrown off their Robes of Righteousness, were denuded of grace, and left naked in their sin. Spiritually dead in their sin. To me Original Sin was a one flesh sin. Adam has been called the priest of Eden. He was to keep, protect, the garden. He failed in his priestly duties, the failure of which gives him primacy in Original Sin and why it is called the sin of Adam, even though Adam and Eve had both sinned. The test was to see if they could be trusted with the things that are God’s, as are we in this current age. Too many people treat the Church like it is their personal, private plaything to do with as they please, no different than Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit.

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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