Interiorizing the Monastic Vows: Chastity, the Sacredness of Creation and the Virginity of Heart That Should Belong to All
Continuing our reflection on monasticism interiorized, we follow Evdokimov’s analysis of the Christ’s temptation in the desert. The ordered love of a chaste and pure heart touches upon every aspect of our lives and our relations with God and others. We find here the expression of the freedom that belongs to us as children of God as well as how we can be tempted to violate the mystery of nature, profane the sacredness of the cosmos, and the creation of God.
Evdokimov begins his analysis in this way: “‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’ To tempt is to try. To tempt God means to try the limits of his magnanimity. Has he not created man ‘in his image . . . .?‘ ‘You are all gods, sons of the Most High.‘ Conscious of his greatness, this ‘little god‘ dares to claim the attributes of his high dignity. To tempt the Lord in this case is to make use of God . . .in order to satisfy all his desires.”
This command not to tempt God, not to sully and profane chastity touches all those created in God’s image - celibate and married. “This virtue goes beyond the physiological and expresses the entire and chaste structure of the human spirit. It constitutes the charism of the sacrament of marriage. In a wider sense, it inspires the meaning of the sacredness of every particle of God’s creation, inviolable in its expectation of salvation that is to come from the chaste man. The power of chastity is the contrary of the power of magic and signifies the return to the true ‘supernaturally natural power‘ of paradise. ‘Thou shalt not tempt thy God‘ means then that you shall not make your conformity to God the accomplice of your passions in anti-chastity.”
One begins to see here why chastity should be loved and cherish so greatly by Christians. Our very beings become and have been made to manifest the very love of God and become the vehicles of mutual knowledge and self-donation. “Chaste love is attracted by the heart that remains virgin beyond every corporeal actuation. According to the Bible, there is a total ‘knowledge‘ of two beings, a conversation of spirit with spirit in which the body seems amazingly the vehicle of the spiritual. This is why St. Paul says that man should learn ‘to possess his vessel in holiness and honor.‘ As undefiled matter suitable for liturgical use, the chaste man is entirely, body and soul, the matter of the sacrament of marriage, with the sanctification of his love. The charism of the sacrament effects the transcendence of the self toward the transparent presence of one for the other, of one toward the other, in order to offer themselves together as a single being to God. Chastity integrated all the elements of the human being into a whole that is virginal and interior as to the spirit. . . .” St. Augustine speaks of interiorized chastity in this fashion: “He who is not spiritual in his flesh becomes carnal even in his spirit,” and again, “the virginity of the flesh belongs to a small number, the virginity of the heart should belong to all.”
Christ’s refusal to cast himself down shows us the way to ascend to the Father in love. “‘To throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple’ means to alienate himself and to render himself useless. The answer to this temptation and to the concupiscence that inclines a man to seize the power that Christ really possesses to the point of governing even the angels, is chastity. ‘To cast himself down’ designates the movement from the high to the low, from heaven to hell; this was Lucifier’s exact itinerary and that of the fall of man that brought concupiscence. Chastity is an ascension; it is the Savior’s itinerary, from hell to the Father’s kingdom. It is also an inward ascension toward the burning presence of God. It is within one’s mind that one throws himself into the presence of God, and chastity is only one of the names of the nuptial mystery of the lamb.”
May God’s love so shape and purify our hearts . . .
We will return to the interiorized vow of obedience in the next post.
**All quotes from “The Struggle with God” by Paul Evdokmov