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chastity

chastity A confusion of the terms ‘chastity’ and ‘celibacy’ has long existed. ‘Chastity’ — deriving from the Latin ‘castitas’, meaning ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’ — does not necessarily mean the renunciation of all sexual relations, but rather the temperate sexual behaviour of legitimately married spouses, for the purpose of procreation, or the sexual continence of the unmarried. The Greek word for chastity, sophrosyne, means moderation, which in the ancient Greek world was the chief philosophical virtue. This entailed proper self-mastery for men, and the virtue appropriate to a devoted and child-bearing (or potentially child-bearing) wife. For both men and women this meant the avoidance of fornication rather than the avoidance of sex altogether.

The early Church saw a debate between the proponents of chastity and celibacy. Paul questioned chastity in favour of celibacy in the first century, as I Corinthians: 7 indicates, for example. This passage was (and has continued to be) variously interpreted. Those in favour of celibacy highlighted Paul's comment that he wished all were like him — that is, celibate — and his urging of those unmarried or widowed to remain so, while those favouring chaste marriage have emphasized Paul's words that it is better to marry than to burn if one cannot practise self-control. A different perspective is seen in 1 Timothy: 3, where a bishop (not, in this period, in charge of anything beyond a local church) is described as a person who must be above reproach, married only once, temperate and sensible, and keeping his children submissive: that is, he must embody the qualities of a chaste, married householder. In the letter to Titus, an elder is described, similarly, as one who must have been married only once, who must be blameless and not rebellious, and whose children are believers.

In the second century, many writers were still advocating chaste marriage. For Clement of Alexandria sexual intercourse should be undertaken in marriage in service of God and for the begetting of children. A well-ordered sexuality was not in itself a problem: sexual relations needed to be ordered just as the rest of Christian life had to be ordered. He was therefore concerned about the continence of unmarried men. He saw marriage and celibacy as equal callings, each having its own and different forms of service and ministry to God. In marriage this entailed the care of one's wife and children (Clement was writing to male householders like himself). The particular readers he had in mind were, perhaps, the members of his own congregation in Alexandria who might be told by the ascetic and celibate encratites who lived in the area that they had accommodated too much to the world in marrying. Clement and others who wrote along these lines were, indeed, trying to accommodate Christian principles within the Roman and Greek household structure.

Tertullian, also in the second century, wrote on the importance of monogamy, the bond between one man and woman, believing marriage to be the lot of most Christians, for virginity might be splendid and ideal, but it was not for most people. Those who, at this time, privileged celibacy over marriage were sometimes accused of extremism, such as the prophet Montanus, who was said to allow the annulment of marriage.

By the fourth century, however, almost no one was writing of celibacy and marriage as equal Christian callings. Celibacy was seen as decidedly superior. Many people, from Ambrose to Jerome to Gregory of Nyssa, wrote on the importance of virginity. Only the monk Jovinian denied that virginity was a higher state than marriage, and only Augustine — who himself advocated virginity — wrote anything significant in support of chaste marriage, in his The Good of Marriage (c.401), in which he outlined the three goods of marriage: offspring, fidelity, and the sacramental bond.

Because chastity in the sense of the continence of the unmarried triumphed (until the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation) over the chastity of temperate sexual behaviour in marriage, the term chastity essentially came to mean celibacy, though historians debate exactly when this happened. It had happened generally by the sixth century, though as early as the fourth century, ‘castitas’ was used in some texts to mean continence rather than non-fornicatory marriage.

Jane Shaw


See also asceticism; celibacy; religion and the body.

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Chastity

103. Chastity (See also Modesty, Purity, Virginity.)

  1. Agnes, St. virgin saint and martyr. [Christian Hagiog.: Brewster, 76]
  2. Artemis (Rom. Diana ) moon goddess; virgin huntress. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 36]
  3. Bona Dea goddess; so chaste no one but husband sees her after marriage. [Rom. Myth.: Zimmerman, 43]
  4. Britomart embodiment of purity. [Br. Lit.: Faerie Queene ]
  5. Claudia proves innocence by rescuing goddess ship. [Rom. Myth.: Hall, 70]
  6. Cunegunda proves innocence by walking unharmed on hot ploughshares. [Christian Hagiog.: Hall, 86]
  7. Gawain, Sir remained chaste despite the temptations offered him each night by his hostess. [Br. Lit.: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Benét, 934]
  8. Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphars wife. [O.T.: Gen. 39]
  9. lapis lazuli emblem of sexual purity. [Gem Symbolism: Kunz, 370]
  10. mirror of Alasnam by clearness or opacity shows womans purity. [Arab. Lit.: Arabian Nights, The Tale of Zayn Alasnam ]
  11. orange blossoms symbolic of chastity when used in wedding ceremonies. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 176]
  12. phoenix in Middle Ages, attribute of chastity personified. [Art: Hall, 246]
  13. sapphire emblem of sexual purity. [Gem Symbolism: Kunz, 370]
  14. tortoise symbol of sexual purity. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 21]
  15. unicorn capturable only by virgins; thus, a test of chastity. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 105]
  16. Venus Verticordia Venus invoked to make women pure once more. [Rom. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 1126]

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chastity

chas·ti·ty / ˈchastətē/ • n. the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or esp. from all, sexual intercourse: vows of chastity.

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chastity

chastitybanditti, bitty, chitty, city, committee, ditty, gritty, intercity, kitty, nitty-gritty, Pitti, pity, pretty, shitty, slitty, smriti, spitty, titty, vittae, witty •fifty, fifty-fifty, nifty, shifty, swiftie, thrifty •guilty, kiltie, silty •flinty, linty, minty, shinty •ballistae, Christie, Corpus Christi, misty, twisty, wristy •sixty •deity, gaiety (US gayety), laity, simultaneity, spontaneity •contemporaneity, corporeity, femineity, heterogeneity, homogeneity •anxiety, contrariety, dubiety, impiety, impropriety, inebriety, notoriety, piety, satiety, sobriety, ubiety, variety •moiety •acuity, ambiguity, annuity, assiduity, congruity, contiguity, continuity, exiguity, fatuity, fortuity, gratuity, ingenuity, perpetuity, perspicuity, promiscuity, suety, superfluity, tenuity, vacuity •rabbity •improbity, probity •acerbity • witchetty • crotchety •heredity •acidity, acridity, aridity, avidity, cupidity, flaccidity, fluidity, frigidity, humidity, hybridity, insipidity, intrepidity, limpidity, liquidity, lividity, lucidity, morbidity, placidity, putridity, quiddity, rabidity, rancidity, rapidity, rigidity, solidity, stolidity, stupidity, tepidity, timidity, torpidity, torridity, turgidity, validity, vapidity •commodity, oddity •immodesty, modesty •crudity, nudity •fecundity, jocundity, moribundity, profundity, rotundity, rubicundity •absurdity • difficulty • gadgety •majesty • fidgety • rackety •pernickety, rickety •biscuity •banality, duality, fatality, finality, ideality, legality, locality, modality, morality, natality, orality, reality, regality, rurality, tonality, totality, venality, vitality, vocality •fidelity •ability, agility, civility, debility, docility, edibility, facility, fertility, flexility, fragility, futility, gentility, hostility, humility, imbecility, infantility, juvenility, liability, mobility, nihility, nobility, nubility, puerility, senility, servility, stability, sterility, tactility, tranquillity (US tranquility), usability, utility, versatility, viability, virility, volatility •ringlety •equality, frivolity, jollity, polity, quality •credulity, garrulity, sedulity •nullity •amity, calamity •extremity • enmity •anonymity, dimity, equanimity, magnanimity, proximity, pseudonymity, pusillanimity, unanimity •comity •conformity, deformity, enormity, multiformity, uniformity •subcommittee • pepperminty •infirmity •Christianity, humanity, inanity, profanity, sanity, urbanity, vanity •amnesty •lenity, obscenity, serenity •indemnity, solemnity •mundanity • amenity •affinity, asininity, clandestinity, divinity, femininity, infinity, masculinity, salinity, trinity, vicinity, virginity •benignity, dignity, malignity •honesty •community, immunity, importunity, impunity, opportunity, unity •confraternity, eternity, fraternity, maternity, modernity, paternity, taciturnity •serendipity, snippety •uppity •angularity, barbarity, bipolarity, charity, circularity, clarity, complementarity, familiarity, granularity, hilarity, insularity, irregularity, jocularity, linearity, parity, particularity, peculiarity, polarity, popularity, regularity, secularity, similarity, singularity, solidarity, subsidiarity, unitarity, vernacularity, vulgarity •alacrity • sacristy •ambidexterity, asperity, austerity, celerity, dexterity, ferrety, posterity, prosperity, severity, sincerity, temerity, verity •celebrity • integrity • rarity •authority, inferiority, juniority, majority, minority, priority, seniority, sonority, sorority, superiority •mediocrity • sovereignty • salubrity •entirety •futurity, immaturity, impurity, maturity, obscurity, purity, security, surety •touristy •audacity, capacity, fugacity, loquacity, mendacity, opacity, perspicacity, pertinacity, pugnacity, rapacity, sagacity, sequacity, tenacity, veracity, vivacity, voracity •laxity •sparsity, varsity •necessity •complexity, perplexity •density, immensity, propensity, tensity •scarcity • obesity •felicity, toxicity •fixity, prolixity •benedicite, nicety •anfractuosity, animosity, atrocity, bellicosity, curiosity, fabulosity, ferocity, generosity, grandiosity, impecuniosity, impetuosity, jocosity, luminosity, monstrosity, nebulosity, pomposity, ponderosity, porosity, preciosity, precocity, reciprocity, religiosity, scrupulosity, sinuosity, sumptuosity, velocity, verbosity, virtuosity, viscosity •paucity • falsity • caducity • russety •adversity, biodiversity, diversity, perversity, university •sacrosanctity, sanctity •chastity •entity, identity •quantity • certainty •cavity, concavity, depravity, gravity •travesty • suavity •brevity, levity, longevity •velvety • naivety •activity, nativity •equity •antiquity, iniquity, obliquity, ubiquity •propinquity

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