Page 12, 31st March 1939

31st March 1939
Page 12
Page 12, 31st March 1939 — UNHEROIC IIEROISMS

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By Fr. Martindale

OWING, surely, to the lasting and consistent character of Catholic teaching, dogmatic and moral, Catholics more than others have kept words to their proper meaning. Thus it is not we who have caused " temperance " to shrink to meaning non-excess in alcohol; nor " charity " to mean what has to do with money-gifts.

On the other hand, we may stick so close to technical meanings that we become unintelligible to others : for example, scholastic philosophers speak of the body being " informed by the soul.

Not so long ago, a very " modern" writer in the C.H. said that a certain kind of " society " could not claim to be " inform ' hy Christian principles. But " informed," nowadays, means " having received information," and nothing else, to 99 out of 100 English-speakers.

And in the case of " modesty " we have actually gone further still and narrowed the meaning down till we

too easily associate it, religious, forthwith with sexConfessors are, at times, puzzled to know just what the penitent means, and, of course, prefer not to enquire more than they must.

" INDECENT " Perhaps this fact is due to the same instinct which has made non-Catholics (from whom we have caught a certain number of tendencies) narrow the word " indecent " and allied words in the same way. That word, after all, merely means " unfitting." As usual, " modesty "-due moderation-Bee between two extremes.

Anything that suggests that the sexual instinct is bad in itself is heretical. Prudery, even shyness, when " out of place," are as unfitting as their opposite. But what is thoroughly bad is the stripping away of all reverence, reticence and " sense of shame " from sexual matters. But it is a fantastic calumny to say that Christianity is what introduced the sense of " shame "-quite different from a sense or shamefulness, ashamedness-into this connection, and that we ought to be healthily pagan, nudist, so to say, in talk and behaviour.

The Greek and Latin languages, and native customs and psychology prove that a sort of " reverence " (which is what we here mean by " shame ") is prevalent in this department, quite Independently of Christianity. The Russian philosopher Solovieff considered this sense of reverence for anything that touched closely on the mystery of life to be absolutely fundamental in human nature.


St. Aloysius Gonzaga has been so caricatured both in art and in writing that he stands all too often as the very model for prudery. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the society he lived in would know that prudery, in his case, was out of the question.

Not to dwell on the court life of which he led so much, we recall that the hospitals in which he worked so hard for the plague-stricken were absolute cess-pools of blasphemy and almost insane obscenity.

Aloyslue saw and heard much more than 99 per cent. of modern young men do: and while he had in him no possibility of prudery, he is rightly offered to all young men as a patron of their purity.

One ought, then, to be able to talk with complete simplicity about such matters when there is adequate reason for doing so-with a doctor of mind or body, or when seriously discussing social conditions. But when there is no reason, 'or a bad one, like currying favour, Modesty dictates that one should keep within the " right limits " and never jest or talk Idly about what goes straight to the roots of life, that direct gift of God. If the Church seems herself " narrow " in this matter-" Surely it can't matter so much as all that ? "-we reply that anything which so approaches the integrity of life as to injure it in any degree, is already serious, 'already an " over-stepping " of the mark, " immoderate."


After all, a word about clothes! We like to see a young man " well turned out," and the same applies to girls. But if only we could persuade either that to challenge attention by means of clothes is to be not well-dressed!

If attention is dragged towards my clothes, that is a sign that I have less personality than they have, so to say: I cannot just be myself. And if attention is drawn towards people's faces, whether or no by that absurd system of makingup which simply standardises features, till a face has no more personality than a placard, personality is again despaired of: again, it is pleasant to look at pleasant-featured people, but the real attractiveness of anyone lies in the vivacity of their expression--all fashionplates are dead. Make-up is mostly the fatal mask of such intelligences as the underlying features might-you never can tell!-possess.

Anyhow, when it is the body which provokes people to attend to it, it has already stepped right out of its place. Hence, modesty, even in the strictly limited sense in which we have talked about it, is not only a probable but an essential preliminary to purity. And let no one fool us with prattle about Victorian inhibitions and so on. It is the " carnal " man or woman who is shrunken and un-alive, and tends to be that curious anomaly-just an animal In spite of being intelligent,

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