The Nekkid Truth

by Jimmy Akin

in Art

BotticellivenusAnother from Old World Swine;

I remember the first time I sat in a figure drawing class and worked
from a real, live, nekkid model. I was a little nervous before, as were
probably a lot of us wet-eared art undergrads. I don’t know how
everyone else responded when the young lady dropped her bathrobe, but I
expect their experience wasn’t too different from my own; there were a
few moments of awkward ogling, a few moments of stern and studied
pretense at ignoring the obvious, and then – something else. I began to
think about how I could wring a good drawing out of the pose. As I
started to draw, my brain began to break the model down into her
component elements… line and form, light and shadow, muscle and bone.
Within a minute, and for the remainder of the class, she registered no
more on my libido-meter than a clay pot or a fern. And I was not nearly
such a paragon of virtue and restraint as I am now.

Not everyone has had the benefit of such a class, of course, but it
did demonstrate to me in unmistakable terms the very real difference
between appreciating the beauty of the human form and what might be
called the Look of Lust. I had the great privilege of having my view of
the female form somewhat redeemed and baptized long before I knew
anything of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In this work, he makes
brilliantly clear that the mere repression of lustful thoughts is not
enough, and may even be unhealthy in the long run. We must learn -
through the help of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the Church, the
sacraments and prayer – to change the way we perceive the human body.
We must have our thoughts redeemed. We should work toward being able to
thank God for the breathtaking beauty of the human body, and through
giving thanks and praise to the Creator, disarm and disable Lust.

The idea is not to cage our lust, but to drag it out into the light where it can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Not that nudity is something to be treated lightly. We are fallen,
after all. There is nudity – even under the pretext of art – that is
wholly inappropriate. If it is intended to excite lust, or if it in
fact does so, then it is unhealthy.

How do we tell the difference? Obviously, this is a matter of
judgment. For one aware of his own weakness, one sincerely committed to
trying to please God in everything, one familiar with Original Sin, one
who has been trained to respect the dictates of conscience… a
certain  amount of confidence in personal judgment is possible, and can
be developed. In the words of St. Augustine, "Love God and do as you
please".

For one lacking these things, it may be impossible, though I believe
that even based only on natural law one can tell the difference between
a painting that is basically an act of praise and homage, and one in
which the body is displayed like a piece of meat in a butcher shop
window. In the first case, the viewer’s response is "Yes, that is
beautiful – God does great work". In the latter case, the viewer’s
response is "I want that".

In short, if you are truly concerned about lust in regard to viewing
nude figures in art, then the battle is half won already. Trust your
judgment, and be watchful of your own thoughts. Where truly great,
classical, historically significant art is involved, I don’t think even
children need be  cocooned and shielded as much as one might think.
Most children likely have a much saner and simpler response to these
things than we give them credit for. If you have concerns for kids,
look things over for yourself first, but don’t get too wound up over
them seeing this or that body part, in the right context.

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{ 133 comments }

SDG January 31, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Tim, your experience exactly coincides with my own art-school drawing classes. The main impression I remember from my first class with a nude model was what I might call a somewhat clinical feeling in the room, objective, dispassionate, analytical.
Familiarity with classical nudes definitely helped. I had the sense of taking baby steps into a world well-trodden by great artists of the past, samples of whose work I knew resides at the Vatican and in many historic churches.
Not that feelings are reliable indices of reality, but it didn’t feel transgressive, and certainly wasn’t in the least erotic. (Another factor is that that particular model wasn’t especially attractive, but that factor varied widely over the years, yet the basic experience remained the same.)
I do think that an excessive discomfort with nudity in art — including nudity in film — can actually be an impediment rather than an aid to moral purity. Excessive aversion can aggravate the allure of the forbidden and
This might be a totally unfair cheap shot, but I’m suddenly reminded of the recent news that the founder of Clean Flix was recently accused of offering money for sex to underaged girls.
Could there be a connection between wanting to scrub movies of all mature content and susceptibility to such immoral behavior? Maybe, maybe not — sin is a pretty universal condition. At any rate, I do think there can be a connection between personal moral virtue and a mature attitude toward mature content in art.

Chris-2-4 January 31, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Improper usage of a colloquialism.
Nude means “no clothes on”.
Nekkid means “no clothes on, and up to somethin’.”

Jon January 31, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Chris-2-4, you sound like a Lewis Grizzard fan. :)

deusdonat January 31, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Very interesting and thought-provoking post. It is odd that some Christian cultures (Catholic ones among them) became so squeamish and Puritanical (now THERE’S an irony) about the human body. If you go anywhere near the Vatican, you see a host of nude art everywhere…and that’s just the Pope’s private loggia! The fact is that the human body, with all its intricacies, engines, organisms and functinality is probably God’s greatest invention. As scripture says, it truly should be treated as a temple. And it is sad that at certain times within society it has either been a “cover up totally to hide your modesty” or this internet-prompted sexualization free-for-all we see today.
When I lived in Africa, there were certain tribes which went around naked, according to social class (the elders wore a robe, those who were married wore ornamental beads, everyone else wore clay for sunscreen). There was no rape or other sexual deviancy to speak of in those tribes, as the consequences were very harsh and the social tabus too strong. Half of the people I would come across were Christian, which you could spot as they wore either plastic rosaries around their necks or had crosses tattoo’d somewhere on their body.
The point is, appreciation of the body and sense of modesty comes within, from the values and morals we are taught. Simply covering up one’s “shame” doesn’t.

mrs. timothy d. ellis January 31, 2008 at 5:12 pm

wow, jimmy, this was *really* cool. my beloved is a sculptor and painter. when we were new believers, and our entire worldviews did a dramatic 180, he had no clue how to approach nudity in art. he still wrestles with this! i’m going to share your thoughts with him tonight. by the way, i think you would totally dig my myspace. check out my “about me” on the left side…

mrs. timothy d. ellis January 31, 2008 at 5:14 pm

oops– i just noticed this was written by a mr. tim jones. well then, TIM, not jim, i think *you* would dig my myspace, considering your background in art! :-)
peace + blessings to all, in Christ Jesus.

J.R. Stoodley January 31, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I think I’ll copy and paste (with one minor edit) my main response from Old World Swine here:
Interesting. If anything I am a little worried that the dispassionate artistic attitude you describe is a bit dehumanizing and inhuman itself, albeit in a different way. Modesty not only protects against lust but also helps protect the mystery and unity of the person, in our fallen world. Even in most art the most private part of the female body is almost always hidden, but I doubt this is often the case for the model herself.
I don’t pretend to be perfect in this regard, but I’ll mention that I think my experience with the “real thing” has also helped me. However, this was in the context of a real, loving (at least on my side, but let’s not get into that mess) relationship and was not totally divorsed from sexuality. Granted that was certainly going too far for an unmarried couple, but I think that sort of thing helps purify one’s perception and respect for the human body in a way that does not dehumanize it. Particularly after that experience I have no desire at all to see a girl (woman) naked again until marriage, if that is my vocation.

J.R. Stoodley January 31, 2008 at 7:48 pm

SDG,
“what I might call a somewhat clinical feeling in the room, objective, dispassionate, analytical”
But is that really how we should view human bodies? It sounds so cold and inhuman. Better I think to recognize the mystery and personalness of the body, not to think of it as a body so much as “her”, and to avert you’re eyes when emotions and natural attraction would lead to a desire for intimacy, or of course if we are tempted to lust.
I don’t think I agree entirely with you’re acceptance of nudity in film, though since you didn’t give concrete examples I’m not sure. Certainly sometimes it is quite appropriate and not tempting to any healthy person, for example in The Mission. It would have been rediculous and unneccessary to avoid any nudity in a movie that takes place in that time and place. Also as I recall that was mostly child nudity, which only the sickness of pedophiles makes into much of a big deal at all.
In general though I think the maintenance of modesty in public settings including movies is a very appropriate way of guarding the dignity of the actress and of women (and men) in general.
Also we shouldn’t forget that what may seem fine to one person may be very tempting or disturbing to another, especially teenagers. Better to err on the side of modesty than subject others to temptation.

J.R. Stoodley January 31, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Deusdonat,
What you describe is desensitation to nudity. While this can reduce or eliminate both the lustful and annalytical dehumanization of the body, I would think it would also reduce the intimacy of it as well. The body is special, and parts of it should be reserved for the most intimate of situations. St. Paul spoke of covering certain parts of the body because of their greater nobility.
I hope people know what I’m talking about. I’m trying to communicate my basic instincts on this subject, which are sometimes hard for me to put into words.

Rachel January 31, 2008 at 8:28 pm

I really liked this post. I am a high school student who struggles with purity. However I have found that by taking art and anatomy my perceptions of the human body have been altered for the better. By taking these classes I was able to look at the body in a different way that just what was on the surface. By having to discet the different parts piece by piece you are able to see how beautifully we are all put together and it becomes easier to view ourselves as a whole person and not just a object to be used.
Sexual attraction and lust are not the same things. Being attracted to somone, and wanting to be with that peroson is sexual attraction. Lust however is viewing that person as a object to fufill your own disires, with no regard for that person as a human being. You can be attracted to somone and not be lustfull about it. At the same time you can lust afer a person and not really be attracted to them. The hard part comes from learning to see someone as more than just things to be used.
That being said, purity is still a huge struggle. Modesty is a really big deal that we all need to try to follow. Somone once explained it to me that if you go out and buy a $50,000 art piece, you are not just going to leave it outside for it to get rained on and for people to step on it. You are going to take it inside and protect it so that it can be cherished and enjoyed. It’s the same with your body. We need to protect our bodies and treat them with dignity and respect because they are beautiful creations of God.
On nudity in films, I think it depends on the context of the film. For example, Shindlers List. There was much nudity in the film, including full frontal male nudity, however it was with a purpose, and it was not sexualized at all. But some things that aren’t viewed as sexual can be to some people. Like some people may be turned on by feet. Many of us would be fine seeing a movie with feet in in, but if that persons morality is compromised by seeing that movie then they should stay away from it. It depends on where your morality line falls, and we sould all lear where ours are and try to stay away from it.

Kevin Jones February 1, 2008 at 12:46 am

Father Thomas Loya, a priest with art training, has spoken of the way art can help retrain impure impulses. There’s a DVD of his lecture “The Theology of the Body and Art” that effectively contrasts pornographic depictions with artistic nudes.

PS February 1, 2008 at 4:33 am

http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=647
I don’t know what to say other than that I am deeply disturbed by the original blog entry. If you read the article at the link I provided above, you will see that there is a serious disconnect between that view and the one posed on this site. Since they are both from solid Catholic sources and concern an issue of fundamental morality, I am disturbed.
If I were to try and reconcile the two positions, I would have to try something like this. Clothing can often be immodest. Being nude is not immodest. There we should all just go about nude.
My gut reaction is that that is not the right answer, so my conclusion then must be that one of the two positions is wrong. And as mentioned before, since they are both solid Catholic sources, makes this quite disturbing.

Abigail February 1, 2008 at 5:47 am

I love the CCC’s definition of chastity as the integration of one’s sexuality into one’s personhood. The point is not to supress one’s sexuality, but to give it its proper place (which for most of us, means raising it up.)

mike February 1, 2008 at 5:56 am

You reminded me of one time in the lunch room at work (at a factory) These guys were passing around a sports illutrated swimsuit issue and started picking on a fellow Catholic they knew as a guy who would avert his eyes (his name is Joe). Well, the magazine is eventuaally stuck in front of Joes face and to everyone’s suprise he stares at it for a minute while they are all snikering and commenting on what they think of the model and asking what Joe thought of it. He said “Yep, God sure gave her a fine looking body.” They quickly changed the subject and rarely picked on Joe in the future.

sky February 1, 2008 at 5:59 am

PS I think you’re creating a contradiction that is not there. The article you’ve mentioned discusses modesty in dress and why it’s important. I don’t think Tim is saying anything contrary in his post, he’s not advocating people to be nudists or that it’s not a big deal to be naked and that we should do it! I took his post to mean that we shouldn’t be afraid of the naked body as if it was itself the problem, when the problem is our disordered appetites toward it.
In any case Tim is talking about the naked body as such and as it can be depicted in art (whether it is painting, film, photography or literature for that matter), which really reflects and show how we perceive the human body. He’s not advocating that we shouldn’t object to specific people going around naked! Rather that modesty doesn’t have to do with hiding a naked shame but exactly the opposite.
Anyway I don’t see how those two articles contradict each other when they’re not exactly talking about the same thing to begin with.

Jay D the nonCatholic® February 1, 2008 at 7:01 am

We must learn – through the help of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the Church, the sacraments and prayer – to change the way we perceive the human body. We must have our thoughts redeemed.

What happens if you don’t? I suppose that means years in purgatory where you are then schooled in the art of changing thoughts regarding the human body.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 7:24 am

Jay D -
I should say that I think a person could move a good bit in the right direction without the help of the Church and the sacraments… but it will be a great deal easier with them.
And as for the Purgatory thing, the answer is “if you’re lucky”.

Monica February 1, 2008 at 7:34 am

For innocent nudity The Gods Must Be Crazy is good. I actually like to have the innocent nudity around for my children, so they have something to compare and contrast with when they are exposed to the not-so-innocent (like at the checkstand at the grocery store.)

Jay D the nonCatholic® February 1, 2008 at 7:54 am

And as for the Purgatory thing, the answer is “if you’re lucky”.
Tim J

I hope you are joking. I would hate to think of grace and salvation as some kind of crapshoot.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 8:01 am

“I hope you are joking. I would hate to think of grace and salvation as some kind of crapshoot.”
Certainly not. That sounds like Calvinism. Then again, that is for another thread.

Jay D the nonCatholic® February 1, 2008 at 8:40 am

I don’t think it is for another thread. Mr. Akin said, “We must learn – through the help of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the Church, the sacraments and prayer – to change the way we perceive the human body. We must have our thoughts redeemed.”
Jesus said,* “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus did not come to save those who can perceive the human body without lust. He came to save those that can’t. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”†
For Mr. Akin to say that “we must learn” is not correct if the unspoken part is “we must learn, or we won’t get into heaven.” Those that can’t learn are in need of a physician, and Christ died for those people. Those that can are already righteous (at least in that regard).
Christ died for you and saves you, regardless of how sucessful you are at changing the way you perceive the human body.
*Matthew 9:12-13
†Romans 5:8

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 8:47 am

Christ died for you and saves you, regardless of how sucessful you are at changing the way you perceive the human body.
And what awful a spectacle is the human body — so awful that it must have been Satan who must have been the Creator of it.
No wonder Adam and Eve hid from God the moment they figured out they were naked!

Ryan C February 1, 2008 at 8:55 am

I recall there was a certain saint who everytime he saw a beautiful woman, said a prayer of thanks to God. I wonder if JPG had him in mind.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 9:15 am

Jay D -
A mere trifle, but it was not Mr. Akin who composed the post, but me… hence the “Tim Jones” in large friendly red letters at the top of the post.
And when did I say, “we must learn, or we won’t get into heaven.”?
We must learn (to change the way we perceive the human body) because it is what Christ would have us do. It is a matter of obedience.
Of course, as I believe that Jesus really, truly makes us righteous… that salvation and sanctification are in fact the *same* process, I believe that obedience is a matter of salvation, in the end.
Once saved always saved is a concept alien to the scriptures and the life of the Church. Jesus saves us, one way or another, by making us really fit to inhabit heaven by the power of His Spirit (rather than – by some legal fiction – just declaring us righteous).
We are not to be “dunghills covered in snow” through all eternity. We are saved through being transformed (which is impossible without Grace) not by having our fallen nature merely whitewashed.
“Be transformed, by the renewing of your mind”.

Barbara February 1, 2008 at 9:30 am

When I took an art class for non-art majors, there was one class session of drawing a live nude. However, the week before, the instructor said that they only use really heavy women. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there is a reason for it.

David B. February 1, 2008 at 9:56 am

I think that when Jesus said he came to save not the righteous, but sinners, he was not saying that any human is righteous without His grace, but rather that the “righteous” were sinners who, believing themselves to be perfect, were refusing His mercy. Jest my 2 cents.

Jay D the nonCatholic® February 1, 2008 at 10:28 am

I must say, Mr. Jones, you come very close to naming concupiscence itself as a damnable sin.
Think of yourself before your class with the nekkid model and yourself after the class. Were you more fit for heaven before or after?
Before the class, you had a propensidy to ogle at a simple nekkid woman, but no opportunity to actually commit that manifest sin of lust. If I am not mistaken, under Catholic® theology, if you were baptized just before the class you have committed no actual transgression of lust and are therefore blameless if you were then hit by a bus on the way to class.
However blameless, you seem to be saying that the “you” before the class has more work to be done. Your perceptions of the human body should still be changed such that the mere sight of nekkidity won’t lead to automatic ogling.
I agree with you. That is why I believe concupiscence is sinful. The fact that someone has a tendency to ogle makes them unfit for heaven and in need of a savior.
Also, do you think you were better off “sinning boldly” through the first awkward moments in the art class? Please read these words (much maligned by Catholics®) of Luther and see if Luther might just have been giving the advice of dragging out the lust into the light instead of simply supressing it–keeping in mind Luther’s use of hyperbole:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world]  we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”

I, too, do not think we will be snow-covered dunghills through all eternity. I believe our natures will be reformed at the resurrection.

Jay D the nonCatholic® February 1, 2008 at 10:31 am

I think that when Jesus said he came to save not the righteous, but sinners, he was not saying that any human is righteous without His grace, but rather that the “righteous” were sinners who, believing themselves to be perfect, were refusing His mercy.
David B.

No, I don’t think Jesus was using implicit scare quotes.

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 10:34 am

Think of yourself before your class with the nekkid model and yourself after the class. Were you more fit for heaven before or after?
Was Adam more fit for heaven before or after God created a naked Eve?

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 10:43 am

Please read these words (much maligned by Catholics®) of Luther
We should, of course, take the humble advice of the virtuous Luther who did not in any way seek to deface the Church founded by Our Lord and Saviour all to salve his own impeccable conscience and, in its place, make it after his own image.
Nay, Luther did not even think to do any inkling of violence against these Romanists, whom he never did once malign.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 11:01 am

“Before the class, you had a propensidy to ogle at a simple nekkid woman, but no opportunity to actually commit that manifest sin of lust. If I am not mistaken, under Catholic® theology, if you were baptized just before the class you have committed no actual transgression of lust and are therefore blameless if you were then hit by a bus on the way to class.”
I’m just *not* following you, here.
“No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.”
Wow. I don’t suppose he gives a scripture reference for that bizarre statement?
And you can drop the childish “®” after Catholic, or you will be unceremoniously dumped from the thread. I make it a practice to begin any dialogue with ordinary respect and decency. I expect the same from others.

SDG February 1, 2008 at 11:36 am

I agree with you. That is why I believe concupiscence is sinful. The fact that someone has a tendency to ogle makes them unfit for heaven and in need of a savior.

Your undistributed middle is showing.

Jay D the Catholic February 1, 2008 at 11:50 am

And you can drop the childish “®” after Catholic

OK. I was only trying to follow Rule 23 while still allowing clarity of communication, which isn’t easy. My previous solution was to say “Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches” each time to avoid any confusion but I thought that was too long.
I consider myself Catholic, so as far as I’m concerned, this blog having a standing Rule 23 does not constitute beginning the “dialogue with ordinary respect and decency.” But this is your blog and I will do my best to respectfully obey its rules.

Jay D the Catholic February 1, 2008 at 11:54 am

And you can drop the childish “®” after Catholic

OK. I was only trying to follow Rule 23 while still allowing clarity of communication, which isn’t easy. My previous solution was to say “Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches” each time to avoid any confusion but I thought that was too long.
I consider myself Catholic, so as far as I’m concerned, this blog having a standing Rule 23 does not constitute beginning the “dialogue with ordinary respect and decency.” But this is your blog and I will do my best to respectfully obey its rules.

California Star February 1, 2008 at 11:54 am

Desensitation of the human mind towards lust and evil is how Satan slowly binds the souls of men and leads them willingly to the gates to hell.
That path for some starts with their first nekkid art class. Repent and come back to Christ while you still can.

SDG February 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Desensitation of the human mind towards lust and evil is how Satan slowly binds the souls of men and leads them willingly to the gates to hell.

Centuries of Christian experience and culture attests that nudity in artistic contexts need not be a slippery slope to lust and evil. In filial piety to your Christian forebears, forbear from pitting your moral scruples against the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And let us all look to the good of our own souls.

Repent and come back to Christ while you still can.

In fear and trembling, with whatever humility I have been vouchsafed, I say to you: The measure you measure with will be measured back to you. And let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 12:24 pm

That path for some starts with their first nekkid art class. Repent and come back to Christ while you still can.
Why is it that the naked body seems to be regarded by some here as some sort of terrible creation by Satan himself meant to damn people to Hell?
Is not the naked body a creation of God?
And why is it that a nekkid art class has been made synonymous with a sinful visit to a strip club?
Is nekkid art the stuff of such evil that it is actually the very medium Satan has devised to trap souls and damn them to Hell?
If that is the case, it’s a wonder that the nekkid art created by such great Renaissance painters often elevate my mind to such celestial heights!
Could you so-called Christians, at the very least, try to entertain the thought that such nekkid art is meant to present the noble, naked human form as a magnificent work of God rather than maliciously twisting it as some sort of depraved pornography?

PS February 1, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Noting for what it is worth that I am a devout Catholic:
“And why is it that a nekkid art class has been made synonymous with a sinful visit to a strip club?”
Maybe it is because there is essentially no difference between the two. Would going to strip club be made more moral if you took your sketch pad along? In both cases you a going because you enjoy looking at women in skimpy/no attire.

deusdonat February 1, 2008 at 12:45 pm

J.R. Stoodley What you describe is desensitation to nudity.
Not at all. It is just putting it into the greater context of humanity.
While this can reduce or eliminate both the lustful and annalytical dehumanization of the body, I would think it would also reduce the intimacy of it as well.
LOL! Not if my libido is any indicator. In Central and northern Europe if you go to a gym, you will find the spa is usually co-ed and men and women walk around nude together (or covered by a towel). There is no sexual or lascivous activity. It’s just a non-issue. Do I find some of the women walking around attractive? Of course. Just as I would find women walking around clothed on the street attractive. But this does not mean the sight of flesh sparks some unholy animalistic lust which forces me to act upon it or repress it. I know that these women are not my wife, so while I can appreciate the beauty, that’s as far as it goes.
The body is special, and parts of it should be reserved for the most intimate of situations.
Such as urinating, defecating and cleaning? These are physical realities. Overly sexualizing the body is just not healthy.
St. Paul spoke of covering certain parts of the body because of their greater nobility.
He also wrote that women should cover their heads in church. I agree with both statements when applicable to the society in question.

Elijah February 1, 2008 at 12:52 pm

I’m also disturbed, not by the post, but by the fact it’s such a difficult question. I really have no opinion anymore, having held almost every opinion before becoming Catholic and still not finding any clear answer, but I certainly do see a contradiction between the need for modesty in dress and nudity in art, especially photography and film. What is nudity in those media but immodesty conveyed from where it actually took place to another location?
“In any case Tim is talking about the naked body as such and as it can be depicted in art (whether it is painting, film, photography or literature for that matter), which really reflects and show how we perceive the human body. He’s not advocating that we shouldn’t object to specific people going around naked!”
The problem I have with this is that nudity in photography and film isn’t really a ‘depiction’ – it’s really the person, naked. It’s a person naked in front of you and it’s a person naked in front of a film crew or photography crew (or whatever you call them). And, even in painting the original model isn’t a depiction either. Like J.R., I’ll also repost part of my comment from OWS, slightly edited:
“…are photographs [or film] different? Would anyone’s answer change if the model were his wife or daughter [or sister]?

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 12:53 pm

“Maybe it is because there is essentially no difference between the two.”
The entire post was a meditation on the very real differences between the two. The fact that you see no difference does not mean at all that there isn’t any, but only demonstrates a stunted spiritual maturity.
I enjoy seeing the human form well and tastefully depicted in art for the same reason I enjoy a sunset or autumn leaves… because God made them beautiful, and made them to be appreciated.
Vive le Difference!

bill912 February 1, 2008 at 12:57 pm

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel just came to mind.

Elijah February 1, 2008 at 1:03 pm

I’ve also heard that many of the paintings in Rome had clothes painted onto them at some times. I don’t know if that’s true or not, or whether it means anything, but would seem to indicate that even in Rome it isn’t such an easy issue.

The Masked Chicken February 1, 2008 at 1:15 pm

I might as well throw my own pitiful opinion into the mix.
The concept that Tim J. is describing at the beginning of his post — the transition from looking at a woman as an object of lust to looking at her as a collection of lines and shapes — is known in aesthetics theory as that of
psychical distance. The link is to the original paper which is well worth reading (it was written in 1912, but the concept is still used, today).
When one looks at a nude as a collection of lines and shapes or as a collection of cells and organs (if one is a doctor), the aesthetic distance is said to be great, so the mental perception is “far away” and abstract. When one looks on a nude with lustful intentions, the distance is close and the intent utilitarian.
Of course, the concept of such distancing can only exist in species which have complex abstractive abilities, which pretty much means that man is the only entity on the planet that is capable of both art and depravity.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica (Par II.2, Q 153) makes a similar distinction:
“I answer that, a sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good.”
When one looks on a woman with the purpose of learning to perfect one’s artistic ability or to represent man in a more precise fashion, the nude model is adapted to a good end. When she is looked upon as an object for sexual gratification, she has been adapted for an evil end (assuming the woman is not one’s wife).
In the end, it is reason which must decide the proper use of all material, be it flesh, metal, or liquid. Let us face facts — the proper use of reason is hard when sinful nature wars against it. St. Paul said as much (Rom 7:19-25)
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self,
ut I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
As the pastor of my church said at mass, today, one tends to vice or virtue, little by little. Tim J., did you know that the first reading at mass today was that of David lusting after Bathsheba?
The Chicken

California Star February 1, 2008 at 1:30 pm

When even good people are deceived by the devil by calling certain types of pornography an acceptable art form it will lead to themselves falling away from the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
Is this inability to discern what is spiritually inappropriate why certain members of the Clergy has had problems with abuse in the past?

bill912 February 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

No

California Star February 1, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Hi Chicken -
I just saw your reference to David and Bathsheba – Excellent. I’m sure David first started at first by admiring “the art form” – but little by little the devil got him to lower his guard and lead onto greater evil.
If a great man like King David had such a hard time resisting the temptation of immodesty, how much more so should we be onguard against it when the devil goes to great lengths to bombard us with it in all forms of media.
Pornography (in all its various forms) is the leading catalyst to most all sexual sin.
The scriptures teach the human body is sacred and is reserved to be shared only between husband and wife – not to be published as an “art form”.
The fact that T Jones calls it “nekkid” indicates some guilt already.

Skygor February 1, 2008 at 1:42 pm

No sin will separate us from the Lamb
I can comprehend hyperbole, but I thought sin by its very definition was separation of God. Though I am pretty sure Luther was attempting to state that no quantity or gravity of sin is too great for God’s mercy. I’m not sure Luther is even attempting to encourage a person to be sincere in their sins, i.e. to just look at the subject and get it over it, rather than to not equivocate the morality your looking.
I would say concupiscence in and of itself is sinful, but in daily human life amoral. Although concupiscence is not a natural state (by Original Sin), however sadly it is a given state. So that like most morality the intent and knowledge of the person is the measure. I would explain more but then I get into cycles rehashing of “God’s infinite mercy and justice”, “limbo of infants and the alternative”, “recovered alcoholics wanting a swig”, “Natural Law vs. knowing the Gospel”, etc.

bill912 February 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm

“The fact that T Jones calls it ‘nekkid’ indicates some guilt already.”
Be careful folks; we’ve got someone who can read into others’ hearts lurking close by!

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 2:08 pm

“I’m sure David first started at first by admiring “the art form” – but little by little the devil got him to lower his guard and lead onto greater evil.”
And you’re sure of this how? I’m afraid I must have missed it in the Biblical text. Or are you just that sure of all your opinions?
Not only can California Star read minds, he/she can do so across time and space!

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Noting for what it is worth that I am a devout Catholic:
“And why is it that a nekkid art class has been made synonymous with a sinful visit to a strip club?”
Maybe it is because there is essentially no difference between the two. Would going to strip club be made more moral if you took your sketch pad along? In both cases you a going because you enjoy looking at women in skimpy/no attire.

If that’s indeed the case, then the Sistine Chapel must be one helluva a strip club!
Note to the subtly-challanged: the statement was rhetorical.
Speaking personally — nekkid art in the Sistine Chapel tends to inspire in me thoughts about the grandeur of God and His majesty attested by His handiwork.
On the other hand, nekkid-ness in a strip club is pure and simple pornography tending towards thoughts that run contrary to the Will of God and the base objectification of the human body.

Zeno February 1, 2008 at 2:29 pm

The scriptures teach the human body is sacred and is reserved to be shared only between husband and wife – not to be published as an “art form”.
Michaelangelo must be, in California Star’s sordid opinion, but a pornographer.
Thank goodness there are those who rightly think otherwise.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Please pardon my use of the humorous term “nekkid”. I forgot for a moment that some Christians have no sense of humor.
This topic strikes me more and more as very similar to the biblical controversy over the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.
It calls for humility, charity and restraint on both ends. Those offended by nudity in art should avoid it, and not impose the dictates of their own weak conscience on the behavior of others.
On the other hand, those who are able to view such art in good conscience should not expect that everyone else must share their enthusiasm, and should not insist that everyone *ought* to look at the same art they do. They should use discretion.
Knowing the weakness of my brethren, I should do what I can to assure that they won’t be tempted to copy my behavior in violation of the dictates of their own conscience.
That *doesn’t* mean, though, that we can’t discuss the matter, or Paul would never have bothered to address the problem of meat sacrificed to idols, lest he offend those of weak conscience. Paul understood and taught that the eating of such meat was neither here nor there, except in so far as it related to the disposition of the conscience.
By no means should anyone ever act against the dictates and warnings of their own conscience. For you, California Star, that means not looking at paintings of nudes.
But you are not the least bit free to judge the conscience of another on the matter. On that score, you walk on very thin ice.

Tim J February 1, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Yes, Cal Star, I’m anxious to have your opinion of the Sistine Chapel.
Mercy, how have the Cardinals ever managed to concentrate on finding a new Pope while surrounded by such “pornography” (as you call it)?

California Star February 1, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Now is the time to provide the world with an example of decency and modesty, an example of virtue and cleanliness. Pastors of Christ should be at the forefront.
Besides this – there is lot of scientific research the documents how mild pornography causes many to slide downhill into greater evils and is a leading destroyer of marriage.
Leaders of the church should not be producing material that is offensive to the weak – as Paul so noted (thank you for the quote).
See the site – http://www.lightedcandlesociety.org
One of the goals of the church should be to set an example for the world of modesty and virtue.
And the censors in China (who are not Christian) at all would probably ban your site for “immodesty”. (Last week they banned some 44,000 sites for that infraction.)
Why does a girl have to be naked to appreciate her as an art form?

California Star February 1, 2008 at 3:22 pm

If the cardinals are not married – they probably enjoy their visits to the Cistene chapel. Maybe that is why they approved the artwork in the first place and have tolerated ever since.
Happily married men would have no need for “the artwork”. I don’t know of any other Christian denomination that accepts it either. Is that why there are so many protestants?
I don’t recall it being one of Luther’s 95 points, though.

David B. February 1, 2008 at 4:10 pm

California Star,
If the cardinals are not married – they probably enjoy their visits to the Cistene chapel. Maybe that is why they approved the artwork in the first place and have tolerated ever since.
Read: Rash judgement. Don’t maline others just because you can’t fathom artwork which points out God’s great biblical works.
Happily married men would have no need for “the artwork”.
Just because you couldn’t view the human forms depicted in the sistine Chapel without lust doesn’t mean the artist and those who don’t view it lustfully are/were evil. Get real.
SHEESH! One on side, atheists are telling the church to peel the paint off and sell it for charity. On the other side, merciless people are condemning thousands to hell for visiting the Sistine Chapel. I’m seriously considering joining NASA, in order to flee from such as these.

The Masked Chicken February 1, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Dear California Star,
How shall I put this…it is true that men turn to vice or virtue, generally, little by little, but the effect of the turn has a relationship to the perception of the man. To a man in the grips of vice, everything looks tainted; to a virtuous man, everything looks clean.
The pictures in the Sistine chapel are factual objects and, as such, are mere data for the senses. It is what happens after the data enters the mind that determines whether or not sin will occur. For those whose minds are elevated to give praise to the Creator for the miracle of the human form, without being trapped by the image of the form itself, the pictures are nothing more than a way of bringing forth the virtue of worship. For those whose minds never go beyond the image itself, the flesh will eventually take over and sin will result.
All things, if they are to be virtuous, must be referred to God. That is what the mind and heart resist.
The art itself is a creative work of man which gives glory to God. It man does not join with the artwork in giving glory, then the process is disconnected. This inability to pass on to God is what is the root of sin.
We can be dragged slowly away from God by our fallen nature or dragged slowly towards God by the Holy Spirit. The more difficult problem is not to know which direction one is tending, but to know that one is being dragged, at all.
When I look at what I take for granted on tv these days compared to what I used to watch in the more innocent days of black and white tv (morals were black and white, too, it seems)…
Art has a way of making the issues pure so they can be seen. One reason that Playboy is not art is because it does not have a noble purpose behind it. It does not cause one to think of God, but goes out of its way to drag one away from him. Real art always asks us to go beyond itself; pornography never does.
The Chicken

California Star February 1, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I was wondering if there are any more recently built Catholic churches, cathedrals, schools or monasteries that have copied the fine artwork of the Cistene chapel?
The ones I’ve been to here in California were all devoid of such. I find it interesting that they didn’t include it.

California Star February 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

In the picture above what is the lady on the right holding? A blanket? Does it looks like she is about to cover the other girl with it? Why? Is she embarrased by the other’s immodesty.
How come no one has commented on her beauty?

David B. February 1, 2008 at 5:07 pm

sigh

labrialumn February 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Tim,
Being declared righteous because Jesus Christ bore the penalty of breaking the covenant for us on the Cross is no legal fiction. His atoning death is no legal fiction. That being said, -of course- we aren’t to be snow-covered dung hills, and we are in fact to become more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ.

The passage in the New Testament where women are commanded to be modest, isn’t about covering their skin, but about refraining from engaging in conspicuous consumption. I’m not sure how the word modest in English went from referring to plain, unadorned, or poor such as “a modest dwelling” to some current-fashion-season determined degree of skin coverage.

Adam and Eve didn’t hide for modesty’s sake, they were trying to hide from God because of their sin of eating from the “tree of choosing”. They wouldn’t have worn a thong made of a fig leaf, but something more like an ad hoc, bungled attempt at a ghilly suit.
To be tempted is not to sin. To give into temptation is sin. Of course, as Martin Luther once said (it is said) “you can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you surely can keep them from building a nest in your hair!”

To desire that which is lawful and pleasing to God is not sin.

The tale I heard a few years ago of an art teacher at a local Bible college who had her boyfriend pose nude in class for her students, I’ve got to say that one seemed questionable to me.

I do not profess to have understood all that I have read in this thread.

There was a lot of trouble in Luther’s day over confession, and what a good confession -was-. Due to the followers of Peter Lombard, and the way they presented things (which the Church has since rejected, but it hadn’t yet), Luther became, as a good Catholic monk, caught in severe scrupulosity about his sins and impulses towards sin and whether or not he’d made a *perfect* confession. I think in that passage, whether Luther wrote it, or Melancton wrote it privately to Luther, was in reference to the sort of situation Luther had previously found himself in. It was an attempt at medicine for scrupulosity, not intended to be a doctrinal exposition (let alone a complete and balanced one). Elsewhere Luther strongly opposed sinning ‘so that grace might increase’.

Ryan C February 1, 2008 at 6:33 pm

And iconoclasm rears its ugly head again…

Donna February 1, 2008 at 8:23 pm

California Star:
Most people, if they are staying on topic at all, are discussing the article, not the image chosen to illustrate it.

Bee February 2, 2008 at 10:04 am

PS you´re right. I´m from Europe and I always wonder why grownup Americans act like bashful Teenager if you ask them if they like go to a sauna or a thermal spa. What do you think about saunas? What do you think can happen in a room that is heated up to 160° F?

Shin February 2, 2008 at 10:47 am

The rather.. casual attitude towards the nude related here is one which will not ever be successful in combating the problem of lust and pornography in the public square.
And that problem is one of the key and core problems which has debased and demolished the family and Church today.
Simply because a ‘great work of art’ contains nudes does not mean in fact, that it should. When are people going to learn the lesson of Genesis?
If you can’t even get past ‘A’, you’ll never get the rest of the Alphabet.
If you can’t promote a society that restricts such displays, it will always be morally approved. What is not against the law is viewed as morally approved by the general public.

Tim J. February 2, 2008 at 11:04 am

“When are people going to learn the lesson of Genesis?”
What lesson is that?
I have explained my position, all you are doing is making dogmatic assertions out of your own opinions. The Popes and bishops through history have clearly disagreed with your idea that Michelangelo’s “David” is anything like a work of pornography.

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 11:06 am

Well, Tim, if he can’t even get past ‘A’, how do you expect him to get the rest of the alphabet?

Bee February 2, 2008 at 11:41 am

Do your think that “amor et psyche” from Antonio Canova is pornography? Or Peter Paul Rubens “Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus”? What about Michelangelo’s David or Caravaggio´s John Baptist? I think it is art that celebrates the beauty of the human body. And I am less concerned about some skin than about the violence in Hollywood films.

SDG February 2, 2008 at 1:09 pm

In the picture above what is the lady on the right holding? A blanket? Does it looks like she is about to cover the other girl with it? Why? Is she embarrased by the other’s immodesty.

The phrase “pearls before swine” comes to mind here, but FWIW…
The “other girl” is, um, Venus. She’s nude not because of “immodesty,” but because she was just “born,” i.e., just came into the world out of the sea on a half shell.
The “lady on the right” is a Nymph, one of the Hours. The purple cloak is to receive Venus, just as a newborn baby is swathed in a receiving blanket.
No one is “embarrassed” in the painting. And while the purple cloak certainly implies that it is fitting for Venus to be clothed, in the painting itself Botticelli chose to capture her newly emerged nakedness in the moments before she was covered. And since it is a still painting and not a film, the cloak never actually reaches Venus, so she is forever naked.
The whole milieu of this work of art, a classically themed work of a Catholic artist in a Catholic culture, assumes that normal, healthy Catholics need not regard the uncovered female form in art as a satanic attack on purity. (Or the male form, for that matter.)
To seize upon the purple cloak and argue that it somehow attests the indecency of nudity in art is, to put it mildly, unpersuasive.

Giacomo Solazzo February 2, 2008 at 2:05 pm

The “other girl” is, um, Venus. She’s nude not because of “immodesty,” but because she was just “born,” i.e., just came into the world out of the sea on a half shell.
According to “The Uffizi: The Official Guide: All of the Works” by Gloria Fossi, “The title, ‘Birth of Venus’, which made the work famous, is based on faulty 19th century interpretation of the subject as Venus Anadiomene (‘arising from the sea’), a subject which the painter Apelles made famous in antiquity. In fact, Sandro Botticelli, inspired by the writings of Homer and Virgil and perhaps by the verses by his friend Poliziano, is narrating a different episode from the legend of the Goddess: her arrival at the island Kythera or perhaps Cyprus.”
No one is “embarrassed” in the painting… Botticelli chose to capture her newly emerged nakedness in the moments before she was covered… so she is forever naked.
Actually, he chose to capture her arrival in a modest pose with her own hands covering her breast and pubic area. So she is thus forever not naked.

SDG February 2, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Giacomo “B” Solazzo, my troll friend: You are frightening sometimes.
I hadn’t heard about that variant interpretation (or the Fossi book, which seems to be a relatively obscure work but is possibly as authoritative as the title suggests).
In any case, my essential points are unaffected, even if some of my interpretive data was contestable.
While it’s certainly true that Venus’ pose is conspicuously demure and she is partially covering her nakedness, like Rose in Titanic she’s still got one breast exposed (and her pubic area is only barely covered).
Anyway, since she isn’t clothed, even if she is partially covered, it is manifestly correct to call her “naked,” and at least arguably incorrect to call her “not naked.”
FWIW, I see that Fossi apparently doesn’t offer an explanation of Venus’ nakedness or why one of the Hora (or Graces, Fossi suggests) is waiting with the cloak to receive her.

Giacomo Solazzo February 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm

since she isn’t clothed, even if she is partially covered, it is manifestly correct to call her “naked,” and at least arguably incorrect to call her “not naked.”
Everything is arguable. To some, she’d be naked unless she were covered in a burka. To others, she’s not naked as long as she’s got her pubic area at least barely covered. Others demand that the breasts be covered. Some add the belly button. Some the legs and shoulders, and on and on. Some would insist as long as she’s not showing anything inappropriate to the particular setting, she’s not naked. Others would say she’s not naked unless she herself is embarrassed.
I see that Fossi apparently doesn’t offer an explanation of Venus’ nakedness or why one of the Hora (or Graces, Fossi suggests) is waiting with the cloak to receive her.
The “official guide” only offers what it offers.

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Starve it.

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Moving…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

porn…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

site…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:46 pm

off…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:46 pm

one…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:46 pm

more…

bill912 February 2, 2008 at 3:47 pm

time.

SDG February 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Everything is arguable.

But not everything is worth arguing. In case you missed it, this was a discussion about nudity in art, within the context of a particular set of ideas about modesty. Neither the burka standard nor the embarrassment standard is relevant. And since you used “Actually” with disjunctive force, you seem to have at least implied a particular point of view yourself, making your predictable retreat to demographic observations even more threadbare than usual.
Someday you may impress me two posts in a row, B. For now, it seems to be a one-off each time.

Giacomo Solazzo February 2, 2008 at 5:56 pm

within the context of a particular set of ideas about modesty. Neither the burka standard nor the embarrassment standard is relevant.
Your particular set of ideas about modesty are your context, your standard. Someone else may have a different set of ideas, a different standard about modesty.
And since you used “Actually” with disjunctive force, you seem to have at least implied a particular point of view yourself
Like “Actually, he chose to capture her arrival in a modest pose with her own hands covering her breast and pubic area.” But maybe you believe he didn’t choose to paint it that way but somehow it just happened to come out like that.
Someday you may impress me two posts in a row, B. For now, it seems to be a one-off each time.
Your impressions are your opinion. If your own opinion doesn’t impress you, I’m not surprised.

Elijah February 2, 2008 at 6:06 pm

I wonder something. No particular individual has any obligation to address my posts if he doesn’t want to, of course, but I wonder why I post things and don’t get responses. I’m trying to get some questions answered on this topic, since I can argue both sides (some people are happy when they can argue both sides of an issue, but I am most certainly unhappy about it).
Anyhow, I asked a couple of questions in my second to last post that I haven’t seen anyone address and would be interested if anyone has any thoughts.

SDG February 2, 2008 at 6:30 pm

Your particular set of ideas about modesty are your context, your standard. Someone else may have a different set of ideas, a different standard about modesty.

Yes, and I was talking to someone else, and addressing the standards implicit in his discussion. And if someone else again joins the discussion, bringing a different set of standards, I may talk to him as well, but he isn’t here now. You, of course, will (almost) never own up to any set of ideas or standards, and for dialogic purposes are hardly “someone” at all. Which seems to be exactly how you like it.

But maybe you believe he didn’t choose to paint it that way but somehow it just happened to come out like that.

Maybe the moon is made of green cheese, but it isn’t. Maybe you might choose to respond to what I said instead of what you feign to think I said, but you haven’t.

Your impressions are your opinion. If your own opinion doesn’t impress you, I’m not surprised.

You will find the refutation of this elementary reflexive mistake in The Abolition of Man on pp. 14-15.

The Masked Chicken February 2, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Dear Elijah,
You are being heard. Regarding clothes being painted on some paintings in Rome, I seem to recall that, as well. Can some who have more knowledge of art clarify.
As for the difference between a painting and a photograph, I see your point, but I suspect that a nude painting of one’s sister would upset as well as a photograph. I guess it would depend on the individual. A portrait photographer might not see the subject in the same way as someone else.
I am not a fan of nudity in modern film and art today because the culture has different standards now, than in the Renaissance era. St. Thomas Aquinas said that one had to judge modesty based on the prevailing culture. Like it or not, in the US we have inherited a Puritanical culture. We are not as “earthy” as in more agrarian societies of the past, so the human form is not as immediate.
This does raise an apologetical issue: are there only some topics involving modesty that are culture-sensitive? Although Tim J. and most modern artists are able to distance themselves when they deal with nude drawings, one can imaging that there would have been a public lynching had his art class slipped through a time warp back to 1780 in Massachusetts.
The Chicken

Giacomo Solazzo February 2, 2008 at 8:56 pm

You, of course, will (almost) never own up to any set of ideas or standards
Whose idea is that?
You will find the refutation of this elementary reflexive mistake in The Abolition of Man on pp. 14-15.
Refuting ideas with more ideas, like a dog chasing its tail. It’s an amusement but I have no tail to chase.

SDG February 3, 2008 at 5:28 am

B: I cannot hear what you are for the thunder of what you say.
Elijah: I’m not an expert in the history of nudity in Christian art, but I do know that nudity in paintings and statuary in churches and other public places has gone unmolested for centuries. It’s true that there have been times and places in which coverings or draperies have been added — and in some cases subsequently removed — but it seems clear that the desire to cover up nudity in art is no essential component of Christian culture.
More later, on film and photography, after Mass, as time permits…

John February 3, 2008 at 4:56 pm

The Saints realized that if God withdrew His providential hand, they would soon fall into sin and be damned to Hell. St. Aloysius would not even look at the face of his mother, and yet you say it is fine to look at naked women! Other Saints too would never look at a woman, even when talking to her; it was because they recognized how difficult it is to be pure! To willingly take pleasure in a sexual thought is a mortal sin and is worthy of eternal damnation. It is therefore too dangerous a thing to go anywhere near at all to temptations of impurity. “Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

bill912 February 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm

People are individuals. They all have different strengths, different weaknesses. Try to look charitably on other people’s trials, which may be quite different from your own.

Anonymous February 3, 2008 at 6:03 pm

bill912–
If I was in anyway uncharitable I am certainly sorry, but I fail to see what is uncharitable in my comment. What is “trials” referring to, and whose “trials”?

John February 3, 2008 at 6:04 pm

sorry, that was me who posted the above.

SDG February 3, 2008 at 7:50 pm

St. Aloysius would not even look at the face of his mother, and yet you say it is fine to look at naked women! Other Saints too would never look at a woman, even when talking to her; it was because they recognized how difficult it is to be pure!

I’m sorry John, but that is just freaking wack. Disordered. Contrary to charity, the gospel of grace and the spirit of Christ. Messed up. Inhuman. Unchristian. Perverse. Something no one should hold up such a practice as anything to emulate or even to admire.
It is entirely possible that some saints were that deeply screwed up. Just because you loved Jesus a whole lot and made it to heaven and got canonized doesn’t mean that you aren’t freaking wack or that everything about your messed-up life is something to admire or emulate.
How freaking wack is it? Let me count the ways.
Let’s say that you actually are so combustibly concupiscent that merely looking a woman in the face constitutes a major temptation to purity. Many of us may find this hard to imagine: Ordinary healthy people know from experience that it is actually possible to go for prolonged stretches at a time without battling sexual temptation, or even thinking about it.
And in fact not thinking about temptation is a far more effective way than constantly being self-consciously “on guard” against it. Surely there is no conceivable strategy against impurely more self-defeating and less likely to succeed than to be constantly thinking, “I will not have an impure thought… I will not have an impure thought… I will not…” Ever so slightly like saying “I will not think of a white horse… I will not…” It’s like a recipe for thinking about white horses all day long.
St. Paul urges us to think about whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. He does not urge us to dwell constantly on what we will not think about. Anyone so obsessed with avoiding sin that he regards any encounter with a woman as a hideous risk to his soul and is compelled to avert his eyes is far more likely to torment himself with unwanted thoughts than the ordinary person who has an ordinary conversation and never even thinks about “impure thoughts.”
But even in the case of a man who is actually so concupiscently disordered that any conversation with a woman is a constant threat to his purity, the ironic reality is that not looking the woman in the face as you talk to her is almost inevitably going to constitute a greater trial to purity, for several reasons.
Not only does it remind him of the issue of temptation and keep it constantly before his mind (“I will not have an impure thought… I will not…”), it also leaves his imagination unchecked by the actual, concrete reality of the real woman in front of him.
Looking at the actual woman, he might see a real live child of God created in the Imago Dei, redeemed by Christ, a sister in the Lord. She might be attractive or she might not, but in any case she would not be the temptress of his imagination, the fantasy woman he strives so desperately to fend off. Almost certainly she will have imperfections and foibles that don’t correspond to his appetites. She may well be downright unattractive. She may be fat, or buck-toothed, or old enough to be his mother (pace St. Aloysius, if John’s disturbing account is true), but even if she isn’t, she is an ordinary woman.
Closing his eyes, left to his imagination, the would-be saint is alone with a thousand possible women, all of his own invention — creatures of the very imagination he dares not trust with the actual sight of a real woman. By not looking at her, he effectively gives the devil carte blanche to assail him with whatever fantasy images he chooses, unconstrained by the concreteness of the real person.
If one has such custody of the imagination to be able to banish thoughts of an imaginary hottie while averting your gaze from the actual woman, then he should have more than enough custody of the imagination to banish sexual thoughts looking at the actual woman who, trust me, is in no way interested in him and his issues.
We are created, male and female, in the image of God. Our souls are the forms of our bodies, and it is through our bodily reality that we know one another’s souls. To despise the body, and I’m sorry, but if you can’t look someone in the face, that is what you are doing, is the heresy of gnosticism or manichaeism.
I might be willing to cut partial slack to, say, cloistered monastics with a discipline of male-only society for whom even a conversation with a woman amounted to bending the rules. But even so, that woman is a bearer of the Imago Dei, not an emissary of Satan, and to refuse to look her in the face seems to me borderline disrespect if not outright contempt.
The Word became flesh to redeem our humanity in all its physicality and sensibility. He died naked on a cross (and has frequently been depicted that way), and through the sacramental economy constantly makes available to us all his infinite graces and merits as well as the merits of the communion of saints.
To suggest that our redemption in this life is so half-assed that one dare not look a member of the opposite sex in the face for fear of going to hell seems to me to reduce the cross of Christ to a cruel joke, to scorn redemption as a token gesture, and to trample underfoot grace as impotent to enable us to live in the world God created with the natures God has given us.
Sick sick sick sick sick. The theology of the body of John Paul II is incalculably more persuasive than this. Jesus came to make us whole, not to make us neurotic and pathological. Why not just come right out and declare that Christian women should wear the burqa and hajib and be done with it.

John February 3, 2008 at 9:09 pm

No, SDG, what’s sick is how you call the Saints wackos and freaks. How dare you. Does it not occur to you that just maybe the Saints were right and that your unholy reasonings are wrong?
I don’t mean to sound so mean to you, but really, what are you thinking saying such terrible things!?
I’m not saying that the Saints never made mistakes. Some of the Saints at some points in their lives went to an excess in physical mortification; and they later realized this and repented for it. But to assume, as you are doing, that these Saints who practiced heroic custody of the eyes were in someway nuts and wackos–well sorry, but to say that is very uncharitable and insulting, if not blasphemous.
Sure, I’m not saying that no one should look into his mother’s face. Sometimes the Saints do things under the impulse of an extraordinary grace. I remember reading a book by St. Francis de Sales, and in this book he was talking about how some things the Saints did were not things that one should do without an extraordinary grace from God. For example, there was a St. Simon who lived on top of a tall pillar for a number of years. This doesn’t mean we should all go live on a pillar, unprotected from the weather, etc. All it means is that St. Simon received an extraordinary grace from God to live in this manner. But it would be very wrong to conclude that St. Simon was a nut who went overboard.
I’m sure 99.999% of people can look into their mother’s face, and it would not be the least occassion of sin for them. Just because we can look into our mother’s face and not sin doesn’t mean that St. Aloysius was crazy.
St. Aloysius, ora pro nobis.

Giacomo Solazzo February 3, 2008 at 10:55 pm

St. Aloysius would not even look at the face of his mother, and yet you say it is fine to look at naked women! Other Saints too would never look at a woman, even when talking to her
In Butler’s Lives of the Saints, “We are told, for instance, that he kept his eyes persistently downcast [not closed] in the presence of women, and that neither his valet nor anyone else was allowed to see his foot uncovered.”
Or per Virgilio Cepari, “He renounced all love of earthly creatures, and all the ties which might bind him to earth, by an irrevocable vow of chastity. From this day, Lewis never raised his eyes to the face of any woman; nay, he kept them perpetually fixed on the ground, as the attendants who followed him as he passed through the streets have attest… So far did he carry his reserve that he shunned, not only all unnecessary intercourse with his nearest female relatives, but the very acquaintance as such he could avoid. Even where no danger of sin or possibility of temptation existed, he wished, as it would seem, to shun all that softens the heart towards creatures and predisposes it to engrossing affection, reserving all his tenderness for God. He afterwards made a sort of compact with his father that he would obey him in undertaking any transaction or business he desired save such as must be negotiated with women… [He] accordingly received amongst his household the playful nickname of the woman-hater.”
But it goes on, “it will perhaps occur even to the Catholic reader that there are other saints who have apparently held an opposite course, exhibiting, though ever in subordination to the supreme love of God, tender sentiments of affection for relatives and friends. There is, however, no radical difference in their respective conduct. By all alike, creatures are either loved for and in God, or shunned and sacrificed for God. The Holy Ghost in the soul of each individual saint marks out for it the line it is to pursue.”

SDG February 4, 2008 at 4:46 am

No, SDG, what’s sick is how you call the Saints wackos and freaks. How dare you. Does it not occur to you that just maybe the Saints were right and that your unholy reasonings are wrong?

(FWIW, I did say “wack” and “sick,” I didn’t say “freak.”)
There is nothing impious about suggesting that certain saints not only “made mistakes” but suffered from mental illness or severely distorted thinking. God allows us all kinds of crosses, and his grace is capable of saving us whatever our frailties and liabilities.
Some accounts of St. Francis and his companions depict them not merely accepting ridicule in humility, but deliberately acting in ridiculous ways to incur ridicule and thus exercise their humility. This is humility at the expense of charity: What of the souls of those whom they tempted to ridicule them?
If, please God, I get to heaven, I will be a saint. And then you will have a saint in heaven who was on record on earth calling other saints wack and sick. Make of that what you will.

Sometimes the Saints do things under the impulse of an extraordinary grace.

If their graces are so extraordinary, they should be able to look the woman in the face without imminent fear of falling into uncontrollable lust.
I would go easier on someone who, as per Giacomo “B” Trollazzo’s helpful documentation, avoided looking at women not out of fear of mortal sin, but “even where no danger of sin or possibility of temptation existed,” in order to “shun all that softens the heart towards creatures and predisposes it to engrossing affection, reserving all his tenderness for God.” That is different from your earlier comment about “how difficult it is to be pure.”
I still think this is at least disturbing, because to me it seems too close to disrespect for a bearer of the flesh shared with the Incarnate Christ. To “shun all that softens the heart towards creatures” seems to be at least dangerous business: Our hearts should be “soft” toward those whom our Lord loves!
In love for him, we may have to be willing to turn our backs on them, but if and when it comes to that, it should hurt to do so. Therein, indeed, lies the virtue — the soul who easily “hates” his mother for Jesus’ sake does not exhibit thereby heroic virtue. The heroic virtue lies precisely in the fact that you do love your mother and yet you are willing to go against your feelings and “hate” her for Jesus’ sake. To practice “hating” her by not looking at her seems to me far more dangerous spiritually than living as an ordinary human and looking at the people you’re talking to.
The scholastic teaching is: Grace perfects nature, it doesn’t abolish it. The natural affection we feel toward our fellow humans falls well short of the charity of divine love, but charity doesn’t and shouldn’t abliterate natural affection.

For example, there was a St. Simon who lived on top of a tall pillar for a number of years. This doesn’t mean we should all go live on a pillar, unprotected from the weather, etc. All it means is that St. Simon received an extraordinary grace from God to live in this manner. But it would be very wrong to conclude that St. Simon was a nut who went overboard.

I’m familiar with this and other similarly extreme examples, and I have no problem with this.
Like less extreme forms of eremitic behavior, is clearly an extraordinary and exceptional vocation, as human beings are social creatures with a social vocation. Monasticism is social to varying degrees; the eremtic life less so if at all. But I accept that God calls a few to the eremitic life. If a man wants to withdraw himself entirely from the company of women (and/or men), that’s one thing. If he’s unwilling to look a woman in the face when he talks to her because he’s afraid of compromising his purity, I say that’s wack, saint or no saint, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of the saints would have agreed even on earth, much less in heaven.
All holy men and women, ora pro nobis.

PS February 4, 2008 at 5:07 am

bill912: Why try and move the spam? It’s only art. :-)
“Do your think that “amor et psyche” from Antonio Canova is pornography? Or Peter Paul Rubens “Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus”? What about Michelangelo’s David or Caravaggio´s John Baptist? I think it is art that celebrates the beauty of the human body. And I am less concerned about some skin than about the violence in Hollywood films.”
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.”
Now I am certainly no genius, nor professional theologian, but I believe it to be a reasonable conclusion that graphically depicting a rape would qualify according to the statement above.
I make no judgement about the disposition of someone’s soul, but isn’t cause for concern if someone finds viewing rape as uplifting?
Anyway that goes far afield of Tim J.’s original discussion which has far more to do with modesty than pornography, which may be related but as very distinct issues.
“Art has a way of making the issues pure so they can be seen. One reason that Playboy is not art is because it does not have a noble purpose behind it. It does not cause one to think of God, but goes out of its way to drag one away from him.”
One, Playboy is art. Photography and prose are art, therefore it is art.
Two, from my scant knowledge of Playboy it isn’t pornography. See the quote from the Catechism above. Unless the depiction involves sexual activity it ain’t pornography. Purpose doesn’t matter. It is what it is, regardless of why it was created or by whom.
Three, I believe it is still wrong, because it is immodest.
However if hanging out naked with members of the opposite sex (to whom you aren’t married, etc.) is not immodest, as the OP suggests, then I would have to arrive at an entirely different set of conclusions.

B February 4, 2008 at 10:21 am

years ago, while far away from the Church, i regrettably succumbed to a downward spiral of immorality, finally culminating in my employment in the sex industry. to make a looong story short, after the grace of a dramatic conversion in 1994, i got mixed up in an offshoot of the Amish(!). (this season was sort of my “Christian boot camp”– they cleaned up my language *and* taught me how to quilt ;-)
in this sect, the men were brought up to never look a woman in the eyes, unless she was his wifey or mommy. (mind you, we ladies all wore the church-prescribed uniform of black stockings, cape dresses and prayer coverings.) can i tell you this nearly made me *crazy*?!? these men always made me feel as if i were still “dirty.” i wanted to scream, “that was the old me! by God’s grace i have been made a new creation in Christ!!! LOOK at me, my brother!” i desperately longed to grow in my newfound faith and freedom– *true* freedom– in Jesus… but these fellows, my own brethren, wanted to keep me chained in hell, whether they meant this or not.
by contrast, yesterday, after Mass, our elderly, entirely old-skool Priest blessed each of our throats with unlit candles he held in the shape of an X over our necks. he looked us in the eyes, and he blessed us. i was in need of the Sacrament of Penance (no, i did not receive the Eucharist at Mass). Father not only looked me in the eyes, but, after the Absolution, he gently placed his gnarled hands on my head and prayed the most *beautiful* spontaneous prayer over me. he thanked Father God that i am His daughter, who is totally loved by Him (!), and he prayed that God would continue to heal me of my memories of childhood abuse, and that i would be a source of blessing and comfort to my husband and children. i cannot even begin to tell you how healing this was for me. i’m crying as i type this. (and i PRAISE GOD for bringing me back Home to His Church!!!)
and i don’t need to remind you that our Lord and Savior Himself not only looked into the prostitute’s eyes, but He allowed her to wash His holy feet with her hair and her tears.
brothers in Christ, please look your sisters in the eyes. if you think we’re “pretty,” well then bless God for making us pretty. don’t treat us like objects; alternately, don’t be too “holy” to acknowledge and affirm us. if men could see women as precious creations of a holy and perfect God, my former industry would cease to exist. and if more *Christian* men could see Christian women as their sisters in Jesus and fellow heirs to the Kingdom, wow, i can only imagine…

Elijah February 4, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Welcome back, B.

deusdonat February 4, 2008 at 12:37 pm

California Star I was wondering if there are any more recently built Catholic churches, cathedrals, schools or monasteries that have copied the fine artwork of the Cistene chapel?
You’d be extremely hard pressed to find any “fine” are coming out of the church at all these days, let alone in California. If you have had a chance to see the New Los Angeles Cathedral (i.e. the Roj Mahal) you’d know why a roll-call of church artists and architects are spinning in their graves.
To eccho the sentiments already presented here, it is obvious that one person’s fine art is another person’s pornography. I’m not judging or belittling anyone’s opinions on the subject. I think if someone knows they have a problem and think it may lead to this or that, then that person should avoid looking at art of that genre. But I must say that your comments about David and the author etc reveal far more about your own personality and inclinations than anything else.
Giacomo (GREAT name BTW : ) I really like what you mention about the Saints. Saint Francis was very friendly towards men and women, very much following in the example of Our Lord, who spoke to women as equals. But if someone has a problem with shyness or knows that looking at a beautiful woman will lead to a cause to sin, there is nothing wrong with being reclusive either.

SDG February 4, 2008 at 1:58 pm

B (not to be confused with Giacomo Trollazzo, whom for historical reasons I call “B” despite his constantly changing handles),
Thanks for your heartfelt account. This is exactly what I was getting at when I talked about this eye-averting behavior being hurtful and contrary to charity.
Almost inevitably, for a man to avert his eyes while speaking to a woman must make her feel profoundly uncomfortable and worse. He might as well be holding a sign in front of his face saying “I’d Rather Be Not Talking To You.” She understands that her presence is an unpleasant burden to him, her very feminity a trial he endures with discomfort and anxiety. She is “untouchable,” like an OT leper or the outcastes of Indian caste society.
This is inconsistent with the dignity that Christianity recognizes in every human person. In principle, in the case of some bizarre pathology in which it really was a choice between a probable occasion of serious sin and averting one’s eyes from the woman’s face, obviously the choice would be to avert the eyes — yet even then I’ve argued that averting the eyes is very likely a more probable occasion of sin than not doing so.
Thus, when deusdonat writes:

But if someone has a problem with shyness or knows that looking at a beautiful woman will lead to a cause to sin, there is nothing wrong with being reclusive either.

Being reclusive is one thing, although as I said before anyone so combustible that making eye contact with a woman poses a probable occasion of sin has serious problems. I said above that the eremitic life, while exceptional, is valid. But if one does find oneself in conversation with a woman, attractive or otherwise, I think there is an obligation, even a grave one, to do her the justice of not refusing her eye contact because she is a woman.

SDG February 4, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I don’t mean to sound so mean to you, but really, what are you thinking saying such terrible things!?

Belated aside to John: I appreciate your tone here, and FWIW I in turn apologize for the violence of my earlier rhetoric, which, directed against the excesses of saints as it was, was bound to grate harshly on pious ears. My opinions stand, but I regret having worded them as blisteringly as I did, and I’m sorry if I scandalized you.

Giacomo Solazzo February 4, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Fr. John Hardon shares his views on St. Aloysius charitably.
http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_008.htm

SDG February 4, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Giacomo, I’m sure the late Fr. Hardon is gratified by your assessment of his charity.

B February 4, 2008 at 3:20 pm

from the catechism, 2334:
“In creating men ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity.” 119 “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God.” 120
the world– and even the anabaptists!– may want to reduce me to a sexual object, but see, my God has granted me dignity in my womanhood, and my Church has my back! can i get an amen?
SDG, thanks. i *really* appreciate your insights and your smarts; you rather eloquently expressed exactly how i felt. btw, the “B” is for my little Saint, Bernadette, my patron. she, too, had a crappy home life, and didn’t even know her Catechism– yet, as we all know, our Blessed Mother befriended her, like, in a major way! :-)

Giacomo Solazzo February 4, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Giacomo, I’m sure the late Fr. Hardon is gratified by your assessment of his charity
I don’t assess his charity. I presume it, as I do with you.

The Masked Chicken February 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Dear SDG,
It is with some fear and trembling I post the following comments:
Thanks for moderating the tone of your earlier remarks. It is horrible to be scrupulous in these matters and then to be made to feel guilty on top of that. The fact is that in matters of temptation we all have our strong and weak areas. It is good to state the via media, the middle way, wherein people of the opposite sex, be they flesh and blood or shown in artistic representations, are treated as the gifts that they are from God, but in our fallen world, the perfection we know is not always the state that we are in. Grace does build on nature but sometimes that nature may be hurting — in more than one way.
I cannot think but that you may have been too hard on some of those whom you call sick, sick, sick. Don’t you realize that they are the opposite side of B’s story? Both types of people got their start by running away from who they were meant to be in God’s sight, but they ran in the opposite directions. B, thankfully, is moving back to seeing herself as the unique individual that God made and loves. Many people are not so lucky (and I am sure that B counts herself as fortunate).
B was in a living hell and needed the love of God, shown through others, to pull her out. A person (let us call this person, A) at the other extreme, who, for whatever reason, culpable or not, cannot look at a woman without “combusting,” but knows that something is wrong with this (they know that women are good) — are they not also in need of the love of God?
You state that to deny a woman the right of acknowledging her as being in the Imagio Dei by looking at her is a sin against charity. Actually, for a truly afflicted, “combustible” man, the sin would be, at most venial, because of diminished capacity or lack of understanding. For the majority of men, you are correct — not to look at a woman while talking to them is (assuming there is no extraordinary ascetic practice in play) a form of uncharity, as you say, but let us have pity of those to whom we should have pity.
For someone who has avoided looking at women all of their life, let us say because they had puritanical parents who beat them (I’m being extreme), to make them start looking at women before God’s grace predisposes them to would be to do violence to their soul and no spiritual director worth his salt would force them to do so. These sorts of people must learn to get close to women slowly, cautiously. They too, as B, need the love of God, shown through others, to pull them out. They need to be surrounded by mature Christian women who are strong in their faith and in the knowledge of who God made them to be as women.
Most people are not afraid of dirt, but for the tv character “Monk,” it is a problem. To push people such as they before they are ready could cause more damage. His first nurse, Sharona, understood this. She was tough, but that toughness was always tempered with an understanding of how far Monk could go. For a woman to “demand” that a man look at her, if she knows that he has such a condition, would also be a sin against charity and the point is, a priori, we do not know the disposition of those we have only just met. It is a form of rash judgement to condemn a man for having a lack of charity before one knows this to be the case. All that a woman could say is that for some reason, known only to God, the man is not looking at her. To go beyond this is rash, until she gets to know the man better.
I am concerned, here, that in stating the best case, you may be pushing people who are in a different kind of living hell from B’s farther away. I hope that I have read too much into your earlier post. I think I may have because I have seen that you represent yourself and the Catholic faith well. If I have seen offense where none was intended, I apologize. If you will, nevertheless, forgive me, people who are reading this blog who suffer from such scruples need to be reminded that they, too, are made in the image of God.
It is true that, “Jesus came to make us whole, not to make us neurotic and pathological,” but he will do so in his time and in his way.
The Chicken

SDG February 4, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Dear Chicken (eek, shades of Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch),
No time for a proper reply, just a few points. Again, apologies for the violence of my language and the discomfort they caused you.
FWIW, I have some significant personal experience with individuals suffering from morbid scrupulosity, obsessive-compulsive disorder and so forth. I think I have a higher than average level of insight into living with such conditions.
The violence of my reaction was not at all directed at such conditions in themselves or to the baby steps, coping mechanisms and concessions that may be variously necessary, helpful or at least understandable in dealing with them. Rather, I was (over)reacting to the prospect of what might be an understandable but crippling concession to pathology being held up as representing an instructive achievement of the elusiveness of moral purity, as a point of contrast to the feebleness and inadequacy of the standards to which the rest of us hold ourselves.
It is not insensitivity, but precisely compassion, that prompts me to put these matters in what I believe is their true light. In my personal experience, this is what is most helpful to the sufferer, who is crippled by pathological misgivings about a particular course of action that the rest of us take for granted without thinking twice about.
I have seen an OCD sufferer who is also (IMVHO) a living saint and mystic dead at the foot of a staircase, unable to ascend for fear of offending God by bending her knees otherwise than in prayer to Him. Someone who knew her well whispered a few words in her ear, putting the act of ascending a staircase in its proper anthropological and theological context — I am totally serious — and then she was able to go up the stairs.
Today she has no problem ascending staircases. But just imagine if she had been surrounded by people who only praised her — quite truly — for her very great piety and heroic virtue in fearing to offend God by bending her knees otherwise than in prayer to him. Truly, her difficulty in ascending the stairs did reflect her great piety and heroic virtue — but it was also due to a pathological outlook that was quite manageable. But if those around her had only praised her virtue and not confronted her pathology and taught her to do so, she might have been reduced to being carried up staircases by spiritual admirers, and held up as an example to the thoughtlessness with which the rest of us bend our knees.
What I wrote in my previous posts is, in substance, more or less exactly what I would have said to St. Aloysius or any other man afflicted with scruples about making eye contact with women. I would not necessarily be harsh or violent, but my approach would be therapeutic in intent, which, as I say, is what in my experience I have seen to be most helpful.

J.R. Stoodley February 4, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I havn’t read all the previous posts, but The Masked Chicken makes a good point. Averting one’s eyes when talking to someone is uncharitable, and not being able to do otherwise is a problem, but if the person knows it’s a problem sometimes you have to let them work on it in their own time. The principle might even be extendable to cultures. For example I don’t think there is anything wrong with the way most women dress today in Western societies, and I think sexism and a wrong, puritanical attitude toward sexuality, is at the root of the excessive modesty of Muslim countries, but to demand women dress like they do here in those countries and men treat them like equals overnight is both unrealistic and unfair.
I’ll mention also that of course there are other reasons for similar behavior. I have come to realize recently that I have a bad habit of not making eye contact with people, especially people I feal awkward around (exgirlfriend, etc.) So sometimes someone may be doing something like this completely subconsciously, or even realizing it but unable to completely control the habit, yet.

J.R. Stoodley February 4, 2008 at 8:34 pm

What do people think of the same situation but in which the woman is in fact dressed immodestly, or to take an extreme situation I was in recently, topless.
My own conclusion was that if I’m not going to be tempted myself (I have very good control of my sexuality when in social situations) and if there isn’t likely to be any kind of scandal, just act normal and look at her face and keep talking.

Giacomo Solazzo February 4, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Averting one’s eyes when talking to someone is uncharitable
It may or it may not be.

SDG February 5, 2008 at 1:46 am

Averting one’s eyes when talking to someone is uncharitable, and not being able to do otherwise is a problem, but if the person knows it’s a problem sometimes you have to let them work on it in their own time.

Converging agreement here, with the caveat (perhaps in keeping with Giacomo’s note) that the person engaging in eye-contact aversion isn’t necessarily being personally uncharitable. As noted above, eye-contact aversion imposes a difficult burden on the one denied eye contact, and charity calls us not to unduly burden one another. However, one carrying an unusually heavy burden oneself can be cut some slack.
Again, my main concern here is that this behavior be understood as problematic and symptomatic of some kind of psychological or social pathology ideally to be overcome, not held up as some kind of rarefied spiritual ideal. Incidentally, I hope it’s clear from the example I gave above of the saintly OCD sufferer who had trouble with staircases that I’m in no way disputing the heroic virtue of a saint who has some such behavior. I’m just saying that instead of merely praising the virtue, let’s also recognize the pathology, and where possible try to help others suffering with similar issues.

For example I don’t think there is anything wrong with the way most women dress today in Western societies, and I think sexism and a wrong, puritanical attitude toward sexuality, is at the root of the excessive modesty of Muslim countries, but to demand women dress like they do here in those countries and men treat them like equals overnight is both unrealistic and unfair.

True enough — although I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they be willing to try to make some sort of concessions to Western standards when dealing with Westerners.

I’ll mention also that of course there are other reasons for similar behavior. I have come to realize recently that I have a bad habit of not making eye contact with people, especially people I feal awkward around (exgirlfriend, etc.) So sometimes someone may be doing something like this completely subconsciously, or even realizing it but unable to completely control the habit, yet.

As long as it isn’t something that people praise about you and hold up as an admirable ideal, that’s fine with me.

What do people think of the same situation but in which the woman is in fact dressed immodestly, or to take an extreme situation I was in recently, topless. My own conclusion was that if I’m not going to be tempted myself (I have very good control of my sexuality when in social situations) and if there isn’t likely to be any kind of scandal, just act normal and look at her face and keep talking.

Hm. It would seem that such a scenario would require a setting in which toplessness was consistent with socially permitted norms, e.g., a topless beach. As a point of contrast, I would not consider a swinging party in which some girls were deciding to go topless as a setting in which toplessness was consistent with socially permitted norms.
Speaking for myself, to the extent possible, I would definitely make a point of not being in such a situation in the first place. I have to say find it hard to imagine being caught in any situation in which there was a topless woman and in which it would not be perfectly socially acceptable for a man to avert his eyes, if not turn his back.
Incidentally, getting back to drawing nude models, in my art-class experience one wouldn’t usually engage in social interaction with the model while s/he is nude. During down time between posing sessions, s/he usually dons a robe. So there is a line beween the aesthetic endeavor during which nudity is acceptable and social interaction during which it isn’t. I could, though, certainly understand someone being uncomfortable chatting even with a robed model who was nude two minutes ago and will be nude again two minutes from now (and FWIW there wasn’t much chatting even between sessions).

J.R. Stoodley February 5, 2008 at 3:02 am

Yeah, it was a party. It wasn’t actually that crazy, and I wasn’t involved in the worst of the craziness. I went mainly for two reasons: to keep one friend company who was afraid he would feel a little awkward otherwise (though he was still going) but mostly because a good friend would be there who goes to another college. She has been very good to me during some very rough times in my life, but I’ve seen her only once, in December, since the summer and who knows when I’ll see her again.
For most of the party we sat upstairs talking alone and then standing in the kitchen, away from the bulk of the party, again talking. But it was a Mardi Gras party and there were guys trying to get girls to flash them or more. I averted my eyes for other girls and once for her, but really its nothing I havn’t seen before, I wasn’t going to be tempted, and she and the other people I knew there definitely know I don’t ultimately approve of such things. My main concern with averting my eyes was that it would be awkward for her, connect me with the behavior of my best friend who quasi-dated her and she’s still mad at for judging and trying to forbid such things, and end the conversation.
Anyway, I just wanted to clarify the situation, but I know it’s a bit of a sketchy situation which is why I brought it up. I figured others here would disapprove, so I was curious what reasons would be given.

deusdonat February 5, 2008 at 9:57 am

JR Stoodly Averting one’s eyes when talking to someone is uncharitable
Just to reiterate what has already been said here, it is only uncharitable if that is the intent. Intent is everything here, as humans are simply not monolithic. In many countries, specifically in Southeast Asia, men and women simply do not look each other in the eye when talking. To do so connotes intimacy, akin to talking with someone on a first name basis. In the US, we are taught to be agressive socially, making sure our hand-shake is firm and always making eye-contact. But that is just not the case around the world.
Regarding the topless situation, I need to underscore the point yet again: INTENT. When you go to the beaches of Europe or tribal Africa and see topless women their intent is not to be lascivous or to be disrespectful. But when a woman flashes you at Mardi-Gras or drunkenly in a bar, that is not only disrespectful and lascivous but shows little or no class. Same with guys mooning someone obviously.

Mary February 5, 2008 at 12:27 pm

I note that Saint Paul distinguishing between those who had no trouble eating meat sacrificed to idols, and those who had scruples. He does not praise the second group for their piety. Indeed, he terms the first group as those with “strong consciences” and the second as those with “weak consciences.”

The Masked Chicken February 5, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Dear SDG,
Thank you for elaborating on your comments. It is amazing how the truth can set one free. I am sure the person you mentioned as a living saint, by accepting the suffering that has come her way, is doing more for the Church than you or I combined. Nevertheless, suffering is an evil which, if it can be overcome, generally should be overcome. Sometimes, all that takes is the proper word spoken at the proper time.
I am amazed at how much responsibility we bear for one another, sometimes.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I have been commenting a lot on this blog for the last few months and I have learned a lot, as well. I am hoping to make lent a time of increased silence, so I will be taking my leave of reading blogs until Easter Monday.
See you, then.
The Chicken

Tim J. February 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm

We’ll all suffer a little in your absence, Chicken. You are an astute and refreshing presence in the combox.

J.R. Stoodley February 5, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Deusdonat,
I agree with your comments on intent. Remember that also in the case of the party I mentioned. Also, even if you are not the same, I would rather go to such a party than to a topless beach.

Elijah February 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

“Incidentally, getting back to drawing nude models, in my art-class experience one wouldn’t usually engage in social interaction with the model while s/he is nude. During down time between posing sessions, s/he usually dons a robe. So there is a line beween the aesthetic endeavor during which nudity is acceptable and social interaction during which it isn’t. I could, though, certainly understand someone being uncomfortable chatting even with a robed model who was nude two minutes ago and will be nude again two minutes from now (and FWIW there wasn’t much chatting even between sessions).”
This seems weird if there really is nothing wrong with the person being naked. Why the discomfort?

SDG February 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm

This seems weird if there really is nothing wrong with the person being naked. Why the discomfort?

For the same reason that a male patient in a hospital generally doesn’t want to be shooting the breeze with a female nurse if she happened to be, say, removing a catheter from his urethra, or even (far less intimately) giving him an IM injection in the glutes. And why the nurse definitely doesn’t want the patient getting too familiar at such a moment, even if in a different social setting, such as a party, she would love to be chatting with him.
There are situations in which exposing one’s nakedness and being exposed to the nakedness of another is not morally problematic per se, but requires a certain professionalism, as it were, a social distance rather than a casual banter.
Adequate covering is not always and everywhere a moral necessity, but it is a prerequisite for ordinary social liberty. Where there are sufficient reasons for doing without adequate covering — and such reasons do exist, and I would list the aesthetic pursuit of anatomical studies among them — corresponding concessions of social liberty are in order.

Zeno February 5, 2008 at 4:25 pm

This seems weird if there really is nothing wrong with the person being naked. Why the discomfort?

Elijah,
Curious, how would you react if you were engaged in a conversation with a mother who, midway through your conversation with her, exposed one of her breasts in order to feed a crying child as it happened to be the child’s feeding time?

SDG February 5, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Curious, how would you react if you were engaged in a conversation with a mother who, midway through your conversation with her, exposed one of her breasts in order to feed a crying child as it happened to be the child’s feeding time?

See, funnily enough, that wouldn’t faze this father of five even slightly, unless the mother were really egregiously exposing herself — which I have seen, although never in the case of someone I was holding a conversation with.
I think the RN-nursing example I gave above works better, because as in the art-class scenario you have one person being exposed precisely to the other person (as opposed to a nursing mother, who is only inadvertently exposed to the bystander). However, the nursing-mother example might be another instance in which per-se legitimate public exposure might create a social obstacle for others.

Elijah February 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm

It seems like exposing one’s nakedness because it’s absolutely necessary for health reasons could be completely different from posing naked for others on purpose, since the point of the first is someone’s healing whereas the point of the second is the enjoyment of a person’s nudity.
And yes I would certainly ‘shoot the breeze’ with a nurse who was removing my catheter because neither of us would be doing anything wrong. Not talking seems to me to be the same sort of dehumanization that folks were complaining about earlier when discussing aversion of eyes from women. Maybe I’m just a social retard though. I’ve been accused of it.

Elijah February 5, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Zeno,
I’ve gone back and forth on these issues. At one time I would have left, offended. Later I probably would have simply tried to ignore it and look only at her face. Now I’d probably just look wherever I felt like looking at the moment. Or, maybe I’d just stare at her breast. If there’s nothing wrong with her hanging it out then there must not be anything wrong with me watching. I don’t know.
What I’m uncomfortable with is arguments that are based on what’s ‘socially acceptable’. I know no one is saying that anything any society permits is good, but I need more of an objective standard, or else I at least need the pro-nude (heh) people to make a better definition of what’s okay and what isn’t, since the things I see them calling unacceptable don’t really seem different from those that aren’t in any objective way.

Giacomo Solazzo February 5, 2008 at 4:58 pm

This seems weird if there really is nothing wrong with the person being naked. Why the discomfort?
Some people are conditioned to feel awkward, and some are not.
There was no particular discomfort in observance at a recent art class, where people freely talked with the nude model both before, and after the posings, and some even during the posings when it didn’t interfere with her posing. But then, many of the artists in training, while dressed at the time of the class, were themselves nude a few hours before and after the class.
For the same reason that a male patient in a hospital generally doesn’t want to be shooting the breeze with a female nurse if she happened to be, say, removing a catheter from his urethra, or even (far less intimately) giving him an IM injection in the glutes.
But yet a good number of exposed male patients do talk with female nurses in such situations and feel no discomfort in doing so. Still others will talk in order to relieve their discomfort. And some who may not have talked during earlier sessions with the nurse may well talk with her during subsequent sessions.

SDG February 5, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Giacomo “B” Trollazzo: Are you blowing random smoke, as is your wont, chasing your nonexistent tail, or is your remark actually based on actual specific previous knowledge of an actual specific recent art class at an actual specific brick-and-mortar institution? Do tell, and as a special favor kindly go easy on the contrarian BS.
FWIW, as the husband of an RN, I can attest that in the nursing profession the delicacy of the nurse-patient relationship is well understood to depend on a level of professional distance. Obviously there are no applicable one-size-fits-all solutions, but nearly everyone understands that baring your nether regions for a stranger is not a casual arrangement and a certain protocol is helpful for all parties involved.

Tim J. February 5, 2008 at 7:17 pm

“Some people are conditioned to feel awkward, and some are not.”
And some people are conditioned to feel clever when they talk in circles.
At least now that I have your act down, I can save myself the tedium of actually reading your posts.

Giacomo Solazzo February 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Are you blowing random smoke… or is your remark actually based on actual specific previous knowledge of an actual specific recent art class… as a special favor kindly go easy on the contrarian BS
I tell it like it is.
I can save myself the tedium of actually reading your posts.
The tedium of your response is always a delight.

J.R. Stoodley February 5, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Elijah,
I don’t think you are going to get a real objective definition of what is acceptable and what is not because this is not a very objective issue. Some Traditionalists try to use a statement from Pius XII to draw strict (very conservative) lines of what is acceptible, but this is wrong. Nudity is not like, say, certain sexual acts or acts of violence that we can say definitively should never happen.
By conventional interpretation, had Original Sin never entered the world everyone would be naked in public and it would be fine. The need for clothing came about when because of our weakness we generally can’t see people naked in at least some circumstances without being seriously tempted to lust or some other form of dehumanization or discomfort or loss of the sense of mystery.
I think much of the differences of opinion on this matter come ultimately to different people having different subjective reactions to nudity, and perhaps too often assuming others would react the same way they would. Since such subjective reactions vary, and the morality of being nude or looking at someone nude so depends on that subjective reaction (and some things external to it but also specific to the situation, like the possibility of scandal) it does make sense for there to be legitimate differences of approach and also true differences between cultures and time periods.
That’s not to say of course that any opinion is correct. Ultimately for example I think these things like nudism (cultural or counter-cultural) and nude art models are wrong because of the mystery they take away from the human person and the special intimacy of certain organs. Meanwhile I think it’s ok to go to a party where girls are (wrongly) flashing and taking off their shirts and such under some conditions, while SDG apparently does not. To some degree these differences still have to do with subjective reaction, but there can be actual being right or wrong when it comes to does a certain reaction (the analytical approach to the body Tim J. describes for example) is good or bad or is it appropriate for a Catholic to be in certain situations where people are sinning.

labrialumn February 5, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Giocomo, that individual’s behavior was downritht demonic, not saintly. He may have been a man of God and be a saint, but he was captive to the devil in his thoughts concerning his fellow humans.
1 Timothy 4
Instructions to Timothy
1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
JR Stoodley, when my (rather excellent) Catholic friends celebrate Mardi Gras parties, is that what is going on?

Giacomo Solazzo February 6, 2008 at 12:19 am

Giocomo, that individual’s behavior was downritht demonic, not saintly. He may have been a man of God and be a saint, but he was captive to the devil in his thoughts concerning his fellow humans
Fr Bellarmine and three other confessors were reportedly of the opinion that he never committed a mortal sin in his life. As to his concern for his fellow humans, he died helping them.

Jay D February 6, 2008 at 8:10 am

Awkwardness around nudity is not necessarily irrational or arbitrary. Sexual body parts are designed for one thing, and it shows in their appearance. It can successfully be ignored, especially with frequent exposure, but if any attention at all is given to the body part by another person, and if that person spends any time contemplating the nature of that body part’s existence, the mind will be drawn to one thing. The form recalls the function. Since a person can’t know whose mind may or may not be wandering, awkwardness ensues.
Covering of certain body parts is generally a positive thing, though perhaps we would be better off if it weren’t such a Big Deal.
Having said that, awkwardness toward the upper body probably is arbitrary. Loosening social standards in regards to breasts would probably relieve some unnecessary tension. It is pretty bizarre that a billboard is OK in exposing most all of a breast as long as one little patch is obscured. Going all the way would tend to de-mystify the situation. It would also allow nursing mothers be more comfortable being nursing mothers.

Mr S February 6, 2008 at 6:44 pm

In theory I’m sympathetic to the position that Tim J. and SDG are taking, and usually I share their opinions about things. In practice, however . . .
Very recently, it so happens, my wife asked me asked me if I would be okay with her posing nude for an art class. Make some extra money, no sexuality or eroticism in the context at all, she’d taken art classes and found it totally innocent, etc. (n.b. She wasn’t actually considering doing this as an immediate possibility but it had come up in conversation with someone else, she had thought about it, and wanted to know what I thought.)
My IMMEDIATE response was NO WAY! I don’t want anyone else looking at my (quite attractive and fit, if I say so myself) wife’s nakedness in any non-necessary-medical context, for any reason.
Along similar lines, the last time she was pregnant, around two years ago, she had some “artsy” semi-nude (i.e. on top) preggo-photographs taken by a professional photographer in private. I didn’t like it, but I consented to her doing it because she really wanted to. I still don’t know whether I should have.
Again, along similar lines, I have a similar reaction to the idea of medical dissections. *In theory* I don’t think it’s sacrilegious or whatnot. In practice, I don’t want my mortal remains, or those of anyone I love, to be cut into little pieces and then thrown out. I ought to go in the ground whole if possible. And something makes me feel that I should trust this gut instinct over my theoretical acquiescence.
(In case anyone cares, organ donation seems like another story and wholly laudable, but no one wants to hear my opinions about everything, so I’ll stop now.)

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