For today’s article, I turn back to Space Adventure Cobra, which addresses the virtue of modesty, like most anime, through via negativa. I described the show as a sci-fi version of Conan the Barbarian, and the women featured therein, like those we find in Conan’s world, tend to be lightly dressed. (How’s that for understatement?) And naturally, our hero is mostly interested in having a good time. I shall show in this post how essential modesty is to chastity, the various modes of modesty, and how modesty is ultimately essential to obtain that purity of heart without which we shall not see God.
Modesty and chastity both fall under the virtue of temperance and deal mostly with the restraining of lust. (Mostly, because all virtues are connected and positively effect even areas outside of their immediate scope.) The world encourages one to enjoy as many pleasures as possible and hates restraint–modesty most of all; therefore, it mocks purity, chastity, and modesty alike as obstacles to pleasure. This is because the world does not know joy, that holiest of emotions which routinely requires us to exercise restraint and finds its final goal in Christ: “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and do abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled” (John 15: 10-11). Even in earthly love, as several of our authors have pointed out (especially TWWK, MRNewman, and Cutsceneaddict), the pleasures particular to married love are most joyfully partaken within marriage. Partaking of the same pleasures outside of marriage lead to guilt, emotional pain, enslavement to lust, or even unhealthy disgust with sex. The important thing to remember about the spirit of the world and what it advocates is that they usually lead to death and sorrow, which can be seen in the heavily secularized first world by the prevalence of contraceptives and abortion and the declining birth rate.
Following the spirit of the world, many modern TV shows and anime don’t see anything wrong with lust. Thus, many people, having been badly influenced by secular culture–one priest even went so far as to say sexually abused by it, often find themselves with full blown lustful habits to conquer upon their conversion or deeper conversion to Christ. This vice, endemic in our nature since the Fall of Adam, is one of the most difficult to overcome, and the first step to victory begins in modesty. Why? As St. Thomas tells us, modesty pertains to the restraint of weaker passions than temperance and, by extension, chastity itself. Achieving a simpler virtue is to be halfway to having a more difficult one. It is easier not to look at a beautiful person than not to be aroused by them, easier to dress modestly than not desire a lover, and easier to avoid lewd talk than to control lustful thoughts.
But, one’s vocation, state of life, and how deeply one has fallen into lustful habits all determine the manner in which one shows modesty. St. Thomas assures us, quoting 1 Corinthians 7: 33-34, that those who are married or seek marriage may dress or adorn themselves attractively. (Naturally, within the bounds of propriety and custom) Those who fall into the three other vocations, i.e. religious, priestly, or single, ought to observe strict modesty of appearance, of the eyes, and of the soul. What need has the sister for jewels besides the virtues adorning her soul? Why should the priest, an alter Christus, show off his muscles when he has been specially configured to Christ, Who is meek and humble of heart? (Yes, vain priests do exist.) And, the confirmed bachelor ought not second guess himself. The way we comport ourselves outwardly affects how we think inwardly.
This brings us to the important point that all outward acts are meant to conform the inward self even as the inward self informs our appearance, words, and deeds. The putting on of modesty, through the grace of God, eventually leads to chaste habits and purity of heart. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to refer to sex, and it might come as no surprise that knowledge, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is paired with the virtue of chastity. Knowledge of temporal things ought to advance our knowledge of spiritual things through analogy. Vice blinds us to how the natural world reflects the spiritual world, especially lust.
Conversely, chaste love can give us a very intimate and immediate understanding of divine love. How well does a happily married couple understand that Christ loves the Church as a groom loves his bride! How well does a father or mother understand God as a loving Father! Then again, nothing so helps in the struggle against lust as prayer and spiritual reading, by which we perceive the greater excellence of spiritual goods over carnal goods. The pure of heart see God more clearly than the impure, because the pure of heart see all things as a dim reflection of the infinite Creator. This happy state is the end of a very long road which begins by not dressing like the hero and heroines of Space Adventure Cobra.