Holloway on "Holiness in the Twenty-First Century"
In this FAITH editorial from September 1986 Fr Holloway contrasted the early Christians’ joyful embrace of the Church’s demanding moral teachings, with those dissenters from the Magisterium in the post-conciliar years who saw these high standards like fences in a horse race which were too difficult to jump. He identifies the theological roots of such relativism but also sees the Truth prevailing in the future.
If the reader is one of those who flinch before the appalling holiness of the early Christians, especially before their total chastity in marriage or out of marriage, let him face one stark fact: This is the Church of the original face of Christ. For three hundred years it was weeded and decimated by bloody persecution and loss of goods. Its testimony is that of men and women, and children too, who truly loved God in the Christ, and witnessed what they knew to be the absolute, and the necessary holy human life of men and women redeemed in the flesh of Jesus the Lord, living members of His risen body. These were men and women formed by God Incarnate more fully, and more deeply than ever any human founder of a religious order formed his or her disciples.
When present writers derogate from the authority in matters of love and chastity of St. Augustine, let them remember that this was the Church which recognised the teaching of Augustine as its own and re-endorsed it, at the very time that the disciples of Pelagius were first teaching those ‘dissident’ views that can [now] be read in the intellectual Catholic press every week. For the same teaching on love and chastity we can go back earlier to the witness of Justin Martyr, and to the ‘Octavius’ of Minucius Felix. There is no doubting here that the only primary and truly perfect use of human procreative power is for the peopling of heaven and earth, in communion with the most pure creative love of Christ.
Heresies of Hedonism
Two principles of error in particular (though there are others) mark present derogation from the Church’s traditional and Apostolic doctrine of chastity in the human person. One of them, interestingly enough, is found in the Pelagians against whom Augustine battled. The denial of Original Sin as a true fall from harmonious order between body and soul, in response to God’s will, and the denial of the distinction in our human nature of soul and body, spirit and matter. If these two errors are linked, there is then found the basis for a convenient and utterly destructive hedonism. If matter and spirit are only one order of being and nature, then you can insist that the affection of loving is just one, linked and commingling experience of joy and pleasure. If the joy of spirit in the love of a deep and good partner, boy or girl, brings with it the delight of tenderness in caress and touch, you may accept it all as one. If the same ‘twin’ joys prompt and bring in genital arousal as well, you may accept all three together as one affect, one ‘loving’ one total experience. And this is the modern lie. And once it is embraced, and it is, then you can no more forbid personal solitary perversion, homosexuality, or pre-marital sex than you can forbid all fornication or all adultery. Loving, in body and soul, and in all aspects of the bodily, has become one undivided pleasurable experience. And God help the children in such an age.
The other root of error, in denying Original Sin as a real lesion and damage to man’s nature, denies that there is any preordained ‘natural’ law between the function of sexuality, and its obvious primary consequence- the child and that wisdom of the soul that controls and dictates the order of rightfulness or wrongfulness in sexual use. These people fail to see, or will not see, that nature below man is not a haphazard coupling of desire but a seasonal harmony of times and seasons, governed by a Law of Control and Direction within the fabric of Nature herself. In man, the role of the spirit, was, and in Jesus Christ still is, to recognise that law of primary purpose, time, and season, and divine intent; and on the much, much higher level of human love, govern its times and its seasons in accordance with the will of God, and the order of goodness witnessed in His name by the Church. The perfect order of grace does not merely submit to the law of God’s rightfulness witnessed by the Church in Christ’s name. It goes further; as men and women become more perfectly formed in grace they personally recognise and accept, from the formation in them of the mind of Christ - that this is indeed the order of perfect good, human happiness, and beautiful loving.
Things Hidden from the Clever and Learned
There are those of us who know, and frankly know from experience in the Faith groups - but also out of them - that it is possible in the modern world to form boys and girls, married men and women, in the perfect love that the early Christians lived and taught; in the honest love that the Church’s doctrine of sexual communion imposes upon men and women of today, in the solemn though controverted proclamations of the Popes, from Pius XI to the reigning bishop of Rome [Paul VI]. In addition we know that it also is possible to evoke, in young men and women the vision of the higher love of total chastity for the Kingdom of God’s sake. This order of love and of affection in ministry and in communion reflects most perfectly on earth the actual living of human love as Jesus himself lived it, as Mary, Virgin and Mother and Nun, lived it. This is the highest order of human love, and is the relationship to God and to men most fulfilling, even in this present life, in love, and in human communion.
In the more intractable pains and problems that can haunt womanhood, even in our own times of great power within medicine to help and to heal, one can make the point to the husband of whom very much indeed is being asked, that no spouse was more considerate before the truth and will of God, than was Joseph, husband of Mary. Nor was any husband more fulfilled in God, and in the deepest happiness of married life. Love, true human love (and Man was made to the Image of Christ), is so much more than genital sexuality; and the loss of erotic delight does not entail the loss of joy in the communion of love, nor in human warmth, and in tenderness exchanged. Indeed, one knows as a pastoral priest that the problems hinted at above do occur, and that ‘natural methods of family planning’ cannot always be the answer for a multitude of reasons. One knows from confidences in every parish that there are ordinary, simple, devout Catholic men, living through faith in God and his grace, just that attitude and standard that one has outlined above. They have also found in this ‘gracious’ achievement a more perfect, and more faithful love in marriage. Don’t be afraid of the fences, don’t be afraid of the doctrine of Jesus, and don’t demean the noble perceptions and possibilities of ordinary people! It is the ordinary people who rise to great heights - because they rely on grace and God’s word, and not on themselves. It was these people, the ‘little ones’ over whom Christ exulted that His Father had revealed these things to them, and hidden them from so many of the literary correspondents of The Tablet and the writers of the opinion columns of all the popular media!
Body and Soul
If matter and spirit, body and soul, are distinct orders of reality in human nature, and not just distinct aspects of one common energy, then this important truth will follow: until the end of time, there will be no difference between Adam and the last boy or girl born of woman in the law of holiness, good, and moral perfection, as it applies to the use and the enjoyment of the body. Man’s nature is an absolute - in the sense of being final, objective, and fixed in its law of good and perfection. The body may have evolved - it seems much more likely that it did - but not the soul. In nature the soul is no different in the first man and in the last of mankind. The soul, in its relationship to the flesh, and in its relationship to itself and to God, will mediate to the flesh the same one law of good, true and right proportion in the uses of the functions of the body, and the enjoyment of the natural pleasures of the body. The spirit in man is not only their ruler, but into the higher, harmonious peace with God of the spirit, must all the innocent pleasures of the flesh be integrated.
The effect of sin, of a spiritual disobedience to God, is to bring greeds, coarseness, addictive drives, and arrogance into the flesh and into the spirit in mankind. True, the Old Testament knew an easier morality of sexual unity and divorce, but it was not the one good order of God. It was of sin. ‘For the hardness of your hearts’, said Jesus the Christ, ‘Moses gave you that law, but from the beginning it was not so’, and he revoked it (Matt. 19.5). Humankind had been on earth a long time, even in the days of Jesus Christ, and Jesus did not presume that the progressives of his day had evolved a long way from that beginning - all the way in fact from monogamy to divorce. He talked about fall, sin, hardness of heart, and restoration. But then, Jesus knew He was more than a guru.
Roots of Relativism
Observe how error works in the theologian or lay person who does not admit a real distinction of matter and of spirit. For them there is an evolution of personality in mankind, the personality of a being who is one energy of matter and spirit. It is clear that this personality has ‘evolved’ somehow to free, intellectual and ‘spiritual’ knowledge. It is clear that in a large number of humans at least, there is the choice of a known good and of an altruistic, non-instinctual love. It is presumed that in this one, undifferentiated personality of ‘man’, the whole of the affective life evolves together as well. Therefore, spiritual love, tender love, erotic love, these are all aspects of just one affect: erotic pleasure, therefore, is not primarily or necessarily related to family and child, but to a ‘unitive’ personal fulfilment of one individual to another.
One dare not here begin to develop so lengthy a theme, but the reader will see at once that on this philosophy and theology of loving, there is no possible prohibition of any sexual ‘sin’. In or out of marriage, sexual delight is part of loving: masturbation, homosexuality, paedophilia, all of it will be lawful, inevitable, and ‘natural’ for the boundaries of the sexual are as wide as, and have one common boundary, with ‘love’ itself. Neither have such people any power to put a natural law that prevents the utter coarsening of the nature of man from sexual perversion by pornography of every kind. There is no intrinsic law of nature in these matters. When the same philosophy of epicureanism is applied, quite logically, to all pleasures of the flesh as ‘pleasure of the person’, then the drink and drugs corruption of the young is inevitably upon us.
Magna est Veritas et Praevalebit
We must not be worried if ‘Christendom’ as an order reflecting one common theology of life and love among Christians is never restored again among Christians. There could be such a restoration, but it would be as partial and imperfect as that of the Middle Ages; it will never be the social reflection of the Kingdom of God and His Christ. In the Middle Ages, they had no power over the process of procreation, but there was grinding cruelty, torture, lust, and the plagues that follow from human coarseness in living. For even the total lack of hygiene in human society is a reflection of human concupiscence and greed. Animals do better in their order of habitat. The cruelties and coarseness of medieval sin infected the Church, and her unity of secular and sacred. She still bears the reproach. In the last century as well, the blight of drunkenness, child misuse, and abuse of womanhood was rife among the poor. They were so poor because of the vices of power and greed in the better off. It was not the Kingdom of God. It was marginally less evil as an order, because at least it would have been horrified by mass abortion and destruction of the morals of the child by modern newspapers, TV, and pornographic paperbacks in every sub-Post Office.
As the power of man over the procreative function becomes more absolute, as the power to separate pleasure from function becomes more absolute... we must expect the pride and evil of the First Heresy (Genesis 2:17 quoted) to be more terribly manifest. There may be, at least for a short time, a revival of Christendom as the social aspect of a revival of Christianity. This writer confidently thinks there will be. We should not, however, rely on that or rest in that. The Kingdom of God is first of all the rallying of good men and women, boys and girls, around the beauty of God revealed in Jesus: there is the Supernatural (and for man the only ‘natural’) order of good, true, and happiness. This is the Good News, to respond with a gasp of joy to the full, true vision of love in the face of Christ; the joy of responding to the sheer beauty of personality it creates in good boys, girls, and youths. For a priest it is the supreme joy, apart from losing oneself in Christ at the moment of the Mass. The supreme joy is to tend such a noble love in the young, to feel and share it, and to know in its delight, that it is born of the mutual love of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. This is the love which is the Gospel and the Good Tidings of Great Joy. Don’t play it down; don’t be afraid of it, and teach its laws as a law of happiness!
There comes to mind the testimony of a good boy, a reasonably good boy, who was recounting the loss of his virginity with a girl who was no saint but only reasonably good as he was: ‘and as soon as it was over, I knew, we both knew, we had been utterly selfish, and I was miserable before God’. Conscience itself responds to the Good News of God’s right order of truth in fulfilment. Till the end of time, the Personality of Jesus will gather boys and girls, young men and maidens, the mature, and the old and venerable around this enormous, eternal, abiding Joy in God. ‘Fear not little flock: it has pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom: in the world you will have distress, but fear not, I have overcome the world’ (John 16.23). Magna est veritas, et praevalebit, said the ancients: Mighty is Truth, and It will prevail. From the book of Genesis to Humanae Vitae (which actually was the end of the Council!) it has prevailed. The Bible is not the witness of the majority, but of the Word that saves the majority. Don’t be afraid of the fences!
Fr Edward Holloway (1917-99) was a parish priest in the South of England and the author of Catholicism: A New Synthesis and other theological and philosophical works. He was the editor of this magazine for 22 years and the founder of the Faith Movement.