That to Preserve Chastity, Mortification of All the Senses, and Especially of the Eyes, Is Necessary

by admin on February 13, 2011

CASSIAN says that it was the decided opinion of the ancient Fathers, borne out by many experiences, that it was impossible to restrain or overcome this vicious crav­ing of the flesh otherwise than by accustoming oneself to mortify and crush one’s own will in all things. St. Basil and other saints argue at great length that to gain and pre­serve the purity and perfection of chastity, the practice of all the virtues is necessary, since they all serve and help to the guardianship of this virtue, as has been shown already in the course of this work. We will here only mention some particular points, the first of which is the need of custody of the senses, particularly the eyes, the gates whereby evil enters into the heart. On the text: Who are those who fly as clouds, and as doves gather at their win­dows? (Isaias Ix. 8), St. Gregory says that the just are said to fly as clouds because they rise above the things of earth, and they are said as doves to gather at their windows, or peep-holes, because, taking care not to go out to look through the windows of their senses at exterior things that pass outside, they are preserved from coveting them. But they who lightly go out to look through these windows at the things of the world, are often carried away by desire of them. The Prophet David, holy man as he was and accustomed to soar like a cloud to the consideration of high and divine mysteries, was carried away by what he saw, because he was not cautious in looking (II Kings xi. 3). Death hath entered by our windows (Jerem. ix. 21). The death of sin entered by the windows of his eyes and robbed and despoiled his soul and killed it. Mine eye hath despoiled my soul (Lam. iii. 51). St. Gregory says: “It is not proper to look at what it is not lawful to desire” Intueri non decet quod non licet concupiscere. Things will carry you away if you look at them. They will snatch and steal away your heart; and when you least expect it, you will find yourself a prisoner and a captive.

Holy Job secured himself beforehand well against this. I made a bargain with mine eyes not even to think of a maiden (Job xxxi. 1). What manner of bargain is this, says St. Gregory, to bargain with the eyes not to think? It is with the understanding and the imagination, it would seem, that we ought to bargain not to think; with the eyes, not to look. No, he says, it is with the eyes he bargained not to think of a woman, because holy Job knew right well that it is by that entrance that evil thoughts come into the heart; and custody of the eyes and gates of the senses is the right way to keep custody of the heart and understand­ing. Therefore he says that he made a bargain with his eyes not to think of a woman. So, if you wish not to have impure thoughts, you must keep your eyes chaste and pure, and make a bargain with your eyes not to look at what you cannot lawfully desire. St. Chrysostom reflects on these words: “Who will not wonder, seeing this great man, who braved the devil and wrestled face to face with him and overcame all his machinations and ambushes, not having the courage to confront a girl!” It was, he says, that we may understand how necessary caution is for us in these matters, however religious we may be.

The holy Abbot Ephrem says that three things are great helps to virtue, to chastity particularly—temperance, silence, and custody of the eyes. And though you keep the first two, yet if you do not guard your eyes, your chastity cannot be depended on; because as, when aqueducts are broken, the water is spilled and lost, so is chastity lost when looks and glances are scattered and thrown about here and there. Another saint says that the sight of a woman is like a poisoned arrow that goes straight to the heart, or like a spark falling on straw, which, if it remains there and is not put out at once, kindles a great conflagration; so is a bad thought originating in a sight.

Of St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, Surius relates that he was so extremely cautious in this matter of looking at women that, though he was bishop more than fifty years, and confessor to many women, and had a great deal of business to transact with ladies of high rank whom the fame of his sanctity attracted not from his own diocese alone, but from all quarters, yet he never knew any woman by sight, since he never looked them in the face so as to know them, except one ugly old crone that was a servant in his house. And he used to say that it was necessary to proceed with this caution because it is impossible for any­one to guard his heart from evil thoughts who does not set a guard on his eyes. We read of St. Bernard that on one occasion he was a little off his guard in looking at a woman, without adverting to what he was doing, and when he took account of it, he was so indignant and ashamed of himself that, though it was winter, he plunged into a pool of icy water hard by, up to the throat, and remained there till they drew him out half dead.

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