Ron Rolheiser on Chastity

10 Jul

Ancient Greece expressed much of its psychological and spiritual wisdom inside their myths. They didn’t intend these to be taken literally or as historical, but as metaphor and as an archetypal illustration of why life is as it is and how people engage life both generatively and destructively.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI


Within this pantheon of gods and goddesses there was a particular goddess name Artemis. Unlike most of their other goddesses, who were sexually promiscuous, she was chaste and celibate.  Her sexual abstinence represented the place and the value of chastity and celibacy. She was pictured as a tall, graceful figure, attractive sexually, but with a beauty that, while sexual, was different from the seductive sexuality of goddesses like Aphrodite and Hera. In the figure of Artemis, sex is pictured as an attractive blend of solitude and integrity. She is frequently pictured as surrounded by members of her own sex or by members of the opposite sex who appear as friends and intimates, but never as lovers.

What’s implied here is that sexual desire can remain healthy and generative even while abstaining from sex.  Artemis represents a chaste way of being sexual. She tells us that, in the midst of a sexually soaked world, one can be generative and happy inside of chastity and even inside celibacy. Perhaps even more importantly, Artemis shows us that chastity need not render one anti-sexual and sterile. Rather she shows that sexuality is wider than sex and that sex itself will be richer and more meaningful if it is also connected to chastity.

All those rich realities so positively highlighted by Artemis (as well as by the classical Christian notion of chastity), namely, friendship, non-sexual forms of intimacy, non- sexual pleasures, and the need for integrity and fidelity within sex, are seen as a substitute for sex, and a second-best one at that, rather than as rich modality of sex itself.

We are psychologically and spiritually impoverished by that notion and it puts undue pressure on our sexual lives. When sex is asked to carry the primary load in terms of human generativity and happiness it cannot help but come up short.



Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.

For more information please visit my website.

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