Catholic Bishop Erik Varden, 49, of Trondheim, Norway. He has just published a brilliant, compelling book entitled Chastity: Reconciliation of the Senses (link). The theme of chastity is a central one in the history of the Christian, and human, search for blessedness and happiness, but this theme has been “canceled” in our “post-modern” culture, and, to a great extent, even “canceled” from the present “Synod on Synodality” in Rome, where the teaching of our forefathers on this matter has seemingly not played a central role in the discussion (seemingly, because the Synod has been closed to the press and it is not really known publicly what has been discussed, beyond what Synod participants have told the press in daily press briefings, where there has not been any prominent mention of chastity). Here below is the cover of the book
“At a time when religion is in decline in the Western world and when it often seems that the senses have run riot, Erik Varden shows that chastity, the single-minded direction of the senses, is a loveable quality and one that affects and beautifies humankind.” —from the publisher’s description of the new book by Bishop Erik Varden of Tronheim, Norway (link).Varden is a monk and bishop. Norwegian by birth, he was, before entering Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He has published several translations and scholarly monographs and is much in demand as a preacher, spiritual director and lecturer. In 2019, Pope Francis appointed him to the see of Trondheim. He is also the author of The Shattering of Loneliness (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018) (link)
“In Biblical language, chastity is a function of simplicity of sight. We are no longer torn apart by our passions and our desires, indeed they may reach their fulfilment. Body and spirit, male and female, order and disorder, passion and death, can move from creative tension to a new kind of wholeness.” —Ibid.
Letter #145, 2023, Wednesday, October 26: Chastity
The word “chastity” is heard today in our modern society almost as a word of cursing, a swear word.
Yet chastity has been seen in past ages in the Church, and in many human spiritual paths, as something pure, beautiful and noble.
What happened? How did this eight-letter word of blessing come to be treated as a four-letter word of cursing?
Today in our society, the word “chastity” is regarded as describing a state of being which is an offense against our human dignity… as a type of “blasphemy” against what is believed to be the reality of humans as “embodied souls,” with the emphasis on “body” — having a nature which is fleshly, mortal, passing away, appearing and living for a time in space and time, having a gender, a sexual nature and drive which must determine our actions, and which requires sexual expression for fulfillment.
And this despite the fact that chastity characterized the life of Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, of many of the Hebrew prophets, and of many, many Christian saints, for century upon century, until our own time.
And this despite the fact that a great part of our “loving” is not related to sexuality at all, but in profoundly inter-personal, that is, our love for brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, children…
So this “canceling” of the word “chastity” should be profoundly troubling for any thoughtful Christian, and any thoughtful person, for this word, “chastity,” has, for ages upon ages, been a word of hope, and of blessing, and of peace, and of joy, and of spiritual and physical freedom for many (all?) of the deepest minds and souls in our Christian tradition, and in the traditions of many other peoples and religions.
In this sense, the treatment in our time of the word “chastity” as a type of “blasphemy” against the fulfillment of our true human nature (conceived of as inter-relationally radically sexual in its fundamental character) is perhaps the most evident, and painful, sign of our present malaise.
We have a different view of human nature than our Christian ancestors.
The word “chastity,” for Christians in all ages, has been connected with the search for — and the finding of — a sublime and integrated freedom and blessedness outside of, or transcending, our sexual desires, passions and actions.
“Chastity,” closely connected with the word “virginity,” and yet not unconnected also with the true understanding of “matrimony,” was thought of as a condition of mind, heart and body in which all the elements of the human person, body and soul, were brought together into a type of spiritually fruitful, incorruptible harmony, allowing the person to experience a connection to a supernal blessedness, to God… a connection which might truly be initiated in this world of time and space, where the giving and receiving of a real, inter-personal, profound and enduring love might truly occur… but promising the continuation of that love beyond, and above, time and space. In short, eternal love… a love that transcends the often changeable, fretful emotion of erotic love, often possessive in its passion, linked to physicality, sexuality, and the actions which issue in the generation of new life.
And, if we would wish to truly “hear” the view of our ancestors — as we should wish, in keeping with what we have heard so often in the proceedings and analyses and appreciations of this present Synodal “process” — we will have to be patient enough to listen once again, from the beginning, to those ancestors, and, in the first place, to what those ancestors said about “chastity.”
And now, a Catholic bishop, in one of the most northern dioceses in the world, Eric Varden (link), 49, of the diocese of Trondheim in the far north of Norway — not invited to the Synod — has written a most profound reflection on chastity, and published it as a book entitled Chastity: Reconciliation of the Senses (link) which deserved to be read by all Catholics, and by all who would wish to know what the Catholic church has always thought and taught about human sexuality, and the virtue of chastity.
A new article today by Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister presents this new book by Bishop Eric Varden of Trondheim. Here is that article:
There’s a Book That Beats the Synod Hands Down. It’s by a Bishop, and Is on Chastity I (link)
By Sandro Magister
October 25, 2023
At the Vatican, the Synod is heading into its final phase, which then again is not final, given that it will be reconvened in a year and only afterward will the pope, on his own, decide what conclusions to draw from it, at the tail end of a debate about which little or nothing is known, protected as it is by secrecy.
But meanwhile there is also a synod “outside the walls,” of which the book above is a voice, on a topic, chastity, that has almost become a taboo for those in the Church who are calling for a “paradigm shift” in the Catholic doctrine on sexuality, led by that cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich whom Francis has put at the helm of the synod.
The author of “Chastity. Reconciliation of the Senses,” released on October 12 by Bloomsbury and soon to be in bookstores in Spanish as well, published by Encuentro, with the title “Castidad. La reconciliación de los sentidos,” is Erik Varden, 49, Norwegian, a Cistercian monk of the strict observance, Trappist, the former abbot in England of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, and since 2020 the bishop of Trondheim.
Varden, who is not at the synod, was among the signatories, together with all the bishops of Scandinavia including Stockholm Cardinal Anders Arborelius, of that “Pastoral letter on human sexuality,” released last Lent, which Settimo Cielo published back then in full, due to its extraordinary originality of language and content, capable of speaking to modern man of all the richness of the Christian vision of sexuality in unbroken fidelity to the age-old magisterium of the Church and at the same time in clear opposition to “gender” ideology.
There is a kinship of style between that pastoral letter and Varden’s book. But there is also an important difference. “Chastity” does not get mixed up in the disputes, the “dubia,” over the blessing of homosexual couples or communion for the divorced and remarried. On these questions the author states that he does not sway one iota from what the 1992 Catechism of Catholic doctrine teaches, and refers to it as “a great treasure.”
But precisely as a bishop, Varden wants to do something else with his book. He wants to “build bridges,” to span the gap that has been created between the thinking of modern secular society and the immense richness of the Christian tradition, let spill today by a widespread amnesia.
That is, he writes, he wants to present again to the world the Christian faith in its entirety, without compromise. But at the same time to express it in forms that are understandable even for those to whom it is entirely foreign: “by appealing to universal experience, then trying to read such experience in the light of the revelation.”
And “Chastity” is indeed a fascinating journey between the Bible and great music, literature, painting, from the Desert Fathers to Bellini’s “Norma,” from Homer to the “Magic Flute” of Mozart, to a good dozen modern writers and poets more or less distant from the Christian faith. The apostle Matthew on the cover is also part of the game. It is taken from the last judgment as frescoed in 1300 by Pietro Cavallini, a predecessor of Giotto, in the Roman basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. His eyes look to Christ, to the final destiny of glorified man.
All to show how “Chastity,” in the most varied states of life, is the reconciliation and fulfillment of desires and passions, which has as its goal precisely that man, “clothed in glory and honor,” who is the Adam come forth from creation to which Christ leads us back.
The following is a brief excerpt from the book, which however is to be read in its entirety, unmissable and incomparable as it is with the dull, tedious, “exculturated” chatter of the synod.
IT IS TIME TO EFFECT A “SURSUM CORDA” [“Lift up your hearts”]
by Erik Varden (from pages 114-116 of “Chastity. Reconciliation of the Senses”)
Holiness, life everlasting, configuration to Christ, the resurrection of the body: these notions do not feature much, now, in people’s thinking about relationships and sexuality. We have become alienated from the mindset that brought about the soaring verticality of the twelfth century’s cathedrals, houses holding the whole of life while elevating it.
Was not a proposal recently made to fit a swimming pool on the rebuilt roof of Notre Dame de Paris? It seemed to me apt. It would symbolically have re-established the dome of water that sealed earth off from heaven on the first day of creation, before God’s Image was manifest in it (cf. Genesis 1.7). It would have cancelled, again symbolically, the piercing of the firmament at Jesus’s Baptism, which portended a new way of being human. Whatever fragment of mystery might remain within the church itself would have been performed beneath the splashing of bodies striving to perfect their form. The parable would have been significant.
Once the supernatural thrust has gone from Christianity, what remains? Well-meaning sentiment and a set of commandments found to be crushing, the finality of change they were meant to serve having been summarily dismissed.
Understandably, a movement will then be afoot to consign these to the archives. For what will be the point of them? Become this-worldly, the Church accommodates the world and makes herself reasonably comfortable within it. Her prescriptions and proscriptions alike will reflect and be shaped by current “mores.”
This calls for on-going flexibility, for secular society’s “mores” change quickly, also in the sphere of liberal reflection on sex. Certain views propounded as liberating and prophetic well within living memory – regarding, for example, the sexuality of children – are now rightly seen as abhorrent. Yet new prophets are readily anointed, new theories put forward for experimentation in an area that touches us at our most intimate.
It is time to effect a “Sursum corda”, to correct an inward-looking, horizontalizing trend in order to recover the transcendental dimension of embodied intimacy, part and parcel of the universal call to holiness. Of course we should reach out to and engage those estranged by Christian teaching, those who feel ostracized or consider they are being held to an impossible standard. At the same time we cannot forget that this situation is far from new.
In the early centuries of our era, there was colossal strain between worldly and Christian moral values, not least concerning chastity. This was so not because Christians were better – most of us, now as then, live mediocre lives – but because they had a different sense of what life is about. Those were the centuries of the subtle christological controversies. Relentlessly, the Church fought to articulate who Jesus Christ is: “God from God” yet “born of the Virgin Mary”; fully human, fully divine. On this basis she went on to make sense of what it means to be a human being and to show how a humane social order might come about.
Today, Christology is in eclipse. We still affirm that “God became man.” But we largely deploy an inverted hermeneutic, projecting an image of “God” that issues from our garment-of-skin sense of what man is. The result is caricatural. The divine is reduced to our measure. The fact that many contemporaries reject this counterfeit “God” is in many ways an indication of their good sense.
[End, selection from the new book on chastity by Bishop Erik Varden]
And here is a comment on the same topic by a Dutch cardinal, Wim Eijk, in an article from a Christian news agency in Europe published one year ago, in October 2022. He speaks of chastity at the end of the article:
Dutch Cardinal: Chastity is not ridiculous (link)
CNE.news (Christian News Europe, link)
Struggling with sexuality has only one answer: the virtue of chastity. That is the advice of the Dutch Roman Catholic Cardinal Wim Eijk. Homosexuality is unnatural and morally evil, he says.
“Chastity does not limit freedom but gives inner freedom to make difficult choices in life, for example, concerning sexual abstinence.”
In a time where ethical views on marriage and sexuality are shifting, he defends the traditional doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church concerning these issues. The traditional teaching about sexuality is that it only belongs to one man and one woman within the bond of matrimony. To promote this position, Eijk published a book in Dutch called “De band van de liefde. Katholieke huwelijksmoraal en seksuele ethiek” (“The bond of love. Catholic marriage morals and sexual ethics”). Initially, he would have presented it during a public presentation. However, the announcement thereof attracted attention of so many people of a different opinion, that Eijk decided to cancel the event.
In modern society, there is much confusion on ethical dilemmas, such as marriage and sexuality, Cardinal Wim Eijk notices. Secularisation and loss of faith cause many to no longer see marriage as God’s creation but rather as something instituted by man. “Sexual and marriage ethics have therefore plunged into a crisis.”
According to God’s image
The institute of marriage is closely linked to Who God is, Cardinal Eijk points out in an interview with the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad. “Marriage has been created according to God’s image and likeness. God in Himself is a communion of three Persons Who give themselves to each other and receive each other in love.” According to Eijk, man and woman reflect this relationship in their marriage: “They complement each other and together they can realise reproduction of life.”
In former times, the emphasis on sexual reproduction as the end of marriage was even stronger for the Roman Catholic Church. Nowadays, the Church also focuses on mutual support between men and women. Yet, Cardinal Eijk says, the doctrine has not changed. “Reproduction, the passing on of life, is included in the mutual self-giving of man and woman.”
Sun of God’s grace
Homosexuality is unnatural and morally evil, Cardinal Eijk writes in his book. Therefore, he rejects the decision of the Flemish bishops, who recently decided that same-sex marriages should also receive a blessing in church. “To be able to bless, not only your intention should be good, but also the thing you are blessing. You cannot bless a morally evil act. The sun of God’s grace does not shine upon the path of sin”, Eijk says to the Reformatorisch Dagblad. He explains that the problem with homosexual relationships is that partners cannot give themselves to each other completely. “There cannot be total self-surrender without the possibility of sexual reproduction. That is impossible for same-sex couples.”
The duty of the Church towards people who struggle with their homosexual orientation is to help them to deal with their feelings, so they can “live according to the doctrine of the Church.” According to Cardinal Eijk, it is essential that the church shows respect and empathy while proclaiming Christ and the truth. “Homosexuals should feel welcome in Church. We should not judge them.”
Another point that Cardinal Eijk deals with in his book is the gender theory. That theory is based on the idea that people can separate the role of men and women entirely from their biological sexuality. As a result, terms like father, mother, son and daughter lose their meaning.
The gender theory is incompatible with the Christian faith, Eijk believes. “We proclaim a God Who reveals Himself as the Father, Whose Son became man for us. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and became the mother of the Son while being a virgin. These terms become vague when boundaries between man and woman evaporate.”
The struggles with sexuality can be genuine, the Cardinal acknowledges. He advises those people to develop the virtue of chastity. “That gives inner freedom to make difficult choices in life,” he explains.
Even though the development of chastity can be hard, Eijk is convinced that God will bless the efforts of those who strive for it. “When God requests something of you, He will also enable you to do so. Once chastity is developed, there is no need for control anymore; then we have the power over our sexual instincts and impulses.”