Sunday, January 13, 2008

Instruments of righteousness…

In my recent post on paganism and the fragmentary "sides" of pagan man, I wrote about the celibate religious person's life a form of sublimated sexuality. (I could have just as easily spoken of the non-celibate's life as a form of sublimated religious life, since they are but two sides of the same one coin.) I sense an objection might be that there is an important gap in the celibate's life, since, while all people can love "non-sexually", only the married (and fornicators) can employ their sexual "parts", even though both vocations are offered as one life to one Lord, in which case, the married has a dynamic "advantage" over the celibate, in that he uses, and is able to use, "parts" that the celibate simply cannot.

The problem I have with this objection, were it aired, is that it assumes sexual organs are only sexual, and non-sexual organs are only non-sexual. The reason the celibate can love sexually without loving genitally is because the genitals are not inherently instruments of love. Likewise, the reason the celibate can love genuinely without loving genitally is because love is not an intrinsically genital action.

Love is an operation (if I may) of the will which employs any bodily "tool" it needs for the good of the beloved. Sometimes this means the genital are used to pleasure and embrace one's spouse. But only sometimes. For the genitals can just as easily be devices of self-love (sex with A while thinking of B) or even hatred (i.e., rape). Also, non-sexual organs, like the hands and nose, are not inherently non-sexual, but only behaviorally. If the hands and nose are called to the service of erotic love, they become erotic members. Afterwards, they are simply hands, ready for carpentry or word processing.

What this somatic polyvalence means is that the bodily organs can be used in numerous ways, depending on the impulse of the rational will. If a celibate chooses to use his hands in the service of the poor, he is using potentially genital instruments as non-genital instruments, while still using them for as much an approximation of sexual as their "non-genital" dimension allows. Likewise, if he chooses to use his whole body as an instrument of love and service, his genitals eo ipso become non-genital organs of sexual love, since sexuality is total self-giving; it is, literally, the giving of the sexes to each other, the most archetypal form of self-offering. When sexual love is also genital love, however, it is primarily about genital copulation.

Because there is no inherent identity between the genitals and the sexual impulse, there is a true form of non-genital sexual self-offering for celibate persons. This is why St. Paul says Christians must offer their members as instruments of righteousness; for man's bodily instruments can be used in a myriad ways; only the will, elevated by grace, decides how those instruments will be used for Christ-like love.

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