As we begin this series, the definitions might seem a bit pedantic, but even these will start to get rather interesting. Anything really worthwhile takes some effort, right? Bear with these first posts! Our first word to describe is continence, which can have a spiritual sense to it, however physical is seems.
Continence — from continentia and continere, means to contain. In its most graphic sense, this refers to the proper containment of sexual behavior, but not at all to the repression of untoward sexual behavior (which repression, as mere repression, is always evil, for mere repression fails to correct problems and is only escapism).
So speak of continent sexual behavior is open to the understanding that one who is continent or contained enjoys a lively peace of soul in that, by grace, he is contained in God, “hidden with Christ in God” as Saint Paul says, happy to walk in God’s presence. To put it another way, when speaking of “containing”, one recalls this from Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 4:5-7):
“We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”
Other passages from Saint Paul come to mind:
“Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Or how about this one…
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
One will sometimes read the phrase perpetual continence as referring to the result of undertaking a promise or vow of chastity, so that the application of the word refers to not getting married and having children.
When understood with the nexus virtutum in the Thomistic sense, continence, in reference to temperance, can be said to be a virtue. John Paul II speaks of the “imperative of self-control,” bringing one to “the necessity of immediate continence and of habitual temperance” (27 Oct and 4 Nov, 1984).
Biblically, priests who are incontinent deserve death, such as Hophni and Phinehas, the ever so truly evil sons of Eli, who spent their priesthood raping the women at the entrance of the temple (1 Samuel 2,22).
This description of continence may bring up more questions, and that’s good. The series continues.