Back in my old seminary days over four decades ago, there was this antiquated but interesting book in our library entitled, “The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith.” The book became the object of covetousness among us seminarians, and not a few of my peers would dare sneak it out from the library for fancy reading, notwithstanding the prying but beneficent eyes of our librarian. The book is a 1944 novel by Scottish writer Bruce Marshall. It uncovers the activities of Fr. Smith in his urban Scottish parish from 1908 until his death in 1942.
Let me paraphrase a fascinating excerpt from the book, as narrated to me by a fellow contemporary ex-seminarian:
“There was once a study conducted in the parish of Fr. Smith concerning ladies’ or women’s dresses. It found out that women’s dresses keep on reducing in size, one inch every six months from the hemline and one-half inch every year from the neckline. The study further forecasted that in barely 10 or 15 years, with unabated recession in size, what would be left is but a belt-size clothing for women just enough to cover the navel. To this the bishop was greatly alarmed and summoned Fr. Smith for an honest-to-goodness opinion. Fr. Smith said to the bishop: “Most Reverend Monsignor, that is in the right direction. Because IT IS NOT WHAT IS REVEALED BUT WHAT IS CONCEALED THAT MAKES THE MIND IMPURE!”
Apocryphal or not the story may have been, at first glance, what makes the witty remark, “It is not what is revealed but what is concealed that makes the mind impure,” alluring is its allusion to women’s indecent or immodest dressing, thus displaying their flesh – which, no surprise, was an anathema in the era of Fr. Smith.
But, levity aside, there’s certainly a gem of truth with such a statement,
“What is concealed, not what is revealed, makes the mind impure.”
Let me share the following insights:
1. Impurity is adjudged not only by what is seen or revealed, but more so by what is not seen. Genuine purity or impurity emanates from within – from the mind and heart.
2. From the moral or theological perspective, sinfulness (or “culpability” in the legal context) lies not only in the commission of the act but, more importantly, in the realm of intention or motive.
3. Lustfulness and immoral sexual acts are within the ambit, as violations, of the sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery) and ninth commandment (You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife).
It is important to posit (according to Moral Theology) that the 6th and 9th commandments do not forbid only the “act of adultery,” but likewise “lustfulness or lasciviousness” as already a sin of adultery.
Matthew 5:27-28 verily says:
“Do not commit adultery. But I tell you this: anyone who looks at a woman to satisfy his lust had in fact already committed adultery in his heart.”
Many years ago when I was yet teaching Moral theology in college, my students (not surprisingly, the males especially) would retort back then: “In that case, sir, it would be quite impossible for us then not to commit adultery in this life.”
I would answer them by saying that “Christ’s moral law” or the fundamentals of Christian morality are really exacting BOTH INSIDE AND OUT. Then also, I would provide them the moral principles governing passion or concupiscence as impairments of free consent: a) Antecedent passion or concupiscence always lessens voluntariness and sometimes precludes it completely; b) Consequent passion or concupiscence does not give rise to lessened voluntariness and is therefore good or bad.
In other words, anent to my students’ contention of the “impossibility of not committing adultery,” even if granting that temptations of “lustful” thoughts are triggered – seemingly by natural circumstances sometimes – by what we see, yet there is a room of difference between perchance or inevitably “seeing them” and “entertaining them”. What is sinful is “entertaining them” or “developing such thoughts,” and worse, “craving or looking for them.”
Hurray, Fr. Smith! Purity lies in the mind and heart – where God dwells.