Psychology Wiki

Allegory of chastity by Hans Memling.

Chastity, in many religious and cultural contexts, is a virtue concerning the state of purity of the mind and body. The term is most often associated with refraining from sexual intimacy, especially outside of marriage. Chastity is often taken to be synonymous with virginity or abstention from all sexual activity; however, some consider sexually active married couples to be chaste if they have relations only with each other.

Due to the prohibitions of sexual intimacy outside of marriage in Abrahamic religions deriving from the Ten Commandments and [[Mosaic law, the term has become closely associated with premarital sexual abstinence in Western culture; however, in the context of religion, the term remains applicable to persons in all states, single or married, clerical or lay, and has implications beyond sexual temperance.

Classical origin

The word derives, via the French chasteté, from the Latin castitas, which is the abstract of castus (the root of chaste), which originally meant a 'pure' state of conformity with the Greco-Roman religion, rather the practical counterpart of a pious (Latin pius) state of mind, in no way limited to the sexual sphere. As the etymological link suggests, castigation or chastisement is originally the use of (harsh) means to preserve or restore this state as a form of catharsis. This meaning is preserved fully in the parallel term chastening.

In ancient times the value of chastity was highly debated in both the homosexual and heterosexual spheres. In particular, Socrates was an advocate of chaste pederastic relations between men and boys, in opposition to the sexually expressed pedagogic relationships prevalent in his time. Plato, having transmitted many of these teachings, has become the eponym for this type of chastity, known today as Platonic love.

Abrahamic religions

Main article: Abrahamic religions

Traditionally, acts of sexual nature are prohibited outside of marriage in Islamic and Judeo-Christian ethical contexts and are considered sinful. Since offenses against the virtue of chastity are most often perceived as fornication or adultery, the term has become closely associated with sexual abstinence in common usage throughout most of the English-speaking world.

Not all ethical systems proscribe all of the following, but among those acts considered as offenses against chastity are:

The state of chastity may include not only sexual abstinence but also:

Yet, as above, the particular ethical system may not prescribe each of these.

For example, within the scope of Christian ethic, Roman Catholics view sex within marriage as chaste, but prohibit the use of artificial contraception as an offense against chastity, seeing contraception as contrary to God's will and design of human sexuality. Many Anglican churches allow for artificial contraception, seeing the restriction of family size as possibly not contrary to God's will. A stricter view is held by the Shakers, who prohibit marriage (and indeed sexual intercourse under any circumstances) as a violation of chastity.

Vocational expressions of chastity


Main article: Marriage

In the context of traditional marriage, the spouses commit to a lifelong relationship which excludes the possibility of sexual intimacy with other persons. The Roman Catholic Church also forbids masturbation, and non-procreative sexuality within the confines of marriage whilst most Protestant Christian denominations disagree. Some see prohibition of unitive, non-procreative marriage as a heretical position, similar to that of the Apostoloci. [1] Many in the Catholic church seek to reform this position on Chastity, for example, see the Winnipeg Statement.

Sexual abstinence

Main article: Sexual abstinence

Virginity, the physical state of innocent sexual purity, has often been a requirement for certain religious functions, especially as priests and priestesses. For example, Vestal Virgins in Ancient Rome were required to be virgins, and remain so until they left office at about age 40.

Celibacy or consecrated virginity usually refers to ordained clergy or persons in religious orders, and is an avowed way of living in which the person forsakes all sexual gratification. Vows of chastity can also be taken by laypersons, either as part of an organised religious life (such as Roman Catholic beguines and beghards) or on an individual basis, as a voluntary act of devotion and/or as part of an ascetic lifestyle, often devoted to contemplation. The voluntary aspect has led it to being included among the counsels of perfection.

In some religions, celibate monastic life is commonly practiced as a temporary phase, as by many men in Buddhism.

The Roman Catholic Church requires a promise of celibacy prior to ordination to the diaconate by both secular clerics and religious in perpetual vows[2] Married men can be ordained only by dispensation of the Holy See.[3] Currently, this dispensation is given only to married men, ordained in another denomination, who convert.[4] Widowers with children can be ordained. By contrast, marriage is accepted or even encouraged for priests in the Anglican and many Protestant churches.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church traditions, celibacy is not required of secular priests but is required in monastic orders, from which bishops are selected. In all three traditions, celibacy is almost always required of monastics — monks, nuns and friars — even in a rare system of double cloisters, in which husbands could enter the (men's) monastery while their wives entered a (women's) sister monastery.

Anglicanism does not require celibacy of its heterosexual clergy, and rather favors married clergy- the vicar's wife is considered part of a typical parish. Most Protestant traditions allow clergy to marry; the Mormons even used to encourage polygamy, and certain subsects still do.


  1. Typical reference for chastity reform with respect to Marriage
  2. can. 1037, CIC 1983, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, decree, Ritus Ordinationum, June 29, 1989, in AAS 82 (1990) p 826 --827, n5.
  3. can. 87, CIC 1983
  4. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, statement, March 31, 1981: in Obervatore Romano English edition, April 6, 1981, p 734, 735

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).