Saint Jerome on Marital Chastity

Saint Jerome, Doctor and Father of the Church

Illicit sexual acts within marriage are equivalent to fornication and adultery, as Saint Jerome taught:

“And it makes no difference how honorable may be the cause of a man’s insanity. Hence Xystus in his Sentences tells us that ‘He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer.’ It is disgraceful to love another man’s wife at all, or one’s own too much. A wise man ought to love his wife with judgment, not with passion. Let a man govern his voluptuous impulses, and not rush headlong into intercourse. There is nothing blacker than to love a wife as if she were an adulteress.” (St. Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Bk 1, n. 49)

Notice that St. Jerome states that “it makes no difference how honorable may be the cause of a man’s insanity.” In other words, the intention which motivates a man to sin is irrelevant to the morality of the act. If a sexual act is a sin, it does not matter how honorable the man’s intentions are, it is still a serious moral disorder, comparable, as a figure of speech, to the serious mental disorder of insanity.

St. Jerome plainly taught that there are sexual sins within marriage. The idea that “nothing is shameful” as long as the marital act occurs at some point in time is plainly rejected by St. Jerome. It is contrary to wisdom and good judgment for a man to have sexual relations with his wife in an inordinate manner. Though St. Jerome does not, like modern-day moral theologians, give explicit descriptions of various sexual acts, it is clear that he rejects the idea that the mere deposit of the right bodily fluid in the right location justifies all other acts.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to Saint Jerome on Marital Chastity

  1. Emily Carling says:

    Amen. Not to mention, the Catechism gives the groundwork for understanding why unnatural sexual acts, even within marriage are sins.

    Recently I contacted a well-known Catholic philosopher to clarify on her position with these acts. Well, I was deeply grieved at her response. In her mind, the morally illicit acts are okay, so long as it ‘isn’t painful’ since that is not charitable. When asked about the origin of her opinion, she stated, it was her own. She disregarded my comments on the Catechism and Church documents and ended the response with an implicit statement that one would be ‘not open’ to one’s husband and implying it would be prude to not engage in such acts.

    While it is upsetting that many married folk I continue to justify these acts, the perhaps bigger problem is that they see sexual morality within marriage as non-absolute. This is not individualism and moral relativism in disguise- it is blatant. Not to mention, Pope Saint John Paul II warned about this false morality in, Veritatis Splendor. From personal reflection and experience, it is clear that such acts within marriage would be a movement of the flesh, of lust. One may intend good, to paraphrase St. Jerome, but that is not an objective good. As Karol Wojtyla wrote in his Love and Responsibility, the ‘good’ one intends must submit to the objective ‘good’- that is, to God’s plan of procreation and union.

    To say that acts which are objectively illicit and immoral can become subjectively licit and permissible is to be ignorant of moral reasoning.This is not in accord with Church teaching and must be corrected, as we are instructed by the spiritual works of mercy. For further thought, it is helpful to read the Catechism’s definition of lust, paragraph 2351, ‘Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.’ Note, the Church specifically put the second clause of ‘isolated from […].’ Not to mention, the Catechism says capital sins open the door to other sins (CCC 1866). In other words, these acts are of lust, poisoning one’s marriage.

    This is not theological fluff- it is doctrine. Any married person who cannot honestly look inward, reflect upon the morality of their actions in light of the Church teachings, and see that these acts are lustful, is being dishonest with oneself, their spouse, and God. When questioned, in my experience, all those who say ‘the intent is love’ admit that the only ‘end’ of those acts, and what they serve, is physical pleasure. Pleasure which is put before, literally, procreative and unitive motives. This is blatant lust, though they coat with ‘good intentions.’ It does not matter. To say that immoral sexual acts are open to life and are unitive is delusional, since physical reality and reason would prove otherwise. At best, this thinking is an obscure, abstract philosophy not in line with Church teaching. And, if one is questioned about their actions, it would be wise to examine the truth of the matter, going before God with a humble heart. If one does not, one can run the risk of what the Catechism states several sins against faith, in paragraphs 2087-2089. Among those- voluntary doubt, involuntary doubt, incredulity and heresy. May we pray that the Lord send the Spirit of Truth to humble, illuminate and heal our minds, bodies and souls. May God have mercy on us all.

  2. Francisco says:

    I think St. Jerome goes beyond licit natural sexual acts, he also goes with the intention (which applies to the 3 fonts of morality). Even if all the sexual acts are natural within marriage, if the spouse does them with the intention to selfishly to satisfy his/her carnal desires only (lust – to use the other as an sexual object), said acts become immoral.

    It is advisable that before the conjugal act, the married couple, together, says the “Tobit Prayer” so the Holy Spirit graces them:

    {8:7} And Tobias said: “Lord, the God of our fathers, may the heavens and the earth bless you, and the sea, and the fountains, and the rivers, and all your creatures that are in them.
    {8:8} You formed Adam from the mud of the earth, and you gave Eve to him as a helper.
    {8:9} And now, O Lord, you know that I take my sister in conjugal union, not by reason of worldly pleasure, but solely for the love of posterity, in which your name may be blessed forever and ever.”
    {8:10} Sarah likewise said, “Be merciful to us, O Lord, be merciful to us. And let us both grow old together in health.”

    Amen.

    The act will be pleasurable in Spirit and body.

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