Category Archives: Lust

The Second Deadly Sin: Lust


-in Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks around with flames to purge themselves of lustful thoughts.


-by Br Jordan Zajac OP

“We tend to equate lust with physicality—with the flesh. But it’s actually mental as well. That is, sexual vice harms the intellect. After all, humans are composite creatures: an irreducible unity of body and soul. Therefore the bad choices we make will damage them both.

The impact of lust upon the mind is something Shakespeare captures with typical genius in a poem known as “Sonnet 129.” What the speaker of this poem offers is a sustained reflection on the experience of submitting to unruly sexual passion:

Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Essentially the speaker here is contrasting the anticipated pleasure of lustful desire, which compels him to pursue it, with the emotional and moral havoc it wreaks. As soon as it is enjoyed, it is despised.

Depictions of this dynamic can be found in plenty of other literary works. But in this poem there is something more going on. Shakespeare just gets it. For he is showing how lust is actually all about irrationality. Lust is “past reason.” That is, lustful deeds are,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated…

There’s the desire before and the dejection afterwards, all because one allows passion to overrule one’s better rational judgment. Lust is frustrating and demoralizing because it robs your reason of its proper role in ordering the passions. Passion wins, and therefore I lose. It’s a flummoxing paradox. Having enjoyed what you thought you wanted so badly, you just sit there, befuddled intellectually and feeling empty emotionally. Why did I do that? It’s supremely regrettable to succumb to passion in this way. As an ancient Latin maxim puts it: “Post coitum omne animalium triste est”—After sex, all animals are sad. If it’s not real sex—that is, virtuous sex—then yes.

Lust makes one sad. Until it doesn’t anymore.

Indulged in long enough, lust instead leaves one stupid, as the philosopher Edward Feser puts it. Recall what reason does for us: it affords us the power to understand reality. To understand truth and goodness. Drawing on Aquinas, Feser explains that if you take pleasure in something that’s actually unhealthy or a false good (“Past reason hunted”), this dulls the mind’s capacity to recognize what is authentically good and true. To habitually indulge one’s lustful appetite, Feser explains, “will tend to make it harder and harder for one to see that [this indulgence is] disordered.” Lust makes you impervious to what’s really going on. You’re absorbed in a false good (one that delivers intense pleasure), refusing to admit any problem, blind to reality.

Lust has the power, in other words, to stop making you feel sad. So it is no longer “past reason hated.” It’s not hated but rather embraced, wholeheartedly and unthinkingly.

The speaker in “Sonnet 129” claims “the world knows well” the phenomenon he’s describing (even if people still struggle to resist lustful urges). But does that seem accurate for us today? It would seem that plenty of people don’t know what Shakespeare is describing. Many are self-satisfied slaves to lust. Hey, do whatever feels right!

The situation was more or less the same in Shakespeare’s time. (You don’t need to read a whole lot from the English Renaissance before realizing that.) And that phenomenon of shamelessly embracing lust is in fact at the heart of Shakespeare’s moral project in “Sonnet 129.” This poem gives marvelous voice to the sense of shame that ought to be there. It is seeking to make lust identifiable and intelligible as such. It is a light cast on lustful blindness of mind. The reader finds himself going along with the self-admonishment and disgust right from the first line of the poem.

A crucial step in the process of developing the virtue of chastity is developing a revulsion to the idea of enjoying false sexual pleasure, since you begin to see it for what it really is. When you realize how stupid you’ve been, you’re already getting smarter, Shakespeare is saying.”

Love & continence,
Matthew

Lust

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” -Mt 5:28

“Jesus is obsessed with the heart because whoever wins the heart (love or lust, God or the devil) wins the mind, the eyes, the body, and the soul . . . for eternity. Actions flow from the heart and one’s destiny is forged through one’s actions. Jesus is obsessed with the heart because that is where we know and live the spousal meaning of the body. What’s at stake is the meaning of life: living in God’s image and likeness. 108

The human heart has become “a battlefield between love and concupiscence.” 109 The more concupiscence dominates the heart, the less we experience the spousal meaning of the body and the less sensitive we become to the other as a gift. 110 We begin to see others as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved, and we lose sight of the fact that others are created for their own sake, not for ours. 111

The way one person looks upon another matters, because the look expresses what is in the heart. We reveal by our looks who we are. 112 In his letter on the dignity and vocation of women, John Paul stated: “Each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery.” 113

The Pope acknowledged that Christ’s words on adultery in the heart are severe, and they require us to assess our interior acts, motives, and impulses. 114 He explained, “The inner man is called by Christ to reach a more mature and complete evaluation that allows him to distinguish and judge the various movements of his own heart. One should add that this task can be carried out and that it is truly worthy of man.” 115

Although Christ’s words about adultery in the heart are demanding, they are not a condemnation but a calling. His words are not only a task but a gift. By restating Christ’s words, the Pope was reminding the Church in the midst of our brokenness, addictions, and weakened wills, that our call to love runs deeper than our urge to use. No matter how weighed down our hearts might be under the burden of sin, an echo of Eden remains within them.

John Paul pointed out that the awareness of our sinfulness is a necessary point of departure in historical man, and a condition for aspiring to virtue, purity of heart, and perfection. 116 A general sense of our shortcomings will not suffice. As John Paul noted, Christ “shows how deep down it is necessary to go, how the innermost recesses of the human heart must be thoroughly revealed, so that this heart might become a place in which the law is ‘fulfilled.’” 117

By fulfilled, the Pope did not mean obeyed flawlessly for the sake of conforming to external religious rules. Rather, love is the fulfillment of the law. When one rediscovers the spousal meaning of the body, one can express this through the “interior freedom of the gift.” 118

If the deepest motives of our heart are ruled by the lack of love, which is sin, we are not free to love or to make a gift of ourselves. Moral laws will seem to be nothing more than external constraints that limit our freedom. But when we become aware that the internal constraints of sin are what limit our freedom to love, we will desire to battle against them and experience true liberation. Although this will require us to be demanding toward our heart and our body, true love is not afraid of sacrifice. 119

-Evert, Jason. Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 624-665). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

108 Cf. TOB 49: 5.
109 TOB 32: 3.
110 Cf. TOB 32: 3.
111 Cf. TOB 32: 5.
112 Cf. TOB 39: 4
113 Mulieris Dignitatem, 14.
114 Cf. TOB 48: 3.
115 TOB 48: 4.
116 Cf. TOB 49: 7.
117 TOB 43: 5.
118 TOB 43: 6.
119 Cf. TOB 43: 5.