Of God and His Creatures

Arguments against Perpetual Continence, with Replies

ARG. 1. The good of the species is more godlike than the good of the individual. He then who abstains altogether from the act whereby the species is perpetuated, sins more than he would by abstaining from the act whereby the individual is preserved, namely, eating and drinking.

Reply. Things that belong to the necessity of the individual stand on a different footing from things that belong to the necessity of the community. In the necessities of the individual, individual provision must be made: everyone must make use of meat and drink. But in the necessities of the community it is neither needful nor possible for the office of meeting such needs to be assigned to every individual. Many things are necessary to a multitude of men, which no one individual can attend to: therefore there must be different offices for different persons, as in the body the several members have their several functions. Since then procreation is not a necessity of the individual, but a necessity of the species, there is no need for all men to be procreants; but some men may abstain, and devote themselves to other offices, as to the life of a soldier or a contemplative.

Arg. 2. By divine ordinance there are given to man members apt for procreation, and a force of appetite inciting him thereto: whoever then altogether abstains from procreation seems to resist the ordinance of God.

Reply. Divine providence gives to man endowments necessary for the species as a whole: still there is no call upon every individual man to make use of every one of these endowments. Thus man has a building capacity and a fighting capacity: yet all men need not be builders or soldiers; neither need every one apply himself to procreation.*

Arg. 3. If it is good for one man to lead a life of continence, it is better for many so to do, and the best thing of all would be for all to do it: so the human race would become extinct.*

Reply. From things necessary to the community, though it be better for individuals to abstain, when one is given to better things, still it is not good for all to abstain. This is apparent in the order of the universe. Though a pure spirit is better than a bodily substance, still that would not be a better but a more imperfect universe, in which there were pure spirits alone. Though the eye is better than the foot, it would not be a perfect animal that had not both eye and foot. So neither would the state of the commonwealth of man kind be perfect, unless there were some applied to acts of procreation, and others abstaining from such acts and given to contemplation.

Arg. 4. Chastity, like other virtues, lies in the mean. Therefore he acts against virtue, who altogether abstains from the gratification of his appetites.*

Reply. This objection has been already solved in treating of poverty (Chapp. CXXXII, CXXXV, Arg. 6). Irrational abstinence from all [lawful] sexual pleasures is called the vice of insensibility: but a rational abstinence [from all even lawful forms of such gratification] is a virtue exceeding the common measure of man, for it puts man in some sort of participation of the likeness of God. Hence virginity is said to be allied to angels.*

But though we say in general that it is better for one individual to observe continence than to use marriage, it may very well be that for some other individual the second course is the better. Hence the Lord says: Not all men take this word: whoever can take, let him take (Matt. xix, 11, 12).

3.134 : In what the Good of Poverty consists
3.139 : Against those who find fault with Vows