This article is in response to a question concerning the idea supposedly promoted in the book, “Love & Responsibility’ by Karol Wojtyła, before becoming Pope John Paul II.
The book supposedly promotes the idea that, “an attire (he explicitly mentions attire that would include one being ‘partially nude’) in it’s proper place and function is modest! The Church teaches that our sexuality is to be integrated in the entire of our being. Not eliminated! It is not about ‘what’ is worn but about why and where it is worn. This includes bikinis.”
Here is our reply.
“Love and Responsibility” is a book written by Karol Wojtyła before he became Pope John Paul II. Therefore, it is not infallible and can be only taken as his opinion on the subject, and is not in any way an explicit example of what the Catholic Church in her entirety promotes and teaches concerning how we are to properly dress our bodies in a way that keeps with its dignity.
Also important to note, “Theology of the Body”, is not magisterial teaching. “In short, the whole argument is about a fascinating and potentially useful constellation of ideas that do not form part of the essential teaching of the Faith…. It’s just somebody’s opinion, not the End of the World or the Consummation of All Things.” source
Logically and Theologically, what the Church teaches concerning these matters has much more weight than one Cardinal who had an opinion, that seems to contradict previous Church Teaching, Theology, Papal Encyclicals, and Father / Doctors of the Church’s counsels on the matter.
Does this mean that men and women who are unaware of the dignity of their bodies and who dress immodestly are sinning? God knows the details. But those who are aware of the inherent dignity that our bodies have, will be held accountable.
Let us first break down the inherent dignity of our bodies.
We know that our bodies are not bad, for when God completed the six days of creation, “He saw that it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) They were created specifically to give honor and glory to God. Alice von Hildebrand, gives a good explanation of this in her article, “Nakedness or Nudity” :
” The most perfect among all the creatures mentioned in Genesis, is man, (homo) for he is made to God’s image and likeness. There is an endless hierarchy among creatures, but those that are “images” (imago) of God are greatly superior to those who are just traces (vestigium) of His power.”
” Adam and Eve were created beautiful. I am not only referring to the ontological beauty of creatures made to God’s image and likeness, but also “artistically” beautiful. The body of a human person is a masterpiece. Magnificent as animals are and can be, none of them has the dignity and nobility of a human body. “
” Nudity calls for covering because of its mystery, and this mystery should be unveiled only in the privileged moments when God allows the spouses to reveal themselves to each other in the sacrament of matrimony.” (Which is pretty much what Karol Wojtyła was talking about in his “Theology of the Body” and “Love & Responsibility”. He was not giving us the “OK” to walk around half naked.
Original Sin gave us Concupiscence; we now have the obligation to honor our God-given bodies by covering them with dignity and modesty, and are unable to live without being subject of the rebellions of the flesh, as Adam & Eve were before the Fall.
Before Original sin came about, Genesis Chapter 2: 25 says that “And they were both naked: to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed.” Then, in Genesis Chapter 3 verses 6-10 it relates:
” And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons. And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. “
The Douay-Rheims Bible has a footnote that explains something very important, ”  “And the eyes”: Not that they were blind before, (for the woman saw that the tree was fair to the eyes, ver. 6.) nor yet that their eyes were opened to any more perfect knowledge of good; but only to the unhappy experience of having lost the good of original grace and innocence, and incurred the dreadful evil of sin. From whence followed a shame of their being naked; which they minded not before; because being now stript of original grace, they quickly began to be subject to the shameful rebellions of the flesh.”
A question one might ask oneself is, “How exactly could something of such great importance, as called by the Church, suddenly no longer be so? Have we lost our concupiscence which we have been born with, thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin? Have we gained a miraculous ability to no longer be tempted? Is Original Sin merely situational? “
Alice von Hildebrand speaks volumes concerning this in her article, saying this of downplaying of temptation and the like, “King David’s sins underscore how sexual desire can degenerate into what Dietrich calls “diabolical” temptations. Some of the most atrocious perversions occur when the Devil takes over completely. And one should never downplay, or minimize, the gravity of these evils. It is plainly false to claim that such abuses are “tragic,” rather than “filthy.””
“ Never, absolutely never would a saint say, “I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh”. Never would a saint declare that, were he to see a naked woman, his acquaintance with the Theology of the Body would guarantee that he wouldn’t be subject to temptation. As Monsignor Knox points out, to believe a Christian, however faithful, can place himself in spiritual danger and never fall prey to it, is a common error among religious enthusiasts. The Beghards come to mind: Thus these enthusiasts “looked upon decency and modesty as marks of inward corruption, as the characters of a soul that was still under the dominion of the sensual, animal, and lascivious spirit, and that was not really united to the divine nature. This was the account they themselves gave of their promiscuous lodging, and the nudism practiced in their assemblies.” (Enthusiasm, 1950, p. 125) Such people, writes Msgr. Knox, believed that once “they yield their bodies to the Holy Ghost,” they ”would never sin again.” (p. 567) In the presence of a living woman, he continues, the enthusiast, is “ trained to feel as though he were standing by a wall of stone. His eye must be rendered cold, his pulse must be kept calm.” (p. 573). But this is to commit the sin of presumption.
It must be remarked, however, that there are situations in which a priest can find himself in dangerous situation “without being endangered”: for example when a slightly clad prostitute is struck by a car, and calls for help. It is the duty of a priest to respond to this call: God will give him the grace to concentrate exclusively on his mission, bringing the dying person to God. Professional grace is also given to doctors: otherwise, no doctor should accept operating on a very beautiful female body because, instead of operating on a sick patient, he would be preoccupied with sexual fantasies.”
And again, back to Genesis, Alice von Hildebrand notes ” we have been profoundly affected by original sin.
‘In paradise there was perfect harmony between Adam and Eve. There was no concupiscence.’
‘After original sin, not only were we separated from God and condemned to losing eternity. On top of it, every single human faculty was affected. Our intelligence was darkened. Our will was weakened. And all of a sudden, we had the dreadful experience of something called concupiscence.
Before the Fall, there was no inner temptation to impurity between Adam and Eve even though they were naked, After they sinned, the two started to look at one another with concupiscence.
The Fall had consequences that are ‘so serious’ that it was only the Redemption and the grace of God could remedy.
The fight against concupiscence is not an easy process. It is something that calls for holiness, which very few of us achieve. It is a sheer illusion to believe that by some sort of new technique we can find the solution to the problem.”
Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote a last book that she finished on the 25th of March 1997 , in this book, Lucia speaks about the customs of her country at the time of the apparitions and, naturally, she speaks about the clothing:
“ God did not give us clothing as an adornment in order to feed our human vanity and frivolity. No! He gave it to us as a protection against sin, as a sign of penance for sin committed, and a punishment for it, as well as to remind us of the laws of God which we are all obliged to obey.
Let us begin by examining how it is a sign of punishment and penance for sin committed, and a protection against temptation. The sacred text tells us that, after they had sinned, Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves; but God did not think this was enough because, Sacred Scripture tells us, He “made clothes out of skins for the man and his wife, and they put them on.” (Gen. 3, 21).
Besides being a protection against sin, the modest clothing with which we must cover ourselves is a distinguishing mark setting us apart in the stream of immorality and enabling us to be, for the world, true witnesses of Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ” 2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”
“Guiding how one looks at others” – aside from the Theological problems of immodest dress, the secular has brought some interesting data concerning Bikinis. Lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University recently published date in 2009, from brain scans revealing that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women. Fiske noted, “some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions” and, in fact, ” the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.” This means that these men see women “as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds,” Fiske said. “The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens.” – source –
Considering this automatic brain response, is it the Christian thing to do, whether we want make ourselves sexy or not, to dress this way? What would a Saint do?
And finally, the most important question: DOES THIS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD TO THE DIGNITY TO WOMEN!? Uhm, yes. Yes it does.
The Church decries immodesty in dress, not only in thought, word & speech.
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) spoke of the deplorable immodesty in society, in his Encyclical to the Third Order St. Francis, “SACRA PROPEDIEM“, and encouraged especially the Tertiary Sisters, “by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
He goes on to say, about society:
“..one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those fashions as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares…..
In what concerns specially the Tertiary Sisters, We ask of them by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
In the Encyclical, “Ad Salutem“, April 30, 1930, Pope Pius XI stated that, ” Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish immodest fashions of dress.”
Cardinal Sbarretti Sabine wrote in the Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries on Indecent Women’s Fashion by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930,
“Often when the occasion arose, the Pope disapproved and condemned severely indecent modes introduced everywhere today in the clothing habits of women and girls even Catholic; not only these modes gravely offend the dignity and feminine grace, but unfortunately cause temporal damage for the woman and, what is worse, his eternal loss and others.”
Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.)
“Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.”
This was before the Bikini came out in 1946; Designer Louis Reard was unable to find a ‘respectable’ model for his costume and the job of displaying it went to 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. According to research, it was banned in Catholic Countries such as Spain, Brazil & Portugal and deemed sinful by the Vatican.
Father of the Church St. Clement of Alexandria wrote,
“But by no manner of means are women to be allotted to uncover and exhibit any part of their person, lest both fall — the men by being excited to look, the women by drawing on themselves the eyes of the men. But always must we conduct ourselves as in the Lord’s presence.”
We know that the Catholic Church is not Sharia Law, and does not mean to cover women’s bodies from head to toe. Prudence and common sense is called for, and for Mass there are Modesty Guidelines.
St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church also spoke of Modesty, “All outside appearances reveal the condition of our mind; although our passions are hidden, they manifest themselves exteriorly… Modesty is suitable for all ages and for all classes of persons; for all times and places.” (De Officiis 1:18-19)
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church writes in his book, “True Spouse of Jesus Christ“,
” Almost all our rebellious passions spring from unguarded looks; for, generally speaking, it is by the sight that all inordinate affections and desires are excited.
The devil first tempts us to look, then to desire, and afterwards to consent. St. Jerome says that Satan requires ‘only a beginning on our part.’ If we begin, he will complete our destruction.”
He also speaks of immodesty in his “Full Ascetical Works:
“A mortal sin of scandal committed by women that go with them shamelessly exposed breast, or that expose their members incorrectly. Also by the actors in lewd comedies , and more par people who make up these comedies ; also by painters who paint obscene images or like, and by the heads of families who keep these photos in their homes . The father who speaks obscene or blasphemous saints in the presence of her children, and the mother who brings in her home to live among his girls young men who are in love with them Or fiancées or other suspects, are guilty of a more serious sin of scandal. Some mothers say, “I do not think any harm.” I reply that it is their duty to suspect; otherwise they shall give account to God for all the sins that can follow.”
( Full ascetical works of St. Alphonsus , vol 15, p. 399-400)
In Ven. Pope Pius XII , Allocution to the International Congress of High Fashion, (November 8, 1957, Petrópolis: Vozes, 1958, pp. 12-13.) He speaks thoroughly on fashions and the issues of immorality but also of prudence,
” The Church does not reprove or condemn a fashion when it is intended to be a fair decorum and adornment of the body. However, she never fails to warn the faithful against its easy deviations. This positive attitude of the Church derives from higher motives than the merely aesthetic and hedonist ends defended by a new paganism.
She knows and teaches that the human body, a masterpiece of God in the visible world at the service of the soul, was elevated by the Divine Redeemer to be a temple and instrument of the Holy Ghost, and must be respected as such.
Its beauty, therefore, should not be exalted as an end per se and still less as in a way that degrades that acquired dignity.
In point of fact, it is indisputable that, besides an honest fashion, there is another immoral one, which is a cause of disturbance – if not a stimulus to evil – to tranquil spirits.
It is always difficult to set out universal rules for the boundaries between honesty and immorality, since the moral evaluation of clothing relies on many factors. However, the alleged relativity of fashion regarding different times, places, persons and formations is not a valid reasont a priori not to issue a moral judgment about this or that fashion that transgresses the boundaries of a normal modesty.
Modesty, almost of itself, immediately sounds an alert to the presence of indecency and seduction, materialism and luxury – or even just frivolity. If the architects of the immoral fashions are skilfull in disguising perversion by mixing it with an ensemble of honest aesthetic elements, still more skilfull and quick is human sensuality to discover it and feel its fascination.
One who has sensitivity to discern the insidious character of evil should not be censured, as if this were an effect of an inner depravatity: on the contrary, such sensitivity is a sign of purity of spirit and vigilance over the passions.
No matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of fashion may be, when a danger is noticed,there is always an absolute norm to be maintained after having heard the admonition of conscience: fashion must never be a near occasion of sin.”
The Bikini and Nudity – a pagan practice?
Ven. Fulton Sheen spoke of the three Characteristics of the Diabolical, with “Love of nudity” being among them.
In a secular article titled, “Paganism: A Naked Rebellion: A look at paganism, its affinity for nudity, and how it differs from mainstream religions”, Brian Dunning, a science writer and author writes about the popularity of nudity in paganism:
“One popular allure of paganism is its embracing of free sex and public nudity. I’ve always believed that more people secretly appreciate free sex and public nudity than are willing to admit it. Wiccans have even institutionalized nudity, calling it ‘skyclad.’ “
The Jesuits in Brazil, 1549, had found the nudity of the Brazilian Indian women to be of the most trying native custom. But later, they found the newly-converted Christian women then wore clothing. (source)
Forms of the Bikini has been around for thousands of years: Archaeologist James Mellaart described the earliest bikini-like costume in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia in the Chalcolithic era (around 5600 BC), where a mother goddess is depicted astride two leopards wearing a costume somewhat like a bikini.
” In Rome, the first regular exercise was almost exclusively done for military preparedness. Agrippa wanted to extend athletic training to promote the practicality for both men and women. Thus, the two-piece garment became more of a daily item than a fashion statement.
In ‘Coronation of the Winner’, a mosaic on the floor of a Roman villa in Sicily that dates from the Diocletian period (286–305 AD), young women participate in weightlifting, discus throwing, and running ball games dressed in bikini-like garments. “ source
It was around the year 203 A.D. that Early Christian Martyr St. Perpetua was known to cover her legs as she was thrown to and fro in the lion dens – to cover her modesty! “When she was thrown into the air by a savage bull in the amphitheatre at Carthage, her first thought and action when she fell to the ground was to rearrange her dress to cover her thigh, because she was more concerned for modesty than pain.”
Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Girls of Catholic Action, speaking of St. Perpetua
This speaks volumes of the difference between the Pagans and Christians idea of modesty in dress.
To finish, Michael D. O’Brien of LifeSiteNews wrote, ” The naked human body will always be for us something about which we cannot remain absolutely neutral—precisely because this ‘something’ is not a thing, and never will be, no matter how determined we are to make it so.” and he adds, ” In former generations there was a good deal of unhealthy fear of the body, a kind of wound caused by the errors of puritanical sects or the heresy of Jansenism.”
Therefore, we can conclude with confidence, that nudity, partial or total is not Christian, nor is it promoted by Karol Wojtyła , and even if it was, it is not of Church Teaching and can be deemed invalid and not characteristic of Catholic Teaching.