Marriage Made for Heaven
On Lust & the Proper Schooling of Sexual Desire
by Miguel A. Endara
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis noted that, “the better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all.”
In this passage Lewis seems to have had in mind the Latin aphorism corruptio optimi pessima, “the corruption of the best is the worst.” So may we think of Lucifer, the light-bearer in Christian theology and tradition, the one with the potential to produce the greatest creaturely good; yet he became Satan, the Adversary, the one with the potential to produce the greatest creaturely evil.
This idea also applies to natural human inclinations or desires: those with the greatest potential for good also have the greatest potential for evil. A prime example is sexual desire. God created this desire for marital unity and for the procreation and rearing of children in a strong family unit. When two individuals come together as one flesh (Gen. 2:24) in the conjugal union, they may not only experience the most physically and emotionally fulfilling of all human relationships, but also receive a foretaste of the Beatific Vision—the unmediated or direct knowledge of and communion with God enjoyed by the angels and the redeemed in heaven. Such is the potential of sexual desire for good.
But it also has the potential to produce great evil. When the desire for sexual expression is driven by lust, when it is sought for selfish ends and is disconnected from both the earthly goods and the transcendent final end that God has ordained for it, then sex has the power to subvert human well-being and to destroy marriages and families.
Whether we will use our sexuality to produce great good or great evil depends upon how we school the expression of this desire: as a virtue or as a vice.
The Ravenous Nature of Lust
Lust, as Thomas Aquinas explains in his Summa Theologiae II-II, is the inability to govern sexual desire. In Thomistic and classical theology it is classified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins or Capital Vices. These are vices that, through frequent repetition, become pernicious habits, deeply ingrained dispositions or character traits that undermine a person’s physical and spiritual well-being. Conversely, virtues are habits that promote human flourishing.
As with every other vice, lust gradually tightens its grip upon its subject. If a person does not possess the inner fortitude to resist it, it matures into a necessity. As Augustine put it in his Confessions, “The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity.”
In its mature state, lust, like a ravenous wolf, is never satiated. It relentlessly drives those in its grip to seek to pacify, if only transiently, their ever-present hunger for sexual gratification. But the more they gratify their desire, the more famished they become, and the more they seek to satiate themselves once again. With each bout of desire and satiation, the lustful also experience guilt, shame, and sometimes self-hatred, thus allowing them to spiral, ever deeper, without restraint.
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more on sex from the online archives
more from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor