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Series on Purity – Part V

The Material Man vs. the Spiritual Man

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Someone could raise this objection: You stated that every people which surrenders to immorality deteriorates from the intellectual point of view [see Part IV]. Does this apply also to England? Are you telling us that the country that produced Shakespeare, the ceremonial of the Royal Court, the Tower of London and the Parliament building does not have spiritual gifts?

The Beatles

Preaching an anarchical liberty for the passions, the Beatles became idols of an entire generation
The answer is not difficult. From the moment England became Protestant, a stream of immorality began to flow into it. First, it was divorce; then, it opened the door to countless other kinds of immorality. Since England had many strong traditional values born in Catholic Civilization – the English Monarchy, solemn ceremonials, great universities and many other institutions with long histories – England’s spiritual life continued, fed by those factors. But the country’s energy and force were corroded by an incessantly growing immorality.

Today England is expressed much more by a youth like the Beatles than an old aristocrat attached to the Crown. This Beatle-type of youth finds his paradise in England. He is an asinine person, dirty, irrational, living from impulses and dominated by matter. He is a slave of his own nerves, a slave of matter. This translates as a man whose body imposes a tyranny over his soul.

This explains the gigantic explosion of the Beatle phenomenon, which is taking over the new generation and will not leave one stone unturned in England. I believe it has penetrated the English mentality even more than the American.

Impurity, therefore, diminishes the influence of the spirit in man, making it slow to act, and gives priority to matter. Scripture calls this type of man, animalis homo, an animal-man. He acts more like a beast than a man; he has lost entirely the sense of the things of God.

A slothful student

The uninterested student leans toward impurity
In a classroom, the impure pupil does not pay attention to the lecture. He catches a fly and starts to play with it: He puts it in the ink bottle and makes it walk over a blank sheet of paper. He makes paper wads to throw at other students to tease or bother them.

I remember when I was a child, the moral behavior of the better pupils in class was good. The worse ones were those who were impure. They were the ones who remained seated at the end of the class, who ate or drank when the teacher was not watching them, who lacked any interest in the subject being taught. The only time these students became interested was at recess, when soccer would be played. Many of them were good at soccer. They were great at playing with their feet, poor at using their heads…

These are, unfortunately, the devastations of impurity. This is why when impurity dominates, civilizations go under.

The strength of the spiritual man

The opposite happens with purity. It gives a strength of soul that makes a man love what is spiritual and its own dignity. The spirit has a dignity immensely superior to matter. Our likeness to angels comes through the spirit; we are related to the beasts through matter. This explains why the spirit is much more elevated than matter.

The spiritual man likes to think; his will delights in making decisions; both his intelligence and will like to fight and dominate matter. These attitudes characterize the spiritual man. Since he likes to dominate over matter and keep it within its proper boundaries, he likes to prevent the strong waves of impurity from overpowering him.

Virgins in Paradise - Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico paints the virgins in Paradise with a light that comes from within
From this comes the strength of the spiritual man. He does not despise matter, because matter is good and was created by God. Therefore, he knows how to take care of his health and get the proper rest and nourishment necessary for “brother body” – as St. Francis of Assisi used to call it. He takes a reasonable pleasure in things.

But such pleasure has a limit, since he knows that he was conceived in original sin and that the body is always wanting things it should not have. Sometimes it wants to eat too much, other times to drink excessively, yet others, to sleep more than necessary, to listen to music without stop, to take too much pleasure in perfumes, and so on. At every moment the body asks for what is beyond the due measure. The spiritual man knows how to keep his body within its legitimate boundaries.

To achieve this goal, his primary fight is made against the lowest of the senses. Do not misunderstand me, please, I am not censuring the sense of touch per se. I am saying that it is necessary to fight against disorders that occur with this sense.

The best way for a man to win this fight is to maintain the state of perfect chastity. If a man remains entirely chaste, refusing any occasion to yield to impurity – never consenting to a bad thought or a bad look – he is in an excellent condition to make his spirit triumph over matter. Doing this, he deserves glory, the glory of a man who shines with a nobleness of spirit.

This is why the Catholic Church gives great importance to virginity. When someone says, “That lady is virgin,” what is he praising in her? He is commending how she has ordered her spirit and admiring how she tamed and dominated her unbridled tendencies. She became a spirit, so to speak, light and transparent.

In his pictures, Fra Angelico painted the virgins shining with a clarity that comes from within and illuminates the exterior. Why? Because the spirit is luminous, while matter is opaque. He wants to represent this radiating translucence of the spirit.


Blason de Charlemagne
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This lecture for young men delivered in 1967 was translated from the
transcript of a tape and adapted for this series of articles by A. S. Guimarães

Posted Ocotber 16, 2009

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