Modesty and Catholic Teaching

Is Modesty an impossibility?

NO - Proves St. Dominic Savio: His motto, Death but not Sin

NO - teaches Pope Pius XII: God does not command the impossible, but in commanding serves notice that one do what he can, and pray for what he cannot, and He helps us to accomplish it.


    “The sins which cause most souls to go to hell are the sins of the flesh.”

    These are the words of Jacinta, one of three children to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima.

    As one means of preventing souls from damning themselves we offer the following article aimed especially toward aiding and inspiring men and boys in the necessary virtue of purity; and this because, probably as never before, do males find themselves so confronted with wholesale exhibiting-and-denuding-process increasingly undertaken by the opposite sex.

    The majority of young boys are almost certain to fall into sins of impurity since they are hardly prepared to wage war on the overwhelming temptations about them. For how many receive clear instruction as to mortifying their senses, especially their eyes, that they may prevent impure thoughts which in turn are the breeding ground of impure actions?

    Even among those whose obligation it is to form character in the young, there has been noticed a compromising, rationalistic attitude which strays far from that example given us by the saints and our own Holy Fathers.

    This is evident in the promotion even by parish groups, of dances, picnics and other worldly affairs for the young which only whet their carnal appetites. More deplorable is it, that while such practices are increasing, due to the high material standard of living in this country, there is an almost total absence of instruction in sensible mortification. At the same time it is wondered: where are all the vocations to the religious life?

    We ourselves have helped to slay them.


Above all, heed the Holy Catholic Church, THE pillar of truth, the ONE divinely ordained guide in morality for all who care to hear.


“Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart . . .” John V, 8


God’s Gift to us . . .

Saint Dominic Savio (1842-1857)

             -- a refutation to all who sneer at purity as an impossibility.

             -- an inspiration to all who would subject their flesh to reason and not vice versa.


15 years and the grace of God . . . .  This boy attained sainthood in the fulfillment of duties familiar to any schoolboy. Here cited is an instance of how he used his free will in attaining purity of mind and body.


    Dominic’s great devotion was to the Mother of God. Every day he offered her an act of mortification. He would never stare at girls; he used to control his eyes on his way to school through the city streets. Sometimes, his friends might be lost in gaping at some exciting sight, but when they asked Dominic about it he had not even seen it. One boy angrily questioned him, “What are your eyes for if you don’t use them to see what’s going on?”

    “I’ll use them to look at the face of our Blessed Mother in Heaven when I go to see her,” was the prompt reply.

    He had a special love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When in church he always knelt before her altar, begging her for the grace of keeping his heart free from every impure desire. “Mary,” he would pray, “ I always want to be your son. Let me die rather than commit a single sin against chastity.”

    He had to force himself to control his eyes, for he was by nature very quick to observe things. He told a friend, “When I first made up my mind to control my eyes, I found it was not easy. Sometimes it gave me a violent headache.” And yet he achieved such complete mastery that those who knew him admitted that they had never seen him even glance at anything that might in any way be immodest.

    “The eyes are two windows,” he would say. “We can let anything pass through, an angel or a devil, to take over our hearts.”

- Valuable Instruction From Pius XII -

Excerpted from Pope Pius XII Encyclical Letter On Holy Virginity, March 25, 1954

(Italics our own - paragraphs numbered according to encyclical.).


21. . . . It must be . . . admitted that as a consequence of the fall of Adam the lower faculties of human nature are no longer obedient to right reason, and may involve man in dishonorable actions.


36. In order to acquire this perfect mastery of the spirit over the senses, it is not enough to  refrain from acts directly contrary to chastity, but it is necessary also generously to renounce anything that may offend this virtue nearly or remotely; at such a price will the soul be able to reign fully over the body and lead its spiritual life in peace and liberty. Who then does not see,  in the light of Catholic principles, that perfect chastity and virginity, far from harming the normal unfolding of man or woman, on the contrary endow them with the highest moral nobility.

49. Indeed, St. Methodius, Bishop of Olympus, compares virgins to martyrs, and St. Gregory the Great teaches that perfect chastity substitutes for martyrdom: “Now, though the era of persecution is gone, yet our peace has its martyrdom, because though we bend not the neck to the sword, yet with a spiritual weapon we slay fleshly desires in our hearts.” Hence a chastity dedicated to God demands strong and noble souls, souls ready to do battle and conquer “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

51. Wherefore, if there are any “who do not feel they have the gift of chastity even though they have vowed it, let them not declare they cannot fulfill their obligations in this matter. “For,” says the Council of Trent, quoting St. Augustine, “’God does not command the impossible, but in commanding serves notice that one do what he can, and pray for what he cannot,’ and He helps us to accomplish it.” This truth, so full of encouragement, We recall to those also whose will has been weakened by upset nerves and whom some doctors, sometimes even Catholic doctors, are too quick to persuade that they should be freed from such an obligation, advancing the specious reason that they cannot preserve their chastity without suffering some harm to their mental balance. How much more useful and opportune it is to help the infirm of this type to strengthen their will, and to advise them that not even to them is chastity impossible, according to the word of the Apostle: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”

52. Here are the helps, commended to us by our Divine Redeemer, by which we may efficaciously protect our virtue: constant vigilance, whereby we diligently do all that we can; moreover, constant prayer to God, asking for what we cannot attain by ourselves, because of our weakness. “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” A vigilance which guards every moment of our lives and every type of circumstance is absolutely necessary for us: “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh.” But if anyone grants however little to the enticements of the flesh, he will see himself quickly pulled toward those “works of the flesh, which the Apostle lists, the basest and ugliest vices of man.

53. Hence we must watch particularly over the movements of our passions and of our senses, and so control them by voluntary discipline in our lives and by bodily mortification that we render them obedient to right reason and God’s law: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.” The Apostle of the Gentiles says this about himself: “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” All holy men and women have most carefully guarded the movements of their senses and their passions, and at times have very harshly crushed them, in keeping with the teaching of the Divine Master: “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that thy whole body be cast into hell.”


It is abundantly clear that with this warning Our Saviour demands of us above all that we never consent to any sin, even internally, and that we steadfastly remove far from us anything that can even slightly tarnish the beautiful virtue of purity. In this matter no diligence, no severity can be considered exaggerated. If ill health or other reasons do not allow one heavier corporal austerities, yet they never free one from vigilance and internal self-control.

54. On this point it should be noted, as indeed the Fathers and Doctors of the Church teach, that we can more easily struggle against and repress the wiles of evil and the enticements of the passions if we do not struggle directly against them, but rather flee from them as best we may. For the preserving of chastity, according to the teaching of Jerome, flight is more effective than open warfare: “Therefore I flee, lest I be overcome.” Flight must be understood in this sense, that not only do we diligently avoid occasions of sin, but especially that in struggles of this kind we lift our minds and hearts to God, intent above all on Him to Whom we have vowed our virginity. “Look upon the beauty of your Lover,” St. Augustine  tells us.

55. Flight and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective method of combat in this matter; today however it does not seem that everybody holds the same opinion. Some indeed claim that all Christians, and the clergy in particular, should “take the risk” and put their chastity to the test in order to show whether or not they have the strength to resist; therefore, they say, let young clerics see everything so that they may accustom themselves to gaze at everything with equanimity, and thus render themselves immune to all temptations. For this reason they readily grant young clerics the liberty to turn their eyes in any direction without the slightest concern for modesty; they may attend motion pictures, ever those forbidden by ecclesiastical censorship; they may peruse even obscene periodicals; they may read novels which are listed in the Index of forbidden books or prohibited  by the Natural Law. All this they allow because today the multitudes are  fed by this kind of amusement and publication and because those who are minded to help them should understand their way of thinking and feeling. But it is easily seen that this method of educating and training the clergy to acquire the sanctity proper to their calling is wrong and harmful. For “he that loveth danger shall perish in it”; most appropriate in this connection is the admonition of Augustine: “Do not say that you have a chaste mind if your eyes are unchaste, because an unchaste eye betrays an unchaste heart.”

61. Moreover there is another argument worthy of attentive consideration: to preserve chastity unstained neither vigilance nor modesty suffice. Those helps must also be used which entirely surpass the powers of nature, namely prayer to God, the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, a fervent devotion to the most holy Mother of God.

62. Never should it be forgotten that perfect chastity is a great gift of God. For this reason Jerome wrote these succinct words, “It is given to those, who have asked for it, who have desired it, who have worked to receive it. For it will be given to everyone who asks, the seeker will find, to the importunate it will be opened.” Ambrose adds that the constant fidelity of virgins to their Divine Spouse depends upon prayer. With that fervent piety for which he was noted St. Alphonsus Liguori taught that there is no help more necessary and certain for conquering temptations against the beautiful virtue of chastity than instant recourse to God in prayer.

63. To prayer must be added frequent and fervent use of the Sacrament of Penance which, as a spiritual medicine, purifies and heals us; likewise it is necessary to receive the Eucharist, which, as Our predecessor of happy memory Leo XIII asserted, is the best remedy against lust. The more pure and chaste is a soul the more it hungers for this bread, from which it derives strength to resist all temptations to sins of impurity, and by which it is more intimately united with the Divine Spouse; “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in Me and I in him.”

64. The eminent way to protect and nourish an unsullied and perfect chastity, as proven by experience time and again throughout the course of centuries, is solid and fervent devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. In a certain way all other helps are contained in this devotion; there is no doubt that whoever is sincerely and earnestly animated  by this devotion is salutarily inspired to constant vigilance, to continual prayer, to receive the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.

65. That virginity owes its origin to Mary is the testimony of Athanasius, and Augustine clearly teaches that “The dignity of virginity began with the Mother of the Lord.” Pursuing the ideas of Athanasius, Ambrose holds up the life of the Virgin Mary as the model of virgins. “Imitate her, my daughters...! Let Mary’s life be for you like the portrayal of virginity, for from her, as though from a mirror, is reflected the beauty of chastity and the ideal of virtue. See in her the pattern of your life, for in her, as though in a model, manifest teachings of goodness show what you should correct, what you should copy and what preserve . . . She is the image of virginity.

66. But it is not enough, beloved sons and daughters, to meditate on the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary: with absolute confidence fly to her and obey the counsel of St. Bernard, “Let us seek grace and seek it through Mary.”



Modesty Standards

How do we know what the Church approves? Has She given specific standards of modesty in dress?

       Yes. On January 12, 1930, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, by mandate of Pope Pius XI, issued emphatic instructions on modesty of dress to all Bishops, directing them to insist on these prescriptions of September 24, 1928:

       “We recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.”

       “ Let parents keep their daughters away from public gymnastic games and contests; but if their daughters are compelled to attend such exhibitions, let them see that they are fully and modestly dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb.”

       The feminine loss of the sense of modesty is indicated by Pope Pius XII who says, “How many girls there are who do not see any wrong doing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them” (July 17, 1954).

         “O Christian mothers, if only you knew the future of distress and peril, of shame ill-restrained, that you prepare for your sons and daughters in imprudently accustoming them to live hardly clothed and in making them lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves and the harm done the little ones whom heaven entrusted to your care, to be reared in Christian dignity and culture.”

       The opinion which allows custom to decide the question of modesty is refuted by Pope Pius XII in one short sentence, “There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved” in modesty of dress. (Nov. 8, 1957.) Custom pays little attention to absolute norms, but is a product of another false principle, ”The majority cannot go wrong.” “Modesty is a matter of custom” is just as wrong as “Honesty is a matter of custom.”


What about those who teach “What is customary does not affect us?”

    Pope Pius XII, again, calls this application of an ancient principle to modesty one of “the most insidious of sophisms.” He calls attention to the fact that some use this sophism “in order to brand as old fashioned the rebellion of honest people against fashions which are too bold.” (Nov. 8, 1957.)

    The pronouncements of the Popes seem to make no distinctions for various types of garments. Thus, Pope Pius XII states that “An unworthy and indecent mode of dress has prevailed,” without indicating any distinction of place, “on the beaches, in country resorts, almost everywhere, on the streets, etc.” (Aug. 20, 1954). Further, His quotation of the “ancient poet” as saying that “Vice necessarily follows upon public nudity” (Ibid.) applies to all places, beach or elsewhere. American Modernists will be shocked to learn that His Eminence Enrique Cardinal Pla Y Daniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain, issued the following directives in 1959:

       “A special danger to morals is represented by public bathing at beaches, in pools and river banks . . . Mixed bathing between men and women which nearly always is a proximate occasion of sin and a scandal, must be avoided.”



The more the memory blots out His Passion, the more it will be enslaved by impurity.


Comments from Jacinta, one of the three Fatima seers, just before her death:

“The sins which cause most souls to go to hell are the sins of the flesh.”

“Many marriages are not of God, and do not please our Lord.”



From a  Blue Army of Our Lady publication. IMPRIMATUR: Most Rev. Geo. W. Ahr., S.T.D. Bishop of Trenton