Catholic sexual morality reserves sexual relations to marriage. This is because the Catholic tradition believes that sexual relations should be the union of those who are completely committed to each other.
In the second reading for this Sunday (1 Corinthians 6, 13-15, 17-20), St. Paul offers his vision of the body in regard to Christ. It seems that some of the Christians in Corinth continued to visit prostitutes. Paul impresses upon them that when they were baptized, they belong to Christ: “You are Christ’s body, and each is a part” (1 Cor 12:27). Every person baptized into Christ is a part of Christ’s body. This relation to Christ is not only something spiritual in their souls, but in their complete person, including their bodies: “Your bodies are members of Christ” (1 Cor 6:15).
Paul insists: “The body… is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body” (1 Cor 6:13). St. Thomas Aquinas concludes from Paul’s words, “The body is for the Lord,” that, “Our members are the members of Christ.” In other words, our body itself, with its parts, belongs to Christ. Thomas reflects: “The body in not meant for fornication but for the Lord, i.e., it had been ordained to this, namely, that it be for the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord for the body. The Lord Jesus Christ was given to us for this that He might conform our human bodies to His glory” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 298).
Paul asserts that our bodies have an eternal destiny: “God, who raised up the Lord will raise us also by His power” (1 Cor 6:14). Thomas offers assurances from Paul that our resurrection will be bodily: “He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body by the power that enables Him to bring all things into subjection to Himself” (Phil 3:21); “The one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also” (Rom 8:11).
Rather than submit to the impulses of the body, the body should be subject to the soul, as Thomas affirms: “The body exists for the sake of the soul, from which it receives life according to its condition. And because all things are ordered to God as to an end, the body should be subjected to the Lord and dedicated to Him” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 299).
Paul warns: flee immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). Thomas observes that most temptations diminish when we consider them carefully, “we find the less to delight in them but more to be careful about.” It is quite the opposite with sexual temptations, as Thomas instructs us, “The vice of sexual immorality is not conquered by resisting because the more that a person considers it, the more the person is incited. But it is conquered by fleeing, that is, totally avoiding unclean thoughts and all occasions” ” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 306).
Thomas’ advice is very practical. If we give a sexual temptation any space, it can grow as fire does from sparks. Christians need to be prudent about the situations they get into, the people with whom they are and what deadens their conscience, such as the amount of alcohol they consume or accessing immoral websites.
Paul tells us that other sins are not against our body but sexual immorality is against our body 1 Cor 6:18). Thomas recalls that Augustine words that in sexual immorality, “the soul becomes totally subjected to the body.”
Thomas points out that, not only does a man sin against himself, but a married man, “sins against his wife while the man’s other sins are not directly against his wife” ” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 308).
Thomas also evokes an idea of Augustine sexual sins have an effect on our relationship with God. It becomes “spiritual fornication … by which a person withdraws from God by clinging to worldly love.” God doesn’t break the bond with us: we break it with God.
Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within you – the Spirit you have received from God? You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at what a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Thomas affirms that Paul is now speaking of our “dignity of grace,” which comes from two sources, “the grace of the Holy Spirit and the redemption by the blood of Christ” ” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 309).
God’s house is called a temple. Because the Holy Spirit is God, wherever He dwells is called a temple. The Holy Spirit dwells principally in our hearts, in which the love of God has been poured by the Holy Spirit: [Thomas refers to Paul: ‘The Holy Spirit has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us’ (Rom 5:5)]. But the Spirit is also in the members of our body, which perform works of charity (Commentary on First Corinthians, 309).
We have been given the Spirit. Thomas remembers the words of the prophet Joel: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). According to Thomas, the Spirit is principally in our hearts but also in our members, in our hands, our feet, our voices as they do acts of charity.
Because of what God has done for us, we are not our own. Thomas evokes the words of Paul, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:8); “He died for all, so that those who live might not live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).
Paul declares: “You were bought at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20). Thomas instructs us, “You are slaves of Him who redeemed you from the slavery of sin.” Thomas recalls Paul’s words, “The free person who has been called is a slave of Christ. You have been purchased at a great price. Do not become slaves to human beings” (1 Cor 7:22-23).
Thomas adds, “The price of our redemption is not something corruptible but has eternal power because it is the blood of the eternal God” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 310). Thomas evokes the words of Peter: “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless lamb” (1 Pt 1:18).
Paul instructs us, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). Thomas comments: “Since your members are the temple of God, nothing should appear on your body, except what reflects the glory of God” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 311).
Thomas adds an image that might be amusing at first but also bears a truth: “Because you are not your own but slaves of God, your body ought to carry God as a horse or another animal carries its lord” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 311).
Thomas expands this image, “Our body carries the Lord as it is given a divine ministry. So a person ought to avoid sexual immorality, which is against the glory of God and against the service that the body ought to give to God” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 309).
For Paul, sexual relations belong in a dedicated marriage: “That each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (1 Thess 4:4). Outside of marriage, Christians must realize that their bodies belong to Christ and that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. They must, as Paul says, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Translated by Fabian Larcher, O.P., may be found on the website, http//dhspriory.org/Thomas/.