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Catholic Essentials
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Modesty

The word "modesty" has multiple definitions, but that which we speak of here primarily refers to propriety in speech, thought, dress, manners and behavior.

Often, this word is referred to as avoiding indecency in dress that may arouse thoughts and passions of others, or that may be offensive to others, such as in "immodest dress".
 

References in Scripture:

  • "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God." Gal 5:19-21
  • For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. Phil 4:8
  • A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. It behoveth therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality, a teacher, Not given to wine, no striker, but modest, not quarrelsome, not covetous, but one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all chastity. 1 Timothy 3:1-4
  • "In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire, But as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works" 1 Timothy 2:9-10
  • But the wisdom, that is from above, first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation" James 3:17
  • And in fine, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble" 1 Peter 3:8

Warnings from Scripture to men regarding concupiscence:

  • “Gaze not upon a maiden, lest her beauty be a stumbling block to thee.” Eccles 9:5
  • “For many have perished by the beauty of a woman, and hereby lust is enkindled as a fire.” Eccles 9:9
  • “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.” Matthew 5:28

And the consequences to those with related vices:

  • “Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.” 1 Cor 6:9-10
     

Church Teaching:

  • "He who possesses the treasure of Christian modesty abominates every sin of impurity and instantly flees whenever he is tempted by its seductions" Encyclical on Consecrated Virginity by Pope Pius XII, 1954
  • "And We speak not of those exotic and barbarous dances recently imported into fashionable circles, one more shocking than the other; one cannot imagine anything more suitable for banishing all the remains of modesty." On the Third Order of St. Francis by Pope Benedict XV, 1921
  • "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"
    On the Third Order of St. Francis by Pope Benedict XV, 1921
  • "We cannot help deploring and condemning those works of art, recently introduced by some, which seem to be a distortion and perversion of true art and which at times openly shock Christian taste, modesty and devotion, and shamefully offend the true religious sense. These must be entirely excluded and banished from our churches, like "anything else that is not in keeping with the sanctity of the place." Encyclical on Sacred Liturgy by Pope Pius XII, 1947
  • "Was there ever such a time as the present when a girl had to be won on and trained interiorly, according to her convictions and will, for Christ's cause and a virtuous life, remaining faithful to both despite all temptations and obstacles, beginning with modesty in dress and ending with the most serious and distressing problems of life?" On the Counsel to Teaching Sisters by Pope Pius XII, 1951
  • "We lament, too, the destruction of purity among women and young girls as is evidenced by the increasing immodesty of their dress and conversation and by their participation in shameful dances, which sins are made the more heinous by the vaunting in the faces of people less fortunate than themselves their luxurious mode of life"
    Encyclical On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ by Pope Pius XI, 1922
  • "Moreover, among the faithful there is a greatly increasing carelessness of ecclesiastical discipline, and of those ancient institutions on which all Christian life rests, by which domestic society is governed, and the sanctity of marriage is safeguarded; the education of children is altogether neglected, or else it is depraved by too indulgent blandishments, and the Church is even robbed of the power of giving the young a Christian education; there is a sad forgetfulness of Christian modesty especially in the life and the dress of women" On Reparation to the Sacred Heart by Pope Pius XI, 1928
  • "These principles, with due regard to time and place, must, in accordance with Christian prudence, be applied to all schools, particularly in the most delicate and decisive period of formation, that, namely, of adolescence; and in gymnastic exercises and deportment, special care must be had of Christian modesty in young women and girls, which is so gravely impaired by any kind of exhibition in public." Encyclical on Christian Education by Pope Pius XI, 1929
  • "Truly the mind shudders at the thought of the grave dangers to which the morals of workers (particularly younger workers) and the modesty of girls and women are exposed in modern factories" Encyclical on Reconstruction of the Social Order, by Pope Pius XI, 1931
  • "Concerning this matter We make a father's appeal to Our dear young, trusting that -- since We speak of entertainment in which their innocence can be exposed to danger -- they will be outstanding for their Christian restraint and prudence. They have a grave obligation to check and control that natural and unrestrained eagerness to see and hear everything, and they must keep their minds free from immodest and earthly pleasures and direct them to higher things" Encyclical on the Communications Field: Motion Pictures, Radio, Television 1957
  • "From this source again are derived those immodest fashions of dress, which Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish" Encyclical "On St. Augustine" by Pope Pius XI, 1930

Warnings from popes (primarily for women and girls due to the weaknesses of men mentioned in Scripture above):

Pope Pius XI:

  • “Superioresses and teachers in schools for girls must do their utmost to instill love of modesty in the hearts of maidens confided to their care and urge them to dress modestly.”
  • "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 to it that they are fully and modestly dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb."
  • "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 knee. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.”

Pope Pius XII:

  • "How many young girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feeling they evoke in those who see them."
  • "O Christian mothers, if only you knew the future distress, peril and ill-restrained shame that you prepare for your sons and daughters by imprudently accustoming them to live barely clothed, and permitting them to lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves, and of the harm done to the little ones entrusted to you by Heaven to be reared in a Christian dignity and culture."

For those that claim today's immodest dress is simply a new custom and is therefore of no concern:

  • Pope Pius XII calls this application of an ancient principle to the virtue of modesty, "the most insidious of sophisms." He calls attention to the fact that some people use this sophism "...in order to brand as 'old fashioned' the rebellion of honest people against fashions they consider too bold."
     

Summary

Modesty, which is so often forgotten about today, is critical for all Catholics to remember and practice on a daily basis. Church teaching aside, Galatians 5:19 alone (quoted above) shows us that we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven if we live immodestly.

 

 

 

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