The Remnant

“... at the present time there is a remnant left, selected out of grace.” (Romans 11:5)

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Establishing Practical Norms for Modesty

in the Light of the Church’s Teachings


As we establish norms of modesty for those under our charge, we should do so in the light and under the direction of the Church’s official teachings. From the earliest days there has been a clear teaching on the necessity of purity. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (5:27-28) records the very words of Our Lord.

You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Saint John Chrysostom instructed women of all times about dress when in the fourth century he declared:

You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment. ... When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me, whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride.

At Fatima, Our Lady has prophesied:

Wars are a punishment from God for sin. ... Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much. ... More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

“These statements are all related, and hit at the heart of the moral problems afflicting modern society. There is a direct connection between the pagan fashions and the many souls going to Hell because of sins of the flesh. Many Christian women will by greatly surprised, when they pass into eternity, to learn just how many souls are suffering in the fires of Hell forever, because of sins of the flesh caused by their immodesty in dress.” (1)

The late Father Bernard A. Kunkel, a great defender of modesty and decency, spoke directly concerning the words of Our Lady of Fatima. He wrote:

But she knew that ... forces of evil, would design these fashions, together with the filthy literature, some of the rotten movies and television shows, dope, and drinking to excess; all as part of their program to break down morality, especially among the young people. Our Lady was only exposing this plan.

Pope Benedict XV has taught very clearly about modesty in an encyclical letter (Sacra Propediem, 1921), commemorating the 7th centenary of the founding of the Franciscan Third Order.

One can not sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and station. Made foolish by a desire to please, they do not see to what degree the indecency of their clothing shocks every honest man and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for such apparel as for a grave fault against Christian modesty. Now it does not suffice to exhibit themselves on public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of churches, to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table, where one receives the Heavenly Author of Purity.

In our hopes and efforts for a genuine Catholic Restoration, it is crucial that Our Lady’s friends bring others to admit (in order to oppose more effectively) the strides which Satan’s wicked program of gradual nudism has made -- despite the warnings of The Blessed Virgin and of the Popes. One observer has remarked:

Whose message, do you suppose, have women and girls accepted: the message of modesty of Our Lady of Fatima and of the Holy Father, or the message of immodesty of Lucifer? (2)

On December 31, 1929 Pope Pius XI promulgated an authoritative encyclical on the Christian education of youth in which he prohibits classroom sex-education. In this same encyclical, immediately following the prohibition, the Pope emphasizes the importance of modesty for women in public. He writes:

These principles [i.e. of the basic difference between the sexes], 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. (3)

Pope Pius XI has also spoken of “indecent fashions for the banishment of which Christian women can never work hard enough.”

Less than two weeks after Pius XI’s encyclical Donato Cardinal Sbaretti, Prefect of the Congregation of the Council, on the Feast of the Holy Family (January 12, 1930) issued the following rule as to what constitutes modesty in dress.

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.

On May 23, 1948 Pope Pius XII stated: “Mainly through sins of impurity, do the forces of darkness subjugate souls.” Again on November 8, 1957, the same Pontiff addressed the Congress of the Latin Union of High Fashion. In the address, titled “Moral Problems in Fashion Design”, the Holy Father declared:

This second virtue, modesty - the very word “modesty” comes from modus, a measure or limit - probably better expresses the function of governing and dominating the passions, especially sensual passions. It is the natural bulwark of chastity. It is its effective rampart, because it moderates acts closely connected with the very object of chastity [...] Yet no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin. [...] An excess of immodesty in fashion involves, in practice, the cut of the garment. The garment must not be evaluated according to the estimation of a decadent or already corrupt society, but according to the aspirations of a society which prizes the dignity and seriousness of its public attire. [...] It is often said almost with passive resignation that fashions reflect the customs of a people. But it would be more exact and much more useful to say that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization.

These rules, coming from the Vatican, should determine the standards of modesty for ourselves and for those under our charge.

The above quotations from Our Lord and Lady, from Popes and Saints, show the course that devout Catholics must take. There is, sadly enough, a real connection between immodesty and sins of the flesh. If such sins are to be avoided, then modesty must be prized again, and diligently observed.

If you’ve read this far, you may rightly be wondering why these norms so obviously apply especially to women. One author aptly explains why.

Because traditional Catholic teaching on modesty in the area of sexuality requires the woman to keep more of her body concealed than it does for the man, some Catholics believe that it is unfair to the woman. While it is true that traditional Catholic teaching on modesty in the area of sexuality is more demanding of the woman, it is not unfair. Just as the woman is the weaker gender in the area of physical power, so the man is the weaker gender in the area of sexuality (in the sense that the male is more prone to immediate sexual arousal). And just as it is wrong for a man to use his physical strength to lord it over a woman, so it is wrong for a woman to use the feminine characteristics of her physical body to dominate a man. (4)

The most important statement on sexual morality (other than contraception) issued by the Vatican since the end of Vatican Council II, is the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, published December 29, 1975. This document was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having been given approval by Pope Paul VI. Speaking of the increase in the practice of masturbation as a reason being used by those in error to try to gain acceptance of it, the Declaration states:

In this way facts are discovered [i.e. by sociological surveys], but facts do not constitute a criterion for judging the moral value of human acts. The frequency of the phenomenon in question is certainly to be linked with man’s innate weakness following original sin; but it is also to be linked with the loss of a sense of God, with the corruption of morals engendered by the commercialization of vice, with the unrestrained licentiousness of so many public entertainments and publications, as well as with the neglect of modesty, which is the guardian of chastity. (5)

Thus, from the viewpoint of the Declaration, one of the major causes for the growing frequency of masturbation is the neglect of modesty. To the degree that masturbation is especially a vice committed by males, it stands to reason that the document makes reference especially to the lack of modesty on the part of women and of the clothes they wear. Women thus participate in the guilt attaching to this vice when they make of their bodies sex objects for male lust.

After quoting Saint Paul (“You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you must use your body for the glory of God”), the declaration speaks of “the means which have been recommended by the Church for living a chaste life. These means are discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty...”

Thus we see modesty closely linked to avoidance of the occasion of sin. Immodesty, on the other hand, makes more difficult the “discipline of the senses and the mind”, and makes it easier to accept occasions of sin as though they involved no danger to the life of the soul and its continuance in the grace which sanctifies it and makes it pleasing to Our Lord. By following the ‘broad path’, we threaten our souls with spiritual dangers which can lead us to lose our happiness with God for eternity.

It is our earnest prayer that Our Lord will pour forth His graces and consolation on all those who take up Christ’s banner in this new Holy War to the protect the innocence of children and to restore modesty in dress throughout the land. May Our Lady of Fatima keep all those who pray and work for modesty under Her special protection and grant them final victory.

(1) Divine Love, “Immodesty in Dress Can Lead to Tragedy”, Fourth Quarter, 1977.

(2) “The Remnant Speaks”, June 1, 1972.

(3) Divini Illius Magistri, Pope Pius XI, December 31, 1929.

(4) Regis Scanlon, O.F.M., Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November, 1988.

(5) Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, December 29, 1975. (Vatican translation, L’Observatore Romano)

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