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o^innon, Honry Albert, 1042-1936. 

The evolution of chastity, by... n 
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Heprint fro. Libliotheca nacra. January 1904. 

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The Evolution of Chastity 

/^ By the Reverend HENRY A. STinSON, D.D. 

I ? ^ V 

[Reprint from Bibliotheca Sacra, January, 1904] 


The Evolution of Chastity. 





This article has nothing to do with biblical revelation. It 
raises no question as to God's creating man in his own image. 
Christian dogmatics as a science detaches itself entirely from 
the question of how God created man, that it may limit itself 
to the fact that He did create him, and to the consequent re 
lationship. Man's ultimate moral responsibility unquestion 
ably covers his entire conscious existence, and is to God. 
Having said this, we are free to study the phenomena of hu- 
man life and character as they present themselves in the 
great distinctive groups: the physical phenomena, the moral. 

and the social. 

It is now an accepted truth with the biologist that the em- 
bryo, human or animal, reveals in these earliest stages of 
its history the lines of its subsequent development. It is prob- 
able that if we could properly observe we should find in the 
protoplasmic cell from which the embryo springs an equally 
clear indication of what the subsequent physical history of the 
particular organism would be. We could know the man there 
as definitely as we can in the baby. It seems to be true that 
no two atoms in the universe are identical, and that each 
stands related to the group to which it belongs, or to the con- 
nection in which its inherent force is to find its subsequent 
opportunity, in so distinctive a way that its history may be 
foretold. But whether this be so or not, the important fact 
is that the line of development of the human embryo is that 

of the later development of the man ; and as the physical or- 
gans unfold in a regular sequence in the embryo, so the facul- 
ties, physical, mental, and moral, of the man, have also their 
fixed natural sequence. They do not all appear together. 
Man acquires the power to hear, to see, to digest, to stand, 
to walk, and also to think, to estimate, to measure, to weigh, 
to forecast, step by step. The moral faculties also obey the 
same law, and have their true sequence; fear, avarice, love, 
hate, desire, passion, conscience, all showing a fixed relation 
to a normal line of unfolding. 

With perhaps not the same certainty, but along the same 
line, it is now generally believed that the life history of a race 
or a tribe is in the same way foretold in the development of 
the individual. Men moving together in the mass in the 
social organism, show the same definite, ordered development 
as appears in the individual man. Physical traits precede 
the intellectual, and they in turn the moral. Men, grouped 
together at first under the guidance of physical necessities, 
are under the control of physical powers. They need food, 
or a common defense, or merely physical well-being. Later 
they seek companionship for intellectual stimulus and grati- 
fication; and still later the moral and religious faculties find 
sustenance and opportunity in the association of man with 
his kind. So that only relatively late in any particular in- 
stance does a social group show the completed form of well- 
ordered existence in which the spiritual or ethical and intel- 
lectual and physical are rightly related and equally matured. 
In the light of this principle, now so universally recognized 
in human history, it is manifestly necessary to reexamine many 
well-established judgments. We know that with children we 
do harm when we crowd upon undeveloped minds studies that 
properly belong only to a later physical and intellectual stage. 




The Evolution of Chastity. 


And we are unjust and even cruel when we demand moral 
discernment that lies quite beyond their years. There is, for 
example, a time when to a child a lie means nothing, when 
selfishness and greed are but the normal animal instincts, and 
when passion and violence are only the primitive expression 
of weakness and fear. Many a child has been punished for 
an apparent moral obliquity of which it was utterly uncon- 
scious, as it has had attributed to it motives of which as yet 
it was physically (and therefore morally) incapable. 

With equal truth we are to measure the moral status of a 
community or a race only in connection with its ethical age, 
that is, the stage at which it has arrived in its moral develoi>- 
ment. Otherwise we are unjust. We may hold up our own 
standards as an ideal for its future advancement ; we may not 
insist upon them as the measure of its present character. 
George Eliot says, " The level to which one man strives in 
vain to rise, is that to which if another falls he is lost." I 
propose to show the importance of this principle in one rela- 
tion, and the light it casts upon a single social evil. 

The other day a Southern woman, writing on the Negro 
question, at the South, found difficulty in putting into words 
the extent of her contempt for Negro women, because of what 
she esteems their constitutional impurity. She does not believe 
there is, or at least she never has known, a single negro 
woman whom she thought chaste. And she proceeded to jus- 
tify her own antagonism to the race, and the treatment of the 
negro which is now expressed in Southern legislation and 
largely justified in Southern society, on the ground that chas- 
tity is a sacred trust divinely committed to the Anglo-Saxon 

There is a general and singular tendency for people to as- 
sume that what is committed to them by inheritance, either 


The Evolution of Chastity, 


in property or personal traits, is characteristic, and marks aa. 
inherent distinction which is theirs by the grace of God. The 
particular possession or trait may be of most recent acquisi- 
tion and in its nature readily lost. Its origin and history are 
bravely ignored. The wealthy daughter of the shoemaker 
who, having made the family fortune, has departed this life, 
sneers at the son of the successful tailor whose task of money- 
making is not yet completed ; and the wife of the professor in. 
the college town, or of the man of letters or of science in the 
city, has a comfortable feeling of superiority over her neigh- 
bor the wife of the grocer or the butcher. Dr. Johnson's 
friend who thought all foreigners are fools, has a very flour- 
ishing progeny. We none of us can easily escape the comfort- 
able conviction that if in any direction God has given us more 
than others, it is because of some native and inherent superi- 
ority on our part, to which, in the divine providence, external 
conditions have been made properly in some degree to cor- 
respond ; in the language of the French nobleman, we think, 
" God knows a gentleman when he sees him." 

Light would be thrown on many burning questions, and 
something would be done to ameliorate the scorn which is 
frequently felt for people less favorably circumstanced than 
ourselves, if the history of the evolution of human society were 
kept in mind. In the case in hand, chastity, for example, so 
far from being the characteristic of a particular race or in- 
herent in any one grade of human society, is one of the latest 
of acquisitions, and one of the most unstable. It pertains 
characteristically to no stage of human existence, and has 
proved as difficult to maintain among the highest as in any 
stage below. Witness the dissoluteness of court life in almost 
any generation, the immiorality of princes as exalted as Louis 
XIV. or of queens as favored as Mary Stuart or the virgin 


The Evolution of Chastity. 



The Evolution of Chastity, 


Elizabeth, not to speak of the notorious impurity of most 
European courts to-day. This has always been true. We 
need not go back for our proofs to the earliest periods of 
human society, the courts of the Pharaohs or of Sardanapalus. 
Unchastity was no bar to the position of woman in the best 
days of Greece, and in Rome the sneer of the satirist told the 
undisputed truth that the great ladies of the Empire counted 
the years by their husbands. Even a man of the personal 
character and refinement of Cicero did not rise above the 
kvel of his times, and readily gave away his wife to his friend. 
The Old Testament, authoritative expression as it is of the 
mind of God, is by no means a record of the lives of men who 
can be adopted as examples, and as a book of morals has care- 
fully to be guarded as furnishing principles, but not patterns. 
Nowhere in antiquity is there evidence that feminine chastity 
was an original gift to any race, or was a permanent mark of 
any state of civilization. It is true that Tacitus noted as a 
characteristic of some of the remoter German tribes that they 
had a habit of planting their homes in the solitude of the for- 
est, and highly prized the virtue of their women. But this 
was only an incidental case; and there is no instance of a 
race acquiring the idea of the chastity of woman as a virtue 
and holding it as a prized possession, except as the result of a 
long and bitterly maintained struggle. From the standpoint 
of the historian, Renan says that " Tens of thousands of 
women had to be stoned to death before adultery could be got 
recognized by them as a crime." The difficulty with which it 
is held in that position in the feminine mind is illustrated by 
the constant falling off of public opinion even in the best so- 
ciety, and the manner in which those who depart from the 
stricter code are tolerated. Even our highly favored Americant 
life is gaining a shameful notoriety because of the looseness 

of the marriage tie. We justify the sneer of the satirist, that 
we differ from the Mormons only in this that we drive wives 
tandem, and they drive them abreast. And shocking as is the 
evidence from time to time thrust upon us of the moral degra- 
dation that exists in neglected rural communities, the fre- 
quency with which divorce and prompt marriage with a para- 
mour occur and awaken no condemnation in the topmost social 
circles in our great cities, is painful testimony to the instabil- 
ity of our moral standards and the prolonged and insistent 
struggle by which alone they can be secured. 

The most brilliant and the most successful attack upon 
Christianity in modern times was that of Voltaire. It is by 
common consent the most unspiritual, immoral, and irreligious 
of them all. The " infamous " thing, as he termed it, against 
which his m.ain assault was dealt, was simply continence and 
chastity. To him chastity was the mystic key of the Christian 
holiness. Voltaire and his friends held that chastity is no vir- 
tue at all, but generally an impediment to free human happi- 
ness. This, in the testimony of the historian to-day, is the 
underlying motive of the line of attack upon Christianity which 
has never ceased from that time to this, and has lost none of 
its virulence. As a professed doctrine, free love may not be 
decent, but it is a practical experience into which individuals, 
even the loftiest, are continually falling and by which whole 
groups of the most highly developed in human society are 
continually affected. Indeed, it is safe to say that to-day there 
is no community, whether in Christian societies or in heathen, 
so cultivated or so exalted that it is safe from this form of 
demoralization or is at any time without its numerous in- 
stances. Christianity, and Christianity alone, with the possible 
exception of Judaism in its later development, has proved able 
to arrest this tendency or to awaken or maintain this concep- 



The Evolution of Chastity, 


tion of virtue. So far from its being inherent in civilization 
and refinement, one is never safe to assume its existence. 
Even among Christian nations the literature which depicts the 
lives of the higher classes, and which certainly furnishes the 
reading of those classes, is loaded with suggestions of impur- 
ity. A distinguished French lecturer in New York last winter 
urged his hearers not to judge of the France of to-day by the 
novels which are produced by its chief writers, asserting that 
the great body of the French people, the people of common 
life, and outside the cities, are as pure and as simple as in any 
land ; while at the same time he was comf>elled to acknowledge 
the gross impurity of French literature and the correctness 
of its picture of the most aristocratic French society. Whether 
we turn to Russian, or German, or Scandinavian, or even 
English society, the same is true, and our American aristo- 
cratic life as we see it in New York, bears its own shameful 
testimony. A recent visit to the older part of Pennsylvania, 
settled by the sturdiest and most religious of German emi- 
grants two generations ago, brings to light a condition of im- 
purity existing to-day among their young people that is diffi- 
cult to put into words. The point to be observed is that the 
conception of feminine chastity as a supreme virtue, which is 
so easily assumed as characteristic of a particular race or 
group, is only a late acquisition, the result of prolonged and 
painful development, and is maintained only with effort, 
Everywhere in society, at home or abroad, there is abundant 
evidence of the feeling expressed by the famous French trag- 
edienne Madame Bernhard, who, when asked by an American 
friend for her opinion on the Decalogue, replied simply, " // y 
en a trap." The truth is, as George Eliot said, that " Man 
is by nature an unmitigated savage; let him alone, and he 
lapses into barbarism." The social virtues and refinements 


The Evolution of Chastity. 


in which we glory and by which we so readily distinguish our 
superiority above our neighbors, particularly those of another 
speech or another skin, are often the thinnest veneer; and are 
at best the result of circumstances in our history or condition 
the most accidental. Nothing but the grace of God and the 
most strenuous obedience to the Christian code of ethics will 
preserve for us what little of permanent moral charac- 
ter we may at any time have acquired. Relax even a little in 
our watchfulness, and we seem quickly to lose all that we 
have gained. When, therefore, we find ourselves tempted, as 
people of Anglo-Saxon birth are very apt to be tempted, in 
discussing our relations to what we call inferior races, lightly 
to throw aside moral obligations or justify ourselves in de- 
parting from the strictest rule of right, on the ground that 
the higher code is only for ourselves, we are sure not only to 
deal unjustly with others but to undermine the very founda- 
tions of our boasted superiority. It is simply suicide to im- 
ply that for any immediate gain, however desirable, we are 
justified in setting aside the strictest observance of the moral 
law. There can be but one true code of morals. It has been 
hard to learn it, harder to maintain it in practice. But as hu- 
man society advances, it gains in significance as well as in 
power. And there never was a time, and perhaps never a 
community, in which its assertion and its absolute inviolability 
were more to be insisted upon. We are entering upon a new 
stage of history. The opportunity of the Anglo-Saxon is 
coming in new forms of national development and in new 
relations to other races. The history of such virtues as we 
possess, and the consciousness of the unsteadiness and weak- 
ness of our practice even of those virtues which we claim 
as peculiarly our own, are so marked that we may well feel 
ourselves called to walk humbly. We may indeed be proud 



The Evolution of Chastity, 


of our distinction and our opportunities, but it is well not to 
forget the path by which we have come into them and the 
instability of our present tenure. Then we will be not only 
more just in judging others and more pitiful to those less 
favorably circumstanced, but also more modest and more hon- 
est in judging ourselves. Woman never held a loftier posi- 
tion than the one she occupies in America to-day. No one 
can impair it but herself. And as for the men, we will do 
well to try to understand the spirit of that noble-minded Lon- 
don physician and philosopher, the late Dr. James Hinton, 
who, with all his distinguished doings to choose from and his 
intimate knowledge of the needs of modern society, said on 
his death-bed : " If I am to be remembered at all, this is what 
I would be remembered by : I am the man who said, ' Man 
is so made that he can rise above the sexual passion and sub- 
ordinate it to use.' There ! even if that be false and all else 
I have said was true, I would rather be remembered as having 
said that one falsehood than by all the truths." 

There is permanent validity in Lady Mary Wortley Mon- 
tague's remark that there are but two kinds of people, men 
and women. This is the one unfading distinction. Upon 
their holding their true place and moving forward together, 
each without degrading the other, depends the progress of 
the race, and the ultimate attainment of the true goal of ex- 
istence. The worth of the goal may be measured by the dif- 
ficulty of the contest.