Any discussion of sex today is like a loaded gun. Bringing it up in conversation will garner a strong reaction of some kind. Each time I begin a blog on Dietrich von Hildebrand's work In Defense of Purity, I am overwhelmed at the prospect of writing on such a topic. Even in the preface of the work, Hildebrand clarifies that “its purpose is an analysis of the nature of purity and virginity, not a study of sex education nor the formulation of practical rules of conduct, nor even a defense of purity and virginity against their detractors” (p v, emphasis original). I find myself very willing to follow Hildebrand's lead in this regard, to discuss the nature of sex without obsessing over the detractors of purity and stand in wonder at the mystery of sexuality.
Hildebrand is very straightforward. He says, “Wherever sex is encountered in an unlawful form as a temptation there is heard this siren-song of lust, with its honeyed poison. The sublime joy of ultimate surrender, touching, chaste, intimate and mysterious, with which, under other circumstances, it is invested is completely absent” (p 16). When I read these words, they resonate profoundly with me. He contrasts sex within marriage as not only appropriate but fulfilling because it is the proper place against the “unlawful form” of sex, which occurs outside of marriage. As Hildebrand says, the encounter of sex in the unlawful form robs it of these characteristics he lists.
However, when I read quotes like this I can’t help but hear the kinds of things that the detractors Hildebrand mentioned would say: things like “sex is just a bodily exercise” or “purity is just a social construct.” I think we all hear a voice that says things like this. This voice finds its origin in popular thought and rises to the surface on many different platforms, be it through news, the stories told in the entertainment industry, and even the voice of the people: blogs.
These voices are not new, of course, they have merely taken on the dialect of the times. Dietrich von Hildebrand lived during World War II and had to flee his country, Germany. Had he stayed, he would have faced certain death due to his outspoken commitment to truth. Even when he left Germany, he continued to proclaim the truth against the Nazis. This is not a man who would be scared of news reporters, hollywood producers, or fiery bloggers. He chose to treat the topic directly because that is what the topic deserves.
“The question of which I shall primarily treat is not how much is lawful in this field, but what constitutes the complete virtue of purity and wherein the ideal of purity consists. It is my intention to undertake a detailed study of ethics in which the principles and facts on which my treatment of these particular problems is based will be fully explained” (p v). Hildebrand understands that talking about sex can be like a loaded gun. He pursues the truth without giving any ground.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1962)