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Modesty and Purity Resources

Modesty and Decorum
Twenty-Five Excerpts from the Writings of St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle

'Decorum requires that you have a great horror for anything even remotely suggesting impurity. Far from allowing yourself to laugh and to make jokes about it, you must show that you do not find anything about the topic in any way amusing. Those who laugh about such things give proof that they live more according to the flesh than according to the spirit and that their hearts are thoroughly corrupt.'

St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle

1. It is surprising that most Christians look upon decorum and politeness as merely human and worldly qualities and do not think of raising their minds to any higher views by considering them as virtues that have reference to God, to their neighbor, and to themselves.

This illustrates very well how little true Christianity is found in the world and how few among those who live in the world are guided by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Still, it is this Spirit alone which ought to inspire all our actions, making them holy and agreeable to God.

2. It is not appropriate to wear a feather behind your ear, to put flowers in your ear, or to have pierced ears with earrings. . . The most beautiful finery for your ears is to keep them unadorned and clean.

3. While Saint Peter and Saint Paul forbid women to curl their hair, they condemn with even greater reason this sort of behavior in men, who, having naturally far less inclination than women to such vanities, ought to reject them all the more resolutely and be much less inclined to yield to them.

4. It is something very improper, something that shows great vanity and is not at all becoming in a Christian, to apply beauty spots and paint to your face, covering it with powder and rouge. The finest ornament of the cheeks is a modest reserve, which makes wellborn people blush when an indecent word, a lie, or a slander is uttered in their presence.

In fact, only brazen and shameless people can tell lies with ease or say or do something unseemly without blushing.

5. Everyone knows how repulsive it is to see such filth on people's clothes, which ought always to be very clean, no matter how poor they might be, for they are the ornaments of a servant of God and a member of Jesus Christ.

6. Because you ought to consider your body only as a living temple where God wishes to be adored in spirit and in truth and as a living tabernacle that Jesus Christ has chosen as his dwelling place, you must, considering these noble privileges that you enjoy, show much respect for your body. These considerations ought to make you resolve not to touch your body or even to look at it without an indispensable necessity. . .

It is more contrary to decorum and refinement to look at or to touch anyone else, especially a person of the other sex, in a way that God forbids us to do regarding even ourselves.

7. Women must also take great care to cover their body decently and to keep their face veiled, as Saint Paul advises, because it is not allowed to display in themselves what is not allowable and decent for others to look at. Thus, it is highly improper to look at a woman's chest, still more improper to touch it. It is not permitted even to stare fixedly at her face.

8. It is never appropriate to speak about the parts of the body that must always be kept hidden and about certain bodily necessities to which nature has subjected all of us or even to name them. If sometimes you cannot avoid this in the case of a sick person or someone who is indisposed, do so in such a courteous manner that the terms you use cannot offend against decorum.

9. It is very rude, even shameful, for you to kick anyone, no matter in what part of the body. This is something that cannot be permitted to anyone, not even to a master when dealing with his servants. This kind of punishment characterizes a violent and irrational person and does not become Christians, who must not maintain or display any characteristics but kindness, moderation, and wisdom in everything they do.

10. Although civility has nothing to say about the hour when you ought to retire or the time when you ought to get up, it is a matter of decorum to rise early in the morning. Besides the fact that it is a defect to sleep too long, it is, says Saint Ambrose, a shameful and intolerable thing for the sun at its rising to find you still in bed.

It is likewise to change and to reverse the order of nature for you to make day into night and night into day, as some people do. The devil induces you to act in this way, for he knows that darkness provides occasions for sin. He is pleased if you live most of your life during the night. Instead, follow Saint Paul's advice. Lay aside, he says, the works of darkness; walk, that is, act with decorum, as we must during the day. Make use of the weapons of light; devote the night to sleep, and use the day to do all your work. You would no doubt be ashamed and embarrassed to do in broad daylight the works of darkness and to mingle with your actions anything out of place when you can be seen by others.

11. It is, therefore, entirely contrary to decorum, as Saint Paul observes, to go to bed when morning is breaking, as some people do, and to get up around noon. It is quite proper, both for your health and for the good of your soul, to go to bed not later than ten o'clock and to get up no later than six in the morning. Say to yourself the words of Saint Paul, and repeat them to those whom laziness keeps in bed: The time has come for us to rise from our sleep; the night is past, and the day has dawned. Thus you may then address God in the words of the Royal Prophet: O God, my God, I watch for you from the break of day. [Ps. 62]

12. It is not like a person of good judgment to have to be called repeatedly to get up or to hesitate long in doing so. Hence, as soon as you are awake, you must rise promptly.

13. Have a regular time for going to bed, just as you ought to have for rising. It is no less important to perform well this last action of the day than to perform well the first.

14. Children must not go to bed before going to greet their father and mother and wishing them a good night. This is a duty and an act of respect that nature requires them to perform.

15. Just as you must get up with much modesty and in doing so give an indication of your piety, so you must also go to bed in a Christian manner, doing this with all possible propriety, only after having prayed to God. To act like this, you must neither undress nor go to bed when anyone else is present. Unless you are married, you must, above all, never go to bed in the presence of anyone of the other sex, for this is entirely contrary to decency and refinement.

16. It is even less allowable for people of different sexes to sleep in the same bed, even if they are only young children, nor is it appropriate for people of the same sex to sleep together. This is what Saint Francis de Sales recommended to Madame de Chantal in regard to her children, when she still lived in the world, as something extremely important and as much a practice of decorum as one of Christian morality and piety.

17. Decorum also suggests that when going to bed, you keep your eyes away from your body and avoid glancing at it. This is something that parents must strive to teach their children to help them preserve the treasure of purity that they must hold very dear and at the same time conserve the great honor of being members of Jesus Christ and consecrated to his service. As soon as you are in bed, cover your whole body except your face, which must always remain uncovered.

18. When in bed, it is not refined to talk, for beds are made only to sleep in. As soon as you are in bed, you must be ready to go to sleep promptly.

19. It was sin that created the need for us to dress and to cover our body with clothing. This is why, because we carry with us at all times the condition of sinners, we must never appear not only without clothing but also without being fully dressed. This is required both by decency and by the law of God.

A great many people take the liberty of wearing their dressing gowns, often without other clothing or sometimes just with slippers. Although it seems that as long as you do not go outside, you can do practically anything in this attire, it is entirely too casual to be dressed only this way for any length of time.

20. It is against decorum to put on your dressing gown as soon as you have come back home, in order to be comfortable, and to let yourself be seen dressed like this. It is only elderly or infirm people who can be permitted to act in this way.

21. It is also a matter of refinement to dress promptly and to put on first the articles of clothing that cover the body most completely, so as to keep hidden the parts that nature forbids us to show. Always do this out of respect for the majesty of God, which you must keep constantly before your eyes. . . as refinement requires that when you dress, you put on first the articles of clothing that cover most of the body, it is also a sign of decorum, when you undress, to take off the same articles last, so that you cannot be seen without being decently attired.

While undressing, place your clothes neatly on either a chair or some other place that is clean and where you can easily find them again the next morning without having to hunt for them.

22. There are some women who need two or three hours, and sometimes the entire morning, to get dressed. One could say of them with justice that their body is their God and that the time they use in ornamenting it is time they rob from the One who is their only living and true God.

This also robs time from the care they must take of their families and children, something they ought to regard as one of the duties required of them by their state of life. They certainly cannot act in this way without violating God's laws.

23. Clean clothing tells a lot about your attitude and discipline and generally gives a good idea of your virtue, an impression that is not without basis.

For clothing to be proper, it must suit the person who wears it and be in keeping with the person's build, age, and state of life. There is nothing more unseemly than clothes that do not fit the person wearing them.

24. In your clothing, negligence is not to be avoided less than eccentricity; both these excesses are equally to be condemned. Affectation is contrary to God's law, which condemns luxury and vanity in your clothing and in other exterior ornaments. Negligence in your attire is a sign that you either do not pay much attention to God's presence or lack sufficient respect for God. It also shows that you do not respect your own body, which you ought to honor as a temple inhabited by the Holy Spirit and the tabernacle that Jesus Christ has the goodness to visit frequently.

25. Women, being by nature less capable of great things than men, are also more inclined to vanity and luxury in their clothing.

This is why Saint Paul, after exhorting men to avoid the more gross vices into which they fall more easily than do women, goes on to recommend to women to dress modestly, to let reserve and chastity be their adornments, not to wear pearls, gold jewelry, and sumptuous apparel, and to dress as women who show by their good works that they profess to live a life of piety. [1 Tim 2:10]

After this exhortation of the great Apostle, there is nothing more to be prescribed for a Christian than to observe it and to imitate in this matter the early Christians, who edified everyone by the modesty and simplicity of their clothing.