Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Grammarian, XV

Chaste and decent, if you please.

Just yesterday as I was teaching my young catechumens the meaning of "Thou shalt not commit adultery" it occurred to me (again) that I even had to be careful about how I explained this sin to them. The coarseness of our society has numbed our sense of decency even with regard to the way we talk about things we should not be doing.

The catechism's old explanation of this commandment indicated that we should "lead a chaste and decent life," but the newer (well, 1986) version altered it slightly thus: "lead a sexually pure and decent life," an unfortunate alteration. There's something untoward about parents and clergymen having to use the word "sexually" at all, particularly with younger children.

Whatever were they thinking? That "chaste" is too obscure? Or rather, too out of date. Precisely so: and we need to learn the meaning of chaste and decent lives, all over again, and it starts, boys and girls, at the level of word (i.e., what we say and do, in that order).

Over the years our culture has been increasingly sagging, by almost imperceptible increments. And in the church, we would do well to begin to retrace those steps and perhaps, bit by bit, begin to recover what we lost.

We could start, grammatically, by resisting the unnecessary use of provocative terms.

(which leads me to wonder, now just what am I supposed to do with the '86 catechism? 86 it, after all these years? There I go again, thinking too hard . . .)


Father Hollywood said...

In my school (Pre-K to 8th grade), we all recite the catechism together over the course of the year at morning devotions.

It is terribly awkward and untoward to have three year old children reciting the word "sexual" with us.

I understand that Prof. Marquart was involved in the 86 translation, and that he opposed that particular turn of phrase.

It is a dilemma, as all of our materials - LSB, the Catechism with Explanation, the pocket sized catechisms, and Peter Bender's catechetical material - all use the 86.

In my particular situation (having a school with some 270 students) I don't see a "chaste and decent" way out - not without a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Changing texts only serves to confuse rather than reinforce.

If I were only teaching my family, I would make use of the old Triglot (1921) English translation. First, it's in the public domain (no copyright issues). Second, has recordings that can be freely copied and distributed. You can also make flashcards, charts, or your own recordings without paying royalties or being threatened with a lawsuit.

Life was much simpler when we all used the KJV and we all had a "chaste and decent" translation of the Small Catechism. We had unity and modesty.

Now, we're forced to choose between having unity and using a modest translation.

Is there a good answer?

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

See, now I have you thinking too hard too . . .

Chris Jones said...

I respectfully disagree.

One may, perhaps, avoid the word "sexual" in discussing this commandment, but one can hardly succeed in explaining it without dealing with sex -- no matter how hard you try to avoid the word. If children are too young to handle the word "sexual" then they are too young to have this commandment explained to them.

The word "chaste" is a wonderful word; no other word or phrase conveys quite the meaning of it ("sexually pure" is an adequate, but not excellent, gloss). But many people (and certainly small children) simply do not know what "chaste" means. And so if you are to use it, you must explain it; and you cannot do so without talking about sex. And again, you can conceivably avoid the word "sex" but you cannot avoid the subject itself.

When I was in Sunday School and confirmation class (back in the early 60s), my teachers strove mightily to avoid any mention of sex. The result was that they failed utterly to explain to us what the commandment against adultery was all about. It was only later, after I had been apprised of the "facts of life," that I finally understood what "adultery" was.

If you try to explain adultery without talking about sex, you are simply refusing to catechize on this commandment.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Mr. Jones,

I think you misunderstand me when you say, "If you try to explain adultery without talking about sex, you are simply refusing to catechize on this commandment."

My point is not one of the substance, but of the language. Of course one must discuss the topic of sex; however, there ought to be standards of propriety when we do.

Certain terms have always been more usable for the task than others. It is undeniable that the standards have changed so much that people scarcely blush any longer, and that is my point.

Moreover, I do not believe that the 1960s push for sex education was a good thing. Educators were duped into thinking that if we only talked about these things openly, casting aside cautionary inklings, we would, as more enlightened people, act more responsibly. Didn't work, any more than the knowledge our first parents gained helped them. Doesn't the Apostle say somewhere that certain things done in secret ought not be mentioned? Elsewhere Scripture euphemizes sex with such nomenclature as "knowing" or "lying with" someone.

My point here is that we must tread carefully with the language we choose to use, especially with the young.