Naturism, the Bible and the Catholic Church
By Johann Camilleri
Baptism on Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336
Naturism in Malta has recently been the subject of some TV feature programs, newspaper articles and online debate. A group on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Legalize-Nudist-beaches-and-topless-bathing-in-Malta/559937837361952) is proposing the legalisation of nudist beaches in Malta. A significant number of letters and other type of communication from Maltese people indicate that a lot of people believe that naturism is wrong because it goes directly against the Catholic Church teachings. For example, an excerpt from a letter against naturism states ‘aħna poplu Kristjan u għalina dan huwa selvaġiżmu sfrenat (translation, ‘we are Christians and for us this is salvagism at its best’).’ (http://www.orizzont.com.mt/oldarticles/article107221.html)
Many catholic theologians argue against nudity due to the principles of modesty. ‘Because he lives in fallen nature, man is to be clothed’ (Genesis 3:6-7, 13-21). ‘Nudism opposes one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that being the fruit of modesty’,”Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires’ (http://www.catholicdoors.com/faq/qu48.htm). It can be argued however that the concept of modesty has different interpretations. Baptism in the time of Christ used to be conducted naked by all parties including the baptiser and in the presence of crowds (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm). As a matter of fact, “We know from the Gospels that Jesus himself and the Apostles felt no false shame in laying off their dress (see for instance John 21,7). Jesus and his followers must have washed themselves in the Jordan or other ponds, undressing as they did so (John Wijngaards, “Naturism / Nudism – may Catholics join?,” The Body is Sacred at: http://www.thebodyissacred.org/). From ‘Toilets of the New Testament (http://www.toilet-guru.com/biblical_new.php) public toilets during the time of Jesus Christ where communal with no private stalls, but instead several unisex closely adjacent seats on long benches, housed many together (see photos in link) and inscriptions on such indicate that they were also used as places for social gathering.
Author and Roman Catholic theologian John Wijngaards wrote: “Nudism also celebrates our human freedom. Discarding clothes is highly symbolic of liberating oneself from conventions, unwarranted restraints and anxieties. “For freedom Christ has made us free!” (Galatians 5,1) (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm)
Many Christians have not had the experience of attending a naturist setting, and wrongly assume that sexual arousal is a common practice there. They condemn naturism because they feel that it must lead naturally to feelings of lust. In reality, there is much more sexual fantasy in seeing a partly clad person on a clothed beach and imagining them naked, than there is in seeing them nude at a naturist setting. This phenomenon becomes clear to most people only after they actually visit a naturist area (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm). This effect is due to the ‘prohibited fruit’ syndrome making the ‘restricted fruit’ more wanted than the commonly available one. In ‘Card. Karol Wojtyla Defends Nudism (http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_007_WojtylaNudism.htm) future saint, Pope John Paul II, commented in his book “There is nothing impure in clothing except that which, …. while covering the essential values of the person [the sexual organs], provokes an inevitable reaction toward the person as a possible sexual object of pleasure.” The same beloved Pope was highly criticized for his views on modesty. He did not find an issue by receiving gifts from half naked tribal women or watching scantily dressed women in artistic performances (http://www.geocities.ws/prakashjm45/voltivaspornographies.html).
Naturism has been practiced for many years. In 1907, supported by his superiors, Abbé Legrée encouraged students at his catholic college to bathe nude on the rocky beaches near Marseille, France (http://profilefacts.blogspot.com/2010/11/nudism-in-france.html). Pope Pius XI declared specific condemnation of nudism as a form of paganism in addition to equating the practice with blasphemy. At the same time in US, the state legislature of New York made it illegal to show private parts in public, thus outlawing nudism. Nowadays females in NY have the right to bare their breasts on any street without any hindrance from the police.
View on nudism from Fr Mark Montebello
Quoting, ‘ I was immediately reminded of an image I meditate upon quite often. It is that of the death of St Francis. When he felt that the last moments of his life had arrived, he requested from the friends who surrounded him to take off all his cloths and place him on the bare ground. And that’s how St Francis, that great man, gave up his soul.
Of course, I was also reminded of that famous passage in 2 Samuel 6:20-22 which says: “David returned to bless his own house: and Michol the daughter of Saul coming out to meet David, said: ‘How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself before the handmaids of his servants, and was naked, as if one of the buffoons should be naked.’ And David said to Michol: ‘Before the Lord, who chose me rather than thy father, and than all his house, and commanded me to be ruler over the people of the Lord in Israel, I will both play and make myself meaner than I have done: and I will be little in my own eyes: and with the handmaid of whom thou speakest, I shall appear more glorious.”
Perhaps, in this context, John Paul II’s reflection in Love and Responsibility (1981) might be worth noting: “The human body can remain naked and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty … Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness … Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person … The human body is not in itself shameful … Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.”
In conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church, I submit that nudity can be considered in itself and in relation. In itself, it cannot be morally wrong, for it is said that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2: 25). Shame is indicative of sin, as written: the Lord God called to the man (Adam), “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3: 9-11).
In relation, nudity can be a sin if undergone for lustful reasons. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2521, states: “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. “
Now, I understand that the practice of nudism conforms to what has been said of nudity in itself. Nevertheless, as in all other matters, it can also be liable to sin if it is in conformity to what has been said in relation to lust.
Thus, to directly answer your question of what my opinion is on the matter, I state that nudism, defined as the practice of going nude, especially in places that allow sexually mixed groups, in the belief that such practice benefits physical, mental and/or spiritual health, and considering what has been said above, is not morally wrong’ unquote (personal communication).
In conclusion, I feel that according to the church, true naturists are not committing any immoral acts if they go to a naturist beach. Some individuals who are not truly naturists may go to a naturist area for lustful purposes such as perversion however this may occur on normal beaches and other areas too. Naturally this opinion can be debated with many different interpretations of the Bible; however, history suggests that nudity at specific areas was fully or partially accepted through thousands of years. If in later years there was an ‘error of judgement’ then we do not have to continue in wrong beliefs. While the Bible condemns promiscuity and lust (as acts of mankind) it does not condemn the nude body (God’s creation). Pope John Paul II is to be commended for his open minded views on modesty and not criticized. It is highly likely that Jesus Christ Himself undressed completely in some specific public areas as this was the culture at that time and He was also human. The naked human body is God’s creation and in the right circumstances it is a reflection of God Himself.
The author gives special thanks to Rev. Dr Mark F. Montebello O.P., Ph.D., MSc., Ph.Lic., S.Th.B. & L for his esteemed opinion on the subject.
Catholicism and Nudism – What does the Catholic Church Think? (http://nudistnaturistamerica.org/catholicism-and-nudism)
Christian Naturist Fellowship (http://cnfellowship.wordpress.com/)
Fig Leaf Forum (http://figleafforum.com/)
Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1981).
My Experience With Jesus Christ (http://ezinearticles.com/?My-Experience-With-Jesus-Christ&id=1217272)
Nudity and Christianity, Cunningham, J, 2006 (http://www.jimccunningham.com/contents.htm)
Naturist Christians (http://www.naturist-christians.org/)
Nudity in Religion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudity_in_religion)
Paul & Sue Hazeldon – Saunas and Our Christian Belief (http://www.hazelden.org.uk/l3_sauna_belief.htm)