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Book review: Chastity: Reconciliation of the senses by Erik Varden

03 November 2023

Dominic Walker looks at fresh insights into the subject of chastity

THE author begins by stating that chastity is not coterminous with celibacy, but is a virtue for all, even if the mere word “describes a set of attitudes and a code of behaviour associated with a bygone age”. He points out that “An error Christians have often made is to assume that chastity is somehow normal; but no, it is exceptional. . . Even as we labour to learn charity, patience, courage and so forth, we must labour to become chaste, letting grace do its slow, transformative work.”

The book is subtitled Reconciliation of the senses, and the author shows how chastity encompasses body, mind, and spirit, each seeking to reconcile the conflicting passions within us in order to experience that blessedness given to the pure in heart who shall see God.

The author explores chastity by drawing on scriptural texts, semantics, the church Fathers, poetry, literature, art, mythology, music, painting, and sculpture. I particularly appreciated his commentary on the first three chapters of Genesis, “What a human being IS”, and what it means to be created in the image of God when the Hebrew Scriptures say that God has no image. It was also good to be introduced to The Cave of Treasures, an ancient midrash.

Erik Varden was a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, before becoming a Cistercian monk at Mount St Bernard Abbey, where he served as the abbot. In 2020, he became the Bishop of Tronheim in his native Norway. With Varden’s background as a scholar and a monk, the reader is given new insights and fresh learning and encouragement. This is not light reading, but well worth the effort.

Varden concludes: “A Christian desires and is called to be fully alive, no less. But sometimes we need help to know what life is and where it is to be found. We need to be taught where we come from and where we are going, what means we have at our disposal, who is there to help us. This book is a modest attempt to provide a few indications”.

The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.


Chastity: Reconciliation of the senses
Erik Varden
Bloomsbury £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £12.99

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