The great fault of modernity is the severing of the link between the spiritual and temporal. A consequence of this is the loss of the idea that virtue and health are related; it is an entirely alien concept to modern westerners. Yet, our ancestors held this belief due to their metaphysical outlook. It is worth evaluating and exploring this relationship to understand what it entails.
The most basic proposition of this relation is that living naturally (in the pre-Enlightenment philosophical/teleological sense) is healthiest. In other words, a virtuous man, i.e. one clean in spirit, will likely be a healthy man, of both body and mind. Likewise, sin is detrimental to physical and mental fortitude. Perhaps this all seems much too abstract or, frankly, ridiculous. But, it is really quite intuitive as we will see.
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus comes across a man blind from birth, his disciples ask him, “who hath sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?”1 Obviously, they would not have asked this question if they did not think that spiritual wickedness might have physical effects. Similarly, after Christ heals the paralyzed man, he tells him to “sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee.”2 Furthermore, this relationship works both ways. Many religions teach and have taught that certain actions that cause physical uncleanliness also cause spiritual uncleanliness. For example, the Jews have their Kashrut, Mohammedans avoid dogs like the plague, Hellenic priests would purify themselves after sexual intercourse, etc. Thus, health, as it is related to the term wholeness, consists of purity of mind, body, and soul with this model.
Let us further demonstrate this principle by analyzing the effects of the seven deadly sins; this will present a clear picture.
Lust, intense sexual desire, causes a whole host of problems. The connection here is most apparent. Venereal diseases are almost always passed on through intercourse, more specifically fornication. If sex is limited to the marriage bed, the chances of catching such a disease are infinitesimal, but doctors will keep pushing vaccines for the latest strain of HPV or hepatitis rather than get to the root of the problem. I will only note in passing the disgusting physical effects of sodomy and other extremely degenerate sexual acts. It is through such great immorality that previously unknown diseases like GRIDS enter the world. Yet, even something as “harmless” as masturbation and pornography affect the mind and body. These have been shown to cause psychological damage through “rewiring” the brain, and the shifts in hormone levels are certainly not conducive to normal body development in early adulthood.3
Gluttony is prevalent, especially in America. You don’t need me to tell you that eating too much and too unhealthily causes numerous problems like obesity and heart disease. The intemperate man eats himself to death; everyone knows it, even if they refuse to “fat shame.” Sloth as well, which typically accompanies gluttony, is harmful. Physical laziness and inactivity bring muscular atrophy; mindlessly staring at a screen all day brings mental atrophy. Such observations so far are obvious.
Have tyrants ever invented tortures more unbearable than those that pleasures bring upon those who abandon themselves to them? They bring into this world misfortunes previously unknown to humanity, and doctors are agreed in teaching that these deadly complications of symptoms and illnesses that disconcert their art, confound their experience, and so often belie their old aphorisms, have their source in pleasures. ~ Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
The rest are more subtle in their effects, yet still very real. Psychological damage results from fixation on money and other material goods. Greed generates obsession and paranoia. The avaricious man develops neurosis as he consumes himself with worry about his fortune and hoard for no particular reason. Envy is even more destructive. It leads to psychopathy and sociopathy through narcissism, as the individual becomes violent against others simply because they have what he lacks, an injustice in his twisted mind. Wrath too brings emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical issues like weakening the immune system, greater risk for strokes, and heart problems.
Pride is perhaps the hardest to link to any specific illness or disease, but it underlies all these other sins through the usurpation of the divine will by the personal will. The man who submits to God and wars against his vices and temptations avoids the problems that accompany them. It might also be said that the haughty man, in his brashness, is much more likely to put himself in harm’s way since he overestimates his own abilities.
Scripture is not wrong when it says “He that sinneth in the sight of his Maker, shall fall into the hands of the physician.”4 That’s not to say that we should take this general law too far. Not all maladies are a result of personal sin, and not all sin will immediately or necessarily lead to disease. But, corruption breeds further corruption whereas virtue profits one’s entire life. By embracing the higher part of human nature, we are able to obtain wholesome lives. It is no wonder that our spiritually dead age is also a physically sick one, with the pervasiveness of many preventable diseases; just as it is no surprise that many of the holy men of the past lived into great old age.
There is another interesting note related to this topic— the most forgotten and least understood sacrament: Extreme Unction (or Anointing of the Sick). This sacrament is administered to those at danger of death as a result of sickness or old age. Through spiritual purification and increase in grace, the hope is that the ill man will receive alleviation from his infirmity, if not an outright return to health. While this appears to simply be wishful thinking from a materialistic standpoint, it is really much deeper as it is a realization of the link between the temporal and spiritual (as all of the seven sacraments are).
We must cultivate chastity, temperance, diligence, charity, kindness, patience, and humility. Take this exhortation for what it is. If you are not convinced of the spiritual fruits of the virtues, at least be mindful of their physical benefits. This is about more than simply an individual purification, as the health of a family depends upon the parents, especially the father. It is common sense that reproductive beings produce similar beings. Although the child is not responsible for the sin of the father, it is ridiculous to think that the father’s vices are not harmful to his child. The drunkard father often has a drunkard son, the lecherous father a lecherous son, and so on. It is the father’s duty to raise the family properly— family diseases are as much spiritual as they are genetic. Cleanse yourself that you may cleanse further generations by your purity and example.
1. John 9:2
2. John 5:14. Although in response to the disciples’ question in chapter 9, Christ tells them that the man’s blindness is not from his or his parent’s sin, the case appears different here. St. John Chrysostom notes on the passage: “Here we learn in the first place, that his disease was the consequence of his sins. We are apt to bear with great indifference the diseases of our souls; but, should the body suffer ever so little hurt, we have recourse to the most energetic remedies. Wherefore God punishes the body for the offenses of the soul.”
3. It wouldn’t surprise me if the rise of effete males is linked to the popularization of pornography.
4. Ecclesiasticus 38:15