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When does immodesty become a mortal sin?

May 18, 2016

Hello Father,

Thank you for your time in answering my question. I know that different cultures have different concepts of modest and immodest attire, and I know that what I wear to the beach is not appropriate at Mass, etc, but I am curious as to when immodesty becomes grave matter, and therefore, if willingly chosen, a mortal sin? Any insight you could lend would be very helpful.

Thank you!

Asked at 07:04 pm on May 18th 2016

Hi Nicole, Jesus didn’t say much about clothes, but did say ‘Consider the lilies how they grow: they do neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’

A fashion line I know of in Italy, set up by people committed to living the Gospel, is actually called ‘The Lilies of the Field.’ And because as Christians we believe in the resurrection of the body and that God can be conveyed by beauty as well as by truth and goodness, fashion is one of the artistic gifts that can perform what St John Paul II in a visit to La Scala Opera House in May 1983 spoke of as one of the ‘spiritual gifts of mercy.’

There’s lots of talk these days about the early sexualization of children and teens by clothing houses, and you’ll have seen how certain celebrities dress in a way that takes away from them as persons. As happens in Kurt Vonnegut’s great 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, where Vonnegut is satirizing the soft-porn magazines in the local supermarket:

He nudged Harry, man-to-man. ‘Like that, Harry?’ he asked. ‘Like what?’ ‘The girl there.’ ‘That’s not a girl. That’s a piece of paper.’ ‘Looks like a girl to me,’ Fred Rosewater leered. ‘Then you’re easily fooled,’ said Harry. ‘It’s done with ink on a piece of paper. That girl isn’t lying there on the counter. She’s thousands of miles away, doesn’t even know we’re alive. If this was a real girl, all I’d have to do for a living would be to stay home and cut out pictures of big fish.’ (1978, 127f)

So I’d suggest keeping in mind to dress in a way that’s an expression of who you are, a gift for others as persons, not something that takes both from you and could take from others as persons. As you say, each culture and each age will have its own standards, but the underlying standard of fashion as one of the spiritual gifts of mercy, is to colour the world with your own unique beauty as a person. Then how you dress will always convey your beauty as a person, not just the beauty of a body separated from who you really are.

Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 12:48 am on May 26th 2016

Isn’t it that when a person (girl or boy) dresses immodestly to the extent that she/he **knows** people will think immodest/lustful thoughts just seeing her/him dressed that way, is already immoral.

I guess another point of view here is that we should not lead others to sin. See Mark 9:42 and about for the context. Similar lines in Matthew 18:6 and Luke 17:2. St. Paul expounds it in 1 Corithians 8:12.

Prudence is the key to dressing well, in freedome and with style.

Replied at 06:12 am on July 20th 2016