Why Effeminacy Must be Destroyed
As we have discussed in another place, St. Thomas defines effeminacy as a reluctance to suffer due to an attachment to pleasure (II-II q38 a1). Now it must be stressed that effeminacy as a vice is not the same thing as femininity as a perfection given by God to women. Femininity is good, whereas effeminacy is disordered—but this will not be treated here.
In men, effeminacy is especially abhorrent because it directly tears down the perfections of masculinity, which in particular are ordered toward the virtue of fortitude. As it is written, Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened. Let all your things be done in charity (I Cor. xvi. 13). Thus it is especially important for men to root out and conquer effeminacy in order that they may be men of God. Since effeminacy is an attachment to pleasure and an avoidance of suffering, the man of God must reverse both of these to gradually develop a moderation toward pleasure and a desire for suffering. Here’s how.
1. Cut out unnecessary Tech Pleasures
As we have discussed elsewhere, the harmful effects of technology must be taken seriously. In today’s world, a man is flooded with targeted dopamine releases from every side. Music and movies, Facebook and Twitter, iPhones and iPads–all are designed by their makers to give you pleasure and make you attached.
So the first step is easy: turn off all of these and start using only what is necessary. You need to call your wife? Fine, use your phone. You need to find an address? Fine, use the internet. But cutting off these pleasures will quickly remove a large portion of your attached pleasure and do it quickly, giving you a head start toward overcoming effeminacy. The goal is to become detached from the pleasure these things give so that even if you have to use them, you can say truly “I do not want this consolation.”
St. John of the Cross says we should use this prayer any time we are forced by necessity to accept some created pleasure of any kind. This is because the man of God is detached from every created pleasure and adheres to Jesus Christ alone. St. Alphonsus:
Whenever, therefore, any creature seeks to enter and to seize a portion of our heart, we must utterly refuse it admission; and then we ought to turn to Jesus Christ, and say to him: My Jesus, Thou alone art sufficient for me. I do not wish to love aught but Thee: Thou art the God of my heart; and God is my portion forever (Means to Acquire the Love of God, I).
On this necessary detachment I have written in another place. Here let us simply observe that although we must cut out all tech pleasures to work against effeminacy, it is sometimes necessary to use technology to fulfill the duties of your state in life. Technology can also be used for the virtue of eutrapelia, which is the virtue of games, or “right recreation.”
2. Cut off Unlawful Carnal Pleasure
The second and more strenuous battle is over carnal pleasure. Thankfully, cutting off technology will go a long way in this battle. Unfortunately, a man is still bombarded by immodesty every day unless he becomes a hermit. To go the next step, use the recommendations in this article and persevere in the fight to gain the victory eventually with God’s help.
One of the crucial aspects of this, of which we will speak again below, is changing your thinking about carnal pleasure. Every man has grown up with lies from TV and movies about carnal pleasure, and it is vital that he reverse his thinking and adhere to the truth. For example, the solitary sin, (especially with evil images) is perhaps the most effeminate thing a man can do (the Latin term mollis means “effeminacy,” “softness/weakness,” or “the solitary sin”). Why? Because chastity is the denial of pleasure (suffering), whereas the solitary sin is a reluctance to deprive yourself of pleasure because of your attachment to it. Thus the solitary sin perfectly manifests what effeminacy is.
Even worse, the society is so effeminate that it exalts the degradation of our sisters too, for the pleasure of effeminate men. Effeminate men actually think that it is masculine to seek carnal pleasure with a woman without marriage. They openly boast of this! Their attachment to carnal pleasure comes before the commitment (suffering) of Matrimony. How effeminate! As any converted sinner will tell you, the passing pleasure of the self-absorbed, carnal life is like night and day compared to a richly blessed life with wife and children all your life.
It is vital that you see these things truly as they are. The will follows the intellect (I q82 a3). How you think will determine how you act. When you begin to see the truth about effeminacy, you will eventually find these things utterly abhorrent because of their effeminate character, and love what is truly masculine: suffering for the love of Jesus Christ. That’s why cutting out TV and movies will help here, since these images especially train our minds to believe errors about masculinity.
Instead, the most powerful remedy is undoubtedly the Holy Rosary. As we have stated before, this prayer perfectly combines mental prayer and vocal prayer. Since so much of our bondage is in the images we have permitted into our memories, mental prayer is crucial to reverse this attachment and adhere rather to images of what is true: the life and virtues of our Lord and our Lady. Truly the powerful, salutary effects of this timeless devotion cannot be exhaustively praised.
If you are married, it is necessary to make the conjugal act not an occasion to satisfy your lusts, but to moderate also this pleasure like a man–for the sake of your spouse. Only then will you be able to truly give your wife the Christian charity she deserves, and, by God’s gift, raise up children for His Church. For further discussion on this topic, please Fr. Ripperger’s talk “Conjugal Chastity” found here (Note: do not listen to this talk if you are not married).
3. Fast every week
Once you have renounced all unnecessary pleasure, you must work to acquire a love for suffering. From my view, the easiest way to start is to fast weekly. Disastrously, Pope St. Paul VI gave in to the pressure to relax the Church’s fasting rules. As a result, effeminacy has continued to spread. Why is this? Because effeminacy is an attachment to pleasure and fasting is detachment from pleasure. As such it is a crucial tool to use to overcome effeminacy.
Further, it is the concupiscible appetite which experiences pleasure from bodily goods–both food and the conjugal act. Thus when you fast, you are also fighting against lust. Fasting must be loved by all men of God.
Some practical tips: start small and build slowly. Cut out meat on Fridays. Once you have that down over a period of months, then start skipping breakfast. The Devil may try to trick you into taking on far more fasting that you are ready for, and then bring this good habit to a grinding halt after two weeks. Instead, form the habit slowly. When Lent comes around, take on a further fasting discipline and build this every year until you can fast like our fathers.
Another effective way to develop a good habit of fasting is to join an Exodus 90 group or start one of your own. This is a rigorous 90-day discipline that men take upon themselves as a group. The total discipline is much more worthy of our fathers’ fasts and is capable of teaching you the disciplines needed to overcome effeminacy. It is also an excellent source to gain man support, which we will cover below.
4. Moderate your emotional life
This topic is also crucial to understand due to the widespread confusion. When we speak of emotions or “passions,” we are referring to those movements of our concupiscible or irascible appetite that produce various emotions (love, joy, desire, hatred, fear, anger, etc). Now these movements of themselves are not sinful, since sin is in the will. They can be, however, disordered and incline your will toward evil. Thus they are not entirely neutral.
How can this be? Aren’t your emotions just your feelings? Shouldn’t you just share your feelings? Yes and no. We must make certain distinctions. First, the saints observe that there is a difference between antecedent and consequent emotions. A properly ordered soul that is perfected in Jesus Christ is ruled by the intellect. The intellect knows the truth and moves the will to do the good (remember: the will follows the intellect). Then the emotions are ordered by the will toward the good. This is consequent emotion. The emotions are a consequence of the will ordering them toward the good. For example, during an arduous battle, the warrior who has the virtue of perseverance orders the irascible appetite toward the good and produces the passion of courage. Or again, the emotion of joy is produced when the intellect knows the true and the will rests in the good.
As a result of Original Sin, every man’s will is weakened, his intellect is darkened, and he is inclined toward evil. This means that he has antecedent emotion. His emotions flare up and influence him before his intellect and will can do anything. Have you ever encountered something that made you so angry that you sinned with your tongue? This is an example of antecedent emotion. The passion of anger arose in your irascible appetite so vehemently that it moved your intellect and will to commit sin instead of the other way around. That is why it may actually be true when you say, “I’m sorry I did not know what I was saying. I did not mean it. I wasn’t thinking.” This common phrase reveals this truth: your intellect and will were moved by your emotions. It was a disordered, antecedent emotion that was not ruled by your intellect.
Consequent emotion, then, is truly masculine, whereas antecedent emotion inclines us toward effeminacy, particularly by our attachments in our concupiscible appetite, which seeks pleasure. However, we must further distinguish between the perfect and sinners like us. A truly ordered emotional life is only enjoyed by the perfect. To us sinners, we cannot avoid the burning of antecedent emotion even daily and it is foolish to think we can be perfect after only a short time of penance. Our fathers repented in dust and ashes for decades before they attained perfection. What pride for us to become discouraged if we fail even after a year in this!
Therefore, we must take this knowledge about emotions and use it as a method of acquiring humility. When antecedent, disordered emotions arise, first cry to God and say: “O God, behold how disordered I am without Thy grace! Grant me the gift of self-knowledge.” Then stop and think. This brings us to our third distinction: feelings and emotions. We may distinguish them like this:
Irrational passions = emotions
Passions + reason = feelings
Since our emotions are governed by our intellect, stopping to think breaks the cycle of overwhelming, antecedent emotion. All that is necessary is to stop, think, and ask yourself: “Why am I having this emotion?” Sometimes you may not get the answers quickly (or at all) but other times it becomes clear why an emotion is arising. Once the source is clear we can then distinguish between truth and falsehood.
Much of our antecedent emotional life is based on falsehood. In particular, the allurements of pleasures discussed above are all falsehoods. They promise happiness but never deliver. Since the intellect is ordered toward knowing the true, we must press our minds toward the true source of happiness. Because of our fallen state, we hate suffering, even though it is suffering that will help us to attain true happiness. When your emotions arise because of your reluctance to suffer, raise your mind to God and say:
I thank Thee, Holy Father, that Thou hadst in love for Thy son disciplined me so that all my earthly affections may be stripped away and I may Thine and Thine alone.
Truly consider the fact that God in His charity has permitted some suffering to you so that you may be united to Him. This is the actual truth. When we meditate on the truth, our emotional life quiets down because it must submit to the truth by nature. Nothing can conquer a man who knows the truth and wills the good.
On the other hand, sometimes emotions are based on truth, for example courage or joy as was mentioned above. These we may call “feelings,” which can be used toward the good. When you think about your emotions and determine them to be based upon truth, you can then moderately will them (while avoiding any attachment) toward the good. For example, if we are inflamed with the passion of courage to overcome some difficulty and attain a good end, we can will this more and more to attain this end.
We can also use properly ordered feelings to excite the opposite passion in order to act against disordered passions and temptations. Scupoli observes, for example, that when we reject an evil thought (excepting lust), we can then bring it up and crush it again, strengthening a proper feeling toward it:
First, whenever you are assaulted and buffeted by the impulses of the lower nature, you must resist them manfully, so that the higher will may not consent. Secondly, when the assaults have ceased, excite them again, so as to have an opportunity of overcoming them with greater force and energy. Then challenge them again a third time, so as to accustom yourself to repulse them with scorn and horror. These two [additional] challenges to battle should be made in the case of every unruly appetite, with the exception of temptations of the flesh (Spiritual Combat, ch. 13).
As I mentioned above, this moderation of our emotional life takes decades. Do not fall into prideful discouragement because you still struggle with your emotions. This process will take much time and energy but through God’s divine grace you will overcome this aspect of effeminacy. A another aspect of this struggle in particular is man support, to which we now turn.
5. Get Man Support
One of the necessary steps for a boy to become a man is changing his support system from his mother to his father. The mother loves and nourishes the boy. The father loves and strengthens the man. Too many men today have had absent or effeminate fathers, and their mothers, because of the errors of feminism, have dominated the home. As a result a young man never truly grows into a man because this disordered home cannot properly help him through the transition from his mother to his father and thus become a man.
Ideally, a man has a strong father who is the head of the household, and the boy becomes a man through him. (Then a man takes the Virgin Mary as his mother and becomes the protector of his birth mother, not the other way around). Thus the normal man support if your own father. But if you’re like most men, you didn’t have this. To remedy this, we have to rely on strong masculine friendships to challenge you and strengthen you.
What is it about man support that is so important? God has given men the perfections necessary to build each other up into men. A woman is not given this perfection in the same way (she has other important gifts not treated here), and so a woman looks for her man to be her man, and is irritated when she is forced to “mother” a man as if he were a boy. Men need support in their weaknesses, but this comes primarily from other men, not women. When a man has the support of his brothers, he can then truly die for his wife like a man and care for her as she deserves. He will not rely on her to fulfill all of his emotions, but will be perfectly grounded in Jesus Christ, ready to suffer and die for her and the children if necessary.
Man support helps men sort out their emotions from their feelings. Talking to another man helps you see if your emotions are based on truth or falsehood. Talking to your woman about this will only make her feel unstable and unprotected, since she has to deal with your volatile emotions. Rather, if you have a feeling (reasoning + emotion), you can share this with your woman, and have a rational conversation. Your woman is not your mother.
Man support will challenge you to do all of the things above and naturally force you to be a man. This is all provided that you choose the right friends or have the fortune to have a strong father. A simple thing is to have one man who acts as your accountability, and talk with him once a week on the phone. Commit each new week to working on one aspect of manhood. Others have regular groups that meet and support each other.
Whatever works for your state in life, you must have man support for manhood. If you are deprived of good men all together, then read from the saints whose lives and writings are free online (see Resources). Read the Holy Scripture and consider the men of God: Elias, Moses, Abraham, David, St. Paul, our Lord Himself. Choose a patron saint who can help you become a man–St. Joseph in particular, but also St. George, St. Thomas More, the Maccabean warriors and martyrs. You are not alone, brother. Fight the good fight, and God will give you the victory in time. Let us close by pondering the words of a great married saint, the man of God St. Thomas More. It is said he prayed these words while in prison before he gave his life in defense of the one true faith:
Give me the grace, Good Lord:
To set the world at naught.
To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men’s mouths.
To be content to be solitary.
Not to long for worldly pleasures.
Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.
Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me.
Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help.
To lean into the comfort of God.
Busily to labor to love Him.
To know my own vileness and wretchedness.
To humble myself under the mighty hand of God.
To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.
Gladly to bear my purgatory here.
To be joyful in tribulations.
To walk the narrow way that leads to life.
To have the last thing in remembrance.
To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand.
To make death no stranger to me.
To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell.
To pray for pardon before the judge comes.
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me.
For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.
To buy the time again that I have lost.
To abstain from vain conversations.
To shun foolish mirth and gladness.
To cut off unnecessary recreations.
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.
To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.
These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap. Amen.
For further aspects of this topic, I recommend this talk from Fr. Chad Ripperger. Please be aware that Fr. Ripperger’s work is PenanceWare. The information in this essay comes from St. Thomas and the moral tradition as passed down by Fr. Ripperger.
Timothy S. Flanders
The “solitary sin” is the traditionally modest phrase which refers to m*sturbation. “Evil images” here refers to p*rnography. Moral theologians have always employed these and other phrases for the sake of the virtue of modesty. I clarify them here to explain any misunderstanding
It should be noted here that sometimes there is an emotion and a virtue of the same name, such as “courage.” The distinction is simply in the faculty in which it is produced. Virtues have to do with the will, whereas passions exist in the appetites and are distinct from the will