The challenges of fashion in the corrupt modern society - By Pope Pius XII
Fashion must never provide a proximate occasion for sin
Note from the translator: From "Speech of His Holiness Pius XII to participants in the international congress of high fashion promoted by the 'Latin Union of High Fashion'" on Friday, November 8, 1957. Original in Italian here.
Headers were added to facilitate reading.
The speech will be broken down into parts. Subscribe to receive the new posts.
Reconciling the harmony of the external ornament of the person with “a quiet and modest spirit” constitutes the issue of fashion.
But does there really exist a moral problem — someone may ask — around such an external, contingent, and relative fact, such as fashion? And, (even with this) granted, in what terms should the problem be posed, and with what principles should it be solved?
It is not here (in this speech) the place to extensively deplore the insistence of quite a few contemporaries in the effort to remove man's external activities from the moral domain as if they belonged to another universe and the man himself were not the subject, term and, therefore, the one responsible before the Supreme Ordinator of all things.
It is true that fashion, like art, science, politics, and similar so-called profane activities, has their own rules for achieving the immediate goals for which they are intended; however, their subject is invariably man, who cannot do without turning those activities towards the ultimate and supreme end, to which he himself is essentially and totally ordered.
the so-called relativity of fashion concerning times, places, people, and education is not a valid reason for renouncing “a priori” a moral judgment on this or that fashion which at the moment goes beyond the limits of normal modesty
There is, therefore, the moral problem of fashion, not only as a generically human activity, but more specifically, as it is carried out in a common field, or at least very close to evident moral values, and, even more, as the purposes — in themselves honest in fashion — are more exposed to being confused by the evil inclinations of fallen human nature, due to original sin and transformed into occasions of sin and scandal.
This propensity of corrupt nature to abuse fashion led the ecclesiastical tradition to often treat it with suspicion and with severe judgments, expressed by famous sacred orators with lively firmness, and by zealous missionaries, even with the "burning of vanities", which, in accordance to the customs and austerity of those times, they were esteemed for effective eloquence among the people. From these manifestations of severity, which basically showed the Church's maternal solicitude for the good of souls and the moral values of civilization, it is not legitimate, however, to infer that Christianity almost demands an absolute renunciation of the care and cultivationof the physical person and its exterior decorum. Anyone who concluded in this sense would demonstrate that he had forgotten what the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote:
"In like manner, women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety" (1 Tim. 2, 9).
The Church, therefore, neither blames nor condemns fashion when it is intended for the right decoration and adornment of the body; however, she never fails to warn the faithful against its deviations.
This positive attitude of the Church derives from much higher reasons than the merely aesthetic or hedonistic ones assumed by a revived paganism. She knows and teaches that the human body, God's masterpiece in the visible world at the service of the soul, was elevated by the divine Redeemer to a temple and instrument of the Holy Spirit, and as such, it must be respected. Therefore, Its beauty should not be exalted as an end in itself, much less in a way to demean that acquired dignity.
On the concrete ground, it is undeniable that alongside an honest fashion, there is another immodest one that causes disturbance in orderly spirits, if not (proposes and incentive) evil.
It is always difficult to indicate the frontiers between honesty and indecent with universal rules since the moral evaluation of a hairstyle depends on many factors; however, the so-called relativity of fashion concerning times, places, people, and education is not a valid reason for renouncing “a priori” a moral judgment on this or that fashion which at the moment goes beyond the limits of normal modesty.
Almost without being contested, (fashion conceals) seduction, idolatry of the matter and luxury, or just frivolity, and the architects of immodest fashion are skilled in smuggling (this) perversion, mixing it in a set of aesthetic elements that are honest in themselves; unfortunately, human sensuality is more skillful in discovering it and ready to feel its charm.
fashion must never provide a proximate occasion for sin
The greater sensitivity in perceiving the snare of evil, here as elsewhere, far from constituting reproach for those who are provided with it, almost as if it were only the effect of inner depravity, is, on the contrary, the hallmark of the purity of spirit and vigilance over the passions. But however vast and unstable the moral relativity of fashion may be, there is always an absolute to be saved after heeding the admonition of conscience in sensing danger: fashion must never provide a proximate occasion for sin.
Note from the translator: The Holy Father uses the word “culto” here, and it has been translated as “cult”, “respect”, and others. To this translator, it seems that “culto” is used as “cultive” or to nurture, to watch the care of your physical body.
Note from the translator: This paragraph, one of the hardest to translate in this section reads in the original: “Questa, quasi senza esserne interrogata, avverte immediatamente ove si annidi la procacità e la seduzione, l'idolatria della materia ed il lusso, o soltanto la frivolezza; e se abili sono gli artefici della moda invereconda nel contrabbando del pervertimento, mescolandolo in un insieme di elementi estetici in sè onesti, più destra è purtroppo la umana sensualità a scoprirlo e pronta a risentirne il fascino.”