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One Can Sin against Modesty
by Negligence in Dress

Given the modern tendency toward dressing casually for work, get-togethers and especially for Mass, it is opportune to remind our readers that this is an offense against the virtue of modesty. In the past, no man – regardless of his social status – used to appear in a Catholic Church for Mass without a suit or jacket, a tie and hard shoes.

Today, the good example that should come from the leaders in society is missing, and almost all men in every state of life have adopted casual dress. It is good to recall also that those of a higher social status are more obliged than those in lower social levels to dress well in all circumstances because of the influence they exercise.

Below are some sound recommendations of Fr. Royo Marin, O.P., a well-known pre-Vatican II moral theologian.

Fr. Royo Marin

Modesty is a virtue derived from temperance which inclines the individual to conduct himself in his internal and external movements and in his dress in accordance with the just limits of his state in life and position in society. (St. Thomas, Summa, II-II, q. 160)

Modesty is a virtue by which one observes proper decorum in his gestures and bodily movements, in his postures and in the way he dresses. In the matter of modesty, it is necessary to attend especially to two considerations: the dignity of each person and of those who are in his company.

Bodily modesty has great importance both for the individual and for society. Ordinarily, a person is judged by externals, and for this reason any inordinate movement, staring, indiscreet glances or any other uncontrolled movements are generally interpreted as signs of an inordinate and unruly interior. With good reason does St. Augustine recommend in his Rule that individuals should be especially careful to observe external modesty of deportment lest they scandalize their neighbors.

And, we read in Sacred Scripture: “One can tell a man by his appearance; a wise man is known as such when first met. A man's attire, his hearty laughter and his gait proclaim him for what he is” (Eccles 19:25-26)

The vices opposed to modesty of demeanor are affectations and rusticity or rudeness.

As regards modesty of dress, St. Thomas states that any sin that arises in this matter is due to something immoderate on the part of the person in view of particular circumstances. (St. Thomas, Summa, II-II, q. 169, a. 1) This immoderation may be due to a lack of conformity to the customs of the persons with whom one lives, or to an excessive attachment and concern in regard to clothing and personal adornment. It may become inordinate because of vanity, sensuality or excessive interest in one's apparel.

It may also happen that one could sin against modesty of clothing by being deficient in a concern for one's personal attire, for example, if one were to be unreasonably negligent in dressing according to this state in life, or were to seek to attract attention by his lack of concern in his manner of dressing (ibid a. 2).

(Antonio Royo Marin, OP, The Theology of Christian Perfection,
Mount Kisco NY: Foundation for a Christian Civilization, 1987, pp 431-432)

Posted October 24, 2015