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Catholic Courtship - I

Company-Keeping without the Intention
of Marriage Is Wrong

Fr. Winfrid Hergst, S.D.S.
A number of our young readers have asked TIA to provide some guidelines for courtships. Recently we found a booklet, Instructions Pertaining to Courtship by Fr. Winfrid Herbst, written in 1937. To start our series, we are printing extracts from it that we believe will be useful to our readers.

The first question refers to the modern notion of “dating” for fun, which Fr. Herbst warns goes against the good traditions and the teaching of the Church.


Is it a sin for a woman to keep company with a man without any intention to marriage?

We give a number of guiding principles, repeating one for the sake of emphasis:

1. Young people should not be in too great a hurry to start regular company-keeping. Begun too early and unduly protracted, courtship is fraught with great dangers to the innocence and virtue of the parties concerned and often ends in a non-marriage and consequent unhappiness and hard feelings.

modern dating

Catholic courtship vs. hanging out together or casual dating is often sinful

casual dating
2. Without any intention of marriage, regular company-keeping is quite senseless, always out of place, usually wrong and often sinful.

3. But young people in their later teens need not avoid all society and company of the opposite sex. A wise and well supervised mingling of the sexes in a social way is helpful to both – decidedly and variously so.

But it is one thing for boys and girls to meet in wholesome and prudently chaperoned pastime, and another thing for a boy and a girl to yield, wittingly or unwittingly, to a sexual attraction for each other, and start an actual courtship, formally or informally.

Marriage is a full-grown man’s and woman’s job; and courtship is a preliminary to marriage and should be properly conducted by those who are old enough and sensible enough and virtuous enough to know what they are doing and how to do it.

4. Hence we repeat that company-keeping, or courtship, is permissible only when there is at least a possibility and some prospect of a marriage ensuing between the partners of the courtship.

When marriage is out of question entirely, company-keeping is an unjustifiable exposure of oneself to moral dangers, and consequently reprehensible and forbidden in every instance. When marriage is excluded, it is not in keeping with the standard of Christian virtue and decency for a young man and a young lady “to date” or “to go together” merely for the sake of company in social diversion and pleasure.

5. You may not keep company with a person who is married to another or what amounts to the same thing, a divorced person. This is self-evident but not always observed to the unspeakable ruination of many.

Is company-keeping wrong? If so, how is it that so many Catholic boys and girls indulge in this pastime?

What is company-keeping? It is association between young men and young women who contemplate entering the state of Holy Matrimony and who wish to learn each other’s character and to ascertain whether they will make suitable partners for life.

Courting with chaperon

Courtship is approved when there is a prospect of marriage; it should be in the presence of a chaperon

As such it is quite lawful, of course; but even as such it should not be protracted too long, because of the grave dangers of sin that easily spring up in this familiar association. Six months, or, at most, a year, is considered a sufficiently long time.

But unnecessary company-keeping, that is, between those who have not the intention of marrying or who are too young to think of marriage, is wrong. To repeat, company-keeping just for the fun of it, for the pleasure that is in it, is sinful.

For, in view of the facts that human nature, weakened by original sin, is exceedingly prone to the sin of impurity, and that this proneness is exceedingly strong in the years of youth when the passions are developing, we say that, in view of these facts, unnecessary company-keeping is a willful near occasion of mortal sin.

We are well aware that many Catholic boys and girls do indulge in this pastime, as you call it. But because others willfully get too near the chained dog that is the Devil is no reason why you should do so.

This may seem severe; but it is not a fraction as severe as Our Lord’s doctrine about avoiding the occasions of sin. He says, “And if thou eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, than having two eyes to be cast into the Hell of fire, where their worm dieth not and the fire is not extinguished. For every one shall be salted with fire.” (Mark 5:46-48)

In other words, to apply this passage to the matter under discussion, even if keeping away from a certain person that is a proximate occasion of mortal sin to you should be as hard and painful as tearing out your eye would be, you must make the sacrifice in order not to incur the risk of being condemned to suffer the eternal pains of Hell.

To be continued


Questions of Catholics Answered Pertaining to Courtship
by Fr. Winfrid Herbst SDS, Sinu Viridi, 1937
Posted September 10, 2021

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