Led into temptation by their very goodness

Ross Douthat, writing about Penn State in the NYT:

Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses. The earlier lies or thefts or adulteries make the next one that much easier to contemplate. Having already cut so many corners, the thinking goes, what’s one more here or there? Why even aspire to virtues that you probably won’t achieve, when it’s easier to remain the sinner that you already know yourself to be?

But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness — by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It’s precisely in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away.

In accord with his use of the poker

When Thomas Aquinas went to study at the University of Naples, he joined the Dominican Order. At the time, the Dominicans were a new order in the church dedicated to study, teaching and preaching. The mission of the Dominicans fit Aquinas’ scholastic abilities and his personal sense of vocation; he wrote, “It is a greater thing to give light than to simply have light, to pass on to others what you have contemplated than just to contemplate.

His family, however, did not welcome the news of this new direction in life. They considered the Dominicans “an upstart group”, writes Gerald McDermott, and they tried to disuade him from joining. 

McDermott writes:

According to one story passed on by G. K. Chesterton, the brothers [of Aquinas] kidnapped Thomas and locked him in a tower. They tried every argument they could think of to get him to leave the Dominicans, but nothing worked. So at last they decided to blacken his reputation, which would cause the new order of teachers to refuse him. They paid a fetching prostitute to come to the room where Thomas was held.

Thomas immediately grabbed a burning brand from the fire and pointed it at the woman, who shrieked in terror and ran from the room. Thomas slammed the door shut and seared into the back of the door the sign of the cross.

Flannery O’Connor loved Aquinas, and I think loved this story about him. She recounts it in a letter to the unbelieving “A”, writing that though “It would be fashionable today to be in sympathy with the woman”, “I am in sympathy with St. Thomas.”

In a later letter, O’Connor writes more about the incident. She notes that St. John of the Cross:

would have been able to sit down with the prostitute and said, ‘Daughter, let us consider this,’ but St. Thomas doubtless knew his own nature and knew that he had to get rid of her with a poker or she would over come him. I am not only for St. Thomas here but am in accord with his use of the poker.

Thomas, of course, having had to “fight to protect his chastity and reputation” (McDermott), went on to write some of the greatest works in the history of Christianity.

The horror when beauty becomes too weak a stimulant

From That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis:

Suddenly…desire (salt, black, ravenous, unanswerable desire) took him by the throat.

…[This desire] disenchants the universe. Everything else that Mark had ever felt – love, ambition, hunger, lust itself – appeared to have been mere milk and water, toys for children, not worth one throb of the nerves…

…It is idle to point out to the perverted man the horror of his perversion: while the fierce fit is on, that horror is the very spice of his craving. It is ugliness itself that becomes, in the end, the goal of his lechery; beauty has long since grown too weak a stimulant.

Teddy bear or beast

From Nick Lowe’s song, “The Beast in Me” (memorably recorded by Johnny Cash):

The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me

Sometimes it tries to kid me
That it’s just a teddy bear
And even somehow manage to vanish in the air
And that is when I must beware

Billy Sunday, expressing the same truth with a different metaphor:

One reason that sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.