Catholicism and Nudism
Catholicism and Nudism - What does the Catholic Church Think?
Catholicism and Nudism - Current thinking within the Roman Catholic Church opposes the practice of nudism or naturism, as some practitioners prefer to call it, finding the practice in conflict with one of the key values of Catholicism, modesty. The Church traces this value back to a series of twelve desirable character traits listed in the biblical Book of Galatians. Modesty is viewed as a form of self-respect and respect for others with nudism a direct contradiction to these values. The importance of clothing can also be traced back to the biblical creation myth wherein God clothed Adam and Eve, the progenitors of humanity in this tradition, after they gained knowledge of good and evil through disobedience. The underlying principle here is that nudity is considered evil.
Historically, Catholic tolerance for nudity of any kind has waxed and waned. During the Renaissance Era, best remembered for the works of artists like Michelangelo, works of art and statuary depicting nude figures sometimes drew criticism from the Church hierarchy. In particular, the nudity depicted in the Sistine Chapel drew condemnation from Pope Adrian VI and other highly placed members of the clergy. The Pope wanted to see the images stripped completely; however, only a few images were altered in later years to conceal nude images in accordance with an official degree, associated with the Council of Trent in 1563, condemning the use of nudity in religious art.
Today, the Sistine Chapel is among the most visited and revered areas open to public viewing via the Vatican Museums. The artistic nudity depicted here is no longer a point of major contention. The museum, including the chapel, have become a source of revenue and positive public relations for the Church.
In the early twentieth century, some small-scale reversal was seen in policies toward nudity, including permission from the Abbe of a catholic college in France who encouraged nude sunbathing near Marseilles 1907. This example did not represent a change in church doctrine, but rather an exception to the general rule within the religious sphere. Even as naturism rose in popularity in society as a whole during this period, the movement was largely separate from the of religion, particularly traditional Catholicism.
In 1935, according to Time magazine, in speech just prior to Lent, Pope Pius XI declared specific condemnation of nudism as a form of paganism in addition to equating the practice with blasphemy. At the same time in US, the state legislature of New York made it illegal to show private parts in public, thus outlawing nudism. The law received widespread opposition from the public, especially humanists; however, the National Catholic Welfare Conference voiced their support of the anti-nudism provision. This organization as such no longer exists.
Again returning to modern day, the official stance by the Church is that nudism is immoral. However, nudists who are practicing Catholics continue to exist and even participate in naturist groups online where they self-disclose their religious affiliation. Essentially, Catholics continue to practice nudism and embrace nudity even without support or active tolerance from their religious organization or its hierarchy. A lively debate exists online over the topic without any sign of resolution in sight. The Church frequently voices its objections to festivals and events involving nudism, even in European countries as well as in the US.
Clip from National Geographic’s show “Taboo: Nudity,” featuring a group of Catholic nudists who worship in the nude.