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Now Reading: A Marked Man: Should Catholics Get Tattoos?

A Marked Man: Should Catholics Get Tattoos?

NARA_-_520883From small ankle tattoos to tattooed sleeves, I am seeing tattoos on men and women more and more frequently. In fact, an estimated 40 million Americans have at least one tattoo, and tattoo parlors are one of the fastest growing businesses in the U.S.

With the increased popularity of tattoos comes the question of their morality. After all, a tattoo is a permanent marking of the body—a serious issue to be sure. So are they wrong? Should a good Catholic get one?

I am well aware that the answers to this question vary widely. Some feel strongly that marking your body is always immoral. Others see tattoos as a perfectly legitimate form of self expression. But personal feelings aside, is there an objective answer? Let’s take a look.

Right or Wrong?

The primary argument opponents of tattoos cite is the Levitical law prohibiting them. Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.”

While this sounds like a fairly clear condemnation of tattoos, we have to keep in mind the context of the Old Testament law. It’s fairly obvious to me that the prohibition against tattoos was directly related to pagan worship, just as the prohibition against graven images was.

But regardless of the original intent, it is Catholic teaching that the old covenant ceremonial law no longer applies to us as new covenant faithful, and to say otherwise is contrary to the whole message of the New Testament. For example, immediately preceding and following that verse are prohibitions against trimming one’s beard and eating red meat. Now, I recently ate a medium rare steak, and I’m pretty confident I didn’t sin. I also regularly trim my beard, which also isn’t a sin (though some might think it is!).

There are literally hundreds of old covenant laws that no longer apply to us as Christians. We can’t cherry pick laws from the Old Testament to use as ammunition for our personal preferences. Either we follow them all, or we don’t—and St. Paul makes it perfectly clear that the ceremonial law is no longer binding.

I’ll cut to the chase: There is nothing immoral about tattoos. Mother Church has never condemned them, and neither can I. It is one of those areas where a Catholic must follow his or her conscience.

Personally, I wouldn’t get a tattoo. I don’t find them attractive, and they are far too permanent for my taste. That said, those of us who dislike tattoos should be careful never to judge a brother or sister in Christ who chooses to get one.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger

While tattoos may not be immoral, I strongly believe they need to be approached with an extra degree of caution and prudence due to their permanence. Yes, they can sometimes be removed, but this is a painful and expensive process. Accordingly, you should never get one lightly or flippantly, nor should you cover your body in things that are displeasing to God (a naked or scantily clad lady on your arm is a not acceptable).

Here are two things you should keep in mind if you are considering a tattoo.

1. Type – One of the most important decisions regarding tattoos is what kind you choose to get. This may seem rather obvious, but I know far too many individuals who have gotten a tattoo they later regretted. Whether it’s the name of an ex-girlfriend, an obscene image, or a curse word, there are some things you don’t want marking your body forever. And while tattoos themselves may be amoral, your choice of tattoo can be indeed be immoral depending on what it is.

If you decide to get a tattoo, think of it as putting on a piece of clothing that you will be wearing forever. If you can’t imagine yourself wearing it when you’re 50 or 70 years old, you shouldn’t get it. Take extra time to examine your motives. Is this a rash decision motivated by peer pressure or an attempt to be cool? Or is something deeply meaningful to you?

I have seen beautiful tattoos of Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Sacred Heart that were chosen out of devotion and love. But I have also seen “Murder” tattooed on someone’s neck and Betty Boop on someone’s arm. Some choices are clearly better than others, and some are indeed immoral.

When choosing a tattoo, the best rule is that of St. Paul: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.

2. Degree – Another consideration that warrants prudence is the amount and placement of tattoos. Your face, neck, or other highly visible areas are probably not wise places to mark your body. In other words, don’t express your grief by getting tattoo tears!

As with anything, moderation is also important. While a tattoo is not wrong, it is excessive and probably immoral to cover your entire body in ink. It is certainly not in accord with the virtue of temperance and the scriptural command to exercise “moderation in all things.” I admit it is difficult to choose a point when tattoos become excessive, but it is always best to exercise a high degree of caution.

Conclusion

Opinions are strong on both sides of this issue, and I’m sure there will be some readers who disagree with my assessment. Still, love them or hate them, I can find nothing that prohibits a Catholic from getting a tattoo, and we must be careful not to make this a moral issue when there is no clear magisterial teaching on it. Still, as with anything in the Christian life, the virtues of temperance, charity, and prudence apply.

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Sam Guzman

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123 People Replies to “A Marked Man: Should Catholics Get Tattoos?”

  1. FrBarry Stechschulte

    Tattooing one’s body is immoral because it is self-mutilation (scaring or wounding the body for no beneficial health reason) out of vanity (inordinate self worship). A tattoo shows a disrespect for and a lack of satisfaction with the body God gave us.

  2. Ann McKalip

    I know in my heart that tattoos are inherently sinful. For some, it is probably a venial sin that is easily forgiven by God, but it offends Him nonetheless.

    The Bible tells us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Tattoos are mutilation and a desecration of your pure flesh. It does not matter how “holy” the image is. Your body is not to be treated as a mural or a billboard.

    If you want a reminder of your faith, decorate your home with Catholic art, keep a rosary in your pocket, and wear a scapular.

    1. Having a feeling about something does not mean that the feeling is correct. You say: “For some, it is probably a venial sin that is easily forgiven by God, but it offends Him nonetheless.” I would argue that: for all, it is not a sin, and does not offend Him whatsoever. The Bible does tell us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. When the Hebrews built the temple in Jerusalem, they were instructed to embellish that temple with a great host of images. Your conclusion would drive a person to believe that God instructed the Hebrews wrongly in embellishing His temple – and that the embellishments amounted to some form of tastelessness. If I or anyone else wants a reminder of their faith, especially in the God of the Bible and of the Catholic Church, they do well to imitate Him and to show their love for Him in any and all ways that are not against Him.

  3. Adrian

    Would an angel add to the spiritual body given by God? Would he mark his spiritual nature other what God has given him. We do better to approach this from virtues, not drawing attention to oneself to oneself or oneself to others rather than scriptural arguments. Its not sinful but imperfect. You body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so why not ask Him?

    1. Where do you find that an angel never adds to the spiritual body given by God? An angel’s spiritual nature, I would say, is marked by their unique personality, choices, and talents, just like humans – given that they have free will and are different persons. I’m not certain that there is a spiritual equivalent to a physical tattoo, but I see presupposition in your argument that tattoos or embellishment is evil or perverse in some way. I’d remind you that God himself ordered human hands to decorate His temple with images of all kinds of things.

  4. Bertski

    Mother church doesn’t say anything about tattoos? It’s OT, which is scripture and all scripture is good for reproof and doctrine. As the Bible doesn’t say much about many things as they weren’t issues at that time and general common knowledge spoke for itself. Which seems to be omitted from todays’ society.
    Which I sure hope the rest of the world isn’t following the course of America. Come out of her my people. I tried but my efforts were trashed.
    Again the false doctrines being propagated are seemingly becoming more prevalent. With religion becoming more politics, but omitting the faith.
    Some do things as young people they wouldn’t do as older people, where parents are supposed to guide their youth which issues existed long ago and they’ve gotten worse. Desensitization and social acceptance of things that didn’t used to be.
    But the things others do reflects moral disease in the soul. As things internally many times manifest outwardly.
    There’s always been spiritual illnesses but from my end, they seen to be much more manifest. Which the sheer lack of ethics is a disgust with underhanded methods so common.
    At least from my experience, as others that intrude into anothers’ home, vehicle and everything else is oppressive.
    Where I’m like to know others who desire to live by Gods’ will rather than try to justify what they want to do.
    As tattoos, it reflects something internally that I can’t relate to. To become so rampant. It says something about the negligence of society generations before. There must be internal bouts or something. Or maybe it’s to say something one doesn’t have the opportunity to say or don’t know how to say. Something is going on as it’s a new phenomena.
    Which the Bible is part of Holy Tradition making it valid for doctrine, where it’s clearly stated not to mark ones self up.
    Or is society going to omit scripture and create their own? Where it isn’t Christianity that’s being promoted when doctrine is omitted and common sense excluded. Too many wanting a rule book void of desire for God, but a preference to justify ones’ preferences.
    Some passions are internal, but others are absolute choices.
    Make your choice, but I don’t want any part of this stuff.

  5. The only thing that I question is this. Your qoute, ” Personally, I wouldn’t get a tattoo. I don’t find them attractive, and they are far too permanent for my taste. ” Sounds alot like ” I personally don’t believe in abortion, but who am I to judge” please provide your thoughts on the difference between these two?

    1. Jeremy

      Difference being that abortion is murder which is strictly forbidden by the Church, and tattooing is neither. That’s like comparing infidelity to eating pork chops.

  6. LOVED this article – greatly enjoyed it. Good information and common-sense Catholicism. Here is one Catholic who has actually read your comments and proofs, and won’t incessantly finger-shake about personal preferences. God bless!

  7. I am a Catholic and have two tattoos. The first, which I received at 18 years of age, is a cross on a shield. I got it because I was surrounded by non-christian friends, and realized that I had a hard time professing my faith in the midst of disbelief. With a christian tattoo on my arm, there was no hiding my beliefs, whether reluctant to profess or not. It also reminds me daily to put on the full armor of Christ, or at least attempt to.

    My second tattoo was received after a series of tragedies struck my life. I thought that a daily reminder of the presence of God, and His eternal presence in my life would be a good thing. Therefore, it is an abstract rendition of roman numerals 46:10 which brings to mind the Psalm every time I look into the mirror.

    Are these the only reasons that I have them? No. I also like the way they look and think that like minded individuals will also. It’s my view that negative reactions to people with tattoos are an indication of the viewers scrupulosity and unbalanced understanding of human and cultural diversity. If one wishes to remain as they were, fresh out of the womb, so be it.

    Furthermore, upon our resurrection, should Jesus decide that our tattoos are not ideal — He will remove them free of charge.

    God bless.

  8. Tattoos for males. Man has been adorning his pores and skin for the reason that daybreak of the cave dweller, and tattoos for males have had a complete spectrum of objective and which means.

  9. Tattoos for males. Man has been adorning his pores and skin for the reason that daybreak of the cave dweller, and tattoos for males have had a complete spectrum of objective and which means. From the early days – when tribal markings represented you

  10. Matt

    So would a memorial tattoo be immoral?

  11. Nancy Mooney

    I have been reading all your comments and feel many of them ate hypocritical. I have a rosary tatoo and if that will earn a spot in the eternal fires of hell than the God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are unforgiving. I believe in a forgiving God. It’s interesting thar many Catholic Priests have molested innocent children and they were moved from parish to parish. It was just revealed that Priests as high as tbe Vatican wwre having orgies. If that isn’t a mortal sin than I don’t know what to say. No one can be my judge and jury. I am a loving person with high morals and not only do I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour I also love Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Hell will be very crowded since so many people have tattoos and. None of you have ever interviewed the Almighty and the bible can be interpreted in many ways. The Pope and Catholics change rules when it iz convenient to them and many are hypocritical. My relationship with God is personal and private. It’s ok for murderers go to heaven but not people with tatoos. You are all closed minded.

  12. Nick Santoro

    This is a topic I feel is grossly unimportant in the scope of eternity. Which is the scope that God is using, and a view no one else has. I have commented about this very issue before. Whether a person has a tattoo or not, grows a beard or shaves everyday, wears a suit to mass as opposed to shorts and a tee, these are absolutely not the things we should be angry about. Aren’t there more pressing issues that we as Catholics should be so angry about? Things like terrorism, poverty, education, and the general safety of all our brothers and sisters (tattooed and non-tattooed alike)? we should be leaving comments of love and acceptance of one another, that is where true salvation and peace lie, not in any particular persons interpretation of scripture (not even mine), and while so many topics can be vigorously debated, I would hope no person on this thread would be so conflict bound as to actually say that Love wasn’t Jesus’ objective.

    This world is just material, everything burns, everyone dies. Is an argument on the morality of tattoos really what should be at the top of our spiritual to-do lists? I would hope humility, love, peace, and understanding are your priorities, alongside helping your fellow man in any way possible. The point here is this: What’s so hard about peace, love, and understanding? Answer: It’s only as hard as you make it.

  13. As regards “mutilate”, consult a dictionary.

    You say- “simply because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean that its a bad thing.” Absolutely correct. As I said, I don’t understand. So why not explain to me?

    1. Robert Miller

      I did, and as I suspected, my explanation wasn’t good enough. There’s nothing else I could really add that would satisfy you.

      I will leave you with this

      http://www.catholic.com/blog/matt-fradd/what-does-the-church-teach-about-tattoos

      Have a good day.

  14. Robert Miller

    The word “Mutilation” carries a very bad preconceived connotation. In this case, when the morality of this issue is pretty much a matter of opinion, that would be a misleading word to use. Most call it modification, art, some even call it a “permanent memory book”. Benefits vary greatly according to the person. Women use make up to appear more attractive (how vain is that), both men and women pierce their ears for ornamentation, I would assume that tattooing for most is a combination of everything.

    Yes, its meant to be permanent. Given that, most people only get tattoos of things that are very important to them, or things that they go through to remind them of where they come from. Its very personal.

    Given that you are obviously against tattooing, I know that no explanation would be sufficient for you. But, simply because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean that its a bad thing. That’s indicated by your choice of the word ” mutilation “.

    Peace.

  15. Why on earth would anyone want to mutilate their body? I simply don’t understand it. What benefits does it bring? Can anyone explain?

  16. DJ

    I just wanted to know if it’s bad for a catholic to get a tatto, something meaningful to me, like let’s say doves or just birds,

  17. Keith Cannon

    Tattoos…. as well as likeness of any kind are strictly forbidden by the Bible for reasons of blasphemy and idolatry but also because your skin does not belong to you, it belongs to God and God does not want you to forget that…. you forgot that, didn’t you? If you want to make a real jackass out of yourself, flaunt your ignorance and selfishness, and demonstrate a total lack of sincerity and integrity…. then be a Jew, Christian or Muslim with a tattoo…. remember, this goes beyond merely braking the commandment on tattoos because by saying it is OK to get one you are saying that God is wrong, which is the worst sin of all and G-d punishes not only you but four generations of your offspring for that one. My recommendation is to admit you done believe in it and quit that nasty shit, the religion you are mocking by getting a tattoo has caused grave and serious damage to civilization…. BE A PAGAN…. it is obvious you want to…. tree worship…. you do it every Christmas anyway….

    1. Jeremy

      No one is saying that God is wrong. What understanding people are saying is that the instruction not to mark the body was given to Hebrews because of various reasons not pertaining to the Christian era. Hebrews were given much instruction that does not pertain to the age in which we live. Catholics don’t worship trees or herbs, saints or popes. We worship God the best way we know how. Whether a tattoo is present on the skin of a person in worship does not degrade the value of the worship or the integrity of the worshipper. You seem to fear the wrath of God more than you fear letting Him down. I try to fear the hurt that I cause Him in my failure instead of fearing His wrath when said failure occurs. That, I feel, is more to the point. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  18. GodsGadfly

    We believe in the resurrectin of the body. Christ has the markings of His Crucifixion. We don’t know exactly what it means; the Saints tell us many conflicting things as to whether the Resurrected Body will be removed of deformities, etc., or whether they will be glorified–but what we do know is that we bear the chance of not only having to face these decisions for earthly lifie but for all sempiternity. That must be taken into account. I have a body covered in scars from multiple surgeries. I don’t want to have to stare at them forever, and pray that God will take them away, but I also realize they’re part of me.

  19. Servant

    I found this discussion to be fascinating. Moreover, it clearly illustrates a difference in both personalities and perspective of virtuous activity. I have always been turned off by zealots, who profess their Christianity, yet pass so much judgement on their fellow believers. This is especially true when applying literal translation to the writings in the Old Testament, especially Leviticus. At what point did it become an un-Christian act to question? Who are we as humans to cast so much judgement of someone’s heart and intent, based upon something that may of been representative of a group in the past (e.g., pagan ritual).

    I myself have several tattoos, including religious iconic images. They are personal to me, and although not visible to the public except at the beach, they are artistic expressions of my journey in life. I would never encourage or propagate for anyone to get a tattoo solely as an expression of faith. However, anyone who uses writings in the Bible to question or judge what is within someone’s heart or intent is the height of ignorance. It can be argued, that despite being made in the image of God, we were not made perfect. We all are flawed, weak, imperfect and spend our life’s journey seeking clarification, guidance, and hopefully self improvement. There is a reason the church recognizes saints, unlike many Protestant followings. Because Saints went above and beyond. If everyone was a true saint, what would discern a saint from others?

    For me, when I tattooed Christ’s crucifix image on my back, it was not in mockery, nor disrespect for my body, nor vanity. It was the contrary, a commitment to what I hold dear and true. If the savior could spend a day on cross suffering for our sins, I could surely endure 10 hours of excruciating pain to adorn and pay homage to my teacher. I am a crusader at heart. I believe in defending the pilgrims, and the holy land from those who would deny it. I have fought in righteous battle to do good, and my tattoos are a testament to my service. My is dedicated to being a better follower, not pretending to be above those who do not follow the same path.

    I have known priests with tattoos, and I have seen agnostics perform heroic acts of kindness and humanitarianism. There have been varying practices throughout history by Catholics and non-Catholics, which were considered by some to be of less than virtuous behavior. I believe that we will be judged by the Lord when our time has come, and arrogance is no more virtuous than vanity. However, I would never confuse prudish with prudence. Claiming to be a good Catholic over another Catholic seems like a paradox, I could not carry as a burden. The difference between a zealot and a believer is quite obvious to the observant. I’ll put my faith in God over the opinion my fellow parishioner. If marking my mortal body makes me a bad Catholic in your eyes, so be it. Obviously, redemption and forgiveness don’t appear to be high on your scale of inclusivity. I will never be perfect in all my choices in life, but I truly pray for forgiveness. If you truly believe your faith is greater than others, than I pray that your soul is forgiven.

    1. Nick

      I used to be catholic and this is the reason I am now Protestant. There are MANY reasons actually, but things like this, the church leaves so much in a gray area, like it’s too afraid to call sin by its right name because it would risk loosing members. The church I belong to now has a clear Biblical teaching that is out in the open about jewelry, tattoos, piercings, and immodest dress. God wants us to be noticed because of our character, the way we talk, the compassion we show and not because of any type of outward decoration. God made us perfect, any decorating has self at the center: “I want to do this” and is it really the best way to use the money God has given us? Now at the same time I don’t look down upon people that choose to do these things. That’s between them and God. My job is to point them to Christ and show them I care about them.

      1. If you’ve left the Catholic faith because you think that it leaves too much in the grey areas of uncertainty, you should read the Catechism. In it, you will find everything that the Catholic church holds firm. Much of what has been left in the ‘grey area’, has been left there because it’s either of little import, or it is a newly developed situation in time – tattoos have been around for a very long time, which suggests that it’s not a subject of import when it comes to salvation, or the well-being of a saint.

  20. Alan

    I think that we could realize our potentiality as artists and craftsmen only over non-living matter. God made us from clay, but He made us in His image and likeness, and every other living creature as an representation of the aspects of His infinite wisdom and power, never having He turned one creature into another, or even repented for His creation and changed something in their forms. For this sole reason I believe that, if the act isn’t part of a health treatment or hygiene, we’re forbidden to change everything in our bodies, moreover based only in vanity reasons. Besides Mario wrote that tattoing isn’t against natural law, I don’t agree with his conclusion. A tattoo still is something that was unnaturally introduced in your skin, that don’t belongs to the nature of the body that God made for you in His own likeness on the womb of your mother, therefore, that permanently changes the nature of the image that God conceived you for no other reason than adornment. Moreover, there’s no comparison in the act of making a tattoo – that changes you permanently and that exposes you to unnecessary risks – and the act of shave legs or do haircuts – that are after all acts of hygiene that don’t change the nature of your appearance and don’t presents any treat. Almost the same for tattoing compared to make up. When the first is permanent and change the nature of your look for the end of your life with serious risks, the second is a vanity act that can be undone anytime, however it have its own risks and complications in a minor degree – such skin diseases and allergies – for those women that don’t accept its own likeness.
    What David wrote in June 10 of 2014 seems to me a powerful and virtuous argument for why Catholics shouldn’t have a tattoo. They’re expensive, the first thing that leads you to do one is vanity and we could deluding ourselves into thinking that we’re expressing our faith with them, in truth misleading us into sins against humility, charity and temperance. To add to this, Gemma precisely and rightfully wrote that tattoo in our modern western civilization is nothing more than a trend, what I dare even to say that it is a pagan trend and product of the pagan revival that came with the desacralization of man by the secular civilization. What is to mean that, in the actual context our society lives is absolutely an anti-Catholic act submit your body to such practice for those obvious reasons and for the reasons she writes in her comment. I believe that submit Catholic images and Tradition or Bible inscriptions to such act inserted in this context, is to risk yourself into sacrilege, as we were advised by the narrative of Hubert Zajma. As a officer, agree with USMC. There is no need to carry the banner of your division, none the names of your comrades in your flesh, first of all because the real tribute we pay to then must be through our service and care for family, and finally because if we’re called to be who we’re is because our faith in Jesus Christ, for Whom our respect and service may be dedicated first and by Whom our relationship with comrades and the exercise of our duty will be guided and nurtured, is above any supposed need to prove something to someone, in the process denying who we’re are.

    Whenever I was thought about doing a tattoo, things like David and USMC wrote were what always keeps me away from then. Ending for here, I think that our brothers by the Church, tattoed or not, still continues to be our brothers by this Church and in the journey for sanctity, they with their sins and I with my sins. However, as I don’t incite others to sin, I believe that they must be more prudent before incite someone to do a tattoo or to defend it passionately.

  21. Applying the question “What would Jesus do?” as a litmus test for the morality of tattoos fails the simple test of logic and common sense. As the Son of God and our Savior, Jesus did some things we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do, and he did not do some things we would normally do.

    1. Would Jesus get married? No, therefore I shouldn’t get married.
    2. Would Jesus go out on dates? No, so I shouldn’t either.
    3. Would Jesus preach in the streets? Yes, so I should start preaching in the streets.
    4. Did Jesus gather disciples/apostles to found his Church? Yes, so I should start gathering them too and start my church.
    5. Would Jesus get nailed to a cross? Yes, so I should do this too. (Yes, there are people who do this on Good Fridays!)
    6. Would Jesus get a tattoo? No, so I shouldn’t get a tattoo.
    7.

    As you can see, this starts to get absurd! And you can add your own to the list.

    It goes without saying however, that there are so many things Jesus did that we should imitate and emulate.

    Bottom line, the Church has not said anything, for or against tattoos.

    I would not presume to know better than the Church on this matter. If I do, then something else may be at work. (Perhaps intellectual pride? You decide.)

    So whatever anyone thinks about it – for or against – is just an OPINION and should not be imposed on anyone else. Our opinions are not infallible.

    Although I would prefer an expert’s opinion to my own, on a given subject matter.

    To those who have decided to paint a broad brush (pun intended) against ALL tattoos with all the authority that they can muster, please ask yourselves, “Is my opinion infallible?”
    That should hopefully give you pause.

    I don’t care for tattoos myself, heck I would even prefer that women don’t wear makeup at all, but that’s just me.
    Of course, let’s not throw common sense out the door either.
    Others have already mentioned it here, so NO to demonic or pagan tattoos.

    God bless.

  22. Larry

    There are many very good reasons NOT to get tattoos. God created our bodies in his image and, therefore our bodies from birth to death should remain without alteration from us. Our bodies need no additional permanent decoration such as a tattoo and in fact getting one, I would think, would indicate that you aren’t happy with how God created you and getting a tattoo could even be considered a sacrilege against God’s own creation, you yourself! Your body is NOT yours to do with as you wish! Your body is only a temporary vessel while your soul is here on Earth. It is NOT yours to do with as you wish! Your body ACTUALLY belongs to God, not you! He is the one who brought it into being. He is the one who will return it to dust and he is the one who will raise it up again on the day of Final Judgement. Why do you think we are told on Ash Wednesday, “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return?”
    The church may not condemn getting tattoos because they are no longer prohibited as we are New Covenant Christians, but we are also told through Confirmation that one of the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit is “fear of the Lord.” This fear includes respecting what God has created and isn’t a human body the greatest of God’s creations? A human body should not be permanently desecrated for something as inane as personal or decorative purposes (obviously medical implants such as a cardiac pacemaker are necessary and prolong life). Lastly, everyone’s body after Baptism is a temple of the Holy Spirit and putting a tattoo on that body is no different than painting graffiti on any Catholic Church containing the Blessed Sacrament. It is a desecration. Wake up people. This life is NOT all there is; you will be standing before God much sooner than you think because life passes so quickly. You will have to explain that tattoo to the Creator God who gave you your body in the first place. There is NO good reason to get a tattoo.

    1. steph

      I bet He would like my cross your my mother’s name.. I intend to do them and after your hateful comment or the certain God think like YOU, I’ll do it much more quicly.

  23. Sam, don’t you just love the arm chair moral experts? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be a Catholic Gentlemen. Good treatment of this issue. Btw, tattoos are used today as a means of physical reconstruction to mask unsightly wounds from injury or illness. Blessings.

    1. I personally don’t have any problems with tattoos, but I really don’t think I’ll ever get one. I ESPECIALLY wouldn’t get one to cover up “unsightly” scars from injury or illness, because I see scars as being “nature’s tattoos.” Why get a tattoo when you have marks showing the hardships you have fought and won because God made you strong enough to handle those situations?

      Tattoos also used to be a way to stand out from the crowd, but I would rather stand out for NOT having tattoos.

      Again, a person with tattoos is no different to me than a person without tattoos, but they really aren’t my thing.

  24. AussieTom

    Considering the fact that I have read all the comments of this article, I find it ironic how some supposed catholics are judging others when the bible says “thou shalt not judge”. Also how is it that a man of God Fr. Bart accepts tattoos, has one himself yet others still think its wrong….are you questioning a Father?

    “My body is a temple and my tattoos are the stained glass windows” is a perfect analogy, one that I use.

    Oh and by the way, my local priest has a sleeve of jesus on the cross with the lamb of god below.

    KMO: you’re wrong in everything you’re saying and it was very irritating for me to read. 🙂

    1. TDM

      Hahaha totally agree with you about KMO, whoever they may be, they’re hypocritical to say the least. But I have nothing against people with beliefs, even though they may be falsely justified. Hopefully KMO responds because I would like to hear a more detailed and precise response.

  25. wmdickson

    Perhaps a few things to think about:

    1. If you think that tattoos are a desecration, or that they make a statement about the imperfection of God, then you should probably also think that they are immoral. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think that tattoos are a desecration, necessarily, though the wrong sort of tattoo certainly could be.)

    2. I’ve never heard of somebody getting a tattoo for the sake of ‘improving on God’s creation’ or for the sake of making one’s body more beautiful. (I don’t doubt that some people do it for these reasons; I’ve just never heard of it.) The reasons that I’ve heard given have very little to do with ‘improving’ the body.

    3. Avoiding scandal is indeed very important. And I agree that the wrong tattoo in the wrong circumstances can be scandalous. At the same time, we should draw a distinction between scandal as ‘leading another astray’ (which is always a sin when done intentionally) versus scandal as ‘causing some form of shock or disgust’ (which is not necessarily a sin). I’m not endorsing the latter in all circumstances, but there is a place for it, especially when those who are shocked are shocked far too easily.

  26. Armon

    Great topic on tattoos, although I have one on my right arm, I highly regret getting it. I had the tattoo done about 15 years ago before I came to know Christ in my life. Although, I agree there is nothing morally wrong with tattoos, I can say i would never get one again for the simple reason that I believe we are all created in the image and likeliness of God. To get a tattoo is in some ways saying “God you made a mistake, I’m not beautiful and I can make it better by decorating myself”. If you are a leader in the Church, as most of us Baptized Catholics are leaders in one way or another, we should be careful not to create scandal and lead someone away who may be looking at us as an example of Christ. Just saying : )

    1. steph

      I think God gave me a beautiful white and hydrous panel to do Catholic or symbols of my blessed life tattoos and show with pride to anyone. He’s the greatest. Don’t regret.

  27. Penny

    While I believe we are no longer bound by ceremonial law and tattoos are permissible, I strongly feel that subject matter is important. If a religious person opts to get tattoos, the themes shouldn’t be vulgar or blasphemous. I have three secular ones: the Brooklyn Bridge for my hometown, a cat, and a (modestly dressed) little girl doll. They symbolize what I will always cherish and love. They were well planned out, and I get an overwhelmingly positive response to them. I chose placement in a way that they can all be covered up at times. I also have a budded cross, even more meaningful because my decision to become Christian was one that my family didn’t easily or quickly accept. And I have a tattoo of St. Therese of Lisieux. On days when I have doubts about my abilities or place in the world, I can see a beautiful reminder that we don’t have to do great deeds to be right with God. The loving everyday ones are enough. Someday each of us will face God, and we all have our sins and strengths. I think He will judge those, and how we treated others, over any appearance of the bodies we carried through earthly battle.

  28. Maya

    Everyone has their opinion, yet only God can judge what is right and wrong. You should be more concerned about your own lives instead of judging what you personally think is right and wrong. For all you know that person you’re glaring at with such disgust because they have tattooed themselves might be closer to God than you ever will be.

  29. Lot’s of commonly made arguments, here. What is (refreshingly) uncommon is the overall civil nature of this discussion. For some reason, it is an issue about which emotions run high and good reasoning runs a little low.

    I think you did a nice job of raising some of the important issues, and some others have raised some other important issues. I’m in the middle of writing down the result of trying (a few years ago) to think carefully through this subject. (I’m so busy that finishing is proving a challenge, alas…) To anybody who is interested, what is finished is here:

    http://justhappenedtobethinking.blogspot.com/

    The one issue that I did not raise there (and will not) but has been raised here a few times is ‘what Jesus (or Mary) would do’. While at some level this can be a very helpful question to ask, our answer to it, in the end, could not be anything more than a reflection of our honest and hopefully considered views about what is morally right, informed, let us hope, by the teachings of the Church and the life of Christ (among other things). I don’t see how asking (and answering) that question could possibly tell us whether getting a tattoo is wrong.

  30. Appreciate the article, Sam. I just got my first tattoo, actually two of them. I chose a design that had a lot of meaning to me and symbolized a very important part of my life that I want to memorialize forever… I think it’s very tasteful, and I have no problem showing it to people.

  31. Mom2three

    Interesting arguments on both sides. I got my first and only tattoo at age 49 — a triquetra (Celtic trinity symbol) on the top of my foot. It only shows when I wear sandals, but I see it everyday and love it!

  32. Rich

    KMO – Your view from your ivory tower must be fabulous.
    John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

  33. HappyHardcore

    As a convert, I cannot believe some of the attitudes towards tattoos, considering the churches teachings. I have 3, a cross on my chest, my marriage ring (I cannot wear one because of my job or any of the other jobs I have held), and In Hoc Signo Vince’s on my right ring finger. My tats are great way for my to remmeber where my allaince is. I did not get these for the approval of others, but as a reminder to myself and as a sign that my detication is permanent. If you choose to do it in another way that is fine, but our church has not said this is wrong in anyway and to treat someone otherwise is out of bounds with church teaching. The most ironic thing is that whatever log is in your eye is way worse than my non existent splinter.

  34. Here is a link to an excellent commentary from Fr. Stephen Somerville on the matter of Catholics and tattoos:

    http://www.traditioninaction.org/Questions/F013_Tattos_Somerville.html

    Note that Fr. Somerville, in addition to referencing Leviticus, quotes from 1 Cor 6:19-20: “…your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit…you are not your own…Therefore, honour God with your bodies.” Here, Fr. Somerville states that we already have an indelible permanent mark – Christ’s mark – through Baptism and Confirmation.

    Earlier, Leslie mentioned the quip, “What would Jesus do?” I believe another good example and benchmark for living our faith is Mary. Would anyone rightly conceive of the Mother of God getting a tattoo? Not only was Mary sinless, she always chose the better part.

    USMC’s comments are worth careful consideration for anyone discerning getting a tattoo.

    I would like to thank everyone in this thread for keeping their comments intelligent, thoughtful, and “on topic”.

    Sam, I also appreciate the blog for providing insightful articles with “food for thought” on fulfilling our Catholic life.

  35. I like the Catholic Gentlemen on Facebook and just linked this article to another Catholic lady who is a brilliant artist but is tried of being a starving artist and just started a tattoo apprenticeship. I have two tattoos myself: my family coat of arms on my back and the Holy Trinity and St. George (my patron saint) on my left upper arm. The Catholics (and one Baptist) in my family that do have tattoos are my mom, grandmother (not Catholic), sister, her boyfriend, and myself. In talking with priests and my other family members (as reflected in the article) as long as it isn’t something evil or completely stupid that we will don’t want it, it’s fine. I waited until I was 21 to get my coat of arms tattoo, and waited a couple of years after to get my 2nd piece. My tattoos mean something and honor God and my family.

  36. jacob

    Arguments agains tattoos:
    1) The Old testament is quite clear about tattoos, as the Leviticus quotes that were published earlier clearly indicate.(Earrings for women were for a long time also not considered modest. My mother was not allowed to get earrings for this reason.)
    2) Tattooing is strongly affiliated with pagan religions, and with the spread of christianity, tattooing became much less popular.
    3) Tattoos i.e. embellishing one’s body is most of the time done for vanity reasons. To attribute so much importance to one’s body, i.e. worship one’s body, is clearly a form of polytheism.
    4) We are created in the image of our Lord; it is a gift He has bestowed upon us. We are, hence, not meant to needlessly ruin or scar our bodies, or expose it to risks (e.g. possible hepatitis infections from tattooing). To do so is a sign of ungratefulness.

    There are, however, exceptions. Children of Coptic Christians traditionally have a small, discreet tattoo of a cross on their wrist. There is a reason for this: in the case children get kidnapped and are forcefully converted to Islam; the tattoo then serves as a reminder of their true spiritual identities. I think such a functionalist tattoo is permissible.

  37. Consider this! As the flesh denies you, that Tattoo will deform and decay as well and become dust. For the same cost with out the physical pain and other risks, one could have a Classical Drawn Portrait in a Traditional medium, that with time will transcend you and last through your family to be shared for many generations,

  38. Andrew

    There is a tradition of tattoos among some Christians. For example some Coptic Orthodox and Catholics get small tattoos of the cross on their hands or wrists. In a country where you can be persecuted for your faith in Christ such a tattoo can be a profound and brave witness. Also, I live in an area which has many Ethiopian Orthodix immigrants. Older woman sometimes tattoo the cross on their foreheads (the young don’t carry on this tradition it seems). Finally, some Croatian Catholic women would get tattooed with Christian tattoos to deter Muslims from kidnapping them and forcing them into marriage. Last but not least, many Orthodix pilgrims to the Holy Land get a tattoo to commemorate their pilgrimage.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/bytopic/missionsworldchristianity/tattoosofthecross.html

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/05/14/tattoos-offer-permanent-reminder-for-holy-land-pilgrims/

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_tattooing_in_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina

    You might also be interested in this article where a 1300 year old mummy had been found with a tattoo invoking St. Michael.

    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5042717

    Personally, I think tattoos are unnecessary because God made us just fine without adornment. Nevertheless, it would seem that there is a diversity of opinion on this issue among Christians.

  39. One day I talked with catholic exorcist priest who told me about young man who get a tatoo which was first words of Our Father prayer. But he had terrible luck, becuse he went to tattoo studio where worked a guy who made him tattoo in terrible pagan rite. Boy I’m telling about didn’t know this before demons began to harass him. During the exorcism exorcist discovered that under each letter was one demon.

    Before I heard that story I thought about tattoo, but now I think that can be too dangerous to my soul.

    PS. Exorcist who told me this was priest Michał Olszewski SCJ.

  40. David

    I will not get tattooed. Quality and safe “decorations” (for that is all they truly are, at least in the context of us Catholics) are expensive and would place hardship upon my family. That would make it a sin for me- to selfishly use money on myself for decoration.

    If money were no object, I would have a full set of sleeves depicting:

    • The Chi Rho built of bones wreathed in olive leaves on my left shoulder & The jerusalem cross (also built of bones) nearby – bones to remind me of my mortality.
    • My family crest & My wife’s family crest on my right shoulder
    • A dove of flame to commemorate my recent confirmation (G-d be praised) and a reminder to my devotion to the Holy Spirit on my left upper arm
    • A skinning knife bound by rope to my left forearm the tip piercing the flesh to remind me of St. Bartholomew (my patron) and of the flesh we must constantly keep circumcised.
    • A pearl in the center of a rose (to remember my grandmother who raised me from a wee pup and has gone to her rest in G-d) & A dolphin arcing over the rose to remember my grandfather (he loved dolphins and also raised me) all on my right upper arm.

    etc. etc. etc…

    The sin would be to use money my family could use for bills and food, on myself- on decoration. Because that’s all they would be. Decorations.

    For purposes of memorial or otherwise, they are all just decorations. The real memorial remains in your heart.

    They are not necessary and the funds could go towards my calling, a tithe, a friend in need, toys for orphans, sandwiches for homeless, medicine for poor widows, bibles for prisoners, etc. etc.

    Right?

    No matter how you slice it, no matter who you are (clergy, laity, heck- Papa Francis even!), there is a better use of that money than mere decoration- mere vanity.

    Jesus taught us about money plenty of times didn’t He? Taught us about our appearances?

    Now, if anyone knows a guy who would ink me up for free and do a sic job, then let’s get in touch! I mean, c’mon now, son!

    Too simple?

    Peace be with you all. May G-d draw us all ever closer to Him.

  41. USMC

    Everyone, and I mean everyone in this debate thread misses a critical phenomenon going on here; there will come a time when the world is pressured to take upon their person the mark of the Beast. Pray God not in our lifetime! But whether tattoos are moral or immoral is not the point. The point is that an easy cultural acceptance of tattoos will make it all that much easier for people to take the mark of the Beast when they are presented with the choice of either swearing allegiance to the Beast or declaring their allegiance to Christ crucified. The absolute lack of the gift of the Holy Spirit we call Wisdom is astounding in this collection of responses. Does no one see the conditioning taking place here? If/when the time comes for Satan to introduce the mark of the Beast do you think that he will have a more difficult time of it if culturally “everybody’s doing it”? No. It will be as easy as taking one breath after another. No one will give a second thought to the most important decision they will ever make in their life in this world. Tattoos in and of themselves are moral or immoral depending upon the state of the heart of the individual getting them. But the conditioning taking place in the mind and heart is the real issue. I was in the military. 20 years a Marine. I know about conditioning and the easy, uncritical, trendy and mindless acceptance of tattoos is the real issue. On, and I never felt the need to have my service pride tattooed onto my body. I know this may smack some but it will resonate with others: I don’t have tattoos. I have self-respect.

    1. steph

      I have self-respect and I would have a tatto too.
      So?

    2. TC

      Great insight, thanks.

  42. Gemma

    Over the past few years tattoos have become increasingly popular in society, across all of the social classes and also the different age groups. It is a cool thing to do. Would we be discussing tattoos if they had not become so popular in recent times? Do we not have other ways of bearing witness to our faith other than succumbing to a modern trend? Might I suggest that we should remember that Catholics do not follow fashions or trends and try to have moderation in how we present ourselves.

  43. That’s a fair question. I don’t have the money for travel off the continent, so the countries in the questions never come up. My understanding is this: most of the countries raise flags, as in the blood needs to be examined more closely before it may be used. I am not certain if there are some countries which are automatic disqualifiers, although I imagine there may be.

    If you are asking me if I would or would not go to these flagged countries if I had the means on account of my blood donations, I can only say that it would be a consideration for me. We are commanded to give aid to the sick, and this is my way. I can’t help but think it would be a mistake for me to throw it away casually.

  44. Alex

    At the end of the day everyone needs to look at themselves and ask “Am I the perfect Catholic?”

    Yes – No you’re not. (Refer Below)

    No – Then what gives you the right to judge the decisions of others as immoral or immodest. A guy gets an unsavoury tattoo on his face. Are you going to be that guy who judges him? Then what’s the difference between you and those men who threw rocks at adulterers? Do you know this person’s story? No. Do you know anything about people with tattoos? No. Are you basing everything on judgements and stereotypes made on your high horse? Yes.

    It’s really simple, if you decide to focus on your own spirituality and connection to God rather then the supposed immoral or immodest decisions of others I’m pretty sure you’ll become better Catholics.

    A true evangelist doesn’t force his views on people. He goes out there and teaches anyone who’s willing to learn and ACCEPTS it when his teachings and views are not shared.

    When did Catholics lose their acceptance and compassion of others and based their decisions on external frivolities? Yes the Old Testament does refute tattoos but the Old Testament also refutes wearing fabrics made of two kinds of fiber and working on Sundays.
    Oh and make sure all your meals do not contain any traces of pork. Say goodbye to ham, bacon, pork knuckles and any other kind of dish derived from a pig.

    So before you cast a rock at the first tattooed guy you see, Make sure to have someone ready to throw a rock at you too.

    1. steph

      …… beautiful!!!!!

  45. Jim

    If your body is the temple of God ,would you mark it ? Would you go down to your Church and graffiti the walls with ”The sacred heart of Jesus” ? Or an AC/DC logo ? We have no boundaries anymore . People now are covered head to toe with tattoos like circus freaks and guess what they’ll look like in 50 years .

    1. steph

      yes. Is the temple. and we would decorate it, like the colourful windows or the church paintings and it’s arquitecture, where we go and show we’re catholics and feel in peace with all that it’s related.

  46. Karen Williams

    I’m so glad you bring this up because it is prudential. While I do not think it constitutes grave moral sin to get a tattoo, the question that seems to come up for me the most is this: should I decide to get a tattoo, who’s work would I like to override the original craftsmanship that gave me my skin in the first place? Who would be a good enough artist for me to wear him around perpetually…advertising for him….displaying his art….? The answer. God. There is no artist greater than God. It would be like spraying graffitti in the Sistene Chapel or like slapping a bumper sticker on a Ferrari.

    1. Your logic, I’m afraid, doesn’t hold at all. Who then was Michaelangelo to depict the human form, on stones and plaster made by God, the greatest artist?
      If we were banned from marking creation with our own art, then we are completely covered in sin. Although I’m sure you mean well, you are representing the position of radical iconoclasm, the position of Oliver Cromwell and the German Peasants who smashed statuary and stained glass. And if it is the human body you are concerned about, tell me, do you get haircuts, shave your legs, wear makeup, or dress? Then you are participating in the same ‘graffiti’. This is an untenable position. Humans were meant to be sub-creators, co-participants in the beauty that God made. Of course nothing will ever supersede His creation, since we are inside of it. But we have been given the great chrism of the ability to rearrange cotton bolls into cloth, rock pigments into great paintings, marble into statuary. That is our gift from God. Your’re right. Our bodies are not merely a canvas. But by that logic, neither is canvas. Our bodies can also be a canvas. What else is dance? This stance of yours is not only anti-tattoo, but anti-art.

  47. Mario

    So, it’s obvious that being tattooed contravened the ceremonial law. But Christian’s are no longer bound by the ceremonial law because it has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

    So the relevant question for Catholics is: do tattoos contravene the natural law?

    I would claim that they do not.

    Tattoos are the result of the depositing of some pigment below the epidermis and into the dermis. It doesn’t seem obvious to me why putting pigment on the skin would contravene the natural law. Otherwise make-up and such would contravene it as well.

    Obviously, tattooing is more invasive than the application of make-up, however, they do not result in any disfigurement of the skin, like scouring with a hot iron or water would do.
    When someone is scoured with iron or with boiling water, the skin scars and is disfigured. Skin no longer remains, but only scar tissue (the skin cells have permanently died off).

    With tattoos however, after the ink has been placed in the dermis, over the course of 1 – 3 weeks, the epidermis heals the points at which it was broken to deposit the ink. After the tattoo has healed, the skin is in the same condition it was prior to the tattooing. There is no scarring. The sweat glands and hair follicles remain.

    So, because the mere puncturing of the epidermis and the depositing of ink in the dermis does not result in the disfigurement of the skin itself, as after it heals it retains all of its natural functions, tattoos do not impede the skin from serving its natural functions, and so it does not contravene the natural law. Whereas branding would disfigure the skin, as would excessive tanning.

    In regard to the claim I made about the historicity of tattooing in the Christian Church, the Coptic Church retains the ancient practice of marking the skin with the symbol of the cross.
    Today, most Copts in Egypt have tattoos of the Coptic Cross on their right arm. Adults tattoo their children, some of them when they are less than a year old. This practice has gone on for many, many centuries. This is also common among some in the Ethiopian Church.

    The same tradition went on with the Catholic women under the rule of the Ottoman empire in Eastern Europe. They would tattoo crosses on their arms and wrists and hands on Good Friday.

    It’s main purpose seemed to have been to show allegiance to Christ in a world hostile to the Church. In addition it had a very practical effect. Because Jews and Muslims consider tattoos and the tattooed unclean, they (the Muslims) wouldn’t kidnap girls with tattoos for the slave and sex trade.

    Tattoos are not intrinsically sinful. They do not contravene the natural law. The Church has a rich history of participating in tattoo.

    1. steph

      One of the bests comments I’ve read.
      I’m surprised about the hate and judgments some people do about tattoos. I’ve seen every kind of person in this world, or I thought so, and among them lots without tattoos, with nice and “pure” speech do terrible things…to them, to those who were close to them….My point is…judging someone because of the appearence is very fool…and stupid.
      Sorry for the bad english.
      and thanks for the comment.

  48. Mario

    Report of the Papal Legates to Pope Hadrian in AD 786:

    For God made man fair in beauty and outward appearance, but the pagans by devilish prompting have superimposed most hideous cicatrices, as Prudentius says, ‘He coloured the innocent earth with dirty spots.’ For he clearly does injury to the Lord who defiles and disfigures his creature. ***Certainly, if anyone were to undergo this injury of staining for the sake of God, he would receive great reward for it.*** But if anyone does it from the superstitions of the pagans, it will not contribute to his salvation any more than does circumcision of the body to the Jews without belief of heart.

  49. Trizoe

    Revelation 19:16

  50. Diann Roland

    Personally I don’t care for them myself, but all my children love them and spend enormous money for some of them. I think they are ugly and distracting. I know a lot of business’ are telling these tattooed people to cover them up. That’s great because they are so nasty looking. I think it’s going to be really hard to keep people out of the Catholic Church, It’s just like Catholics go out to eat and shopping on the Sabbath. Isn’t that wrong also? No disrespect but I think some Catholics are hypocites.

  51. I was not open to tattoos at all when I was a teenager and a Southern Baptist. I used Old Testament Scriptures to defend my position. I am 31 now, have been Catholic since 2009, and now have 8 tattoos which I have received in the past year. Each tattoo is relevant to my Catholic faith. They are all on my upper shoulder or arm, so that I can be discreet if warranted. I have on my right arm, St. Joseph, Jesus the Divine Mercy, and the Immaculate Conception. Above this I have a Chi Rho surrounded by the crown of thorns and the martyrs palms. On my left arm I have St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Thomas Becket, and St. Stephen. Above that I have the symbol of the Militia of the Immaculata and Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s number that the Nazi’s tattooed on him in Auschwitz. I debated for a while about getting the tattoos and arrived at the same conclusion as this article after prayer, study, and consultation. I feel, in some small way, that my receiving tattoos of a Catholic nature has in a very, very, small way, allowed me to participate in the shedding of blood and in suffering for my faith. Again, this does not compare at all to the suffering of the saints, the Blessed Virgin, or our Lord, but it was mystical in a way for me to receive these icons on my body. I have had some very fruitful dialog with people who have seen them, and no one else around has anything like what I have. It was also awesome to share my Catholic faith on several occasions with my friends at the tattoo shop, including my artist, and other employees and customers. This is not for everyone, and t was not for me for 30 years, but the time and the subject matter is now right.

  52. Tim Martens

    I am planning on getting an image of the immaculate heart of Mary and the sacred heart of Jesus on my chest. I’m doing this to carry the icons upon my body. To remind myself of Jesus pierced and bleeding heart and Mary’s motherly heart.

  53. I am a priest who has spent most of my priesthood in university ministry. I have been very critical of young people’s choices to tattoo, not because of any morality argument, but because of the permanence of the tattoo and their youth. I had very different attitudes and tastes when I was university age and when I was 30 or 40. And I am concerned that these young people may soon regret decisions made in haste or based on adolescent tastes.

    That said, I am preparing to leave a ministry that I have served for 10 years. It has been a particularly meaningful assignment for me. When reflecting on a way to demonstrate how mordant it has been, I decided to have the cross that represents our university parish tattooed on the back of my right calf with the dates 2004-2014. It is about 3 inches in diameter and easily covered by trousers or my religious habit. It is also easily displayed in the hot Arizona summer when I often wear shorts.

    I reflected long and hard on its meaning for me personally and as a public man of the Church. I talked to another priest and to a friend who has tattoos. One of the things that swung the decision in favor of the tattoo was a military friend who said, “when You are proud of your unit, you get its insignia tattooed on on your body.”

    I am still concerned about younger people making the same decisions. I revealed the tattoo at my farewell party and joked – “see Mom, I can get a tatt, Fr. Bart did…” Parents should respond, when you are 52 and have been in the job for 10 years, you can get a tattoo too.” The response to my tattoo has been overwhelmingly positive. The few detractors have quoted Leviticus. It always amazes me which parts of Scripture Catholics seem to know.

    I appreciate your reflections.

  54. Emilio

    I don’t intend to offend ANYONE above with my comments, but as the son of an educated, devout and established Latin-American family and speaking from the classical perspective of what is considered acceptable by my family and the society which it is a product of, it is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable for a gentleman to get a tattoo. Objectively speaking, it is considered common, and there are no exceptions to this. That said, it is indeed a matter of cultural context. Many many many Egyptian Christians have the insides of their wrists tattooed with a very small Greek cross (a Coptic tradition) as a sign of devotion and of being “marked” for Christ. I also concede that secular culture in Europe and North America has caused certain mores and traditions to erode and for some things to become more and more acceptable. I suspect that this blog however endeavors to raise the bar with respect to class and culture, exposing both to the beauty of our Catholic Christian faith and the best of its traditions. Classical Catholic thinking in Western Civilization sees the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, our bodies belong to God and they are not entirely ours. I was brought up to believe that we should not mark the body in any way that would run contrary to this. My cousin’s daughter recently celebrated her coming of age by getting a tattoo of a pagan “infinity” symbol on the back of her lower neck. I remember feeling sad for her and I could not help feeling that some in my family have repudiated the high ideals that have always run strong in our family… and I remember feeling grateful that my grandmother was not alive to see and feel the same thing (she definitely would have). I suppose it would have been better if she had chosen a Christian symbol, but she has sadly also stopped practicing our Faith all together. Again allow me to restate that it was not my intention to offend, but merely to provide an opinion based on my certainty of what is still considered acceptable and unacceptable from the perspective of a classical upbringing.

  55. Zachary

    We must remember also the strong forms of discipline and punishment which the old law allowed, disciplines which led to the spilling of blood. These practices are there to show that 1) Good things can come out of suffering, and 2) That there is no remission of sins without the spilling of blood.

  56. Zachary

    Reading the article and comments, I am torn on the topic. I don’t want to come to any quick conclusions. However, I am leaning of the side for them. Brothers and sisters take up practices of mortification in honor of God, and in sacrifice for the world. These practices range from long-term fasting on bread and water, to wearing itchy hair shirts.
    However, if anyone can point to me references from credible devout Catholic theologians or philosophers on the subject, I will gladly read up on either side.

  57. Diane

    It’s unnecessary. Besides, our body is a temple. I think a clear soul always wishes everything to be as clean as a drop of the morning dew and as fresh as a spring from the mountains..The temple can be decorated, but I think our soul also “kinda” gives us the idea of what the decor should be – armour of chastity and pearls of virtue:) It’s hard enough to reach that without tattoos. Even when one makes a tattoo of the Blessed Virgin with roses around her and birds, and rainbows.. It’s not a huge sin (or maybe is, depends on what happened in ones head), but it’s not clean, it’s not pure, it’s not spotless.. It’s a loss of something immaculate. But, of course, it’s not more important than what’s happening inside. I’m not speaking about people who have gotten their tattoos earlier in life, before they’ve started all these fancy catholic affairs:)
    Furthermore, tattoos are usually an important symbol in pagan, pre-christian rituals & co, because they put a mark on a person – you’re this and you can’t be anything else. Before getting a tattoo, one should always investigate. And after all – it’s unnecessary. Its superfluous.

  58. David Robinson

    I find this interesting. I have no tattoos, and have no plans to have any. However, depending on which version of the Bible you use, will determine whether or not the word “tattoo” or “tattoos” is actually used. The King James version states “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” And wasn’t the Old Testament specifically for the Jewish people?

    1. Ryan Owens

      The King James Bible is not an acceptable translation. Dhoey Rheims would be better.

  59. aemmel

    Seeing as how my two tattoos on my chest are my family armorial device (over my heart) and a crusader’s cross over my breast bone, I take anyone’s barbarian comments somewhat….silly. Especially seeing as how my line is descended from Louis VI of France.

  60. Every time I give blood I have to answer a long series of questions, one of which is: “Have you had a tattoo or ear piercing in the last twelve months?” Since it is a flagged behaviour, I reason there must be something risky about it, so I stay away. Besides, I never could think of anything I would want permanently engraved on my skin.

    1. 3584stmichael

      “Have you visited certain countries is also a question. Does that mean we should not travel?

  61. Harrison

    This is a very interesting article and, although I tend to dislike tattoos, I agree wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t get one, first because of their permanence and second because of their association with looking “trashy” in some people’s eyes (not that those who have tattoos are “trashy” but when you’re walking in to apply for a job and you have a huge ink snake engulfing your arms and “mom” written above a jolly roger symbol, it can be a bit of a turn-off for employers, and that’s just one hypothetical example). However, as you pointed out, the church does not condemn them, and for some people they could be a great thing. As SYLVAIN pointed out, tattoos can be a way to communicate and express that which is most important in your life. If you want to have an image of the blessed mother, or maybe your father’s name, inked unchangeably to your body forever, wow! That’s kinda cool! As MRVICEROY said, tattoos can also be expressive of culture. Furthermore, though I’m no canon authority, I tend to think that if you were young Bill Guarnere, who had survived trenches in hedgerows in Normandy, artillery strikes in Holland, trenches in Bastogne, and a little trip to Berchtesgaden and wanted to tattoo the name of your unit on your arm to honor the men who had fought and died beside you, our Lord wouldn’t condemn your choice. Obviously some tattoos aren’t appropriate but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water – just because some people misuse knives doesn’t mean we should outlaw knives. Just think before you ink! Thanks for the read.

  62. Fr Matt

    I very much like your response here. I think it’s reasonably faithful to a Catholic understanding that avoids both vanity and prudishness. (the two errors on either side of modesty) We often don’t talk about prudishness, but it comes into play when someone is so concerned about their modesty that they fret over it and brag about how much more modest they are than others, inviting people to follow their own “example” rather than true humility.

    True humility is not so much self-deprecating, as unaware. The humble person does not say “I’m not that good, I’m a bad person” The truly humble person says honestly, “Really? it’s just what I do, I never really thought I was doing anything great, just trying to do my part.” If we read the annunciation story, we’ll find Mary as the perfect example of that sort of humility…

    On a note about tattoos, I once remember a friend of mine saying to me, “I realize my body is a temple of the holy spirit, these are my stained glass windows.” To him, the tattoos where wholly a reminder to himself of his faith, that he could “keep it always before his eyes” when he was tempted toward sin. I struggle to find a good objection to that reasoning….

    1. kmo

      So what are you saying father? That unless we accept the practice of getting tattoo’s we are prudes?

      To your friend, your body is a temple not a canvas to display to the world religious art. Neither do tattoo’s constitute sacramentals. The Holy of Holies was never on display for just anyone to see. But I guess nothing is holy anymore, and to say so makes you a prude I guess.

      1. Scott Miller

        Late response, but… I am a male, 43 yrs old. I converted Easter 2014. I have 2 tattoos that I got 15 years ago, and have 8 mm plugs in both ear lobes. I have never received any strange looks or have caught anyone staring at me during Mass or any function. I have never felt uncomfortable in any way, nor has anyone ever said anything directly or indirectly about my tattoos or ears. I am very grateful that my parish accepted me as I am. If one person would have spoken to me the way you speak here, I probably would have walked away and left. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my outward appearance, but they realize that a soul is far more important than tattoos and plugs. If I am wrong, then that’s on me, in responsible. You neither have the right or duty to say “your wrong, and your not worth it”. I attend Mass every Sunday, Confession every other month or so, and I provide for my family in every way I can. What really prompted me to respond to you was how you spoke to Fr. Matt. I know that priests are like anyone else, but they do deserve a certain level of respect. It’s not necessarily what you said, but how you said it. I’m just glad that you will not be my judge when the time comes. For you, heaven would be a lonely place.

        1. MBD

          This is the most eloquent response I have yet to see to this man. I too was upset about the way he responded to the priest who was merely making a point concerning the base question of the article, is it immodest and immoral, or not, and how we have to tread the line between immodesty and prudishness in a logical, caring, and reasonable fashion. We tend to over focus on just the immodesty aspect, rather than the equally awful prudish aspect. In a conversation about the morality of body art, these words are completely warranted, regardless of what anyone had already commented, and his words were meaningful and insightful. But, instead of his responder continuing the mature and productive dialogue that Father Matt had started, he retorted back in a way that read more like self-conscious and defensive attacks, probably in the belief that he was singled out and called a prude.

          I’m very glad that you are enjoying your parish and your new faith. I was raised in the Catholic faith, and it makes me proud when my Church welcomes members without judgement, and with open minds. Especially since so many Catholics are stereotyped as overly-strict, judgemental, and old fashioned. I love when we prove those stereotypes wrong. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about anyway? Using your God-given conscience, searching your soul, instead of blind faith… and looking for the wood in your own eye, instead of others.

          Aren’t we, as good Christians always supposed to discuss and question what the moral thing is, so that we don’t become corrupt and too bound in tradition for Mere tradition’s sake? Aren’t we supposed to question the hasty-judgments of our fellow man, especially when these judgements are hurtful and harmful to others?

          Whether or not one agrees with tattoos, it is impossible to argue that the judgement, confrontation, name-calling, and exclusion of someone based on their chosen skin, would be painful, and possibly harmful to the person receiving that judgement. It would, with certainty, be one person inflicting some sort of pain on another person. How could it be possible, for a person inflicting pain on another, to be less sinful than a person inflicting (potential) pain on only themselves?

          I can understand where someone could argue that tattoos are immoral for themselves, but for them to not understand that there is a fundamental difference in what a tattoo means to each person, and be unwilling to accept another’s perspective, and believe that it is something that others should be judged and punished for, seems counterintuitive to Christianity. Especially given the world-wide existence of the Catholic Church. There are places where tattoos have always held an important social role, not only in identity, social interaction, art, and spirituality, but that have also held a deep emotional meaning for the wearers. They are not saved for only sailors and thugs or barbarians. In fact, it’s likely the that the tradition of maritime tattoos was influenced by the fact that these people were some the few to travel the world, and visit places where tattoos were revered.
          I also know people that have used self expression in the form of tattoos to battle depression, and severe emotional trauma, and in my book, anything that can bring a person back from the brink of suicide, cannot be a bad thing. No one has ever said, “oh, that girl cured her depression with sex, drugs, alcohol, crimes, and cutting.” It is never bad things, and sins that save people.

          We need to be conscious of intent and meaning behind things like tattoos, for each individual case, just like the father said.

      2. steph

        No, YOU are a prude. We love images, and getting them on our body is an example to show pridely our faith and exampand it, acctually. If you don’t like images, tattoos, free man and woman go to another religion who doesn’t too and be sadder and grumpier, get out with your judgments on us.

      3. JAmz

        Fr Matt is saying, which I agree that, unless we investigate cases and their intentions, and form a good philosophy, we are creating blanket statements and generalizations which are prone to ignorance.
        To your reply on Fr’s Friend, The Holy of Holies is generally placed in a tabernacle or monstrance, and raised up with the words “Behold…”.

  63. Katie D

    Some of the best Catholics I know have awesome tattoos and use them as an excuse to talk about Jesus in situations where He wouldn’t otherwise come up. If your body is considered a temple why can’t you decorate it and use it to glorify God?

    1. kmo

      So is everything acceptable now as long as it gives someone an excuse to talk about God?

      1. steph

        Ya. It is. And you’re beeing extreme as those people form Islamic State. In a moment besides cruel judging someone only because of the appearence (and this makes you a futile person) you’ll be killing, because wearing a innocent tatto to you is – “that doesn’t mean you are in the right in the eyes of God”
        Jesus, catholic people are not sick…f* off….

  64. Well crusaders used to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed in order to be recognized.
    Just to show that not only criminals and barbarians got tattoos through history.

  65. The saddest patient I have ever cared for was a 17 year old soldier (his parents gave permission to permit him to join early) who got a small tatoo near his boot camp. Within 2 months he was dying – and died – of fulminant hepatitis B. He was bright orange and there was nothing on earth that anyone could do to save his life. Gruesome way to end a life with great promise. It can and does happen. We can now prevent Hep B with vaccines, but Hepatitis C is forever til death, and can result from tatoos.

    1. Jarrod

      I’ve been in tattoo parlors that were cleaner than hospitals. What you warn of is certainly possible but it is by no means likely if you shop smartly.

    2. jesus

      you are an idiot.

      1. Nick

        You use Jesus’ name in your screen name but you dishonor him by the language in your comment.

  66. Leslie

    Food for thought….though I will add the following: Beyond the popular quip “What Would Jesus Do?”, we as Catholics need to go beyond that and ask ourselves “What Is Jesus Doing?” This is because Christ is not just beside us, but inside us! What is Jesus doing, through us? Tattoo-ing Himself? Why? We MUST think deeply!

  67. sylvain

    I believe a tattoo is a medium of communicating what we cherish the most or what we strongly believe in and also what we highly value. No one makes a tattoo of something he hates. In this context i’m not against tattoos, i myself have a crucifix on my back for me it’s the same as wearing one around my neck. So the issue is not whether we have a tattoo or no rather than what message it conveys.

    Thank you for a very nice article, i think it’s about time we go beyond the traditional stereotype image of a catholic. A catholic first and last is a follower Jesus Christ and worships him in Spirit and Truth and quite honestly i don’t think that if somebody came to Jesus with a tattoo we would have spurned him.

    1. George

      Having a tattoo of a crucifix on your back is not the same as wearing one around your neck. One is a sacramental and one is not.

    2. James

      Having a tattoo of a crucifix on your back is not the same thing as wearing one around your neck. One is a sacramental, one is not.

  68. Thank you for your many good articles on your website; however, I will be one that will vociferously disagree with your assessment of tattoos. I am not sure that if you accept self-mutilation, which tattoos and piercings are, can really make a distinction between a “good” tattoo and a “bad” tattoo. They are what they are and they are symbolic of the barbarism that is our society.

    Who used to have tattoos exclusively? Criminals, motorcycle gangs, sailors and barbarians. Did tattoos suddenly become acceptable because Western society has accepted them? I doubt that. Additionally, I find your last paragraph gratitious. I can say that fornication or sodomy or some other sin wrong without necessarily judging the person that committed the act. The same applies to tattoos. I know a lot of people with tattoos and I will tell them to their face that they are barbarians but without losing my liking of them.

    1. Oh mylanta, “barbarians?” Are you from the 1800s? Your comments suggest you have an extremely ethnocentric way of looking at things. Just because someone’s way of life is different than yours does not mean they are “barbarians.” And it isn’t very Christ-like to view any of God’s creation as being “barbaric.”

    2. Tribal communities like the Kalinga in the Northern Philippines had tattoos since it was a part of life and an important practice for the people. They wore tattoos as an indication of their social status and achievements. Women had them primarily for aesthetic purposes. In this case, tattoos are expressions of culture and art which is good. And we have to thank God for everything that is good.

    3. The Catholic Gentleman

      Michael, point taken about the final paragraph. I have removed it.

  69. nemo

    mortification is also self mutilation and a common practice of our holy saints so your argument is invalid

    1. TC

      I think you may not understand what mortification means, in the sense you are using.
      Mortification is self discipline to learn to master the body. We see it most commonly done at Lent. It loosens the hold of the world on us, eg habits, whether neutral, good or bad, so we can be freer to handle our individual calling. Stronger self mortification is done especially when they are facing bigger battles–spiritual or inner.
      Conversely, tattoos in western culture are a vanity, regardless of the reason. Elsewhere, not you, people have claimed some other civilization or religion to which we do not belong as a justification, which is not reasonable.

    2. kmo

      Self mutilation is not a common practice of the saints. Neither is getting tattoos.

      1. Jerome Lackner

        Would Jesus get a tattoo? I think not.

      2. Saints aren’t self mutilated. Some are martyrs, mutilated by others

  70. kmo

    Getting a tattoo constitutes bodily mutilation and it is also immodest since it unnecessarily draws attention to your body.

    Leviticus 19:28 applies to still applies today just as it is still sinful to worship graven images. Even if the image is not “pagan” it would be extremely inappropriate to tattoo a picture of our lady on your body.

    The only type of situation where it would be acceptable to get tattoo’ed is if you were serving in the military and it serves as an identification of sorts.

    I also remain unconvinced at your appeal to “thou shalt not judge,” since it is rash judgment that is condemned not judgment on real moral issues. And I’m I’ve heard excellent talks by priests that explain why tattoo’s are immoral very eloquently and convincingly.

    1. Kmo I agree with you.
      I also think images permanently fixed on our bodies is false worship. It semms to me to be. Self worship.

    2. The Catholic Gentleman

      KMO, I’m curious, do you consider a woman piercing her ears bodily mutilation? Also, do you mind sharing some of the points these priests made in their talks? I am always open to correction on this or any issue.

      Sam

      1. Romans

        There are two articles I can find written by Traditional Catholic priests on this subject. One by the Traditional Catholic Priest blog (may he rest in peace) written in 2013, and there is a Latin Mass Magazine article written by Father Peter Joseph. Both would not agree with your conclusion that there isn’t anything wrong with Tattoos, in particular, they both condemn religious art as being used for tattoos. In one article he compares it to wearing vestments while grocery shopping, it’s just not the time or the place for those holy things. Fr. Ripperger makes similar comments in his talks on modesty, that getting tattoo’s goes against proper decorum. You should be able to find these through google.

      2. kmo

        A woman piercing her ears is not immodest, it is a common practice and doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to the body. Where as if a man got an piercing it would be effeminate and immodest, and so would getting a tattoo. Neither is a ear piercing a lasting modification like a tattoo is.

        Further, when I think of some guy with a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe, devotion to our lady is not what comes to mind, devotion to whatever gang uses that symbol is what I think of.

        I am at work right now and can’t pull up the sermons, although I will be giving them another listen.

        1. Andrew

          So if getting tattoos was common practice, would it be acceptable? That is moral relativism, or basing something morally on whether it’s done often in this day and age. You said because it’s normally practiced it’s not immoral, this is not good. Either it is or it isn’t morally right. It’s common practice to abort babies in this day and age, that doesn’t make it right. Also you claim it feminizes men, there was a time when men wore tights and had long hair, shakespearian times. Yet these men were not sinning because of the times, but if they did it now they would be sinning because it feminizes them? You can’t say something is or isn’t a sin based on what’s common. Moral relativism is not the church’s teachings.

          1. James

            “So if getting tattoos was common practice, would it be acceptable? That is moral relativism, or basing something morally on whether it’s done often in this day and age.”

            No it’s not moral relativism, it’s not virtuous for you to do things that make you stand out in society. It’s not temperament to do things that make you stand out. Getting covered in tattoos make you stand out in society, it is in-temperament. It goes against virtue to get your body covered in tattoos, it’s vain, self absorbing, selfish and a complete waste of time and money.

        2. Devout

          Girls getting their ears pierced is just as common and draws just as much, if not more, attention as someone getting an appropriate tattoo on an appropriate body part. Welcome to 2014.

          1. kmo

            A girl getting her ears pierced is not as common as people getting tattoo’s on other parts of the body. And girl’s don’t use tattoo’s as forms of makeup, your comparison is a big stretch.

            Getting a tattoo is vain, immodest, effeminate, a sin against jusice, and imprudent. Not only this, but it is a form of bodily mutilation. The Church doesn’t speak on the issue because there are some minor instances where it might be acceptable. You are simply justifying it by confusing degrees of acceptance. Your body is a temple not a canvas.

            Welcome to 2014, you prideful modern, you can justify tattoo’s all you want but that doesn’t mean you are in the right in the eyes of God.

          2. Nellie

            right Devout, tattoos, ear piercings, clothing, even eye make-up is used to draw attention to a woman/girl.


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