Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Art

The teaching of the Catholic Church is silent about tattoos, piercings, and body art although its teaching about proper care and dignity of the human body can provide guidelines to help Catholics make their own decisions.

Tattoos can hold a deep personal meaning for some individuals and they are a significant part of some Christian cultures.

A short passage in the Old Testament book of Leviticus leads some to believe that tattoos are forbidden and even sinful but Christians are not bound to follow such ceremonial Jewish laws. Old Testament ceremonial laws are only binding upon Christians when they coincide with the moral law.

While amputation or mutilation without medical necessity is against moral law, permanently marking or piercing the body is not intrinsically evil or immoral by itself.

Body art must never be done out of vanity or superstition and should not include images or messages that are sexually explicit, satanic, or contradictory to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The size, location, and number of tattoos or piercings can also determine their morality and their impact on the dignity of the body.

What we do to our body matters:

It depends on what, where, and how many:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20

Images and messages should not glorify yourself:

Tattoos should not become idols:

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit: Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honour since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 364

The Levital ceremonial law protected against pagan culture:

Body art should be in accord with the moral law:

The works of culture , especially of art, make those dimensions of “being the body” and of “experiencing the body” extend, in a certain sense, outside these living men. Man encounters the “reality of the body” and “experiences the body” even when it becomes a theme of creative activity , a work of art, a content of culture.

Pope John Paul II, General Audience, 15 April 1981

The Church embraces the culture to evangelize:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Making garments that represent the Church:

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