from joyce's novel PORTRAIT
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Stephen's views on Catholicism change drastically over the course of the novel. He was raised in a home of devout Catholics and adhered to the teachings of the church. As a young man (teenager), he tested those beliefs (like many young men and women), and he engaged in behaviors that would be considered both immoral and dangerous. Sin, prostitution, rejection of religion; these were all things that Stephen indulged in, and he indulges in these things willingly, fully aware that he is in fact violating church rules.
Later, Stephen returned to the Church after hearing a sermon by Father Arnall. Father's Arnall's sermon left such an impression that Stephen embraced the church like he'd never done before. He practiced complete obedience and led the perfect life, but once again, he acted extremely. Eventually, Stephen realizes that for him neither of these lifestyles (choices) are what he wants. He felt that both were harmful (debauchery= dangerous, piety=boredom), and he once again left the church to pursue the full experience of life.
The following excerpt comes from Gradesaver;
The Church is perhaps the greatest constraint on Stephen, and merits its own entry. The teachings of the Church run contrary to Stephen's independent spirit and intellect. His sensitivity to beauty and the human body are not at all suitable to the rigid Catholicism in which he was raised. But the Church continues to exert some small hold on him. Although he eventually becomes an unbeliever, he continues to have some fear that the Catholic Church might be correct. Despite his fears, he eventually chooses to live independently and without constraint, even if that decision sends him to hell.