“To set virginity on a level with matrimony is not Christian but Jovinian…” (Saint Thomas)
The history of the Church demonstrates that throughout the centuries, heretics and heresiarchs, infiltrated in its midst, confronted the question of virginity, celibacy and matrimony like the contrasting swing of a pendulum. These agents of error, breaking with the just equilibrium proclaimed by the Gospel, Tradition and the Magisterium, fluctuated between two opposite poles. On one hand, urged on by their pride, they encouraged a false asceticism even arriving at the absurdity of condemning matrimony; on the other hand, through their laxity, they rejected religious life, furiously condemning the vow of chastity and celibacy.
Effectively, in the first century, the “Encratites” appeared, gnostic sectarians who considered matrimony as a gravely sinful state.
In the IV century, the renegade monk Joviniano affirmed that “virginity was not superior to matrimony” and that the Virgin Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus. This heresiarch was refuted in an implacable manner by St. Jerome, and his writings were later condemned by Pope St. Siricius and St. Ambrose.
In the XII -XIII centuries, the pendulum swung toward a false asceticism. The gnostic neo- Manichaeism sect of the Carthoros and Albigenses rejected the sacraments and in particular, matrimony. Procreation was abominated in such a fanatical way by these sectarians, that they even rejected it among animals.
Later on in the XV century, Martin Luther and all the followers of the protestant reform – as a logical consequence of their rejection of religious vows – defended that the matrimonial state was superior to celibacy and virginity: a thesis condemned by the Council of Trent. (The Sacrament of Matrimony, session XXIV, can. X).
In 1954, Pope Pius XII felt obliged to publish the encyclical Sacra virginitas in order to reject this same protestant error which had infiltrated within the Church, in numbers 8 and 24:
“Since there are some who, straying from the right path in this matter, so exalt marriage as to rank it ahead of virginity and thus depreciate chastity consecrated to God and clerical celibacy, Our apostolic duty demands that We now in a particular manner declare and uphold the Church’s teaching on the sublime state of virginity, and so defend Catholic truth against these errors.” (Pius XII Sacra Virginitas)
And further on, the Pope added:
“It is first and foremost for the foregoing reasons that, according to the teaching of the Church, holy virginity surpasses marriage in excellence. Our Divine Redeemer had already given it to His disciples as a counsel for a more perfect life. [Cf. Matth. XIX, 10-11.] St. Paul, after having said that the father who gives his daughter in marriage “does well,” adds immediately “and he that gives her not, does better.” (I Cor., VII,38). (Pius XII Sacra Virginitas)
These wise doctrines proclaimed by Pope Pius XII came to mind in a spontaneous manner while considering number 159 of the Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Are we being faced with new doctrinal errors? Others, besides those already pointed out by diverse theologians and academics due to this controversial document?
- Instructions for Not Losing the Way in the Labyrinth of “Amoris Laetitia” – Sandro Magister
- A Year After “Amoris Laetitia”. A Timely Word – Sandro Magister
- Full text: Interview with Robert Spaemann on Amoris Laetitia – Robert Spaemann
- Theological Censures Against Amoris Laetitia Revealed (here & here)
- “Amoris Laetitia: The Bergoglian Apocryphal Gospel for Humanity in the 21st Century – Denzinger-Bergoglio
Truncated citations; one-sided interpretations
“Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: “I have no command in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy” based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another” (Amoris Laetitia, 159)
Whoever reads these affirmations in a superficial way may fall into grave theological errors. Was virginity only recommended by St. Paul? Did Christ never formulate a request in this respect? Are virginity and celibacy no longer superior to matrimony as the Council of Trent and Pope Pius XII declared? Could Pope John Paul II have fallen into this grave error according to the citations that Francis alleges? What did the unforgettable Polish Pontiff really affirm in his cited catechism from April 14, 1982? To which biblical texts was he referring? Finally, Francis creates confusion by mentioning the “complementarity” between virginity and matrimony and failing to establish with precision the concept of “perfection” in question. In what “meaning” and from what “point of view” may matrimony be “more perfect” than virginity?
These are questions that we can only clarify by attentively reading what Pope John Paul II really taught:
Christ proposes the ideal of continence to his disciples, not by reason of inferiority or with prejudice of the conjugal “union of the body”, but rather only for the sake of the “kingdom of heaven”.
Christ’s words recorded in Matthew 19:11-12 (as also the words of Paul in 1 Cor 7) give no reason to assert the inferiority of marriage, nor the superiority of virginity or celibacy inasmuch as by their nature virginity and celibacy consist in abstinence from the conjugal union in the body. Christ’s words on this point are quite clear. He proposes to his disciples the ideal of continence and the call to it, not by reason of inferiority, nor with prejudice against conjugal union of the body, but only for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In this light a deeper clarification of the expression “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” is especially useful. This is what we shall try to do in the following, at least briefly. (John Paul II. Audience n. 1-2, April 14, 1982)
Now it becomes clearer. The teaching of Pope John Paul II underlines that the ideal of continence (virginity or celibacy) has its foundation in two essential aspects. In the first place, it speaks of a “proposal” and “calling” that announces Jesus Christ himself (Mt 19,11-12). Secondly, it originates “only” for the sake of “the Kingdom of Heaven” and never due to a “prejudice” against the conjugal “union of the body”. Pope John II is desirous, as he emphasized at the beginning of the catechesis, in determining a “proper limit” in order to avoid “any kind of Manichaean interpretation” that would establish an absurd controversy between virginity, celibacy and matrimony. On the contrary, these “states” of life within the Christian community, underlines the Pope, mutually “explain and complete each other”.
How important it is to have this “proper limit” present in treating of these topics! Having truncated the thought of Pope John Paul II, precisely when he was to explain “Christ’s words”, which are “quite clear” regarding continence motivated “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19,12), Francis introduces a one-sided interpretation. In effect, the expression “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” is most important, for it confers the essential key to understand the “calling” of Our Lord Jesus Christ to embrace continence. Without it, virginity and celibacy within the Church lose their meaning and theological foundation. Consequently, it is surprising that this point is absent from all the numbers of Amoris Laetitia that deal with the topic of “matrimony and virginity” (158-162). What a curious bergoglian omission! In this way, we also prove that it was not only St. Paul who recommended continence (virginity-celibacy) as “his personal opinion and preference”; but rather, it was God made man, Christ Our Lord, never in impairment or detriment to matrimony, as Pope John Paul II recalled. With this in mind, it is important to insist about the question related to the “superiority” of virginity and celibacy over matrimony. As we have seen, repeating the method that we already denounced on other occasions, Francis stealthily uses a truncated citation to sustain that there is neither “superiority” of continence, nor “inferiority” of matrimony for they both “complement one another” and in this way, “some can be more perfect in one way and others in another”. (Amoris Laetitia, 159)
Is this the position of Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church? We allow Pope John Paul II himself to respond to this question. It was precisely in the previous catechism of the one cited by Francisco (April 7, 1982), that he clearly established a “just equilibrium”, without leaving a margin of doubt.
“The ‘superiority’ of continence to matrimony in the authentic Tradition of the Church never means disparagement of matrimony or belittlement of its essential value.” (John Paul II. Audience,April 7, 1982)
In his proclaiming, did Christ put the superiority of continence for the Kingdom of Heaven over matrimony?
“Certainly, he said that this is an exceptional vocation, not a common one. In addition he affirmed that it is especially important and necessary to the kingdom of heaven. If we understand superiority to matrimony in this sense, we must admit that Christ set it out implicitly. However, he did not express it directly. Only Paul will say of those who choose matrimony that they do “well.” About those who are willing to live in voluntary continence, he will say that they do “better” (1 Cor 7:38).
That is also the opinion of the whole of Tradition, both doctrinal and pastoral. The “superiority” of continence to matrimony in the authentic Tradition of the Church never means disparagement of matrimony or belittlement of its essential value. It does not even mean a shift, even implicit, on the Manichean positions, or a support of ways of evaluating or acting based on the Manichean understanding of the body and sexuality, matrimony and procreation. The evangelical and authentically Christian superiority of virginity and continence is dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In Christ’s words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12) we find a solid basis for admitting only this superiority, while we do not find any basis whatever for any disparagement of matrimony which, however, could have been present in the recognition of that superiority.” (John Paul II. Audience,no. 6, April 7, 1982)
- The teachings of Pope John Paul II confirm that virginity and celibacy are, in accordance with the teachings of Christ Our Lord in the Gospel, St. Paul, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, more excellent and superior to the matrimonial state.
- As such, we proved that the bergoglian style induces a one-sided theological vision, without the least inhibition in manipulating other pontifical texts. How curious…the accusations that some make against Denzinger-Bergoglio, is exactly that which on various occasions has been attributable to Francis.
- In concluding number 159, and attempting to exalt matrimony and equal it to virginity and celibacy, he cites a Franciscan theologian from the XIII century. Are we once again faced with a de-contextualized citation?
We shall continue commenting about this reference and numbers 160-162 of Amoris Laetitia…
In a previous study, we analyzed a reference that Francis presented in number 159 of Amoris Laetitia. Taken from a catechesis of Pope John Paul II, July 14, 1982, this reference was truncated in its essential theological dimension. Consequently, having silenced what Pope John Paul II had affirmed in recalling that virginity and celibacy are based on an option for the sake of the “kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 19:12), Francis prompts a one-sided interpretation.
In synthesis, Francis wishes to defend the theory that matrimony, virginity and celibacy are on an equal footing:
“Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another (Amoris Laetitia, 159).
A doctrinal confusion emerges with this Bergoglian stance, namely through its unclear definition of what “way” matrimony can be considered superior to virginity. As demonstrated, this position does not coincide with the teachings of Pope John Paul II, who, following the doctrinal and pastoral tradition of the Holy Church, had put this matter in its just equilibrium by affirming:
“The evangelical and authentically Christian superiority of virginity and continence is dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In Christ’s words recorded in Matthew (Mt 19:11-12) we find a solid basis for admitting only this superiority, while we do not find any basis whatever for any disparagement of matrimony which, however, could have been present in the recognition of that superiority.” (John Paul II. Audience, April 7, 1982)
Moreover, this superiority of celibacy and virginity over matrimony was dogmatically declared by the Council of Trent when it condemned the Protestant error that denied this superiority: Denzinger-Hünermann 1810: Council of Trent, The Sacrament of Marriage, Session XXIV, Canon X
“The heresy of Jovinian asserted that the merit of consecrated virgins was equaled by conjugal chastity. Hence, it is said that in Rome, certain nuns who had not hitherto been suspected of immorality, contracted marriage. […] In the book De ecclesiasticis dogmatibus we find the following declaration: “To set virginity on a level with matrimony is not Christian but Jovinian”. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The perfection of the spiritual life, Ch. XII)
In face of these observations, each reader may draw his own conclusions.
A bibliographical reference with a minor detail: “marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments”
Wishing to confirm his “matrimony-virginity-celibacy equality” theory, Francis does a somersault by passing from moral to sacramental theology, when finalizing number 159. What did he affirm?
“Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures” [Glossa in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi IV, XXVI, 2 (Quaracchi, 1957, 446)] (Amoris Laetitia, 159).
Once again, these considerations may incur new errors; this time regarding the sacraments. Isn’t the Holy Eucharist the greatest of sacraments because it contains Jesus Christ himself, the Divine Author of all of the others?
Isn’t the Eucharistic Sacrifice the “source and summit of the Christian life” as Pope John Paul II recalled in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 1, quoting the Constitution Lumen gentium, no. 11, of Vatican Council II?
But someone might kindly point out that Francis and his assistant had simply written: “may be considered”. In what way may it be considered? What did Alexander of Hales really teach about the sacrament of matrimony in the bibliographical reference cited in Amoris Laetitia?
It is surprising to discover that Alexander of Hales, in line with the erroneous opinion of some theologians of his epoch, sustained that matrimony, “does not confer sanctifying grace”. Consequently, for Hales, though this sacrament be effectively “superior” to the other six as a “sign”; it is “inferior” in respect to its efficacy of obtaining the grace of God.
“Non confert gratiam gratum facientem, etiam digne suscipienti, et propter hoc ordinatur post alia sacramenta, tamquam illud, quod est minoris efficatiae in disponendo ad gratiam, licet sit maius in significando”. (ALEXANDER OF HALES, Glossa in IV Sent. d. 26 § 2:ed. Quaracchi 1957, p. 445)
Was Francis aware of this theological “minor detail”? Did he know that the declaration of this “inferiority” is presented in the three lines that precede the bibliographical reference which his assistants cited in number 159 of Amoris Laetitia?
Was it necessary to cite such a contrived reference with the dialectical intent to exalt matrimony and in this indirect manner take away from the merit of virginity and celibacy?
However, Saint Thomas Aquinas makes everything clear. The Angelic Doctor taught that as a sacrament of the New Law, matrimony not only symbolizes grace, but rather produces it. (Summa contra Gentiles, IV, 78, Summa Theologica Suppl, q. 42, a.3)
Finally, the Council of Trent, condemning the Protestant thesis that denies the sacramentality of matrimony, defines and confirms that this sacrament does confer grace (Council of Trent, Session XXIV: Dz 971).
Number 160: A “playing off one against the other” that only seems to exist in Bergoglio’s mind
“Consequently, “it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence” (John Paul II. Catechesis 7 April 1982). “There is no basis for playing one off against the other… If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels” (Catechesis 14 April 1982). A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman” (Catechesis, April 14, 1982). (Amoris Laetitia, 160)
As we have already mentioned, in his catechesis on April 14, 1982, Pope John Paul II wished to emphasize a “proper limit”. His intention was to avoid a possible “Manichaean interpretation” that might establish a meaningless conflict between matrimony and continence. At the same time – as mentioned above – he confirmed, in keeping with the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, the superiority of virginity and celibacy over matrimony, without manifesting an unwholesome loathing toward it.
In any event, 34 years after this catechesis, a possible “Manichaean interpretation” no longer exists. Who are those who defend virginity and celibacy within the Church to the point of harming or denigrating matrimony? In reality, doesn’t there currently exist a diametrically opposed phenomenon? Aren’t there open rumors that the derogation of ecclesiastical celibacy is already about to commence on the “Bergoglio agenda”?
The Pope astonishes by saying that celibacy is “on his agenda”
Who doesn’t remember that during an in-flight press conference in 2014, Bergoglio declared: “Celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life which I highly esteem and I believe is a gift for the Church. Since it is not a dogma of faith, the door is always open” (In-flight press conference, May 26, 2014)
Of course, the press announced the news as a “time bomb”. Consequently, within this bleak scenario, one is left with the impression that, by truncating and taking three decontextualized citations from Pope John Paul II, Francis effectively achieved one of his objectives in number 160 of Amoris Laetitia: the diminishing of the value of virginity and celibacy.
This de-contextualization becomes clear by analyzing the catechesis of April 14 in its entirety. Here, once again we verify that Francis has curtailed Pope John Paul II’s thought in its theological aspect, which is the most essential one.
Clearly, Pope John Paul II referred to the “state of perfection” (status perfectionis)
“not by reason of continence in itself. But it is in regard to the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience), since this life corresponds to Christ’s call to perfection: ‘If you would be perfect…’ (Mt 19:21).
Therefore, by arbitrarily cutting out these important words of Pope John Paul II from the paragraph, “(poverty, chastity and obedience), since this life corresponds to Christ’s call to perfection: ‘If you would be perfect…’ (Mt 19:21); Francis once again elicits a one-sided interpretation.
Consequently, due to this abridgment, Amoris Laetitia omits that it is Christ Jesus himself who, in the Gospel, calls some to a state of life of “perfection”. In this “state of perfection”, not only chastity, but also poverty and obedience consist in the other essential vows. Lacking one of the three, this state of life consecrated to the Lord is not fully configured. As John Paul II further taught, “the evangelical counsels undoubtedly help us to achieve a fuller charity” (John Paul II. General audience, April 14, 1982).
With this in mind, it is worthwhile citing – as a complement to this last affirmation of Pope John Paul II – this teaching of the Church recalled by Pope Pius XII, regarding the “evangelical counsels” and their capacity to “help us to achieve a fuller charity.”: “Certainly, the sacrament grants the married couple the grace to accomplish holily the duties of their married state, and it strengthens the bonds of mutual affection that unite them; but the purpose of its institution was not to make the employment of marriage the means, most suitable in itself, for uniting the souls of the husband and wife with God by the bonds of charity” (cf. Decretum S. Officii, De matrimonii finibus, d. 1 aprilis 1944, AAS 36 (1944) p. 103) (Encyclical Sacra Virginitas, n. 37).
In number 161: The peculiar theological vision of Bergoglio regarding the family
In number 161, Francis attempts to exalt the love existing between the spouses, creating an equality between virginity and matrimony. In an attempt to be brief — leaving aside the ambiguous phrases and certain incongruences —we emphasize the following affirmation:
“The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death” (Amoris Laetitia, 161).
So, the family is a Christological sign? And what about the children? Where do the children fit into this Bergoglian theological concept of the family? Actually, this omission may be seen in all of number 161. In effect, the argumentative focus is placed over a concept of the “family” in which “each spouse becomes ‘one flesh’ with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death.”
Evidently, there is something not quite right in the conception of “family”. Once again, may everyone reach his or her own conclusions.
Number 162: A veiled reproach for celibacy, praises matrimonial life
In this part, Francis formulates eulogies for matrimony, but doesn’t proffer one for continence, purity or chastity; rather he takes advantage to make some slighting observations about celibacy. How did he formulate them?
“Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or option to another, to spend money as one sees fit and to spend time with others as one wants” (Amoris Laetitia, 162).
Some perhaps would argue that with these observations, Francis simply wished to correct the evils caused by a wrongly lived celibate life. But is this really the case here? What solution or model of life does he propose to correct these possible evils? The testimony of the saints, models of life and sanctity? The example left by Saint Francis of Assisi and the dedication he demonstrated for his brothers and sisters?
No. Surprisingly, in an attempt to remedy the evils he has diagnosed, Francis indicates the testimony of married people as a stimulus.
That’s right! According to Jorge Mario Bergoglio, it is within married life that those called to virginity and celibacy may find “a clear sign of God’s generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a more concrete and generous availability to others”!!!!
Therefore, the central argument is that many of these couples, despite the trials and difficulties of life, remain faithful to their matrimonial alliance. For example, during the illness of one of the spouses, or in putting up with difficult and ungrateful children.
There is no doubt that such examples are of great worth. However, to offer these models of conjugal life does not seem appropriate for those who follow virginity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the reason? Simply due to the fact that according to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church – unlike those of the Jovinian heresy and the Protestant Reform – consecrated virginity and celibacy for the sake of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 19:12) are “superior” or “more excellent” than the matrimonial state. And this is, in synthesis, the quid of the theological problematic that was dealt with in numbers 150-162 of Amoris Laetitia.
To have a balanced viewpoint with respect to this very clear doctrine, let us take a look at what the New Testament, the Holy Fathers and the Magisterium of the Church teach.
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – The Jovinian heresy established equality between matrimony and virginity
III – Virginity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven are states of life superior to that of matrimony
IV – In its perfect equilibrium, Catholic truth rejects two errors: putting matrimony on a par with continence, and condemning matrimony as sinful
V – The praises of virginity
VI – Celibacy and its link with sacred ordination explains why the priest is configured with Jesus Christ Head and Spouse of the Church
I – Virginity and celibacy have their foundation in an acceptance for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’ They said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?’ He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.’ [His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ He answered, ‘Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.’ (Mt 19:3-12)
For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Those who heard this said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he said, ‘What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.’ Then Peter said to him in reply, ‘We have given up everything and followed you.’ And He said: Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.’ (Lk 18:25-27; Mt 19: 27; Mk 10:29-30)
Marriage was so common that only physical impotence could constitute an exception. The reply given to the disciples in Matthew (Mt 15:10-12) is at the same time directed, in a certain sense, at the whole tradition of the Old Testament. This is confirmed by a single example taken from the Book of Judges. We refer to this here not merely because of the event that took place, but also because of the significant words that accompanied it. ‘Let it be granted to me…to bewail my virginity’ (Judges 11:37) the daughter of Jephthah said to her father after learning from him that she was destined to be sacrificed in fulfillment of a vow made to the Lord. (John Paul II. General audience, March 17, 1982)
In this environment Christ’s words determine a decisive turning point. When he spoke to his disciples for the first time about continence for the kingdom of heaven, one clearly realizes that as children of the Old Law tradition, they must have associated celibacy and virginity with the situation of individuals, especially of the male sex, who because of defects of a physical nature cannot marry (“the eunuchs”). For that reason he referred directly to them. This reference has a multiple background, both historical and psychological, as well as ethical and religious. With this reference Jesus—in a certain sense—touches all these backgrounds, as if he wished to say: I know that what I am going to say to you now will cause great difficulty in your conscience, in your way of understanding the significance of the body. In fact, I shall speak to you of continence. Undoubtedly, you will associate this with the state of physical deficiency, whether congenital or brought about by human cause. But I wish to tell you that continence can also be voluntary and chosen by man for the kingdom of heaven. (John Paul II. General audience, March 17, 1982)
In this environment Christ’s words determine a decisive turning point. When he spoke to his disciples for the first time about continence for the kingdom of heaven, one clearly realizes that as children of the Old Law tradition, they must have associated celibacy and virginity with the situation of individuals, especially of the male sex, who because of defects of a physical nature cannot marry (“the eunuchs”). For that reason he referred directly to them. […]
Matthew, in chapter 19, does not record any immediate reaction of the disciples to these words. We find it later only in the writings of the apostles, especially in Paul (cf. 1Cor 7:25-40; see also Apoc 14:4). This confirms that these words were impressed in the conscience of the first generation of Christ’s disciples and they repeatedly bore fruit in a manifold way in the generations of his confessors in the Church (and perhaps also outside it). So, from the viewpoint of theology—that is, of the revelation of the significance of the body, completely new in respect to the Old Testament tradition—these words mark a turning point. Their analysis shows how precise and substantial they are, notwithstanding their conciseness. (We will observe it still better when we analyze the Pauline text of the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7.) (John Paul II. General audience, March 17, 1982)
II – The Jovinian heresy established equality between matrimony and virginity
Objection: It would seem that virginity is not more excellent than marriage. On the contrary, Augustine says (De Virgin. xix): “Both solid reason and the authority of Holy Writ show that neither is marriage sinful, nor is it to be equaled to the good of virginal continence or even to that of widowhood.”
I answer that, According to Jerome (Contra Jovin. I) the error of Jovinian consisted in holding virginity not to be preferable to marriage. This error is refuted above all by the example of Christ Who both chose a virgin for His mother, and remained Himself a virgin, and by the teaching of the Apostle who (1Cor 7) counsels virginity as the greater good. It is also refuted by reason, both because a Divine good takes precedence of a human good, and because the good of the soul is preferable to the good of the body, and again because the good of the contemplative life is better than that of the active life. Now virginity is directed to the good of the soul in respect of the contemplative life, which consists in thinking “on the things of God” [Vulg.: ‘the Lord’], whereas marriage is directed to the good of the body, namely the bodily increase of the human race, and belongs to the active life, since the man and woman who embrace the married life have to think “on the things of the world,” as the Apostle says (1Cor 7:34). Without doubt therefore virginity is preferable to conjugal continence. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica II-IIae, qu. 152, a.4)
Satan, in his jealousy of human perfection, has raised up several foolish and misleading men, who, by their teaching, have shown themselves hostile to the different modes of perfection of which we have been speaking. Vigilantius attacked the first counsel of perfection. […] Jovinian argued against the second counsel of perfection, and declared that marriage was equal in merit to virginity. St. Jerome refuted his opinions, in the book which he wrote against him. St. Augustine, likewise, thus speaks of his error, in his book Retractationum: “The heresy of Jovinian asserted that the merit of consecrated virgins was equalled by conjugal chastity. Hence, it is said that in Rome, certain nuns who had not hitherto been suspected of immorality, contracted marriage. Our holy mother the Church has always stoutly resisted this error. In the book De ecclesiasticis dogmatibus we find the following declaration: “It is not Christian but Jovinian to set virginity on a level with matrimony, or to deny an increase of merit to those who, for the sake of mortifying the flesh, refrain from wine or flesh meat.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The perfection of the spiritual life, Ch. XII)
Certain persons find fault with me because in the books which I have written against Jovinian I have been excessive (so they say) in praise of virginity and in depreciation of marriage; and they affirm that to preach up chastity till no comparison is left between a wife and a virgin is equivalent to a condemnation of matrimony. If I remember aright the point of the dispute, the question at issue between myself and Jovinian is that he puts marriage on a level with virginity, while I make it inferior; he declares that there is little or no difference between the two states, I assert that there is a great deal. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 2)
Finally, a result due under God to your agency, he [Jovinian] has been condemned because he has dared to set matrimony on an equality with perpetual chastity. Or, if a virgin and a wife are to be looked on as the same, how comes it that Rome has refused to listen to this impious doctrine? A virgin owes her being to a man, but a man does not owe his to a virgin. There can be no middle course. Either my view of the matter must be embraced, or else that of Jovinian. If I am blamed for putting wedlock below virginity, he must be praised for putting the two states on a level. If, on the other hand, he is condemned for supposing them equal, his condemnation must be taken as testimony in favor of my treatise. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 2)
III – Virginity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven are states of life superior to that of matrimony
I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. (1Cor 7:32-35)
If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married. The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well. So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better. (1Cor 7:36-38)
Canon X: If anyone saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema (cf. Mt 19:11 ; 1Co 7:25, 1Co 7:38: 1Co 7:40) (Denzinger Hünermann 1810. Council of Trent, The Sacrament of Marriage, Session XXIV, Canon X)
We are not ignorant that ‘marriage is honorable …and the bed undefiled.’ (Heb 13:4) We have read the first decree of God: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ (Gen 1:28) But while we allow marriage, we prefer the virginity which springs from it. Gold is more precious than silver, but is silver on that account the less silver? Is it an insult to a tree to prefer its apples to its roots or its leaves? Is it an injury to corn to put the ear before the stalk and the blade? As apples come from the tree and grain from the straw, so virginity comes from wedlock. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 2)
Yields of one hundredfold, of sixtyfold, and of thirtyfold may all come from one soil and from one sowing, yet they will differ widely in quantity. The yield thirtyfold signifies wedlock […] . The yield sixtyfold refers to widows who are placed in a position of distress and tribulation. […]. Moreover, a hundred indicates the crown of virginity.” (Jerome, Adv. Jov. I, 3) (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 2)
Does a man who speaks thus, I would ask you, condemn marriage? If I have called virginity gold, I have spoken of marriage as silver. I have set forth that the yields an hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold-all spring from one soil and from one sowing, although in amount they differ widely. Will any of my readers be so unfair as to judge me, not by my words, but by his own opinion? At any rate, I have dealt much more gently with marriage than most Latin and Greek writers; who, by referring the hundredfold yield to martyrs, the sixtyfold to virgins, and the thirtyfold to widows, show that in their opinion married persons are excluded from the good ground and from the seed of the great Father. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 3)
Can one who declares that it is a precept of the Lord that wives should not be put away, and that what God has joined together man must not, without consent, put asunder (Mt 19:6) -can such an one be said to condemn marriage? Again, in the verses which follow, the apostle says: “But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” (1 Cor 7:7) In explanation of this saying we made the following remarks: (Ag. Jov. I.8) “What I myself would wish, he says, is clear. But since there are diversities of gifts in the church, (1 Cor 12:4) I allow marriage as well, that I may not appear to condemn nature. Reflect, too, that the gift of virginity is one thing, that of marriage another. For had there been one reward for married women and for virgins he would never, after giving the counsel of continence, have gone on to say: `But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that.’ Where each class has its proper gift, there must be some distinction between the classes. I allow that marriage, as well as virginity, is the gift of God, but there is a great difference between gift and gift. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 4)
At the end, also, of our comparison of virgins and married women we have summed up the discussion thus: (Ag. Jov. I.13) ‘When one thing is good and another thing is better; when that which is good has a different reward from that which is better; and when there are more rewards than one, then, obviously, there exists a diversity of gifts. The difference between marriage and virginity is as great as that between not doing evil and doing good-or, to speak more favorably still, as that between what is good and what is still better.’ (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 7)
Again, when I adduce evidence from the Apocalypse (Ag. Jov. I.40) is it not clear what view I take concerning virgins, widows, and wives? “These are they who sing a new song (Rev 14:3) which no man can sing except he be a virgin. These are `the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb’ (Rev 14:4), and they are without spot. If virgins are the first fruits unto God, then widows and wives who live in continence must come after the first fruits-that is to say, in the second place and in the third” (Ag. Jov. I.40) We place widows, then, and wives in the second place and in the third, and for this we are charged by the frenzy of a heretic with condemning marriage altogether. (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 10)
I praise wedlock, I praise marriage, but it is because they give me virgins. I gather the rose from the thorns, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell. ‘Doth the plowman plow all day to sow?’ (Is 28:24) Shall he not also enjoy the fruit of his labor? Wedlock is the more honored, the more what is born of it is loved. Why, mother, do you grudge your daughter her virginity? She has been reared on your milk, she has come from your womb, she has grown up in your bosom. Your watchful affection has kept her a virgin. Are you angry with her because she chooses to be a king’s wife and not a soldier’s? She has conferred on you a high privilege; you are now the mother-in-law of God. (Saint Jerome. Letter XXII to Eustochium, 20)
For the Church does not condemn marriage, but only subordinates it. It does not reject it altogether, but regulates it, knowing (as I have said above) that ‘in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor. If a man, therefore, purge himself …he shall be a vessel unto honor meet …and prepared unto every good work.’“ (2 Tim. 20:2, Tim. 2:21) I listen with gladness, I say here, to every word said by the apostle in praise of marriage. Do I listen with gladness to the praise of marriage, and do I yet condemn marriage? The Church, I say, does not condemn wedlock, but subordinates it. Whether you like it or not, marriage is subordinated to virginity and widowhood. Even when marriage continues to fulfil its function, the Church does not condemn it, but only subordinates it; it does not reject it, but only regulates it. It is in your power, if you will, to mount the second step of chastity. (I.e. continence in marriage) Why are you angry if, standing on the third and lowest step, you will not make haste to go up higher? (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 11)
What I have said about virginity and marriage diffusely, Ambrose has stated tersely and pointedly, compressing much meaning into a few words. Virginity is described by him as a means of recommending continence, marriage as a remedy for incontinence. And when he descends from broad principles to particular details, he significantly holds out to virgins the prize of the high calling, yet comforts the married, that they may not faint by the way. While eulogizing the one class, he does not despise the other. Marriage he compares to the barley bread set before the multitude, virginity to the body of Christ given to the disciples. There is much less difference, it seems to me, between barley and fine corn than between barley and the body of Christ. Finally, he speaks of marriage as a hard burden, to be avoided if possible, and as a badge of the most unmistakable servitude. He makes, also, many other statements, which he has followed up at length in his three books “On Virgins.” (Saint Jerome. Letter XLVIII to Pammachius, 14)
‘He who gives his virgin in marriage does well, and he who gives her not does better.’ (1 Cor 7:38) The one sins not if she marries, the other, if she marries not, it is for eternity. […] The former is not reproved, the latter is praised. (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Concerning Virginity, Book 1, 6, 24)
What is it, then, that even they who hear me not follow my teaching, and those who hear me follow me not? For I have known many virgins who had the desire, but were prevented from going forward by their mothers, and, which is more serious, mothers who were widows, to whom I will now address myself. For if your daughters desired to love a man, they could, by law, choose whom they would. Are they, then, who are allowed to choose a man not allowed to choose God? (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Concerning Virginity, Book 1, 11, 58)
Therefore, if we compare the things themselves, we may no way doubt that the chastity of continence is better than marriage chastity, while yet both are good: but when we compare the persons, he is better, who has a greater good than another. Further, he who has a greater of the same kind, has also that which is less; but he, who only has what is less, assuredly has not that which is greater. For in sixty, thirty also are contained, not sixty also in thirty. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Of the good of marriage, 28)
What therefore he says, ‘She, that is unmarried, thinks of the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit;’ we are not to take in such sense, as to think that a chaste Christian wife is not holy in body. Forsooth unto all the faithful it was said, ‘Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Ghost within you, Whom you have from God?’ Therefore the bodies also of the married are holy, so long as they keep faith to one another and to God. And that this sanctity of either of them, even an unbelieving partner does not stand in the way of, but rather that the sanctity of the wife profits the unbelieving husband, and the sanctity of the husband profits the unbelieving wife, the same Apostle is witness, saying, ‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in a brother.’ Wherefore that was said according to the greater sanctity of the unmarried than of the married, unto which there is also due a greater reward, according as, the one being a good, the other is a greater good: inasmuch as also she has this thought only, how to please the Lord. For it is not that a female who believes, keeping married chastity, thinks not how to please the Lord; but assuredly less so, in that she thinks of the things of the world, how to please her husband. For this is what he would say of them, that they may, in a certain way, find themselves obliged by marriage to think of the things of the world, how to please their husbands. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Of the Good of Marriage, 13)
Therefore that virgin is with good reason set before a married woman, who neither sets herself forth for the multitude to love, whereas she seeks from out the multitude the love of one; nor, having now found him, orders herself for one, taking thought of the things of the world, ‘how to please her husband;’ but has so loved ‘Him of fair beauty above the sons of men,’ as that, because she could not, even as Mary, conceive Him in her flesh, she has kept her flesh also virgin for Him conceived in her heart. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 11)
All these, however, are offices of human duty: but virginal chastity and freedom through pious continence from all sexual intercourse is the portion of Angels, and a practice, in corruptible flesh, of perpetual incorruption. To this let all fruitfulness of the flesh yield, all chastity of married life; the one is not in (ma’s) power, the other is not in eternity; free choice has not fruitfulness of the flesh, heaven has not chastity of married life. Assuredly they will have something great beyond others in that common immortality, who have something already not of the flesh in the flesh. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 12)
Wherefore I admonish both men and women who follow after perpetual continence and holy virginity, that they so set their own good before marriage, as that they judge not marriage an evil: and that they understand that it was in no way of deceit, but of plain truth that it was said by the Apostle, ‘Who so gives in marriage does well; and who so gives not in marriage, does better; and, if you shall have taken a wife, you have not sinned; and, if a virgin shall have been married, she sins not;’ and a little after, ‘But she will be more blessed, if she shall have continued so, according to my judgment.’ And, that the judgment should not be thought human, he adds, ‘But I think I also have the Spirit of God.’ This is the doctrine of the Lord, this of the Apostles, this true, this sound, so to choose greater gifts, as that the lesser be not condemned. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 18)
However, since there are some who, straying from the right path in this matter, so exalt marriage as to rank it ahead of virginity and thus depreciate chastity consecrated to God and clerical celibacy, Our apostolic duty demands that We now in a particular manner declare and uphold the Church’s teaching on the sublime state of virginity, and so defend Catholic truth against these errors. (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 8, March 25, 1954)
It is first and foremost for the foregoing reasons that, according to the teaching of the Church, holy virginity surpasses marriage in excellence. Our Divine Redeemer had already given it to His disciples as a counsel for a more perfect life. (Mt 19:10-11) St. Paul, after having said that the father who gives his daughter in marriage ‘does well,’ adds immediately ‘and he that gives her not, does better.’ (1 Cor 7:38) (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 24, March 25, 1954)
In the first place, it must be clearly stated that because virginity should be esteemed as something more perfect than marriage, it does not follow that it is necessary for Christian perfection. Holiness of life can really be attained, even without a chastity that is consecrated to God. Witness to this are the many holy men and women, who are publicly honored by the Church, and who were faithful spouses and stood out as an example of excellent fathers and mothers; indeed it is not rare to find married people who are very earnest in their efforts for Christian perfection. (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 45-46, March 25, 1954)
We have recently with sorrow censured the opinion of those who contend that marriage is the only means of assuring the natural development and perfection of the human personality (cf. Allocutio ad Moderatrices supremas Ordinum et Institutorum Religiosarum, 15 septem. 1952; AAS 44, p. 824) For there are those who maintain that the grace of the sacrament, conferred ex opere operato, renders the use of marriage so holy as to be a fitter instrument than virginity for uniting souls with God; for marriage is a sacrament, but not virginity. We denounce this doctrine as a dangerous error. Certainly, the sacrament grants the married couple the grace to accomplish holily the duties of their married state, and it strengthens the bonds of mutual affection that unite them; but the purpose of its institution was not to make the employment of marriage the means, most suitable in itself, for uniting the souls of the husband and wife with God by the bonds of charity (cf. Decretum S. Officii, De matrimonii finibus, AAS 36, p. 103) Or rather does not the Apostle Paul admit that they have the right of abstaining for a time from the use of marriage, so that they may be more free for prayer (cf. 1 Cor 7:5), precisely because such abstinence gives greater freedom to the soul which wishes to give itself over to spiritual thoughts and prayer to God? […] Holiness of life can really be attained, even without a chastity that is consecrated to God. Witness to this are the many holy men and women, who are publicly honored by the Church, and who were faithful spouses and stood out as an example of excellent fathers and mothers; indeed it is not rare to find married people who are very earnest in their efforts for Christian perfection. (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 37-38.46, March 25, 1954)
[In the seminary] Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul. (Vatican Council II. Decree Optatam totius on priestly training, no. 10, October 20, 1965)
It is indisputable that virginity and celibacy are much more excellent than matrimony. 1. Because the body and the spirit are conserved incorrupt and incorruptible, 2. There is, in this, a high degree of perfection. 3. Temperance is demanded, which is a heroic virtue: which is in the power of God (Lk 1:51). Saint Fulgence saw so much and so sublime a virtue in virginity that he defined the word virgin as deriving from virtue (Epist. III, Ch. IV). Saint Aldhelm, bishop of the Saxons says: There are three states in the Church: Virginity, celibacy, and matrimony. If you wish to know and establish the excellence and the merit of each of these states, compare virginity with gold, celibacy with silver and matrimony with iron; virginity with richness, celibacy with abundance, and matrimony with poverty. Virginity is peace; celibacy is liberty and matrimony slavery. Virginity is the sun; celibacy is the moon; and matrimony, darkness. Virginity is queen, celibacy, a knight; and matrimony a servant (De Laud. Virg. c. IX). (Cornelius a Lapide. The treasures of Cornelio a Lapide, The excellence of virginity)
IV – In its perfect equilibrium, Catholic truth rejects two errors: putting matrimony on a par with continence, and condemning matrimony as sinful
Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. (1 Cor 7:25-28)
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whomever she wishes, provided that it be in the Lord. She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 7:39-40)
‘Concerning virgins,’ says the apostle, ‘I have no commandment of the Lord.’ (1 Cor 7: 25) Why was this? Because his own virginity was due, not to a command, but to his free choice. […] Why then has he no commandment from the Lord concerning virginity? Because what is freely offered is worth more than what is extorted by force, and to command virginity would have been to abrogate wedlock. It would have been a hard enactment to compel opposition to nature and to extort from men the angelic life; and not only so, it would have been to condemn what is a divine ordinance. (Saint Jerome. Letter XXII to Eustochium, 20)
But lest any should think that of two works, the good and the better, the rewards will be equal, on this account it was necessary to treat against those, who have so interpreted that saying of the Apostle, ‘But I think that this is good by reason of the present necessity,’ as to say that virginity is of use not in order to the kingdom of heaven, but in order to this present time: as though in that eternal life, they, who had chosen this better part, would have nothing more than the rest of men. And in this discussion when we came to that saying of the same Apostle, ‘But such shall have tribulation of the flesh, but I spare you;’ we fell in with other disputants, who so far from making marriage equal to perpetual virginity, altogether condemned it. For whereas both are errors, either to equal marriage to holy virginity, or to condemn it: by fleeing from one another to excess, these two errors come into open collision, in that they have been unwilling to hold the mean of truth: whereby, both by sure reason and authority of holy Scriptures, we both discover that marriage is not a sin, and yet equal it not to the good either of virginal or even of widowed chastity. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 19)
Here someone will say, what has this to do with holy virginity, or perpetual continence, the setting forth of which was undertaken in this discourse? To whom I make answer in the first place, what I mentioned above, that the glory of that greater good is greater from the fact that, in order to obtain it, the good of married life is surmounted, not the sin of marriage shunned. Otherwise it would be enough for perpetual continence, not to be specially praised, but only not to be blamed: if it were maintained on this account, because it was a crime to wed. In the next place, because it is not by human judgment, but by authority of Divine Scripture, that men must be exhorted unto so excellent a gift, we must plead not in a common-place manner, or merely by the way, that divine Scripture itself seem not to any one in any matter to have lied. For they discourage rather than exhort holy virgins, who compel them to continue so by passing sentence on marriage. For whence can they feel sure that that is true, which is written, ‘And he, who gives her not in marriage, does better:’ if they think that false, which yet is written close above, ‘Both he, who gives his virgin, does well?’ But, if they shall without all doubt have believed Scripture speaking of the good of marriage, confirmed by the same most true authority of the divine oracle, they will hasten beyond unto their own better part with glowing and confident eagerness. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 21)
But we, according to the faith and sound doctrine of holy Scriptures, both say that marriage is no sin, and yet set its good not only below virginal, but also below widowed continence; and say that the present necessity of married persons is an hindrance to their desert, not indeed unto life eternal, but unto an excellent glory and honor, which is reserved for perpetual continence: and that at this time marriage is not expedient save for such as contain not; and that on the tribulation of the flesh, which comes from the affection of the flesh, without which marriages of incontinent persons cannot be, the Apostle neither wished to be silent, as forewarning what was true, nor to unfold more fully, as sparing man’s weakness. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 21)
The Apostle emphasizes with great clarity that virginity, or voluntary continence, derives exclusively from a counsel and not from a commandment: ‘With regard to virgins, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion.’ Paul gives this opinion ‘as one who has obtained mercy from the Lord and merits your trust’ (1 Cor 7:25). As is seen from the words quoted, the Apostle, just as the Gospel (cf. Mt 19:11-12), distinguishes between counsel and commandment. On the basis of the doctrinal rule of understanding proclaimed teaching, he wants to counsel. (John Paul II. General audience, no. 6, June 23, 1982)
So then the Apostle teaches that virginity, or voluntary continence, the young woman’s abstention from marriage, derives exclusively from a counsel, and given the appropriate circumstances, it is better than marriage. The question of sin does not enter in any way. ‘Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries, she does not sin’ (1 Cor 7:27-28). Solely on the basis of these words, we certainly cannot make judgments on what the Apostle was thinking or teaching about marriage. This subject will indeed be partially explained in the context of First Corinthians (chapter 7) and more fully in Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33). In our case, he is probably dealing with the answer to the question of whether marriage is a sin. One could also think that in such a question there might be some influence from dualistic pro-gnostic currents, which later become encratism and Manichaeism. Paul answers that the question of sin absolutely does not enter into play here. It is not a question of the difference between good and evil, but only between good and better. He later goes on to justify why one who chooses marriage will do well and one who chooses virginity, or voluntary continence, will do better. (John Paul II. General audience, no. 6, June 23, 1982)
Christ spoke of continence ‘for’ the kingdom of heaven. In this way he wished to emphasize that this state, consciously chosen by man in this temporal life, in which people usually ‘marry or are given in marriage,’ has a singular supernatural finality. Continence, even if consciously chosen or personally decided upon, but without that finality, does not come within the scope of the above-mentioned statement of Christ. Speaking of those who have consciously chosen celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of heaven (that is, ‘They have made themselves eunuchs’), Christ pointed out—at least in an indirect way—that this choice during the earthly life is joined to renunciation and also to a determined spiritual effort. (John Paul II. General audience, no. 5, March 17, 1982)
V – The praises of virginity
They were singing (what seemed to be) a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women; they are virgins and these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the firstfruits of the human race for God and the Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished. (Rev 14:3-5)
My address is now to virgins, whose glory, as it is more eminent, excites the greater interest. This is the flower of the ecclesiastical seed, the grace and ornament of spiritual endowment, a joyous disposition, the wholesome and uncorrupted work of praise and honour, God’s image answering to the holiness of the Lord, the more illustrious portion of Christ’s flock. The glorious fruitfulness of Mother Church rejoices by their means, and in them abundantly flourishes; and in proportion as a copious virginity is added to her number, so much the more it increases the joy of the Mother. (Saint Cyprian. Treatise on the dress of Virgins, no. 3)
How great inconveniences are involved in wedlock and how many anxieties encompass it I have, I think, described shortly in my treatise-published against Helvidius – on the perpetual virginity of the blessed Mary. It would be tedious to go over the same ground now; and any one who pleases may draw from that fountain. […] If you want to know from how many vexations a virgin is free and by how many a wife is fettered you should read Tertullian “to a philosophic friend,” and his other treatises on virginity, the blessed Cyprian’s noble volume, the writings of Pope Damasus (cf. ML vol 13, col. 347-418) in prose and verse, and the treatises recently written for his sister by our own Ambrose. (ML vol 16, col. 187) In these he has poured forth his soul with such a flood of eloquence that he has sought out, set forth, and put in order all that bears on the praise of virgins. (Saint Jerome. Letter XXII to Eustochium, 22)
Therefore no fruitfulness of the flesh can be compared to holy virginity even of the flesh. For neither is itself also honored because it is virginity, but because it has been dedicated to God, and, although it be kept in the flesh, yet is it kept by religion and devotion of the Spirit. And by this means even virginity of body is spiritual, which continence of piety vows and keeps. For, even as no one makes an immodest use of the body, unless the sin have been before conceived in the spirit, so no one keeps modesty in the body, unless chastity have been before implanted in the spirit. But, further, if modesty of married life, although it be guarded in the flesh, is yet attributed to the soul, not to the flesh, under the rule and guidance of which, the flesh itself has no intercourse with any beside its own proper estate of marriage; how much more, and with how much greater honor, are we to reckon among the goods of the soul that continence, whereby the virgin purity of the flesh is vowed, consecrated, and kept, for the Creator Himself of the soul and flesh. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. On holy virginity, 8)
Is it not marvelous, how every time that the Christian Virgins, ‘the most glorious portion of the flock of Christ’, following the impulses of love, reject the solicitations of the world, as foreign to it, and surpassing the division of the heart, which is so comfortable and full of dangers, not only consecrated themselves totally to Christ as the true Spouse of souls, but also they gave their lives forever, adorned with the jewels of the Christian virtues, to the service of Jesus Christ and to his Church. (Pius XII. Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi, no. 2, November 21, 1950)
Holy virginity and that perfect chastity which is consecrated to the service of God is without doubt among the most precious treasures which the Founder of the Church has left in heritage to the society which He established. This assuredly was the reason why the Fathers of the Church confidently asserted that perpetual virginity is a very noble gift which the Christian religion has bestowed on the world. They rightly noted that the pagans of antiquity imposed this way of life on the Vestals only for a certain time (cf. S. Ambrose, De virginibus., lib. I, c. 4, n. 15; De virginitate, c. 3, n. 13) and that, although in the Old Testament virginity is ordered to be kept and preserved, it is only a previous requisite for marriage (cf. Ex. 22: 16-17; Deut 22: 23-29; Eccli 42: 9) and furthermore, as Ambrose writes (De virginibus, lib. I, c. 3, n. 12) “We read that also in the temple of Jerusalem there were virgins. But what does the Apostle say? ‘Now all these things happened to them in figure’, (1 Cor 10:11) that this might be a foreshadowing of what was to come “ (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 1-2, March 25, 1954)
Further, the Fathers of the Church, such as Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and many others, have sung the praises of virginity. And this doctrine of the Fathers, augmented through the course of centuries by the Doctors of the Church and the masters of asceticism, helps greatly either to inspire in the faithful of both sexes the firm resolution of dedicating themselves to God by the practice of perfect chastity and of persevering thus till death. (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 4, March 25, 1954)
Innumerable is the multitude of those who from the beginning of the Church until our time have offered their chastity to God. Some have preserved their virginity unspoiled, others after the death of their spouse, have consecrated to God their remaining years in the unmarried state, and still others, after repenting their sins, have chosen to lead a life of perfect chastity; all of them at one in this common oblation, that is, for love of God to abstain for the rest of their lives from sexual pleasure. May then what the Fathers of the Church preached about the glory and merit of virginity be an invitation, a help, and a source of strength to those who have made the sacrifice to persevere with constancy, and not take back or claim for themselves even the smallest part of the holocaust they have laid on the altar of God. (Pius XII. Encyclical Sacra virginitas, no. 4, March 25, 1954)
In this variety of nuances there is still an unmistakable note, that all the varieties constitute the unity of consecrated souls, and it is precisely virginity. In this circumstance, we would like to make you feel, but above all in face of the whole world, the excellence and glory of virginity. It is the virtue that dilates your heart for the most authentic, the greatest, and the most universal love that can be had on earth: the service of Christ in souls. What you have sought is not an earthly love, nor a house of your own, nor the fulfillment of strictly personal tasks, all things which, although licit and just, could not satisfy the aspirations of your heart, but rather you have chosen the celestial Spouse, and the immense field of the Church. (John XXIII. Address to the women religious of Rome, First Diocesan Synod of Rome, January 29, 1960)
Likewise, the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to His disciples. An eminent position among these is held by virginity or the celibate state (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34). This is a precious gift of divine grace given by the Father to certain souls (cf Mt l9:11; 1 Cor 7:7), whereby they may devote themselves to God alone the more easily, due to an undivided heart. This perfect continency, out of desire for the kingdom of heaven, has always been held in particular honor in the Church. The reason for this was and is that perfect continency for the love of God is an incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 42, November 21, 1964)
How many young women in the Church’s history, as they contemplate the nobility and beauty of the virginal heart of the Lord’s Mother, have felt encouraged to respond generously to God’s call by embracing the ideal of virginity! “Precisely such virginity”, as I recalled in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, “after the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, is the source of a special spiritual fruitfulness: it is the source of motherhood in the Holy Spirit” (n. 43). Mary’s virginal life inspires in the entire Christian people esteem for the gift of virginity and the desire that it should increase in the Church as a sign of God’s primacy over all reality and as a prophetic anticipation of the life to come. Together let us thank the Lord for those who still today generously consecrate their lives in virginity to the service of the kingdom of God. (John Paul II. General audience, August 7, 1996)
‘Full of grace’ (Lk 1:28), Mary was enriched with a perfection of holiness that, according to the Church’s interpretation, goes back to the very first moment of her existence: the unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception influenced the whole development of the young woman of Nazareth’s spiritual life. Thus it should be maintained that Mary was guided to the ideal of virginity by an exceptional inspiration of that same Holy Spirit who, in the course of the Church’s history, will spur many women to the way of virginal consecration. The singular presence of grace in Mary’s life leads to the conclusion that the young girl was committed to virginity. Filled with the Lord’s exceptional gifts from the beginning of her life, she was oriented to a total gift of self—body and soul—to God, in the offering of herself as a virgin. (John Paul II. General audience, July 24, 1996)
The marvels God still works today in the hearts and lives of so many young people were first realized in Mary’s soul. Even in our world, so distracted by the attractions of a frequently superficial and consumerist culture, many adolescents accept the invitation that comes from Mary’s example and consecrate their youth to the Lord and to the service of their brothers and sisters. This decision is the choice of greater values, rather than the renunciation of human values. In this regard, in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus my venerable predecessor Paul VI emphasizes how anyone who looks at the witness of the Gospel with an open mind “will appreciate that Mary’s choice of the state of virginity (… ) was not a rejection of any of the values of the married state but a courageous choice which she made in order to consecrate herself totally to the love of God” (n. 37). (John Paul II. General audience, August 7, 1996)
At the same time, while in various regions evangelized long ago hedonism and consumerism seem to dissuade many young people from embracing the consecrated life, we must incessantly ask God through Mary’s intercession for a new flowering of religious vocations. Thus the face of Christ’s Mother, reflected in the many virgins who strive to follow the divine Master, will continue to be the sign of God’s mercy and tenderness for humanity. (John Paul II. General audience, August 7, 1996)
In particular, we must not forget that, from the very beginning of her life, Mary received a wondrous grace, recognized by the angel at the moment of the Annunciation. ‘Full of grace’ (Lk 1:28), Mary was enriched with a perfection of holiness that, according to the Church’s interpretation, goes back to the very first moment of her existence: the unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception influenced the whole development of the young woman of Nazareth’s spiritual life. Thus it should be maintained that Mary was guided to the ideal of virginity by an exceptional inspiration of that same Holy Spirit who, in the course of the Church’s history, will spur many women to the way of virginal consecration. The singular presence of grace in Mary’s life leads to the conclusion that the young girl was committed to virginity. Filled with the Lord’s exceptional gifts from the beginning of her life, she was oriented to a total gift of self—body and soul—to God, in the offering of herself as a virgin. (John Paul II. General audience, July 24, 1996)
‘Imitate the Mother of God; desire to be called and to be handmaids of the Lord’ (RCV, n. 16). The Order of Virgins is a special expression of consecrated life that blossomed anew in the Church after the Second Vatican Council (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n. 7). Its roots, however, are ancient; they date back to the dawn of apostolic times when, with unheard of daring, certain women began to open their hearts to the desire for consecrated virginity, in other words, to the desire to give the whole of their being to God, which had had its first extraordinary fulfilment in the Virgin of Nazareth and her “yes”. In the thought of the Fathers Mary was the prototype of Christian virgins and their perception highlighted the newness of this new state of life, to which a free choice of love gave access. (Benedict XVI. Address to the participants in the international Congress-Pilgrimage of the Ordo Virginum, May 15, 2008)
“They have chosen you [Lord] above all things; may they find all things in possessing you” (cf. RCV, n. 24). Your charism must reflect the intensity but also the freshness of its origins. It is founded on the simple Gospel invitation: ‘He who is able to receive this, let him receive it’ (Mt 19:12), and on St Paul’s recommendations of virginity for the Kingdom (1Cor 7:25-35). Yet the whole of the Christian mystery shines out in it. When your charism came into being it did not take shape in accordance with specific ways of life. Rather, it was institutionalized little by little until it became a true and proper solemn, public consecration, conferred by the Bishop in an evocative liturgical rite which made the consecrated woman the sponsa Christi, an image of the Church as Bride. (Benedict XVI. Address to the participants in the international Congress-Pilgrimage of the Ordo Virginum, May 15, 2008)
VI – Celibacy and its link with sacred ordination explains why the priest is configured with Jesus Christ Head and Spouse of the Church
Thus, venerable brethren, as we on numerous occasions have already declared, never will this Apostolic See mitigate or limit this most holy and most vital law of ecclesiastical celibacy, and much less so will it abolish it. (Benedict XV, Allocution in the Consistory, December 16, 1920, A.A.S. 12,1920, p. 587)
The priest has as the proper field of his activity everything that pertains to the supernatural life, since it is he who promotes the increase of this supernatural life and communicates it to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Consequently, it is necessary that he renounce ‘the things of the world,’ in order to have care only for ‘the things of the Lord’ (1 Cor 7:32-33). And it is precisely because he should be free from preoccupation with worldly things to dedicate himself entirely to the divine service, that the Church has established the law of celibacy, thus making it ever more manifest to all peoples that the priest is a minister of God and the father of souls. By his law of -celibacy, the priest, so far from losing the gift and duties of fatherhood, rather increases them immeasurably, for, although he does not beget progeny for this passing life of earth, he begets children for that life which is heavenly and eternal. The more resplendent priestly chastity is, so much the more does the sacred minister become, together with Christ, ‘a pure victim, a holy victim, an immaculate victim’ (Missale Rom., can). (Pius XII. Apostolic exhortation Menti nostrae, September 23, 1950)
The chastity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse. (Vatican Council II. Decree Perfectae caritatis, no. 12, October 28, 1965)
Indeed, celibacy has a many-faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and which has its origin “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 19:12) priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34) they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ (cf. 2Cor 11:2) and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse (cf. Lumen Gentium, n 42 and 44). They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives (cf. Lk 20:35-36; Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii; Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas, nn 169-172) (Vatican Council II. Decree Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 16, December 7, 1965)
Jesus, who selected the first ministers of salvation, wished them to be introduced to the understanding of the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 13:11.; Cf. Mk 4:11; Lk 8:10) but He also wished them to be coworkers with God under a very special title, and His ambassadors. (cf. 2Cor 5:20) He called them friends and brethren (cf. Jn 15:15; 20:17), for whom He consecrated Himself so that they might be consecrated in truth (Ibid., 17:19); He promised a more than abundant recompense to anyone who should leave home, family, wife and children for the sake of the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 18:29-30). More than this, in words filled with mystery and hope, He also commended an even more perfect consecration (cf. Decree on the Priestly Ministry and Life) to the kingdom of heaven by means of celibacy, as a special gift (cf. Mt 19: 11). The motive of this response to the divine call is the kingdom of heaven; (Ibid., 19:12) similarly, this very kingdom (cf. Lk 18:29-30), the Gospel (Mk 10:29-30) and the name of Christ (Mt 19:29) motivate those called by Jesus to undertake the work of the apostolate, freely accepting its burdens, that they may participate the more closely in His lot. (Paul VI. Encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, no. 22, June 24, 1967)
It is especially important that the priest understand the theological motivation of the Church’s law on celibacy. Inasmuch as it is a law, it expresses the Church’s will, even before the will of the subject expressed by his readiness. But the will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and sacred ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her. Priestly celibacy, then, is the gift of self in and with Christ to his Church and expresses the priest’s service to the Church in and with the Lord. (John Paul II. Post-synodal exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 29, March 25, 1992)
Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler
The priesthood of the Catholic Church is a mystery which is, in its turn, immersed in the mystery of the Church of Christ. Every problem concerning this priesthood — and especially the great and ever-present problem of celibacy — can and must not be resolved on the basis of considerations and reasons which are purely anthropological, psychological or sociological, or in terms which are in general profane and of this world. […] In addition, if we take into account the actual nature of the Catholic priesthood, it is not enough simply to consider that which will render the Church herself more functionally effective: preserving or abandoning celibacy. The priesthood of the New Testament is not a functional concept, as was the case in the Old Testament, but rather, it is an ontological concept, to which there can only correspond a an adequate way of acting according the axiom: agere sequitur esse, which is to say, the action follows the being. With regard to this theology of the New Testament priest which has been confirmed and deepened by the official Magisterium of the Church, we should still ask ourselves: were the reasons which have been proposed for celibacy only regarding its convenience`, or rather only something really necessary and not renounceable? Is there not really a iunctum (a link of unity) between celibacy and priesthood? Only if this question is answered with uprightness will it be possible to answer this other question: Could the Church one day decide to modify the obligation of celibacy, or even abolish it all together? To avoid risks with the answer to this question we should begin with the fact that the Catholic priesthood has not been established by the Founder of the Church upon man who changes, but rather upon the immutable mystery of the Church and of Christ himself. (Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler. The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its Historical Development and Theological Foundations – partly in English)
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy)
Scholars note that the origins of priestly celibacy date back to apostolic times. Fr Ignace de la Potterie writes: ‘Scholars generally agree that the obligation of celibacy, or at least of continence, became canon law from the fourth century onwards…. However, it is important to observe that the legislators of the fourth and fifth centuries affirmed that this canonical enactment was based on an apostolic tradition. The Council of Carthage (390AD), for instance, said: ‘It was fitting that those who were at the service of the divine sacraments be perfectly continent (continentes esse in omnibus), so that what the Apostles taught and antiquity itself maintained, we too may observe” (cf. Fr I. de la Potterie, Il fondamento biblico del celibato sacerdotale, in Solo per amore. Riflessioni sul celibato sacerdotale, Cinisello Balsamo, 1993, pp. 14-15). In the same way, A.M. Stickler mentions biblical arguments of apostolic inspiration that advocate celibacy (cf. A.M. Stickler, in Ch. Cochini, Origines apostoliques du Célibat sacerdotal, Preface, p. 6). (Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” of Paul VI, February 24, 2007)
Even before it is a canonical disposition, celibacy is God’s gift to his Church. It is an issue bound to the complete gift of self to the Lord. In the distinction between the age-old discipline of celibacy and the religious experience of consecration and the pronouncement of vows, it is beyond doubt that there is no other possible interpretation or justification of ecclesiastical celibacy than unreserved dedication to the Lord in a relationship that must also be exclusive from the emotional viewpoint. This presupposes a strong personal and communal relationship with Christ, who transforms the hearts of his disciples. (Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” of Paul VI, February 24, 2007)
The option for celibacy of the Latin Rite Catholic Church has developed since apostolic times precisely in line with the priest’s relationship with his Lord, moved by the inspiring question, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ (Jn 21:15), which the Risen Jesus addressed to Peter. The Christological, ecclesiological and eschatological reasons for celibacy, all rooted in the special communion with Christ to which priests are called, can therefore be expressed in various ways, according to what is authoritatively stated in Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. (Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” of Paul VI, February 24, 2007)
Celibacy is first and foremost a “symbol of and stimulus to charity” (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, n. 24). Charity is the supreme criterion for judging Christian life in all its aspects; celibacy is a path of love, even if, as the Gospel according to Matthew says, Jesus himself states that not all are able to understand this reality: ‘Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given’ (Mt 19:11). This charity develops in the classical, twofold aspect of love for God and for others: ‘By preserving virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated in a new and excellent way to Christ. They more readily cling to him with undivided heart’ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 16.). St Paul, in the passage alluded to here, presents celibacy and virginity as the way ‘to please God’ without divided interests (1 Cor 7:32-33): in other words, a ‘way of love’ which certainly presupposes a special vocation; in this sense it is a charism and in itself excellent for both Christians and priests. (Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” of Paul VI, February 24, 2007)
Celibacy is the example that Christ himself left us. He wanted to be celibate. The Encyclical explains further: “Wholly in accord with this mission, Christ remained throughout his whole life in the state of celibacy, which signified his total dedication to the service of God and men. This deep connection between celibacy and the priesthood of Christ is reflected in those whose fortune it is to share in the dignity and mission of the Mediator and the Eternal Priest; this sharing will be more perfect the freer the sacred minister is from the bonds of flesh and blood” (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, n. 21). Jesus Christ’s historical existence is the most visible sign that chastity voluntarily embraced for God’s sake is a solidly founded vocation, both at the Christian level and at that of common human logic. (Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” of Paul VI, February 24, 2007)