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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Introduction

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church

EVERY one understands the importance of the question of vocation. Souls that are not removed from the influence exercised by religious indifference and the prejudices of the world, acknowledge that, on the choice of a state, depends the happiness or misfortune of life. Parents who reflect are, with reason, anxious about the calling of their children; and every director of souls is aware that one cannot, without danger, overlook, in this important matter, the rules of Christian wisdom.

But where are these rules laid down? Where can one get an accurate idea of them? Evidently, it is not in the maxims of the world, but in Holy Writ, in Catholic tradition, in the works of the fathers, and in the theologians and masters of the spiritual life. And yet, where is the young man or the young woman, who, having to decide about the future, can run over immense volumes, written, for the most part, in an unknown tongue, with a view to draw from them the doctrine that is to enlighten and guide a decision? Absorbed as they are in countless occupations, parents are still less fit than their children for such a study. Hardly, even, will the duties of the ministry allow priests leisure enough to explore the fathers and doctors so as to fathom a subject over which prejudices, accumulated by the spirit of the world and revolutions, have flung such a vast amount of darkness. To make serious researches, then, in the works of the great masters, to gather their teachings into one volume that every one can read, has appeared to us a useful task. This was the reason that led us to undertake it. Our purpose, in this book, is not to exhort souls to this or that state of life. We do not even wish to protest against certain views which, to us, seem at variance with true doctrine, and still pass current in the times in which we live. All we aim at is conscientiously to state what we consider to be the truth.

"Our doctrine is not ours," we would venture to say with the Saviour: it is that of the Scriptures, of the fathers, and of theologians.

The Epistles of St. Paul, commented by the learned Cornelius a Lapide; the doctors of the Church, and, chiefly, St. John Chrysostom, who, in the words of Bossuet, is inferior to none in good sense and eloquence; St. Jerome, who, having read every author, summed up, so to say, in himself the testimony of all, as well as of universal tradition; [1] St. Augustine, called by St. Isidore the Master, next to St. Paul, of the Church[2]; St. Thomas, who, according to a great pope, wrought as many miracles as he wrote articles[3]; St. Liguori, whose doctrine, according to the declarations of the Holy See, every confessor can follow with a safe conscience; among theologians, Suarez, whose profound learning and great authority no one will contest; Sanchez, whom St. Liguori styled very pious and wise;[4] Lessius, praised by St. Francis of Sales; St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose exercises have always been so much esteemed by popes and all the children of the Church; finally, F. Pinamonti, whom St. Liguori quotes: these are the sources from which we draw our teaching. They are rich, and, hence, we have taken largely from them; and the more so, that, in a question of such weight, we did not like to say anything of our own.

If, then, while perusing these pages, the reader should chance to fall on a view hitherto unknown to him, let him not, on that account, be in a hurry to blame it. Let him have the goodness to weigh the reasons and authority of the theologian who holds it; and not condemn our humble work without hearing it, that is, without reading it from beginning to end. It is not from the reading of a single chapter that a book can be judged. In the matter of which we now treat, everything is linked. The second part cannot be understood unless the first has been studied.

When we entered on our researches, we ourselves were surprised to find in St. Thomas, but chiefly in St. Liguori, doctrines altogether contrary to our previous views on vocation. In presence of such authorities, it gave us no pain to put aside our own thoughts. Doubtless, our readers will act in like manner, should they find themselves in a similar position. Better regulate our method of judging and acting by the teachings of those who are our masters and guides, than follow the daring road traced out by a pretended experience or personal views.

Every one may verify the exactness of our quotations, for we point out with scrupulous care the sources from which we derive them. Notwithstanding the reliability of the teaching of these theologians whom we cite, despite all the pains we have been at not to wander from their doctrine, we wished, and have obtained, that our work should be examined by the Papal Censors, and that its publication should have the sanction of the very reverend Master of the Sacred Palace. The first edition that appeared was printed at the press of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, in Rome during the month of May, 1874. The edition which we now issue, entirely coincides with the first.[5] Here is the order that we have followed. In the first part, we treat of the states of Christian life so as to furnish an exact notion of them; in the second, we discuss the choice of a state of life and vocation.


  1. Defense de la tradition des peres.
  2. Ibid.
  3. John XXII, l'Abbe Drioux, introd. a la Somme, p. I0.
  4. $ St. Lig., 1. iv, n. 478, ed. Mellier.
  5. We have suppressed some theological opinions which appeared to us above the reach of the general reader.