States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 1/Preliminary Explanation

SUAREZ defines, as follows, a state of Christian life: "It is a stable and fixed manner of living, established to preserve grace in this world, and to obtain glory in the world to come."[1]

"Between the Church of Christ yet militant on earth, and the Church triumphing in heaven, there exists such a wondrous harmony, that, in the Gospels, the Church of the earth is often called the kingdom of heaven. As, in the Church of heaven, there are many classes of blessed spirits to carry out the orders of God and encircle his throne, so, in the Church on earth, there are various analogous degrees. And, just as in the perfection of the essential blessedness of the elect there are divers states, with much variety in glory and accidental rewards, in like manner, there must be, in the militant Church, several states in which men may fit themselves for varying degrees of happiness, and may merit honors and recompenses of different kinds. In the heavenly country, this variety clothes the society of the elect with admirable beauty, and the Church of Christ here below derives ravishing splendor from the diversity of states.

"This is what the Psalmist sung(Ps.xliv): The queen stood on thy right hand . . . surrounded with variety. . . . All the glory of the king's daughter is within in golden borders, clothed round about with varieties."[2]

"The states of the Christian are divided into the common and the perfect. And, indeed, as we have just remarked, a state of Christian life is a fixed and stable manner of living, instituted and ordained for the preservation of grace at present, and for glory hereafter. But this manner of living is twofold. One manner is general and common to all the faithful, since it is necessary for salvation, and God wishes all to be saved. The other is special. In addition to these means of salvation which are necessary, it possesses many others. These two manners of living form two different states of Christian life: the common state, and the state of perfection."[3]

"Though the former state is called common, it does not mean that those who live in it may not perform works of supererogation, and are in capable of growing, with the assistance of God's grace, in spiritual perfection as much as they choose; but it is so called, because that state does not bind its members to supererogatory works and perfection, nor does it afford them any special means for that purpose.

"The state of perfection adds something better and more perfect to the common state, and is thereby distinguished from it, as the container differs from what it contains."[4]

"In the state of perfection there are more means to practise virtue, and fewer occasions to violate God's law; wherefore we find in it greater utility and fuller security."[5]

"This division which we have just given of the Christian life is not only excellent and necessary, but is furthermore complete; for we cannot imagine any state among the children of the Church which it does not cover."[6]

Now, then, we shall enter into some details, first, on common life, and, next, on the state of perfection; not for the purpose of treating the question exhaustively, but to convey an exact idea of the two states to those who have to make or to direct a choice of life.

We write, chiefly, with a view to enlighten persons who have to embrace a state, whatever may be their age or their sex.


  1. Lib. i, De statu perfectionis, c. ii, n. 7. Whenever we quote Suarez we refer to his 7th treatise, * De religione, de obligationibus qua: religiosum statum constituunt vel ad ilium disponunt." In giving the doctrine of fathers and theologians, our aim is to render faithfully their teachings, rather than to give a word-for-word translation.
  2. Suar., ibid., c. ii, n. 6.
  3. Suarez, c. ii, n. 7.
  4. Tanquam includens ab incluso, (Ibid., c. ii, n. 9.)
  5. Ibid., c. ii, n. 10.
  6. Ibid., c. ii, n. 12.