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

We shall include in this state every one who is not in the perfect state, specially so called; that is, all who are not in the religious state, or have not been raised to the episcopate.[1] Indeed the common state of life contains many classes of human beings who, although in conditions otherwise differing, are in the same state with respect to the Christian life. Above all, we must declare that it does not enter into our purpose to judge of or compare the interior state of the souls that are in divers positions, "for man seeth the things that appear, but the Lord beholds the heart." (i Kings xvi, 7.) Suarez, following St. Thomas, says: "There is nothing to hinder a man from being perfect, even though he has not embraced a state of perfection. It may also happen that one who is in a state of perfection is not perfect. These two propositions are beyond doubt, and supported by experience. All religious are in a perfect state, and still not all are perfect; some of them may not be even in a state of grace. On the other hand, many seculars and married people may be perfect, though, for all that, not in a state of perfection. The reason or proof of the first proposition is, that we can contract an obligation and not comply with it; have an employment and neglect it.... Even when in a perfect state, man always remains free to acquire, or not to acquire, perfection."[2]

"The proof of the second proposition is, that, though the state of perfection facilitates the acquirement of perfection, nevertheless it is not a necessary means to acquire it. To reach perfection, the soul need not keep all the counsels: it is enough to keep some of them; and we can, even when not in a state of perfection, perform works of counsel, and thus spontaneously arrive at perfection."[3]

It were, then, imprudent and rash to measure the interior perfection of souls by the state in which they live. Following the great theologians and doctors, we can study and compare the exterior states of life that are in the Church, and whose variety is one of the many beauties of the Spouse of Christ. But, in this study and comparison, we must be careful not to swerve from the doctrine of those who are our guides and our masters. To act otherwise would be to expose ourselves to go astray and fall into error. Do we not hear too often, alas! Christians, who, without knowing it, talk of the various states of Christian life, just as do heretics upon whom the Church has set her anathema?


  1. We shall speak on vocation to the priesthood when we come to treat of the state of perfection in exercise.
  2. Suarez, De statu perfectionis, c. v, n. I. S. Th., ii, 2, q. 184, a. 4.
  3. 4 Ibid., c. v t n. 2.