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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 1/Section 1/Article 2/Chapter 3

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


" THE chief signs of a vocation to the priesthood," says the holy doctor whose views we are unfolding, " are suitable knowledge, a good life, and purity of intention. First, suitable knowledge,[1] or the talent necessary to acquire it.[2] It were a grievous sin to receive ordination in such ignorance as would render one altogether unfit to perform the duties of holy orders.[3] Secondly, a holy life. It is of this condition that the holy Council of Trent speaks, when it says: 'Let bishops know that they must raise to orders only those who are worthy of them, and whose commendable life is an old age. '(Sess. 23, c. xii.) The apostle, too, forbids the ordaining of neophytes ; and not only of neophytes in age, but also of neophytes in perfection, as St. Thomas explains.

" The same doctor adds likewise : 'Sacred orders demand previous probity of life.' And in another place he says : 'To exercise holy orders properly, it is not enough to be good in a low degree; excellence is required. And the reason of it is this: those who receive holy orders are, by their dignity, raised above the faithful ; therefore they should be raised above them also by their merits and sanctity."[4] " Reason and the authority of theologians and doctors prove that, for him who is raised to the dignity of holy orders, the ordinary and actual state of grace is not sufficient ; he furthermore requires an habitual state of grace, surpassing the usual level of that state-- praecellens et habitualis. The burden of sacred orders ought not to be laid, says St. Thomas, except on walls that have been dried by holiness. St. Chrysostom had said before him that far higher virtue is requisite for priests than for religious."[5]

This habitual state of grace required for the reception of sacred orders should, generally speaking, be known from an experience of some length, as is clear from passages of St. Liguori, which follow those that we are quoting :

"The third condition, or the third sign, of vocation to the priesthood is a right intention ; that is to say, a desire to labor for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and not for one's own glory or personal interests."[6]

" He who, without a vocation evidenced by such signs, would intrude on the holy ministry, could not be excused from a grievous sin of presumption." [7] " Yet, in order that he who seeks promotion to holy orders may be free from guilt, it is enough if, with a right intention, though not certain that he has a call from God, he presents himself to his bishops for examination and trial. "[8]

" Now, the Council of Trent commands bishops to inquire carefully into the education, morals, and learning of aspirants to holy orders, before promoting them. In this examination and trial, bishops must, from the testimony of reliable men, acquire a certainty, not only that the candidate is not bad, but, furthermore, that he is positively good, that he gives himself to the practice of the spiritual life, that he is assiduous in visiting churches, that he frequents the sacraments, prays, shuns the world, keeps only good company, is devoted to study, and modest in his dress."[9]

When a young man possesses these three principal marks of vocation to the ecclesiastical state enumerated by St. Liguori, it is evidently a good work to furnish him means to follow that vocation. The saints always did so. As they were firm in refusing orders to the unworthy, so were they zealous in favoring true vocation.

Since, as St. Liguori assures us, a young man who is not certain that he has a call from God, who has aptitudes for the ecclesiastical state, is virtuous in conduct, and impelled by proper motives, can, without any sin, present himself for examination and trial to a bishop, it is therefore not forbidden to stir up in a pious child a sincere desire for God's glory and the salvation of souls, to foster his happy dispositions, and to afterward present him to a bishop for examination and holy orders. If thereby we have reasonable hope of giving a saintly priest to the Church, we perform an excellent act. There are truly Christian mothers who, by unceasing prayer to God, and by most vigilant spiritual care of their sons, seek to obtain for and decide in these children a vocation to the priesthood. Why is the number of such mothers not more numerous ? Although it is stripped of those temporal advantages which surrounded it in by-gone days, has the priesthood lost anything of that transcendent glory which Jesus Christ has bestowed upon it ? Is it not, on the contrary, all the more deserving of our admiration and devotedness, because it gives a man a closer resemblance to Jesus in his poverty, and to his persecuted apostles ? Many priests do, for the virtuous children of their parish, what the pious mothers of whom we have just spoken do for their sons. They choose out of their flock the portion of God, which ought to be the best. Hence, before determining their choice, they take into consideration, above all, not the talents, but the pure life of those whom they destine for the service of the altar. And, indeed, what can talents without virtue accomplish for the glory of God? "Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies." (i Cor. viii, i.)

We also witness in our times those admirable works, whose object is to give a clerical education to poor, but virtuous, children. Among these works some offer a twofold advantage, that can not be too highly valued : they prepare at once for the priestly and the religious life. With the resources which these establishments furnish, a young man without worldly means may easily, for the salvation of souls, become a priest, and procure for himself every means of sanctification that the religious state can bestow. The noble institution of the apostolic schools which our Holy Father, Pope Pius IX, has enriched with indulgences, brings up, gratis, pious children who are destined for missionary countries. This institution has already, in France and Belgium, five houses under the care of the fathers of the Society of Jesus. Many other religious, such as Capuchins, Premonstratensians, and Augustinians, prepare children for the secular and the regular clergy. The missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun in France, the Oblates of Mary, and others, have also their apostolic schools. May God bless these grand undertakings; may he multiply, in the Church of his Son, Jesus Christ, good priests and holy religious, who form one of its brightest glories !


  1. St. Lig., lib. 6, n. 802.
  2. Id., Praxis confess., n. 93.
  3. Ibid., n. 791, quaeritur 2.
  4. St. Lig., lib. 6, n. 802.
  5. Ibid., n. 67.
  6. Ibid., n. 802.
  7. St. Lig., lib. 6, n. 8:3.
  8. lbid., n. 72.
  9. Ibid., n. 803.