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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/Paragraph I. Celibacy

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

With regard to celibacy, we must, in imitation of Suarez, begin by speaking on the errors of heretics. Some heretics said marriage was forbidden, and they consequently condemned it altogether. As a necessary result of this doctrine, they held celibacy to be obligatory.[1] Helvidius and Jovinian, though they did not go the length of censuring celibacy, taught, however, that it was no better than marriage. Protestants revived this old heresy, which St. Jerome had crushed ; and they taught that to observe celibacy, or virginity, is a matter of no consequence, and, therefore, it is superstitious to vow it to God.[2] With still greater boldness than the Protestants, the free thinkers of more modern times are not ashamed to assert that celibacy is impossible and contrary to nature. These errors, which publish the shame of those who profess them, have invaded the minds of men calling themselves Catholics, while reserving for themselves the right to think as heretics and impious men. As to us, we lay down, in conformity with the doctors of the Church, the following propositions : Firstly, even perpetual celibacy is possible. Secondly, it is not obligatory, but only a counsel. Thirdly, it is a happier state than that of marriage. Fourthly, it is also a more perfect state. Fifthly, it is praiseworthy to vow it. Sixthly, persons may be advised to practise it. Seventhly, no one can, without just cause, be prevented from embracing it.

What we have to say on celibacy is, to a certain degree, applicable to virginity and widowhood, of which we shall say a few words farther on. Before, however, entering on this subject, we have to observe that, in treating of marriage, we dealt with it as it is in itself, and not as it is among those who profane it. We shall speak of celibacy in the same way, for we are comparing states, and not persons. We have said nothing of faithless or guilty spouses ; neither shall we say anything of those who, free from the bands of wedlock, or living a single life, do not, withal, observe perfect chastity. Let it suffice here to warn that nothing stained shall enter heaven, and that, if persons refrain from marriage, which is allowable, they should keep still farther away from what is forbidden. The commandments of God condemn even guilty thoughts and desires.

  1. Ibid., De voto cast., lib. 9, c. i, n. i.
  2. Suarez, ibid., n. 2.