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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/Chapter 4

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church‎ | Part 1/Section 1‎ | Article 2/Paragraph I. Celibacy


LET us first note with Suarez that persons free from the bonds of wedlock are fitter for the state of perfection than those who are married.[1] Perfect chastity, says the same great theologian, is not only praiseworthy in that it makes man free and fitter for spiritual things, but also because it is in itself more lovely, better, more honorable, and, at the same time, richer in merits.[2] In itself chastity unites the heart to God, and withdraws, as far as possible, man from animal life, to raise him to a spiritual existence. For this reason the fathers liken virginity to the state and perfection of angels, because it, in a certain measure, makes men imitate angelic life, according to the words of the Saviour: " In the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married ; but shall be as the angels of God in heaven." (Matt, xxii, 30.) " What is to be consummated by the glory of the resurrection of our bodies is here undertaken by holy men through the perfection of their chastity. Hence, St. Cyril of Jerusalem teaches that this perfect chastity is above man, and is the crown of the angels."[3]

Finally, as by celibacy man acquires greater merit, so it consequently gives him a right to a higher reward in heaven. Indeed, an ancient author, supposed to be St. Athanasius, writing to a young person, broke forth into these exclamations : " O perfect chastity, friend of God, and praised of saints! O continence, hated of many, but dearly valued and loved of those who are able to understand thee ! thou overthrowest death and Satan, and art the dower of immortal spirits. O continence, joy of prophets, glory of apostles, life of angels, and crown of saints! blessed are they who possess thee ! In them the pains of a moment borne for thy sake will bring thee abundant joys."[4] From what has just been said, it is easy to infer, and very important to understand, how proper it was for the Church not to admit her ministers to holy orders before making them promise continence, or perpetual celibacy. Suarez observes that reason and natural right sufficiently show the wisdom of this action of the Church ; and he adds : "In the Old Law, it is true, God did not prescribe perfect chastity to his priests : the sacrifices of mere animals which they had to offer up did not require such purity. Yet they were held to continence during the time of their functions in the temple. Thereby God showed how becoming it is that his ministers should altogether abstain from even the lawful pleasures of the senses." Indeed, ecclesiastical celibacy is entirely in keeping with the precepts and counsels of the Gospel ; for our Lord recommended chastity to all, and taught the practice of it, especially, to his apostles. St. Paul advises the faithful leading the married life to refrain for a time by mutual consent, in order to give themselves up to prayer. It is therefore, with just reason, far more becoming that the ministers of the Church, who from duty must often pray and perform their sacred functions, should be free from the bonds of matrimony. "And, in truth, the duties of a minister of God, particularly of a pastor, are not limited to prayer and the altar. He is bound to confer sacraments, especially penance, to instruct by word and example, and to assist the sick. He is the father of the poor, of the widow, of the orphan, and of the forlorn child. His flock is his family ; he is the distributor of alms, the resource of all the unfortunate. This multitude of painful and harassing functions is incompatible with the cares, perplexities, and vexations of the marriage state. A married priest would be at a loss to gain for himself the respect and confidence required for the success of his ministry.

Hence the practice of celibacy by the clergy was in honor from the beginning of Christianity, as Suarez proves at great length ;[5] and the Council of Trent consecrated its obligation by hurling an anathema against those who would dare to say that clerics constituted in sacred orders are able to contract marriage, and that, being contracted, it is valid ; and that, all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage, seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly ; neither does he suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.[6] (i Cor. x, 13.) But it is time to return to our subject.


  1. DC statu perfect., lib. I, c. ii.
  2. De voto cast., c. i, n. 12.
  3. De voto cast., c. i, n. 14.
  4. Inter op. St. Athan., De virginitate. Ed. Migne, torn. 4, col. 279.
  5. De voto cast., lib, 9, c. xiv.
  6. Sess. 24, can. 9.