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

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church


THERE are souls which are not in the case of persons for whom marriage, or virginity, or the religious life, is obligatory ; and still they feel no desire, they have not even an idea, of the advantages to be met with in the state of perfection. At the same time they are not wanting in the requisites for any state of the Christian life. How should these persons act?

First, they cannot enter that state with regard to which they labor under impediments. For instance, they cannot enter religion if their parents are in extreme need of them.

Secondly, as a right intention is requisite for every good act,[1] it is especially so for the choice of a state of life.

Thirdly, " Man," says St. Liguori, " is bound to refer all his actions to God, whenever he acts deliberately and for a purpose. For St. Paul writes : 'Whether you eat, or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. (i Cor. x, 31.) If, then, a man refers his acts, and, consequently, his choice of a state of life, to God, with a virtual intention, these acts will be good ; and they will be bad, if not referred to God."[2]

To become meritorious, according to a distinguished theologian, an act must be referred to God considered as the author of the supernatural order.[3] But if a young man who is under no obligation from accidental causes to follow a particular state, and who feels no supernatural leaning for the state of perfection, has a right intention, and refers to God the choice which he is about to make of some state belonging to the Christian life, he falls evidently under the case spoken of by a Lapide when he says : " God leaves many entirely free to choose their state of life : In multorum arbitrio omnino relinquit ut eligant vel matrimonium vel coelibatum."[4]

This follows from all that we have said. This young man is not bound to enter religion, since we suppose him not to have even the beginning of a vocation, and that his salvation is not morally impossible in the world. Nor is he bound to observe celibacy or to get married, since we suppose him not to be in any of those circumstances which render celibacy or marriage obligatory. Besides marriage, celibacy and the religious state are open to him, because, in our supposition, there are no impediments in his way, and he has all the aptitudes required by every one of these states. If, then, after having prayed, reflected, and consulted, he freely chooses one among these several states, taking care meanwhile to refer his choice to God, to have a right intention, and a will always to fulfil his duties, his choice will be a good one, and even meritorious, when the young man is in the state of grace. Should he marry, he will do well. " If thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned," says St. Paul. "He that giveth his virgin in marriage does well." (i Cor. vii, 28, 38.) Recall here the lawful ends to be kept in view in entering the marriage state: we enumerated them, Part I, Art. I, c. iv.

But let us advance a step further. He who would unjustly seek to prevent the above-mentioned young man from marrying, would be guilty of a grievous sin ;[5] for he would rob him of a liberty given by God, and divert him from a holy state to which he has a right. But it would not be against any virtue nay, it would even be a laudable act, to tell that same young man, with St. Paul, that virginity is better than marriage. Celibacy is a counsel: it may therefore be counselled in this case under consideration. Much more may the religious life be counselled, since, even when engaged to be married, one has still a right to enter, and because it is still more perfect than celibacy. There is no need here to go into any proof of these propositions : we gave ample demonstration of them in the First Part. St. Ignatius says that out of the Exercises " it is lawful, and to be accounted meritorious, to persuade all those to embrace celibacy, religious life, and any other evangelical perfection, who, from the consideration of their persons and conditions, will probably be fit subjects."[6] Where a man is free to choose the state which he considers suitable for him, he who seeks most purely to please God will assuredly receive the greatest graces. Hence, in accordance with the Exercises of St. Ignatius, and the Directory that accompanies them, we shall proceed to lay down rules calculated to make the choice of a state in the Christian life as perfect as possible.


  1. Suar., lib. 5, c. viii, n. 6.
  2. St. Lig., Theol Mor., lib. 2, n. 44.
  3. Perrone, De gratia, part 3, c. iii.
  4. Comment, in I Cor. vii, 7.
  5. St. Lig., TheoL Mor. lib. 4, n. 335. Ed. Meiller.
  6. S. Ign., 15th Annot, "Book of Exercises."