Is Celibacy A Higher Calling than Marriage?
The Catholic Church teaches, as dogma, that celibacy (namely, consecrated life) is "superior" to the married state, and should be preferred, if it is within the capacity and disposition of the soul to do so.
: “As a way of showing forth the Church's holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ's own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church's purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt. 22:30)”
: “This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as we have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church."
"If anyone saith that the marriage state is to be preferred before the state of virginity, let him be anathema." [...] "writing to the Corinthians, [Paul] says: I would that all men were even as myself; that is, that all embrace the virtue of continence...A life of continence is to be desired by all.”
"The state of the consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come."
"Virginity is more excellent than marriage, which can be seen by both faith and reason. Faith sees virginity as imitating the example of Christ and the counsel of St. Paul. Reason sees virginity as rightly ordering goods, preferring a Divine good to human goods, the good of the soul to the good of the body, and the good of the contemaplative life to that of the active life."
"It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman. [v.1] Indeed, I wish that everyone were like I am [celibate]. [v.7] I should like you to be free from anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord; how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world; how he may please his wife, and he is divided. [v.32] Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that." [v.28] (see also Mark 12:18-27, Mtt 19:10-12, 2 Timothy Ch. 2:3)
What is "Consecrated Life"?
To be "Consecrated" means to be set apart for a special purpose. It refers to a state to which men and women take public vows to the Evangelical Counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience), ordinarily within the context of a religious community (such as a monastery, convent, or friary). By taking these vows, religious men and women strive follow the Jesus' counsels in a more perfect way. As Our Lord expressly stated, they are counsels for those who desire to become "perfect" (cf. Matt. 19:10-12, Matt. 19:16-22; Matt. 5:48; Mark 10), because they most closely mirror life in heaven (souls in heaven are all perfectly poor in earthly riches, perfectly chaste in purirty, and perfectly obedient to God).
It is thus that the Church gives "preeminence" to the religious vocation, and recognizes it an act of supererogation, that is; exceeding the minimum necessary for salvation. (nb., CCC, p. 914-945). It should also be noted that a diocesan priest, though he is celibate, does not take this tripple vow to the Evangelical Counsels, and is therefore not consecrated in this sense of the word (Though it is interesting to note, Saint Alphonsus De Ligouri demanded an even greater degree of perfection for priests; "For in the religious state, one purifies one's self of one's vices, whilst to receive Holy Orders, it is necessary that one has already led a pure and holy life").
According To The Saints
The Saints offer us additional insight, namely; that the consecrated life is the surest path heaven, and the greatest means to generate saints and sanctify the world. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the consecrated life is such a lofty and exalted state, that "those who enter obtain the same graces as those who receive Baptism". It can thus be said that the graces imparted to the soul at final profession are greater than any other graces that can possibly be merited in this life. Those who enter religious life can be confident in this, for their way is the cross; the highest form of love. Through a life of continual prayer and sacrifice, the religious draws down from heaven grace upon grace for the conversion for souls throughout the world.
"Today, the Lord gave me knowledge of His anger toward mankind which deserves to have its days shortened because of its sins. But I learned that the world's existence is maintained by chosen souls; that is, the religious orders. Woe to the world when there will be a lack of religious orders!"
:"They [religious] live more purely, they fall more rarely, they rise more speedily, they are aided more powerfully, they live more peacefully, they die more securely, and they are rewarded more abundantly."
: "If I used to consider my vocation as above all others, now I appreciate it doubly; because I have seen and experienced for myself that the holiness of a [religious] is greater than any other holy ideal." [...] Sometimes, it seems to me that I am dreaming... I still can't convince myself that such incomparable happiness is mine. People who do not have a vocation cannot understand this, since to them there's no happiness in sacrifice; while sacrifice, done for God is the purest bliss."
“Though I could not at first bend my will to be a nun, I saw that the religious state was the best and safest. And thus, by little and little, I resolved to force myself into it. The struggle lasted three months. [ ... ] When I took the habit, Our Lord at once made me understand how He helps those who do violence to themselves, in order to serve Him, I was filled with a joy so great that it has never failed me to this day.”
"If they who give a cup of cold water in his name
shall not be left without abundant remuneration, how great and incomprehensible must be the reward which a
religious who aspires to perfection shall receive for the numberless works of piety which she performs every day;
for so many meditations, offices, and spiritual readings; for so many acts of mortification and of divine love which
she daily refers to God’s honor? Do you not know that these good works which are performed through obedience,
and in compliance with the religious vows, merit a far greater reward than the good works of seculars?"
"...it may be reasonably said that a person by entering into religion, obtains the remission of all sins. For, to make satisfaction for all sins, it is sufficient to dedicate one's self entirely to the service of God by entering religion, which dedication exceeds all manner of satisfaction. Hence, we read in the lives of the Fathers, that they who enter religion obtain the same grace as those who receive Baptism."
:"Now if a man choose
the way of the world, namely marriage, he is not indeed to blame; yet he will not receive such
great gifts as the other. For he will receive, since he too brings forth fruit, namely thirty fold. But
if a man embraces the holy and unearthly way, even though as compared with the former it be
rugged and hard to accomplish, nonetheless it has the more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit,
namely a hundredfold."
....More Saints Quotes
"[Words of the Queen] "My daughter, the greatest happiness, which can befall any soul in this mortal life, is that the Almighty call her to his house consecrated to his service. For by this benefit He rescues the soul from a dangerous slavery and relieves her of the vile servitude of the world, where, deprived of true liberty, she eats her bread in the sweat of her brow. Who is so dull and insipid as not to know the dangers of the worldly life, which is hampered by all the abominable and most wicked laws and customs introduced by the astuteness of the devil and the perversity of men? The better part is religious life and retirement; in it is found security, outside is a torment and a stormy sea, full of sorrow and unhappiness. Through the hardness of their heart and the total forgetfulness of themselves men do not know this truth and are not attracted by its blessings. But thou, 0 soul, be not deaf to the voice of the Most High, attend and correspond to it in thy actions: I wish to remind thee, that one of the greatest snares of the demon is to counteract the call of the Lord, whenever he seeks to attract and incline the soul to a life of perfection in his service. Even by itself, the public and sacred act of receiving the habit and entering religion, although it is not always performed with proper fervor and purity of intention, is enough to rouse the wrath and fury of the infernal dragon and his demons; for they know that this act tends not only to the glory of the Lord and the joy of the holy angels, but that religious life will bring the soul to holiness and perfection. It very often happens, that they who have received the habit with earthly and human motives, are afterwards visited by divine grace, which perfects them and sets all things aright. If this is possible even when the beginning was without a good intention, how much more powerful and efficacious will be the light and influence of grace and the discipline of religious life, when the soul enters under the influence of divine love and with a sincere and earnest desire of finding God, and of serving and loving Him?
"But chastity maintains the first rank in virgins, the second in those who are continent (celibate), the third in the case of wedlock." [...] "While laws are prescribed to matrons ... virginity and continency are beyond all law; there is nothing in the laws of matrimony which pertains to virginity; for by its loftiness it transcends them all."
"The cloister is the anti chamber of heaven and in it God alone exists for the soul. A soul that doesn't live in God in the cloister profanes it. The cloister is totally pervaded by God. It's His dwelling place. Religious souls are the angels who constantly adore Him.
Jesus told me; "In convents too, there are souls that fill My Heart with joy. They bear My features; therefore the Heavenly Father looks upon them with special pleasure. They will be a marvel to Angels and men. Their number is very small. They are a defense for the world before the justice of the Heavenly Father and a means of obtaining mercy for the world. The love and sacrifice of these souls sustain the world in existence. The infidelity of a soul specially chosen by Me wounds My Heart most painfully. Such infidelities are swords which pierce My Heart."
To be a religious means to become little "co-redeemers" of the world, united to the cross of our Divine Lord. As Our Lord once told Saint Fautina, it is chosen souls (consecrated religious) who sustain the world in existence. And John Paul II affirms, monasticism is the "reference point for all the baptised" (Orientale Lumen). In other words, religious life is the single greatest indicator of the spiritual health of the world. If monasteries do well, then so too does the world. If monasteries do poorly, then so too will the world (This fact is confirmed by history. For example, in the 11th century, when the Church most needed reform, it began with the monasteries, namely Cluny, before spreading to the rest of the Church). Therefore, if you want to change the world, then the place to start is the renewal religious life.
Does This Mean That Marriage Is Inferior?
The Church teaches that marriage and the consecrated life both find their origin in God Himself, and are thus both to be held in high esteem. According to the Church, the two vocations are inseparable to one another; they reinforce and support each other (cf. p.1620). It is thus that marriage should never be scorned or looked down upon, nor should sex be viewed as somehow "dirty" (the Manichean and Gnostic heresies--today in a derivative form of Puritanism--viewed the material world and the body as an evil);
: "Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it [marriage] makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good."
"The 'superiority' of continence to marriage never means, in the authentic tradition of the Church, a disparagement of marriage or a belittling of its essential value. It does not even imply sliding, even merely implicitly, toward Manichean positions, or a support for ways of evaluating or acting based on a Manichean understanding of the body and of sex, of marriage and procreation. The evangelical and genuinely Christian superiority of virginity, of continence, is thus dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In the words of Christ reported by Matthew 19:11—12, we find a solid basis for admitting only such superiority, while we do not find any basis whatsoever for the disparagement of marriage that could be present in the recognition of that superiority."
In this vein, we may consider marriage to be a good, and consecrated life, a better good. This echoes Paul exhortation to the Corinthians; "So then, he who marries the virgin does good, but he who does not marry her does even better." (1 Cor 7:38). Saint Ambrose, in a treatise on virginity, repeats; "I am comparing good things with good things, that it may be clear which is the more
excellent." We must remember too that we are only speaking in an objective sense, and we are assuming each life is lived according to its ideal.
All Are Created For Marriage.
It can be said that everyone is called to marriage; the priest, the celibate, and the married...everyone. Every vocation is just another preparation for heaven, the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. In heaven, all of mankind will be united to Our Lord in a nuptial union, and through it to one another. As such, the more one lives "spousally" on earth, the better prepared one will be for heaven.
"...the consciousness of the 'spousal' meaning of the body—constitutes the fundamental component of human existence in the world."
"...the nature of the one love (religious life) as well as the other love (priesthood) is “spousal,” that is, expressed through the complete gift of self. The one as well as the other love tends to express that spousal meaning of the body, which has been inscribed 'from the beginning' in the personal structure of man and woman."
To live "spousally", then, is considered our purpose of our existence. It is, in fact, a summation of the Gospel, i.e., God created man out of spousal love, to be united with Him forever. But man committed "adultery", severing his relationship to God. Despite mankind's infidelity, God remained faithful to His bride. Israel continued to "play the Harlot", but God remained faithful to His covenant, his marriage. God then sent His Son, the Bridegroom, to reunite the severed bond between man and God. Indeed, Scripture is replete with such spousal imagery;
"...the love of Yahweh for the Chosen People can and must be compared to the love that unites bride and bridegroom, the love that should unite spouses... the prophets dramatically highlighted precisely that betrayal and unfaithfulness, which were called Israel’s “adultery.”...In this way, the analogy of bridegroom and bride, which allowed the author of Ephesians to define the relationship of Christ with the Church, has a rich tradition in the books of the Old Covenant.
“I passed near you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love.... I swore a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine” (Ezek 16:8). “But you, infatuated with your beauty and profiting from your fame, played the whore, and lavished your favors on any passerby” (Ezek 16:15)
"Do not fear, for you will no longer blush;
do not be ashamed, for you will no longer be dishonored;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the dishonor of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Creator is your husband,
Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit the Lord has called you.
Is the wife of one’s youth cast off, says your God?
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with immense love I will take you again....
my steadfast affection shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not waver,
says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
: "...Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God's love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.
As John Paul II points out, this "spousal dimension" can be considered nothing less than the secret to our happiness in this life. After all, if love is the first and greatest commandment, then what greater love can there be than that between Bride and Bridegroom; a love so powerful that the "two become one flesh" and generate third life; a love that is ready to immolate oneself for the beloved? Spousal love is the pinnacle of love; its highest summit. To live spousally is, then, is the apex of the Christian life. As Vatican II reminds us; "man cannot truly find himself except through a sincere gift of himself". This is precisely what it means to live spousally (i.e., giving oneself completely to another; of always doing what is best for the other and for the new life that is generated). A spousal life is always ordered to the generation of new life, wether spiritual or physical. The exortation to "be fruitful and multiply" was not only in terms of biological reproduction, but more importantly, spiritual reproduction. A life that is lived spousally will generate and form new souls to populate heaven. Therefore, a priest can only be a good priest if he lives spousally, that is; as husband and father. Likewise, a nun can only be a good nun if she lives as wife and mother. And so on. This is also why the best priests are those who would have made the best fathers. As Fr. Thomas Loya once stated, the greatest compliment you can give a nun, is to tell her that she would have made a great mother.
"...according to such a measure, the gift given by God to man in Christ is a “total” or “radical” gift, which is precisely what the analogy of spousal love indicates: it is in some sense “all” that God “could” give of himself to man, considering the limited faculties of man as a creature. In this way the analogy of spousal love indicates the “radical” character of grace: of the whole order of created grace."
Eearthly Marriage vs. Heavenly Marriage
The Church teaches us that marriage between a man and woman is an earthly foreshadow of the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. It is through this earthly foreshadow [of marriage] that men and women can learn more about what they will be eventually called to in heaven. In this sense, marriage can be considered a natural vocation, and celibacy a supernatural one, i.e., it is the vocation that is not of this world, but instead points to the next. The Church teaches us that consecrated men and women are in a sense beacons directing mans eye upwards towards heaven, where earthly marriage does not exist (cf. Matt. 22:30; "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven"). In other words, those who live celibate here on earth "skip" the earthly foreshadow in favor of the heavenly marriage. As Christopher West states; "far from devaluing sexuality and marriage, true Christian celibacy actually points to their ultimate fulfillment."
"Is not the spousal love with which Christ “loved, the Church, ” his Bride, “and gave himself for her” equally the fullest incarnation of the ideal of “continence for the kingdom of God” (see Mt 19:12)? Is it not precisely in this love that support is found for all those—both men and women—who choose the same ideal and thus desire to link the spousal dimension of love with the redemptive dimension, according to the model of Christ himself? They desire to confirm with their lives that the spousal meaning of the body—of its masculinity and femininity—a meaning deeply inscribed in the essential structure of the human person has been opened in a new way by Christ and with the example of his life to the hope united with the redemption of the body. Thus, the grace of the mystery of redemption also bears fruit—even more: bears fruit in a particular way—with the vocation to continence “for the kingdom of heaven.”
In this sense, each vocation is closely related to each other, since they are simply different paths to the same end; like two sides of a coin. They each are designed to sanctify humanity by different means, and prepare the bride, the church, for her final marriage to God in heaven. We can think of discerning a vocation as like standing at a crossroads, where each path is separate and unique, yet they all eventually arrive at the same point. The path that is most common to men, is earthly marriage, because it is the "primordial sacrament", i.e., it is a kind of mini-incarnation of the spousal love of God on earth. In other words, it is through marriage and the family that most men learn about all the attributes of God; His communial relationship, His fidelity, His exclusivity to the other, His self-sacrifice, His life-generating love, etc.
Davide A. Bianchini, Contact