In the book Paths of Love the question is touched upon about how to interpret the Fathers when they seem negative towards marriage. Here is another example of how we may interpret a theologian in two quite different ways, one positive and the other negative.
St. Alphonsus de Liguori, writing to a woman deliberating about whether or not to become a religious, gives a very stark response :
Live Jesus, Mary, JosephArienzo, September 27, 1769.
I answer your letter.
A young person can save her soul by remaining in the world; but it cannot be denied, that in the world, especially at the present time, there are many more dangers of committing sin and losing one’s soul.
The rule then to follow is this. If any person loves chastity, she ought to choose what is more perfect, that is, she should consecrate her virginity to Jesus Christ. By acting thus, she will be much less exposed to damn herself; and this is the counsel that I give you…Alfonso Maria,
Bishop of Sant’ Agata.
Advice like this is sometimes rejected out of hand, on the grounds that the reason St. Alphonsus thinks like this, is that he almost sees marriage as the lesser of two evils (being less bad than fornication), and doesn't appreciate the goodness of marriage.
But whatever true there is in the claim that St. Alphonsus doesn't appreciate the goodness of marriage (as indeed there is some truth to it), it is somewhat simplistic, and ultimately incorrect to suppose that his position derives from this lack of appreciation. Rather, he is doing nothing other than trying to express what Christ himself expresses, when speaking about voluntary and perpetual celibacy, he says "Him who can take it, let him take it!" And again St. Paul, saying, "Whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control," and resolves to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God, "he will do well" (1 Cor 7:37).
Naturally when a theologian speaks about the superiority of celibacy or virginity to marriage, if he does have any kind of negative view of marriage, this view will probably become manifest. But it is erroneous to therefore think that his positive position, argument, or claim is based upon this negative view.
In all cases we should be inclined to a generous interpretation, rather than a critical one. It is not only more charitable, but also usually more accurate. This applies above all when it comes to the saints; when it is possible to interpret what they say so as to be true and good, we should generally do so.
Read more texts of St. Alphonsus – more balanced texts on vocation.