Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – marriage and virginity

Amoris laetitia says, in number 159, "Rather than speak absolutely of  the superiority of  virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another."

The theologians censure the theoretically possible interpretation of this as "denying that a virginal state of life consecrated to Christ is superior considered in itself to the state of Christian marriage." Such a claim would be contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the married state surpasses that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema.”

What Amoris laetitia actually says is, "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out…" Strictly speaking, it is not denying that there is some sense in which there could be a superiority absolute in some sense (abstracted from some set of considerations or circumstances), but affirming that it isn't necessary to speak about superiority absolutely, that it should suffice to note, first, that the states are complementary, and then, when appropriate, to note the respects in which each one is superior or more perfect.

The judgment "It's not necessary to speak about a superiority" would generally imply either that (1) there isn't a superiority, or (2) while there is a superiority, it would be unhelpful or even misleading to speak about it. Since Amoris laetitia in the previous sentence notes John Paul II statement that the bible does not give us a reason to assert the superiority of virginity as a mere fact (its superiority is not absolute, but in relationship, in relationship to the kingdom of God), there is some reason to think that the rejection of this kind of superiority lies behind the statement "Rather than speak absolutely." On the other hand, since Pope Francis could have simply denied superiority in this sense, there is plausibility to see the reason for the statement "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough etc." as being, on the one hand, that noting the complementarity and specifying the respects in which each is more perfect suffices to communicate the particular values of each, and, on the other hand, that speaking about absolutely superiority might be misleading.

My years of teaching about the states of life have given me a lot of sympathy for this view. It is, indeed, for many people difficult to internalize the proposition "abstracting from particular circumstances of individual cases of consecrated virginity or marriage, christian consecrated virginity is superior as a sign of and means to holiness" without drawing various false conclusions, such as, "no married person is holier than a holy consecrated virgin."

Nonetheless, this statement of Amoris laetitia does seem to me to be a bit overstated, i.e., it doesn't specify "for whom", or "to what end", "it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another etc.", and there seem to be at least some persons and some ends for which it would not be enough to point out complementarity and specific sense of perfection, but for whom and for which it would be important to talk about in what ways these superiorities are "absolute", "conditioned", and/or "relative".

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