Considerations on Priestly Celibacy by Marianne Schlosser

Translated by Fr. Joseph Bolin from the German text published in "Die Tagespost" on October 14, 2019.

Considerations on priestly celibacy

"… How would it harm the New Covenant, if religious ministers, as in the Old Testament, would live in a respectable sacramental marriage? Is God now wiser or holier than in the Old Testament? Christ may have been virgin, may have been borne of a virgin, entrusted to a virginal man, may have been anticipated by the virginal prophets Jeremiah and Elijah, may have recommended virginity to some few, who were able to take it. From where, I ask, did the commandment come, so that it was no longer only a counsel? […] Vows are so often disregarded, what is holy stained, the laws of nature horribly perverted – crimes, evil deeds, sins, injustice, offenses, depravities that one is ashamed to name or to think about … the unworthy reality shouts louder than my complain – unless one makes himself deliberately deaf!"

These are only some of the objections to celibacy, with which Johannes Gerson in the 14th century had to deal with, in his answer to the anti-celibacy work of a French nobleman. We meet similar arguments in the so-called "Anti-celibacy storm", that swept over some dioceses in Southwest Germany, where mostly academically educated lay persons, together with a considerable number of professors of the University of Freiburg, turned to the grand duke of Baden and the Baden Parliament, to obtain the repeal of celibacy for catholic priests. At that time anti-celibacy associations were established, which were unfortunately joined by not a few priests. The most important defender of celibacy at this time was Johann Adam Möhler.

Two basic lines of argument are conflated

In the argument against the long tradition of priestly celibacy, two basic thrusts are at times conflated – then as now – on the one hand, very fundamental anthropological objections are raised; such as: celibacy leads to the degeneration of human existence. These arguments, we must be clear, doubt or deny ultimately the meaning and fruitfulness of the evangelical counsel of perpetua continentia in general. On the other hand, specific arguments against priestly celibacy are presented, as it appears (mainly) associated with the Latin tradition: So was and is the rejection of the so-called "compulsory celibacy" justified on the grounds that it is the main obstacle to getting more well-qualified applicants for the priesthood.

Not uncommonly is it asserted that the charism of celibacy is well appreciated, but since it is not necessarily linked to the priesthood, one cannot require it as a condition for the priesthood.

Karl Rahner, already many years ago (The Celibacy of the Secular Priest Today: An Open Letter, 1968) answered that one cannot deny the church the right to demand this dowry from those who want to be her priests. Similarly, Joseph Ratzinger (Open Letter to the Munich moral theologian R. Egenter, 1977) pointed out that the aforesaid reasoning is based on a unreflected concept of charism: First, a charism is given to the person as a free subject; the recipient himself can and must have an attitude to this gift, i.e, one can develop and guard a gift, as well as ask it of God, similarly one can neglect, injure it, or let it die. The same pertains to those persons who have the responsibility of accompanying and discerning vocations.

A charism is never just a private spiritual gift

Secondly, a charism is never merely a private spiritual gift, but, on the contrary, a special aptitude for the benefit of the ecclesial community. – This seems, I would add, to be particularly applicable to the charisma of celibate chastity (especially if it is not linked to a vocation to an Order): It gives freedom for an extraordinary dedication. – If the church gave up its publicly expressed esteem for the celibate life of priests and left it to personal decision, the celibate life of a diocesan priest would become an expression of his personal, private piety, that would have but little to do with his ecclesial ministry. The consequence of leaving celibacy up to individual choice would, sooner or later – as Joseph Ratzinger is also convinced by historical developments – be the disappearance of the celibate life of priests.

In the following I will not go into the historical development; for to show the legitimacy of celibacy in the Latin Church there are several studies (Chr. Cocchini, R. Cholij, St. Heid), but I would rather like to try to manifest the inner closeness or "manifold correspondence" ("multimoda convenientia": Presbyterorum ordinis n.16) between the evangelical counsel of the perpetually promised "celibate chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" and the priestly vocation. If one does not do that, the question naturally arises, what one would lose if one gave up this seemingly incomprehensible, unbeloved and supposedly so frequently broken "law".

Celibate life is rooted in the order of redemption

Certainly, these are arguments of fitingness. For the celibate life is based on the order of redemption; as a result, its justification can not be presented by means of necessary and generally evident reasons, although there may be some plausible arguments from the outside, it rather derives its true "logic" from belief in the incarnation, and even more so the bodily resurrection of Christ ("After the resurrection they will no longer marry": Mt 22:30, Lk 20:35). I quote Rahner again: "There are many reasons for today's celibacy crisis. […] But if we do not fool ourselves, we must see that the ultimate cause of this crisis lies in the plight of faith in general and as a whole. We live in a time when the reality of God and eternal life is difficult for man to realize. We live in a time characterized by keywords such as demythologization, desacralization [!] and the tendency to reduce all Christianity to mere interpersonal relationships."

In the following considerations, I suppose that continentia permanens = celibacy is not just an outward lifestyle – or even a more comfortable single life! – but a specific, bodily expression of chastity (castitas). This, in turn, signifies an attitude of piety, which shapes the affective relationship of the person to his fellow man, to himself, and indeed to God, and is a necessary quality of caritas, the virtue of love. It is rooted in grasping the "sanctity", preciousness and unavailability of the other person.

Following of the Good Shepherd – not functional, but personal

There is only one priest in the New Testament: the Lord, Bridegroom and Head of His Church, which is His priestly body (1 Pet 2:5,9). He who receives the sacrament of priestly ordination is enabled to "represent" the Lord of the Church, to make Christ visible in her as the permanent counterpart to the Church – in word, sacrament, in the selfless service of salvation. The establishment of the sacramental priesthood states that Christ wants to be present not only as the gift of salvation in his Church (Eucharist as sacrament), but also as giver (in the celebration of the Eucharist, especially through the action of the priest "in persona Christi capitis"). The priesthood of the New Covenant exists only as a function of the one high priest Christ.

At the same time: He who is ordained a priest, according to the Catholic understanding, does not simply take on a service or a task, in the sense of a function necessary for the community, but is called to a special following of Christ. He is not simply a "means" or "tool" (even if the sacraments are operative ex opere operato, and do not depend on the faith or holiness of the priest) nor a "servant who does not know what his Lord is doing" but a "friend" (John 15:15), who is called into a "knit community" (as a cooperator) with Christ (1 Cor 3: 9). His task is to promote the supernatural life, to build the faithful into a sacred offering (PO 2). He has nothing to give but what Christ gives. But this passing on claims him as a person.

To become a priest not for oneself, but for Christ

How could conformity of one's way of life to Jesus' way of life, the evangelical counsels, not be fitting here? He whose first concern must be for the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), will avoid getting caught up in "earthly occupations" (2 Tim 2:4) or making himself too much at home.

The readiness of a candidate for a celibate life can certainly be a criterion for whether he has understood that he does not become a priest for himself, but for Christ, who wants to exercise his pastoral care through him. And whether he accepts the unconditionality of this vocation. Karl Rahner (1968) bluntly stated: "We must ask today's priests and candidates for the priesthood where in their lives those decisions […] are made that so determine their lives by faith, that this life itself would be different if they did not believe in God and eternal life."

It is not a matter of external imitation, but about the sharing of life, which effects a special proximity. "continentia" is not a garment worn externally, but an expression of inner belonging to Christ, the Good Shepherd, so total that the place of a spouse remains empty.

He who renounces it renounces a good – a good of the order of creation. This can only succeed if the renunciation is affirmed for the sake of a higher good, and not simply "accepted". Precisely because marriage is not a peripheral matter of human life, but as a unique, exclusive community of a man with a woman profoundly shapes and claims the two persons in all dimensions, it can be understood as "fitting" that a person, who completely and personally is taken into the service of Christ's commission, cannot belong to another human person as a husband does to his wife.

One may add that the lack of understanding of the meaning of celibacy is precisely the consequence of the trivialization of human sexuality and confusion in the sphere of marriage: "For as soon as marriage becomes a purely civil affair, and to a large extent a chaos, the thought of a free renunciation of sexual community for the sake of the highest tasks, and of a form of life that derives from it, loses its sociological setting. Thus it is not accidental that the denial of the sacramental character and thus the thesis of its dissolubility in the Reformation took place at the same time and derived from the same conceptions from which celibacy as a voluntary and sacred Christian form was rejected. They then continue in the outlook of the French Revolution, which made marriage a purely civil affair and fought religious orders with a hatred deriving not merely from abuses" (Romano Guardini, Ethics I).

Tria munera Christi

The priesthood of Holy Orders, PO explains at the outset, is established to build up the "holy priesthood" of the Body of Christ so that believers become an offering to God. This sanctifying ministry takes place in the proclamation (martyria – munus propheticum), the celebration of the sacraments (leiturgia – munus sacerdotale, sanctificandi) and the comprehensive care for the salvation of those entrusted to one (diakonia – munus regendi).

Leiturgia

When the priest is spoken of as the "minister of the mystery" (minister mysterii), one will surely think of his office of celebrating the sacraments ("mysteria"). The sacraments, however, are rooted in the mystery par excellence, as above all the Pauline Epistles make clear: in the plan of God's salvation revealed in Christ. Integral to this plan of salvation is the church. "Mystery" means "the whole Christ," "Head and Body," inasmuch as the union of men with the Redeemer is precisely the goal of God's plan of salvation.

The living Christ is the Head and Bridegroom of the Church: "He loved her and gave herself for her," "that she might be pure and holy" (Eph 5: 25-27). This devotion is celebrated and made present above all in the Eucharist: through it the faithful are cleansed and sanctified more deeply in order to be with Christ a "holy gift for God the Father". For this reason the Fathers of the Church see the Eucharistic celebration as the wedding supper of the Lamb, in which the promised communion of heaven is already celebrated in a "veiled" fashion.

Does it not stand to reason that the one who "represents" the bridegroom in this liturgy, who acts "in persona Christi capitis" and speaks the words: "This is my body for you", should also himself have only the Church as his counterpart? As far as the priesthood of the "first degree", i.e. the episcopate, is concerned, this fittingness is not disputed even in the Eastern churches. The bishop is, as it were, in spiritual marriage bound to that part of the church entrusted to his pastoral care.

Priest and sacrifice at the same time

A second aspect: the mark of Christ's priesthood is that he is at once both priest and offering – "priest, altar (as the place of encounter between God and man) and sacrificial lamb." To the priesthood in the following of Christ therefore also belongs the "expropriation" (Joseph Ratzinger) or "transference" of himself to God. That is the real meaning of „sacrifice" (Latin: "sacri-ficium"): One gives something to God – ultimately, oneself – so that it belongs to HIM (Augustine).

Celibacy is a very concrete form of transference to God, which can also be felt in the dimension of renunciation: He is given the desire to live fruitfully and not meaninglessly, and the longing to be personally loved. It is given "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" in the certainty of faith that one never gives to God without HIM giving back more, in the confident hope that this will increase that love (caritas) that contributes to the salvation of others, love of the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for his own.

In every human life there are "sacrifices" that are demanded of one, imposed on one. But the celibate life is an act of generous faith. This means that not only the de facto abstemious, chaste life, but the promise has a special dignity. For here the dimension of "voluntary gift" is expressed. The promise contains a commitment of oneself that we can, with Thomas Aquinas, describe as an act of worship: the commitment made publicly is a testimony of trust in God and his grace. A priest I know put it this way: "Yes, celibacy is a charism, a gift from God. But it is also my gift to God."

Martyria – testimony

Priests sometimes used to call their breviary: "my bride". This was meant to say that they took the book of hours everywhere – like the cell phone today. Of course: It is not about the book as an object, but about the familiarity with the Word of God, which is not only to be read, but to be prayed through, indeed, as by the prophets, to be "eaten". The service of proclamation presupposes a personal relationship to the Word of God, as Pope Francis urgently recommends in Evangelii gaudium.

Of course, celibacy is not necessary for that. Still, we recall that realists like Thomas Aquinas (or even the "therapists" whom Philo describes, and also Moses Maimonides, even if for a different purpose) considered a certain freedom of mind to be an excellent disposition to contemplation, namely, that "undividedness of the heart", which Paul sees as connected with chaste celibacy (1 Cor 7:32-34). It is inwardly oriented towards the unhindered contemplation of the truth of God, of the revealed word of God. Above all, this applies to the contemplation that is not just a theoretical meditation, but a "looking with the look of love". Conversely, the spiritual tradition also holds unanimously that this loving "willing listening" to the Word of God strengthens the virtue of chastity.

He who proclaims the Good News, speaks of the goods of the world to come, is a witness of hope. The goods of eternal life are real goods, but not so easily visible: "We do not stare at the visible, but fix our gaze (contemplantes) on what is not before our eyes. For the visible is transient, the invisible eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). A life of voluntary celibacy is a strong testimony to the reality of the goods we speak of, a testimony that we are immensely loved – even now, in this world of twilight and shadow.

Of course, there is another tone in the word "martyria" which should only be hinted at here: martyria is also a "confession" (confessio) against resistance and contradiction – from the outside or from within oneself. To confess then means to stand up for what is not immediately obvious, not to deny the "folly of the cross". It is no coincidence that the "white martyrdom" of virginity follows immediately after the "red", the witness of blood (see LG n. 42). Both are crosses (John Chrysostom). But both are not primarily about the "torture", but the unity of the witness with Christ.

Diakonia – Seel-Sorge, the service of the Good Shepherd

Diakonia should be understood here in a comprehensive sense: serving the supernatural purpose of fellow human beings, with a mission (and therefore a responsibility!) that goes beyond the duty of each brother or sister. It is about serving as Christ has served (see Phil 2, John 13, etc.), serving with the same purpose. The paradigm for this is foot washing – with its ethical and sacramental implications. For Christ still wants to wash the feet of his faithful through the ministry of the apostles.

What does celibacy here contribute? More in any case than external temporal-spatial availability or easier mobility. It is more about a certain quality of relationship. The look of a "caretaker of souls" (Seel-Sorger) should recognize what is "of God" in the other person, the image of God, in reverence for the work of God.

Since the earliest times, people have considered especially capable of this view of others those who "live alone for God". Those who face their own loneliness with God every day will also understand more deeply what is necessary for every human being. For this reason is spiritual fatherhood attributed to those who do not know any natural paternity – monks (and nuns) and priests. Just as the calling to a special discipleship does not simply stem from education in a Christian family, but requires a special calling (cf. the words of Jesus's calling, which demand a distancing from the natural family), so do human relationships of a person so called take on a special coloring.

"A priest is the father of all believers, men and women alike. So, if someone who takes this position among the faithful marries, he is like someone who marries his own daughter," wrote a Syrian author of the 8th century. That sounds shocking. But let us ask the other way around: could the wife of a priest confess to her husband? How can one endure that people express their deepest metaphysical distress and guilt before God to the spouse whom one knows better than anyone else? It was Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that aurical confession disappeared in the communities of the Reformation when there were no more celibate clergy.

And so we may also ask if the ease with which one can imagine married priests is perhaps linked to the de facto marginalized meaning of the sacrament of penance.

Summary

Considering the aspects briefly outlined here, I venture to say that the separation of celibacy from priestly ministry would change the conception of the priesthood not only peripherally but profoundly. In any case, the consequence would be an increasingly functional understanding, probably even the complete gentrification. On the other hand, it should be remembered that the great reforming movements of church history, which in the long run developed fertility, promoted the vita evangelica for the clergy.

Between cross and Easter

"He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it." One can only understand the celibate life when one begins to understand this saying.

The life of the Christian is marked by the cross and resurrection of Christ (CCC 2015) – beginning with baptism, which takes place in a symbol of death (immersion) to receive New Life. The sacraments show this mystery, the Beatitudes express it, and especially the evangelical counsels. Voluntary Poverty – which also frees internally; celibate chastity – which does not correspond to a lack of relationships, but to friendship with Christ; concrete renunciation of one's own plans – to do more good than what one could have thought of. All evangelical counsels have this double form: New Life comes through dying.

The "counsels" invite to a renunciation, a renunciation of real goods that one is not obliged to renounce. "Pain" is therefore not a sign that one is not called – but if the joy does not surpass the pain, there is hardly a vocation. Conversely, having received the vocation to celibate life does not mean being relieved of all challenges or temptations. The dimension of asceticism remains important, and the spiritual tradition is very realistic on this point. One is advised to strive for supporting virtues, including the other two "counsels". For not only a "raging stomach", but also vanity and the interest in rumors hollow out the chaste life. He who does not fight his anger, impatience, spiritual indifference or indulgence, or even neglects reckless dangers, risks collapse.

The life of the evangelical counsels is at the same time a "foretaste" of the new life, not illusion, but the fresh breeze from the new aeon that has been blowing in since Easter into a world marked by its own transience – and the deadly fear of it. The celibate life is a "scion" of hope (as a theological virtue), which is not without "earnest money" (see Spe salvi 7,9). The vocation to celibate life bears the vocation to a deeper friendship with Christ, which in turn wants to expand out to the brothers and sisters of Christ – in a generous and ready-to-serve love.

Celibacy and the sexual abuse crisis

Over the past years, when a larger report of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests comes out, again and again opponents of priestly celibacy come out suggesting that the Church's discipline, in the Roman Rite, of requiring permanent and perpetual celibacy of its priests, contributes to the abuse crisis, or is even a major risk factor, or still more strongly, "will predictably produce this kind of result".

Others claim that "Clerical child sex abuse has nothing whatever to do with celibacy."

The truth, as is many cases, likely lies between these extremes, though it is cannot be neatly located on the scale from "causes the crisis" to "has nothing to do with it".

Leaving aside any empirical statistical evidence on the frequent of sexual abuse by celibate or non-celibate men, some aspects of celibacy would, taken on their own, suggest a connection between priestly celibacy and abuse, while others would suggest an inverse correlation (mandatory celibacy for priests countering the risk of someone abuser vulnerable persons).

Marriage as a remedy for concupiscence — suggestive of a connection between mandatory priestly celibacy and abuse
Marriage has long been described by Christian saints and writes as a remedy for concupiscence, by St. Augustine (see, for just one example, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Thomas Aquinas (see Summa theologiae, supplement, q. 42, article 3, Whether matrimony confers grace, and a multitude of others (see a selection of texts in the post Is marriage for the weak?). In this respect, it would not be surprising to find that those who are not in a position to legitimately satisfy sexual desire in marriage, are more likely to satisfy sexual desires in illegitimate ways, up to and including abusive ways. Celibacy does not make a man's sexual desires perverse or disordered; rather, his sexual desire is lacking order to begin with, being in the first place an instinctual drive, that must be governed by reason; the lack of the structured governance of that drive provided in marriage will, in the absence of contrary remedies, tend to lead to more disordered desires and acts.

Celibacy as freely chosen, involving abstinence even from legitimate sexual pleasure in marriage — suggestive of an inverse correlation between mandatory priestly celibacy and abuse
On the other hand, no one is forced to become a priest, and so, when we speak of priestly celibacy, we are not speaking of celibacy imposed randomly, independently of man's will, or even against man's will. Rather, it is a celibacy freely chosen (even if, in a particular instance, chosen principally as a condition or means to the desired end, the priesthood). If those who freely choose celibacy do so with adequate deliberation and a firm will to live it, if they belong to those "who can take it" (Matthew 19:12), we should, other things being equal, expect them to less frequently fall into sexual sin. For he is capable, or takes the means to render himself capable, of refraining from satisfying sexual desire in a legitimate manner in marriage, is much more capable of refraining from satisfying sexual desire in a sinful manner.

Celibacy as chosen by reason of being drawn to that way of life or not drawn to marriage — possibly suggestive of a connection between celibacy and abuse
No one is forced to become a priest. But also, in most cases, priests are, in the first instance, self-selected. Catholic communities and bishops could, in theory, come to men with the proposal, "we would like you to be a priest; are you willing to remain celibate for the rest of your life, study theology, to serve the Church in this diocese, etc.?" But, in many or most cases, the decisive initiative is taken by the men themselves who consider the priesthood. Given the association of the priesthood with celibacy, this has a unintended consequence: those who, for whatever reason, are not inclined to marriage — homosexuality, asexuality, sexual immaturity, sexual disorders — will be over-represented among applicants to the seminary. In the absence of an adequate mechanism to identify and exclude them, persons with certain sexual problems may also end up being over-represented in the presbyterate. And, very plausibly, some of those sexual problems will manifest themselves in distorted ways, including abusive ones.

Celibate priesthood as a special class — positive and negative aspects
A fourth point regarding celibacy is somewhat ambivalent: the discipline of celibacy tends to reinforce the image of the priesthood as a special class of Christians. This aspect of celibacy, might, in some times and places, contribute to a culture set firmly against all abuse, inasmuch as other priests who get wind of possible abuse are keen to uphold the reality of their class as a holy state, called in a special way to Christian virtue and holiness, and for whom, therefore, such sins are still more intolerable than they are in the case of lay persons. On the other hand, that the celibate priesthood makes up a special class may also have the opposite effect, lead to a culture permissive of abuse, because (1) one stands up for one's own, defends one's brother priests, assuming their innocence or downplaying their faults, because (2) one desires to uphold the image of the priestly state as a holy state, or because (3) the discrepancy in one's own life between the greater ideal of holiness to which one is called and one's actual life, causes one to misjudge the gravity of other sins; in the theological tradition, and expressly in the 1917 code of canon law, canon 132, clerics in major orders are so obliged to chastity that to sin against it is to be guilty of sacrilege (the notion behind this is that the priest's whole self, including his body, is dedicated to the Lord as something holy, so to sin against it is to violate what is holy); a priest guilty of habitual impurity, whether by fornication, adultery, masturbation, pornography, or impure thoughts, could possibly become thereby less inhibited from a crime such as abusing minors than a lay person guilty of the same habitual impurity would; similarly, a priest guilty of such impurity, whether occasional or habitual, may view such a crime by another priest less seriously than a lay person would.
Various problematic issues arising in connection with the priesthood as a special case are often treated under the notion of clericalism, by pope Francis (Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God), and others (e.g., Sexual abuse and the culture of clericalism).

In view of these considerations, some of which, taken on their own, would suggest a link between celibacy and abuse, while others would suggest that celibate priests might be less likely to be sexually abusive, it is not too surprising, that, on some accounting, sexual abuse of minors (or at least behavior evoking a serious accusation of such abuse) is as common by married Anglican clergy as by celibate roman catholic clergy. (See, e.g. Does Celibacy Contribute to Clerical Sex Abuse? by Richard Cross, and the therein reference studies.)

At any rate, the issue is much more complex than "celibacy is unrelated to the issue of sexual abuse" or "celibacy is a principal cause of sexual abuse".

Priestly Motto

"The greatest of these is love!" (1 Cor 13:13)

Each Christian has his or her own gifts and vocation in the Church. But it is love alone that gives life to our vocation and makes it bear fruit. This verse, which I have chosen as a motto for my priestly min­istry, designates the priesthood as a service of love, a ministry springing from love and aiming at love. As a priest I am called to make visible the saving love of Christ in the Christian community, to accompany and assist all in living their vocation to love.

Priestly Ordination

On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 15, 2012, I was ordained to the priesthood by  Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, together with five other men, in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

6 new priests, with cardinal Schönborn and the rectors and religious superior.

More photos and downloads are available at www.priesterweihe.at.

Please say a prayer in thanksgiving for the grace of this vocation, and that the Lord make us holy and good instruments of his work!

Garrigou-Lagrange & Communicating Under Both Species

St. Alphonsus thinks it not improbable that more grace is given in Holy Communion under both species, and all theologians agree that if the ardour of charity is increased by receiving the second species, then greater grace is conferred accidentally by reason of the better disposition. Therefore a layman who wants to become a priest in order to communicate under both species so as to receive this greater grace is not to be dissuaded. (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Priest in Union with Christ, "The Priest's Communion", emphasis added)

I'm not sure exactly why Garrigou-Lagrange draws this rather strange conclusion (I highly doubt that St. Alphonsus would hold it), but it's perhaps a sign of some problematic approachs or views in many modern scholastics: an ultra-formal way of speaking about things; in regard to the moral life, an excessive concern with tidily categorizing all kinds of actions; in regard to the priesthood and other sacraments, a tendency to over-reify (admittedly, this last tendency was not limited to scholastics, nor were all subject to it).

Also striking is that he draws this conclusion despite remarking that in general nothing is lost by the fact that people only receive Christ's body under the species of bread, and not the Sacred Blood.

"Nothing is lost by this (that is, by the body being received by the people without the blood): because the priest both offers and receives the blood in the name of all, and the whole Christ is present under either species" (Summa Theologiae, III, q. 80, a. 12, ad 3). Under the species of bread there is also present, by concomitance, the precious blood. Thus the faithful are not deprived of any notable grace, and a fervent Communion under one species is far more fruitful than a tepid Communion received under both species.

Summer Discernment Program in Norcia, Italy

The Benedictine monks in Norcia, Italy, are offering a discernment program this Summer, July 4-29. This is the same town where the Summer Theology Program mentioned earlier will be held from June 20 to July 1.

The purpose of the program is to offer young men a time to discern God's will for their life in a more concentrated way than normal worldly circumstances permit. Attendees will be invited to participate in the life of the monks as a way to guide their decision.

Vocation Flyer

Discern Your Vocation with the Benedictine Monks of Norcia, Italy Summer 2011 | July 4 – 29

Study, prayer, and discussion for vocational discernment, drawing from classic texts of Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Monastic Tradition
•    All the states of life (i.e., marriage, priesthood and religious life are considered
•    Spiritual direction with the monks
•    Weekly outings to important places in St. Benedict's life (Subiaco, Monte Cassino)
•    Weekly hikes in the mountains surrounding Norcia

REQUIREMENTS:
•    A letter of recommendation from a priest
•    A $300 donation
•    Open to men ages 18-30
TO APPLY: Please write to the Vocation Director at vocations@osbnorcia.org

Married Saints and Continence

In an earlier post, Married Saints – Why so few?, I addressed the question of why there are so few married saints canonized as married saints, that is, in view of the life they lived as married persons. In the comment thread to that post, I was asked why so many of the married persons who have been canonized lived in continence, that is, without having sexual intercourse with their spouse for a significant portion of their life as married persons.

Again, there are several possible answers, grouped according to the general manner they explain the connection between this continence and canonization.

There is a positive correlation from continence to charity (continence contributes to charity, or is thought to do so)

(1a) Such continence is in fact extremely helpful, indeed practically necessary in order to attain the heroic virtue to which canonization attests.

(1b) Such continence was thought to be necessary in order to attain the perfection of charity.

Amongst all relationships, conjugal affection engrosses men's hearts more than another other, so that our first parent said: "A man leaves father and mother, and clings to his wife" (Gen. 2:24). Hence, they who are aiming at perfection, must, above all things, avoid the bond of marriage.
The second way to perfection, by which a man may be more free to devote himself to God, and to cling more perfectly to him, is the observance of perpetual chastity… The way of continence is most necessary for attaining perfection… Abraham had so great spiritual perfection in virtue, that his spirit did not fall short of perfect love for God on account either of temporal possessions or of married life. But if another man who does not have the same spiritual virtue, strives to attain perfection, while retaining riches and entering into marriage, his error in presuming to treat Our Lord's words as of small account will soon be demonstrated. (St. Thomas Aquinas, On The Perfection of the Spiritual Life; this quotation, from a saint and universal doctor of the Church, is intended as support for 1a and 1b.)

There is a positive correlation from continence to canonization

(2) The holiness of married saints who practiced such continence is more evident than the holiness of others.

One reason for this, as I mentioned in the previous post, is that holiness always involves following the spirit of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience); and other things being equal, someone's following the spirit of the counsels is more evident when it is incarnated in the literal following of the counsels.

There is a positive correlation from holiness to continence

(3) Those who are well advanced in charity and the other virtues are disposed and desirous of practicing such continence. (This may follow to some extent of itself, and to so extent due to 1b.)

Fulton Sheen, in his work Three to Get Married, suggests something along these lines:

All love is a flight towards immortality. There is a suggestion of Divine Love in every form of erotic love, as the lake reflects the moon…. Sex is only the self-starter on the motor of the family…. The begetting of children enlarges the field of service and loving sacrifice for the sake of the family. In a well-regulated moral heart, as time goes on, the erotic love diminishes and the religious love increases. In marriages that are truly Christian, the love of God increases through the years, not in the sense that husband and wife love one another less, but that they love God more. Love passes from an affection for outer appearances to those inner depths of personality which embody the Divine spirit. There are few things more beautiful in life than to see that deep passion of man for woman, which begot children, transfigured into that deeper passion for the Spirit of God. It sometimes happens in a Christian marriage that when one of the partners dies, there is no taking of another spouse, lest there be the descent to lower realms from that higher love, from the Agape to the Eros.

As before, so here I suggest the answer is, in varying degrees: all of the above. Continence in its various forms (the periodic continence practiced in NFP, continence during times of more intensive prayer (e.g., Lent) mentioned by St. Paul, or continence after the children-bearing time) is a valuable means to growth in the gift of oneself implied in charity; it was considered to be a valuable, practically necessary means; it manifests virtue; and it often flows naturally from charity.

A few points to be made pertinent to the remarks of the commentator in the previous post

(a) A spiritual director might rightly refrain from taking any initiative in advising a particular couple to such continence for a long period, and might caution them if they are desirous of practicing it for a long period. That does not mean, however, that he would or should strongly disallow or strongly advise against it.

(b) There have definitely been various developments in the Church's understanding of virginity and marriage. It seems quite true to say that in praising virginity and continence, marital relationships were not infrequently excessively devalued. There are various reasons for this, one of which is that in general there was a greater concern to safeguard the special value of virginity than of marriage. Hence, if it was difficult to avoid either failing to properly appreciate virginity or failing to properly appreciate marriage, as it was and is difficult for people to properly appreciate both, they preferred to fail to properly appreciate marriage rather than to fail to appreciate virginity, with the natural consequence that in many cases they did fail to properly appreciate marriage.

(c) To affirm a greater possibility of love in giving sex up for the sake of a greater good, as in the case of celibacy or continence, does not imply that sex is bad or even hinders any particular degree of holiness, anymore than the affirmation that "there is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" means that life is bad, or that living is an obstacle to becoming holy.

Traditional Principles Regarding Salvation

In the last post I cited several texts affirming that the Church has always held the possibility of salvation for those who are not without qualification members of the Church, and who do not know Christ explicitly. This is true in a certain sense; the Church has, with some exceptions, always held this implicitly, even if not often explicitly. In fact, several distinct principles have been more or less consistently held by most of the Fathers, as well as the scholastics, and affirmed by the Church's magisterium:

1. Baptism or an act of supernatural faith is necessary for justification.
2. Faith in Christ is necessary for justification and/or salvation.
3. God wills the salvation of all, and thus makes it possible for all in the manner appropriate to their condition.
3b. Consequently, adults, who are capable of moving toward God by their free will, are either saved through God's grace and inherit eternal life, or are punished in hell for their personal mortal sins.

St. Augustine in his late writings and some followers of him constitute the principal exception to the universal holding of the third principle. Their interpretation of God's universal salvific will falls substantially short of the view of the early Fathers, the Eastern Fathers, the scholastics, and the magisterium of the Church. St. Gregory Nazianzen also suggest in one text that an adult who lives a moral life, but dies without baptism, is neither punished by God, nor enters into glory.

But though there are these few exceptions, it still seems basically fair to say that the third principle has been always held by the Church.

What are some of the ways that these principles are reconciled by the Fathers and by the scholastics?

(1) Some suggest or affirm that an explicit knowledge of Christ is not necessary in order to come into saving contact with him through faith, but that a more implicit knowledge can suffice. Thus St. Justin, basing himself upon the fact that all truth proceeds from and is oriented towards Him who is the Truth says that "those who lived according to reason are Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists… those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason were wicked men, and enemies of Christ… whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason are Christians" (First Apology, 46).

(2) The common method of reconciliation among the scholastics is that if someone in the christian era lives rightly, but has not heard the Gospel, God will send them a preacher or will enlighten them interiorly, so that they can come to have the faith that is necessary for salvation, at least before their death. They generally presume that if someone has heard the Gospel and not become a Christian, he is guilty of grave sin in this failure to accept the Gospel. Presumably, however, if they granted the possibility of invincible ignorance, they would maintain the same method of reconciliation: God would in his providence provide means by which such an upright person could come to explicit acceptance of the faith before death.

This method of reconciliation is also present in the Fathers, though less explicitly. St. Augustine himself in his commentary on the psalm Super Flumina, speaks of persons in the "earthly city called Babylon", who do not seek God as their end, but devote themselves to building up the political common good, this earthly city "has in it people who, prompted by love for it, work to guarantee it peace – temporal peace – nourishing in their hearts no other hope, indeed, by placing in this one all their joy, without any other intention. And we see them making every effort to be useful to earthly society." He goes on to say that if these persons live according to their conscience, God will not fail to lead them into the City of God: "Now, if they strive to do these tasks with a pure conscience, God, having predestined them to be citizens of Jerusalem, will not let them perish within Babylon:  this is on condition, however, that while living in Babylon, they do not thirst for ambition, short-lived magnificence or vexing arrogance…. He sees their enslavement and will show them that other city for which they must truly long and towards which they must direct their every effort."

This second proposal for reconciliation is also suggested by some of the eastern fathers. St. John Chrysostom says that God will not fail to bring all those who live virtuously to knowledge of himself:

This also Paul declaring, says, For there is no respect of persons with God. What then? Is the man yonder in Persia acceptable to Him? If he be worthy, in this regard he is acceptable, that it should be granted him to be brought unto faith. The Eunuch from Ethiopia He overlooked not. What shall one say then of the religious men who have been overlooked? It is not the case, that any (such) ever was overlooked. But what he says is to this effect, that God rejects no man" (St. John Chrystostom, Homily 23 on the Acts of the Apostles)

"He who loves, inasmuch as he fulfils the commandment which is most absolute of all, even though he have some defects, will quickly be blest with knowledge because of his love; as Cornelius and many others" (Homily 20 on First Corinthians).

These texts seem to imply that explicit faith in Christ is not necessary in order to be justified and to be pleasing to God, but that, in God's plan, he also brings such persons, if they do not turn away and persist in grave sin, to explicit knowledge of Christ before their death. It is also, possible, though less likely, that St. John Chrysostom is merely speaking of a "natural righteousness" without supernatural grace. Evidence for this is his Homily 25 on the Gospel of St. John (On John 3:5), where he seems to imply that everyone who dies without baptism (even if he has faith in Christ) goes to hell:

The Catechumen is a stranger to the Faithful. He hath not the same Head, he hath not the same Father… One has Christ for his King; the other, sin and the devil… Let us then give diligence that we may become citizens of the city which is above. How long do we tarry over the border, when we ought to reclaim our ancient country? We risk no common danger; for if it should come to pass (which God forbid!) that through the sudden arrival of death we depart hence unbaptized, though we have ten thousand virtues, our portion will be no other than hell, and the venomous worm, and fire unquenchable, and bonds indissoluble.

This text may, however, very well involve rhetorical exaggeration, being aimed at those who are guilty of despising the grace of baptism, putting it off without good reason, and thus are not living righteously.

(3) Another method of reconciliation is to see the faith in Christ that is necessary for salvation as able to be acquired through an encounter of the departed soul with Christ. Logically, this position is closely related to the position that a man may be justified without explicit faith in Christ, but God's plan involves bringing all such persons to explicit faith in Christ before their death, but is, perhaps, more in accordance with the (in principle empirical) fact that miraculous and conscious enlightenments about Christ are very rare.

In most cases this idea was explicitly applied only to those who had died before Christ without knowledge of him. Descending into Hades, he made himself known to those who hadn't had the occasion to know him before. However, the Pastor of Hermas, in a text also cited and followed by St. Clement of Alexandria, says that the Apostles, after they had fallen asleep "in the power and faith of the Son of God," preached his name to those who were asleep, and baptized them, suggesting that Christ is similarly made known to those who died after the coming of Christ yet still didn't have a chance to know him. St. Clement says "If, then, he [Christ] preached the gospel to those in the flesh in order that they might not be condemned unjustly, how is it conceivable that he did not for the same reason preach the gospel to those who had departed this life before his coming?" The reasoning in fact applies equally to those who died after his coming, but before hearing about him, if there are such persons. And in general, this doctrine of Christ's descent is closely connected with the christian conviction that Christ came for all, and makes his salvation available to all. St. Augustine explicitly supposes that if Christ's descent brought salvation to those who hadn't known him before they died, this salvation would also be available to those who died after Christ's coming without hearing of him, though he turns the argument around, to argue on this basis that Christ's descent to Hades didn't bring salvation to those who hadn't known him before they died, but only to those who had already believed in him.

This universal relevance of Christ's descent is suggested by the catechism, which says that the significance of the descent to hell is "the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places" (CCC 634).

In recent years, Gavin D'Costa has taken up this line of thought, arguing that Christ's descent to hell provides the best conceptual means to explain how the salvation of non-Christians can happen.

Given that these various qualifications have almost always been made regarding the necessity of faith, yet an explicit affirmation of the general possibility of the salvation of non-Christians (in the sense of those who have not heard or accepted the christian preaching) is rare from the 4th to the 16th century, it seems it would be most accurate to say that the Church has "always held" the possibility of salvation for those who are not without qualification members of the Church and who do not know Christ explicitly, only "in radice" and implicitly.