Summer Theology Program in Italy

Several relatives, acquaintances, and former students of mine (with master's degrees in theology) are organizing and running a two week program of theology in Norcia, Italy, which is located in the mountains not far from Rome and Assisi. The prior of the Benedictine Monastery in Norcia, Fr. Cassian Folsom, who taught many years at St. Anselmo in Rome, served as president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, and was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as an official consulter for the Congregation of Divine Worship, will also contribute to the program. Knowing the outstanding intellectual ability of many of those involved in it, and looking at the proposal, I must say that it looks to be an excellent event for those who have the time and resources.

The topic of the program is sacramental theology, with particular emphasis on the Eucharist, but also covering baptism, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. From the Mission Statement:

The St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies is an organization dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics.

This purpose is realized principally through the regular hosting of two-week long Summer programs, in which participants are invited to an intensive course of studies in Catholic theology presented in the form of the great Catholic universities of the high Middle Ages. Unique to these programs is the combination of scholastic form and content, namely the study of St. Thomas Aquinas in the way that St. Thomas himself would have studied. Hence the dedication of the Center to his own teacher, St. Albert the Great.

Elements of the program include lectures, seminar-style discussions, and the highlight, the scholastic disputation, in which teachers and participants address a particular question of theology, posing various arguments for and against a particular answer to the question, after which one of the masters of theology organizes and orders the arguments, gives an ordered answer to the question, and responds to or clarifies the arguments raised in objection or in support of the answer.

The program runs from June 20th to July 1st, 2011. In addition to the studies, daily Mass and Offices with the Benedictine Monks of Norcia are offered, and several optional outings are planned, including a trip to Rome on the Feast of Corpus Christi for the Eucharistic procession and adoration with the Holy Father.

The cost of the program is $975, which includes room and board (breakfast and one other full meal) in Norcia, and tuition for the two week period.

Read more about the 2011 Summer Program. (Link removed, as the page about the 2011 summer program is no longer available — link to the page about the most recent, 2016 Summer Program.)

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.