Aquinas on Marrying to Support One's Parents

Is someone obliged to marry if that is the only way he can support his parents?

 

This article is from Quodlibetal 10, q. 5, a. 1.

Whether someone is bound to contact marriage in order to support his father by the marriage dowry, if he is not able to support him otherwise.

Objections

It seems that a son who cannot support his father unless by marrying he receives a dowry from which he can look after his father, is not obliged to contract marriage in order to support his father.

1. Since charity is orderly, he is obliged more to himself than to his father. But it would be praiseworthy for someone to face death in order to preserve his virginity. Therefore someone is not obliged to contract marriage in order to save his father's life.

2. Further, precepts are not opposed to counsels. But preserving virginity is a counsel, as is evident from 1 Cor. 7:25. Therefore the precept of honoring one's parents does not oblige someone to lose his virginity.

On the contrary: Affirmative precepts are binding at certain times and in certain places. But the time when one's parents are in need is a time when one is bound to honor one's parents. Therefore at that time someone is bound by this precept. And so it seems that he is bound to contract marriage, if he cannot otherwise support his father.

Response: It should be said that the case proposed does not seem to be readily possible, since it can scarcely happen that someone is unable to support his parents without contracting marriage, at least by manual work or by begging. But if this were to happen, the judgment to be made in this case concerning the preservation of virginity would be the same as concerning other works of perfection, such as entering religious life.

Now different people have different opinions about this. Some say that if someone's father is in need, he should give all that he has, if he has anything, for the support of his father, and he can thus licitly enter religious life, committing the care of his parents to the heavenly Father, who feeds even the birds.

But because this opinion seems too severe, it seems to me better to say the following: he who desires to enter religious life may see that he cannot live in the world without mortal sin, or cannot easily do so. If he fears the danger of his committing mortal sin, then, since he is more obliged to care for the salvation of his soul than for the bodily need of his parents, he is not obliged to remain in the world. But if he sees that he can live in the world without sin, it seems one should make a distinction: if his parents can in no way live without his services to them, he is obliged to serve them and to forego other works of perfection, and he would sin by leaving his parents; but if they can in some way be supported without his services, just not respectably, he is not therefore obliged to forego works of perfection. The case is different when someone has already entered religious life; for since he has already died to the world by religious profession, he is freed from the law by which he was bound to his parents in worldly services, as the Apostle teaches in Rom 7:6. But in other, spiritual matters, such as by prayers, etc., he is bound to serve his parents.

What has been said about entering religious life can also be said about the observance of virginity and other works of perfection.

Replies to Objections

Reply 1. To the first objection, therefore, it should be said that if someone has not professed virginity, he should not die of hunger before contracting marriage [but should marry if that is necessary in order to live].

Reply 2. To the second objection it should be said that nothing prevents a precept from being opposed to a counsel in a particular situation.

Marriage and Procreation

This post continues the response to the question, what has changed regarding christians' and the Church's view of marriage and marital relations, a question raised in a comment on the post Married Saints and Continence.

Traditional View (Systematized by St. Augustine)

St. Augustine understands sexual intercourse to be so ordered to children, the "one honorable fruit" of intercourse, that even a spouse who desires sexual intercourse more than necessary for procreation, unless they do so for the sake of their spouse and their relationship with their spouse who desires such intercourse, is guilty of a venial sin, inasmuch as they are unduly attached to the pleasure of sexual intercourse or something similar, as manifested by their use of sex apart from the end for which it is given.

This continence is more meritorious; it is no sin to render the marital debt, while to demand it beyond what is necessary for begetting children is a venial sin." (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, n. 6)

These goods that are necessary for the sake of something else, if someone uses them for some other purpose than that for which they were instituted, he sins, in some cases venially, in other cases mortally (ibid, n. 9).

St. Thomas basically takes the same position, though he notes that one spouse ought to have marital intercourse not only when the other spouse explicitly expresses a desire for it, but implicitly shows that he or she wants it. (In IV Sent., dist. 32, q. 1, a. 2, qa. 1) Moreover, he says that intercourse which happens to be sterile (as opposed to intercourse intentionally sterile) is not a sin, and this includes not only cases where the spouses do not know that the intercourse is sterile, but also the cases where they know it (Summa Contra Gentiles 3, 122). This may possibly show that the procreative intention for St. Thomas need only be a fundamental and habitual intention, not an actual intention in the sense of actually expecting, with at least some small probability, a child from the particular act of intercourse. (It is not certain, as it is also possible that when he describes this act as not a sin, he means that one can consent to the act [as when one's spouse desires intercourse]).

Changes definitively made through recent Church teaching

The position systematized by St. Augustine can be, with variations, roughly described as the majority view in the West until some time after St. Alphonsus Liguori. Nonetheless it was not a universal position.

In magisterial documents in the 20th century, the Catholic Church has, in an authoritative way, somewhat qualified the manner in which the principal end of the marital act has to be in the intention of the spouses. The marital act must remain intrinsically directed towards procreation, and this intrinsic order of the act to procreation must be respected by those who choose to engage in martial intercourse, but the marital act need not lead concretely lead (even in terms of probability) to the procreation of children. Having marital intercourse for the sake of the relationship between the spouses can be morally good, even if children are impossible, and neither of the spouses expects or intends to have children through that act of marital intercourse.

Each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (Humanae Vitae, n. 11)

If there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained…. When the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love. (Ibid., n. 16)

Common Change of Viewpoint

The common view, in contrast to the position of the Church, is now that sexual or marital intercourse, or at least individual acts, need not be ordered in any significant way to procreation. This is the complete opposite of the traditional position systematized by St. Augustine. This view has a number of consequences. One of these is that it leads quite naturally to the abandonment of any general moral objection to homosexual unions, even if it still allows for various sound political and religious reasons to not recognize them as marriages.

Attitudes to Marriage and Holiness

This post is a partial response to a question raised on the post Married Saints and Continence.

The attitudes of Christians towards marriage and holiness have changed in the past centuries, and in a particular way in the 20th century.

In regard to the value of marriage and marital sexual relations, we might overall describe the change as an increase in realism (a change for the better), and a decrease in idealism (understood as orienting oneself by and striving for noble ideals–a change for the worse).

By the increase in realism I mean a greater appreciation of temporal reality, for instance, of how concretely the human ties to one's family can be an occasion and impulse to better live a truly human and Christian life, as well as how the marital act, if done with true love and concern for the spouse, can strengthen the relationship and consequently the family and Christian life of the spouses.

By the decrease in idealism I mean a lesser appreciation of the goods that though truest, are not directly visible or tangible: a lesser appreciation that only one thing really matters, that this life is only a shadow of that which is life in the fullest sense, etc.

The following texts, and some reflection on our reaction to them, may help illustrate this:

"Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage" (1 Cor 7:27). … Even if marriage had no troubles, it would still be better for us to press forward toward the things yet to come. But since marriage does have its troubles, why be further burdened by it? (St. John Chrysostom Homily 19)

Now that resurrection is at our gates, and we do not speak of death, but advance toward another life better than the present, the desire for posterity is superfluous. If you desire children, you can get much better old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor. So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid
fornication (St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on marriage).

As a side note, we may remark that this is said by a theologian and pastor who has a quite positive view of marriage:

"Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers…. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.

Seek the things which please God, and those which please man will follow soon enough…. It is possible for us to surpass all others in virtue by becoming good husbands and wives. (Homily 20).

Translations from On Marriage and Family Life, translated by Catharine P. Roth and David Anderson, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986.

From St. Teresa of the Andes (1900-1920):

I'll give you some lights that can help you recognize your vocation… Do you have a strong desire to belong to God alone, and serve Him as much as you can, with the greatest perfection? That was the ideal God proposed to us when He created us: that we should serve Him and love Him above all things. Do you think your heart can be satisfied with the love of creatures, who for the most part and most times are fickle and fleeting? … Do you think that marriage to a young man is a happy venture, with a man with whom you can form a Christian home? Does that attract you? Wouldn't you prefer to belong to God, to live despised and unknown to the world in a convent, forming thousands of Christian hearts, being a mother of those souls, converting and bringing them to God? … Who can love us like God does? No one in the world.

… My dear little sister, think about all this. And if you're able to renounce all these comforts to live with Him, to be the bride of the divine Crucified One – clearly aided by God's grace – it's because God wants you for Himself, and because He's giving you the courage to abandon everything for Him. Letter 65, To a Girl Friend. Letters of Saint Teresa of The Andes, translated by Michael D. Griffin, Teresian Charism Press, 1994.

These statements tend to make us somewhat uncomfortable, as implying a too negative or disparaging view of marriage–unless we simply disagree with them. However, it seems to me that there are many statements of Christ and of St. Paul that tend to make us uncomfortable, and for rather similar reasons:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:5)

Relatively speaking (in comparison with persons living in earlier times), these and similar sayings tend to make us uncomfortable, because they seem too negative or pessimistic.

From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).

We are similarly inclined to see these statements (certainly if someone now makes similar statements) as implying escapism and a negative view of the created world, and have difficulty identifying with them.

Right and Wrong Ways To Assess the Changes in Attitude to Marriage

In reviewing and evaluating the changes that have taken place in attitudes to marriage and the relationship between marriage and holiness, there are two errors we should avoid. On the one hand, we should be capable of a critical look at the tradition and refrain from immediately canonizing everything in the tradition. On the other hand, we should not set up ourselves (modern man or the modern Christian) as the reference point for evaluating the developments in the tradition; if we do so, then of course we will see the present attitude as the right one, and more traditional attitudes as imperfect or wrong to the degree that they deviate from present attitudes. Rather, the teaching of Christ and of the Apostles is the principal reference point for assessing both the attitudes to be found in the authors and saints in Christian history, and modern attitudes.

If we take this approach, in my opinion we do find a certain tendency to a lopsidedness in the Christian tradition–a favoring of continence, celibacy and virginity that lends a negative tone to speech about and attitudes toward marriage. We also find, however, that the modern Christian has lost a great deal of the fire of the early Christians and of the ideals present throughout the Christian tradition, and that it is in part due to this loss that most of the Christian tradition on marriage seems to him to be obviously a distortion of the truth about marriage.

What is needed is for us to on the one hand regain what has been lost of the faith and conviction of earlier Christians, and on the other hand to integrate recent positive insights into marriage and the call to holiness into a renewed and sound Christian view of life.

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.

Prenatal Adoption of Frozen Embryos

The instruction of the CDF, Dignitas Personae, takes up the question of what could be done with the frozen embryos that are already in existence. It rejects the use of these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease because this would be contrary to their dignity as persons. It further takes up the question of their being given to infertile couples as a treatment for infertility, and rejects this as ethically wrong:

The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[note: Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, II, A, 1-3: AAS 80 (1988), 87-89.] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

Finally, it considers the proposal of adopting these embryos precisely to give them a chance to live:

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of "prenatal adoption". This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

Here the document waffles, speaking vaguely about "various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above." Since the moral objections reference in Donum Vitae do not apply to this situation, the most reasonable way to understand the "various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above" is in reference to the "problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature" rather than to a moral evil. Thus we should read this paragraph along the following lines: the document neither intends, nor in fact does condemn embryo adoption as wrong in itself, yet expresses practical concerns of prudence regarding the issue. This interpretation is supported also by the statement of the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, that the issue of embryo adoption is "still an open issue," and that of the U.S. Bishops Conference, saying that "The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them" (Questions and Answers on 'Dignitas Personae'). The principal of these concerns is probably that of material cooperation with those involved in illicit use of embryos, and the potential scandal linked with it, as is argued by John Grabowski and Christopher Gross in an article in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Dignitas personae and the Adoption of Frozen Embryos – A New Chill Factor?

In the end, I am inclined to think that if in fact the motive is saving the lives of persons, and known to be such, the witness provided by this more than outweighs the possible evil of material cooperation. Moreover, the resistance to prenatal adoption of frozen embryos is seen by not a few to belie the Church's own position on the human dignity of such embryos, and so is a scandal in its own right. I think, therefore, that while not ignoring the concerns alluded to by the CDF, one should see the choice of prenatal adoption of embryos that would otherwise perish as a good and positive choice.

Janet Smith wrote an article last year in favor of embryo adoption–Adopting Embryos: Why Not?–and while not rigorously argued, and lacking in precision, I think most of her instincts are correct. I also recommend a longer, more academic article by Stephen Napier, Moral Justification and Human Acts: A Reply To Christopher Oleson, which examines closely the text of Dignitas personae and Donum vitae, and argues in favor of the legitimacy of embryo adoption.

Rational Civil Authority and Marriage

How should a rational civil authority regulate marriage, supposing that the state does not accept a particular religious revelation or tradition as definitive, and that the citizens of the state recognize various religious authorities? Since most of us live in civil states like this, the question is not unimportant for us. This is the actual situation.

Two basic possibilities suggest themselves: the state could make the decisions about marriage, or the various religious authorities could make the decisions.

(1) The state could alone make decisions about marriage: e.g., judge what are the conditions intrinsically required to marry validly; establish impediments to marriage; judge whether the requirements of the natural law admit of exceptions, and if so, in what instances exceptions should be made.

(2) The state could leave all decisions about marriage to the various religions.

The first possibility is problematic, since marriage has an intrinsically religious character, and therefore judgment and determination about it should properly belong to religious authority.

The second possibility cannot be consistently upheld, if the state itself is to have any recognition of marriage, and if it is to uphold natural law. For in an instance where the spouses belong to different religions, or after a religious conversion where the second religion has a different view on marriage, one religious authority may maintain that a marriage is valid, while the other religious authority maintains that it is invalid. Moreover, a religion could mandate conditions of marriage contrary to natural law (requiring women to marry even without their consent, allowing divorce and remarriage under any conditions, at the simple request of the spouses, etc.).

It seems therefore necessary to qualify the qualify the second possibility.

(2b) The state could leave decisions about marriage to the various religions, unless the pertinent religions have no position or disagree, or a religion stipulates something about marriage contrary to that which natural law considered in itself requires, in which case the state must decide the case.

Of course, one who is convinced of the truth and reasonableness of his faith will see the ideal as a situation where the state recognizes that revelation as true, and accepts its religious understanding of marriage, but where that is not possible, this second approach seems to be the best.

What are the consequences of this position? Consider the quality of marriage that it be between one man and one woman, and that it be indissoluble. Now, if these qualities belong to natural law, and according to natural law admit of no exception, it seems the state should refuse to recognize the dissolution of a marriage by the Catholic Church (by way of the "Petrine privilige") or through a second marriage in the faith (by way of the "Pauline Privilege"). This consequence doesn't seem very desirable to most Catholics; nor does it seem to be wished for by the 20th-century Papal writings on marriage that address political issues.

If, on the other hand, though the qualities of marital unity and indissolubility belong to natural law, they are the kind of natural law admits of exceptions, then the state can do one of the following: (1) recognize all exceptions that religious authorities recognize; thus the state will accept all divorces accepted by Catholics, protestants, Jews, Muslims, all second marriages recognized by the religions, etc; from a Catholic point of view, this also seems problematic; (2) recognize those exceptions that seem particularly reasonable; this doesn't seem ultimately all that different from the first approach, where the state itself make decisions about marriage; nonetheless, I wonder whether it might not be the most reasonable approach for a civil authority that recognizes natural law but doesn't accept one specific religious tradition as being the recipient of the fullness of truth.

Regardless of the particular answer one might give to the question, "How should the state regulate marriage," I think it's important to reflect on the question, and to have some coherent answer, rather than, with the claim to be arguing from natural law, to push essentially for an assimilation of the state's regulation to that of the Catholic Church–this kind of arguing can give the impression of simple bias and partisanship.

St. Paul on Sexual Intercourse as Personal Act

Paul: Do you not know that the immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God? You were cleansed of all this in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God.

Cor: All things are lawful for me. Now that I have become spiritual through the Spirit, these things are a matter of indifference.

Paul: I am not restrained by an arbitrary law, but not all things are helpful!

Cor: Still, all things are lawful for me.

Paul: But I will not be enslaved by anything!

Cor: Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.

Paul: And God will destroy both the one and the other! The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

Punctuating the text this way, as most interpreters do (though one might also include the phrase "God will destroy both the one and other" as part of the Corinthians' argument why there's nothing really bad in the use of any material, corruptible thing), St. Paul seems to imply that there is a great difference between the use of the sexual organs, and other organs such as the stomach. Our body as a whole belongs to Christ, and will be raised up with Christ. In sexual intercourse one disposes of one's whole body, as an expression of one's person, in a manner far beyond that in which the use of food is a disposition of the person.

Married Saints – Why so few?

Why are there so few married saints? And especially, why are there so few who were canonized precisely as married persons? Most married persons who have been canonized have not been canonized precisely as married persons, but as martyrs, or as religious or widows in the case of those who devoted themselves to the religious state or the state of widowhood after their spouse's death (or in some cases, by the mutual agreement of the spouses). And to my knowledge, in the modern formal process of canonization there have been no married couples canonized as such, though two couples have been beatified together, and may in the future be canonized: Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, and Louis Martin and Marie Celine Guerin (the parents of St. Therese).

The different explanations made for this fact can be grouped into three categories:

(1) There simply aren't many married saints, because of the practical concerns of married life that make it hard to focus entirely on God and his will.
(2) While there are plenty of married persons who are truly saintly, the exemplar of holiness can be seen more evidently in martyrs or religious than in married persons, and therefore it is mostly these who are canonized.
(3) Married saints are not so frequently recognized for what they are.

Sometimes one of this reasons is given as more or less the entire explanation, but I think there is actually some truth in all three of these explanations:

Fewer married saints

(1) St. Paul says, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. … The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. … so he who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better." (1 Corinthians 7:8,32-35,38) The evangelical counsel of chastity (see Mat 19:10-12) is proposed as a means for securing "undivided devotion" to God. The Christian tradition retains this idea, so that it is said "You would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God" (Athenagoras, A plea for the Christians, Chap. 33).

Pope John Paul II mentions the fact that most canonized saints are religious as evidence for the value of the religious state as a means to perfection, thus suggesting that the superiority of the religious state as a means for growing in the love of God is a reason for the greater number of religious canonized:

Religious communities are called to the duty of perfection, clearly expressed by Christ in his conversation with the young man: "If you wish to be perfect" (Mt 19:21). Later, down the centuries, the Church's tradition has given a doctrinal and practical expression to these words. The state of perfection is not only theory. It is life. And it is precisely life that confirms the truth of Christ's words: do not the majority of canonized saints come from religious Orders or Congregations?

These words, from a pope who has himself canonized a number of married persons, and who is always careful to note the call of every person to holiness and to the perfection of charity, are not without their weight.

But is the scarcity of canonized married persons due principally to the fact that marriage isn't as suitable a means as religious life for attaining holiness, or is it also due to the fact that marriage wasn't properly appreciated as a means for attaining holiness? Because the married state was not seen as a particularly helpful state for growing in divine love and holiness, those who intended to devote themselves most earnestly to this spiritual growth tended to refrain from marriage if possible, with the consequence that there were relatively few exemplary holy persons in marriage. St. Augustine points out: "[There are some marriages in which the spouses are not divided in heart, but completely devoted to God.] But they are very rare: who denies this? And being rare, nearly all the persons who are such, were not joined together in order to be such, but being already joined together became such (On the Good of Marriage, n. 14). That is, where there are few examples of holy marriages, people will more rarely enter marriage seeking or expecting to become holy through marriage." In this sense, the paucity of married saints is arguably a self-reinforcing prediction. The more emphasis that was put on the religious state as a means to holiness, the more rarely would persons choose marriage in order to become holy. And with fewer persons choosing marriage as a means to holiness, the fewer persons there were who attained exemplary sainthood in marriage, etc. (See my earlier post, Is Marriage for the Weak?).

Visibility of holiness

(2) In the early Church, only the martyrs were regarded the way we now regard canonized saints (the term "saint" itself was then used for all the faithful). In martyrdom the imitation and love of Christ is most perfectly manifest, inasmuch as Christ himself gave his life for the life of the world, and inasmuch as there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for the beloved. As martyrdom became more infrequent, but people still needed contemporary examples of sanctity to honor and to look to, the notion of venerable sainthood was extended to those who did not lay down their lives in martyrdom, but who, as far as possible, left everything to follow Christ, since this is the next most clear manifestation of the Christian call to deny oneself and to follow him.

In fact, the path to holiness always involves the evangelical counsels in some way; if not literally, as in the consecrated state, and least in spirit. All Christians are called to follow the spirit of the counsels. And naturally, the taking up of the counsels both literally and spiritually, as practiced by the saints who embraced the evangelical counsels literally, is the example or model for following the counsels spiritually. And in this sense, religious are already seen as models for the laity, not in the sense that the laity should desire to imitate the exterior form of the life of consecrated religious, but in the sense that they should imitate the inner content, that which is expressed, or meant to be expressed, by the exterior form of life of consecrated religious.

As regards canonized saints' being models of holiness, there could be advantages and disadvantages to having "normal" persons from every state of life canonized. On the one hand, one might argue that people need models of sainthood in the state of life in which they live, and so the model of life provided by the consecrated religious is not adequate for married persons–they also need models of saintly married persons. In fact the idea of saints being models was less emphasized early in the Church than it is now. From the point of view of being models, there is much to be said for having numerous canonized saints from every Christian state of life.

On the other hand, one might argue that canonizing people who seem entirely "normal", could lead to a misunderstanding of the radical call to perfect holiness addressed to every Christian. There is a certain danger of looking at all that the saints have in common with us, becoming self-complacent, and neglecting the need to purify ourselves more and more.

Recognition of holiness-process of canonization

(3) The holiness of "normal," married persons living in the world was less likely to be recognized, because the formal process of canonization required much time and effort, a detailed investigation into the person's life, and accepted miracles. These conditions were more frequently and better provided in the case of religious than in the case of married persons: (a) religious communities have much more people and time for seeking canonizations of their members than normal lay persons do; (b) for much of the Church's history, religious were better educated, and were more likely to be able to write, and thus to become known through their writings, whereas lay persons were only known through more direct contact; thus more recorded information about their life would be available (especially important in cases when the cause for canonization was taken up only many years after the person's death), and there would be more people interested in and supporting the person's canonization.

Supporting this argument, those lay persons who were well-known, and who had more persons interested in their canonization; either on account of their position, as in the case of royalty (St. Edward the Confessor, St. Louis of France, Bl. Karl of Austria), or on account of mystical experiences or visions (e.g., St. Catherine of Genoa, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi), have been, in comparison with their small numbers, relatively frequently canonized.

Biography of married saints

Some books have been devoted to biographies of married saints. John F. Fink has compiled a biography of twenty-four married saints (the link is to the description at the publisher, Alba House. The book may also be purchased at Amazon). These twenty-four saints do include several who were canonized for other reasons, such as St. Thomas More, canonized as a martyr.

A book by Ferdinand Holbock describes briefly the lives of over 200 married saints and blesseds: Married Saints and Blesseds: Through the Centuries.

Is Marriage for the Weak

The Vocation of Marriage

Is marriage only for the weak? Are only those called to marriage who don't have a strong enough will to give themselves totally to Christ and his Church in virginity or celibacy? It could certainly seem so from St. Paul: "If his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin…. he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Cor 7:37-38).

Following a classic procedure, I will first give arguments in favor of this position, then my response to the question.

The saints on marriage and celibacy

In the first place, it seems that the authority of the saints indicates that marriage is only for those who are too weak to persevere in continence for the kingdom of heaven, while virginity or celibacy is for all those who have the strength of will to take it.

Marriage is attributed to weakness

Those of us who have wives we advise, with all our power, that they dare not judge of those holy fathers after their own weakness (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, n. 34)

Has the apostle, think you, both shown sufficiently to the strong what is highest, and permitted to the weaker what is next best? Not to touch a woman he shows is highest when he says, "I would that all men were even as I myself." But next to this highest is conjugal chastity, that man may not be the prey of fornication. (St. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, ch. 35)

If under the Gospel it is permitted to have children, it is one thing to make a concession to weakness, another to hold out rewards to virtue. (St. Jerome, Against Jovianius I, n. 37).

The one sins not if she marries; if the other does not marry, it is for eternity. In the former is seen the remedy for weakness, in the latter the glory of chastity. The former is not reproved, the latter is praised. (St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins I, ch. 6)

"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry" (1 Cor 7:8-9). You can see Paul's common sense here. He says that continence is better, but does not force a person who cannot attain it, fearing that defeat may result. "For it is better to marry than to be burn" (v. 9); here he shows how great a tyranny the passions exercise over us. What he means is something like this: if you suffer with violent, burning passion, then relieve your pain and sweat through marriage, before you utterly collapse. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on 1 Cor.)
These are the two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaste, and to make us parents… The purpose of chastity takes precedence… If you desire children, you can get much better children now, a nobler childbirth and better help in your old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor. So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid fornication, and the remedy is offered for this purpose (St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on Marriage).

In order to avoid an unbalanced impression of St. John's Chrysostom view of marriage, I also quote another text of his describing a holy marriage:

Some wise man in the list of blessings sets many things, and also sets this in the list of blessing: "And a wife," he says, "in harmony with her husband." And again elsewhere he puts this among the blessings, "the wife being in agreement with her husband." And from the beginning God appears to have made providence for this union, and has spoken of the two as one… There is no relationship between men as great as that of a wife to her husband, if they are coupled as they ought to be… Indeed the household is a little Church. Thus by becoming good husbands and wives, it is possible to surpass all others. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on Ephesians, PG 62, 135 & 143)Furnish your house neatly and soberly… Remove from your lives shameful, immodest, and Satanic music, and don't associate with people who enjoy such profligate entertainment… Pray together at home and go to Church… Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks. (Ibid.)

Alphonsus de Liguori is also quite as strong on this point as St. Jerome, Origen, or Tertullian.

The married state I cannot recommend to you, because St. Paul does not counsel it to any one, except there be a necessity for it, arising out of habitual incontinence, which necessity, I hold for certain, does not exist in your case. (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Reply to a youth considering which state he should choose)
… But if you resolve not to become a religious, I cannot advise you to enter the married state, for St. Paul does not counsel that state to any one, except in case of necessity, which I hope does not exist for you. (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Advice to a woman in doubt as to what state she should choose)

Virginity or celibacy is for those of strong will

Many texts of the Fathers and saints also seem to show that virginity or celibacy is for those who have the strength of will to take it, which seems to imply, conversely, that marriage is for those who are weak-willed.

Virginity is something supernaturally great, wonderful, and glorious… Chastity with men is a very rare thing, and difficult of attainment, and in proportion to its supreme excellence and magnificence is thre greatness of its dangers.
For this reason, it requires strong and generous natures, such as, vaulting over the stream of pleasure, direct the chariot of the soul upwards from the earth, not turning aside from their aim, until having, by swiftness of thought, lightly bounded above the world, and taken their stand truly upon the vault of heaven, they purely contemplate immortality itself as it springs forth from the undefiled bosom of the Almighty. (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6, discourse 1, p. 310)

The Master of the Christian race offers the reward, invites candidates to the course, holds in His hand the prize of virginity, points to the fountain of purity, and cries aloud "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." (Against Jovinianus, St. Jerome, in NPNF 2nd series, Volume VI, p. 355)

"He who can receive this, let him receive it." What is this? If natural ability is meant, no one is able, while if supernatural ability is meant, all are able. I say that 'can' includes the power of the will. For some have a firm will, while others do not. And it is manifest that he who has a firm will does not fear many impulses, while he who does not, falls by a slight impulse. Whence it is as though one were to say, he who is able by firmness of will, not from nature but from God, let him receive it. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Matthew, Lecture 19, n. 1572).

This recommendation for which the Pope takes the whole responsibility is a very paternal word which is inspired solely by the good of religious communities. It is this: "Be rigorous."…
By these words his Holiness wished to allude not only to the severity of discipline in general, but above all and in a very special manner, to the severity which is necessary when accepting postulants. Someone may say that they are already too severe; the Pope authorizes the answer that it is he who wishes it to be so… If, in fact, we desire to preserve the splendor of religious life, we must be severe above all where vocations are concerned, because divine grace helps, but does not destroy human nature, and therefore it remains necessary to struggle, a necessity which is even more grace in religious life. It is for that reason that we cannot run the risk of unsuitable elements infiltrating a religious community, for these elements not only will not be useful for anything, they will be on the contrary so many obstacles, so many stumbling-blocks; they will constitute so much cockle among the wheat.
It is not exaggeration, but experience, which tells us that in human collectivities, even restricted ones, almost inevitably deficiencies are produced. A religious family need not, for all that, reduce the number of its members; on the contrary, they must be increased; but it must so act that all its members will be chosen souls, elite, soldiers. A difficult thing, a difficult task, but necessary. In fact, when many men gather together, the good qualities, especially the highest ones, do not add up to a sum total; each one keeps his own; on the contrary, the deficiencies, the bad qualities, join one another and fuse. (Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Friars Minor Capuchins, July 10, 1938)

To worldly gaze, which does not penetrate beneath the surface, religious life may appear more especially as a refuge from the tempest, a spiritual repose in a peaceful retreat, a desert where weaker souls seek a refuge far from the perils and worries of the world. But the world is blind. For a firm heart, intrepid before earthly trials, like that of your Blessed Mother Foundress, religious life is religion lived before God and man, and if it is a retreat, it is at the same time an arena of abnegation and prayer, of action and labor, from which one comes forth more firm and more eager, ready for greater sacrifices and for greater activity in the service of God and souls, totally under the sway of a charity more intense, bolder, even impassible in the face of death. (Pius XII, Allocution to the pilgrims at the beatification of Magdalene of Canossa, December 9, 1941, in States of Perfection, p. 326)

Superiority of celibacy

Secondly, it seems to follow, if virginity or celibacy is superior to marriage as a way of living and growing in love of God and neighbor, as the Church teaches, and if it is open to all, then the only reason for someone not to embrace virginity or celibacy would be that they are do weak to do so.
Now the Church does clearly teach that virginity or celibacy is superior to marriage as a way of expressing and growing in love of God.

"If anyone says that the married state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and happier to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be joined in matrimony, let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Can. 10).32. 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. Finally, We and Our Predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered (Encyclical Letter Sacra Virginitas, Pius XII, March 25, 1954).

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, Ch. 9)

Again, the Church teaches that a person is free to decide for marriage or for celibacy.

In choosing a state of life there is no doubt but that it is in the power and discretion of each one to prefer one or the other: either to embrace the counsel of virginity given by Jesus Christ, or to bind himself in the bonds of matrimony. (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii. The pope is here quoting Rerum Novarum.)4… no one may prevent those who are canonically suitable from entering religion, since the religious state by its very nature lies open to all the faithful and is to be held in honor by all. "Let no one, who is unwilling, be driven to this kind of consecrated life; but, if one wishes it, let there be no one who will dissuade him, much less prevent him from undertaking it." (The General Statutes annexed to the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Sapientiae, The Sacred Congregation of Religious, 1957, Art. 32)

Young people, entering into themselves and at the same time entering into conversation with Christ in prayer, desire as it were to read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father has in their regard. They then become convinced that the task assigned to them by God is left completely to their own freedom. (Pope John Paul II, Dilecti Amici, n. 10)

Response

The fundamental vocation of all is the vocation to love. "Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 11; also cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1604). The vocation to a particular way of life is a determination of this common vocation to love. "The word 'vocation' indicates that there exists for every person a proper direction of his development through commitment of his entire life in the service of certain values… And therefore a vocation always means some principal direction of love that a particular person has" (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility).

The choice of the concrete way in which to fulfill, live out, and grow in the vocation to love is generally left up to the choice of the individual person (though in some cases God intervenes to call someone in a particularly special way, as he did with Abraham). Nevertheless the way in which one may best live out the vocation to love depends on both external and interior factors. Pope John Paul II says:

Young people, entering into themselves and at the same time entering into conversation with Christ in prayer, desire as it were to read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father has in their regard. They then become convinced that the task assigned to them by God is left completely to their own freedom, and at the same time is determined by various circumstances of an interior and exterior nature. Examining these circumstances, the young person, boy or girl, constructs his or her plan of life and at the same time recognizes this plan as the vocation to which God is calling him or her. (Dilecti Amici, n. 9)

Generally, however, the primacy belongs to the interior factors, to the capacity, readiness, and commitment to pursue a particular path as an expression of and means to love. The devotion with which one pursues a particular way of life (supposing that it is a good and holy way of life) is more important than its mere objective superiority, or lack thereof. The Pope states:

According to the consistent teaching and practice of the Church, virginity realized as a deliberately chosen life-vocation, based on a vow of chastity, and in combination with the two other vows of poverty and obedience, creates particularly favorable conditions for attaining evangelical perfection. The combination of conditions that results from applying the evangelical counsels in the lives of particular men, and especially in communal life, is called the state of perfection. The "state of perfection," however, is not the same as perfection itself, which is realized by every man through striving in the manner proper to his vocation to fulfill the commandment to love God and one's neighbor. It may happen that a a man who is outside the "state of perfection," is, by observing this greatest commandment, effectively more perfect than someone who chose that state. In the light of the Gospel, every man solves the problem of his vocation in practice above all by adopting a conscious personal attitude towards the supreme demand contained in the commandment of love. This attitude is above all a function of a person, the state (marriage, celibacy, even virginity understood only as the "state" or an element of the state) plays in it a secondary role. (Love and Responsibility)

A person who chooses celibacy without a strong inner commitment to it as a way of love (which realistically can be absent in someone who chooses it simply because it is the "higher state"), which generally goes along with an inner peace, may not in fact really attain the proper goal of celibacy, may be himself troubled by the dividedness of heart that St. Paul ascribes to married persons in general. St. Thomas Aquinas says that "[the evangelical] counsels, considered in themselves, are advantageous for all; but due to some people being poorly disposed, it happens that some of them are not advantageous, because their heart [affectus] is not inclined to them" (ST I-II 108:4). And Pope John Paul II explains:

Paul observes that the man who is bound by the marriage bond "finds himself divided" (1 Cor 7:34) because of his family duties (see 1 Cor 7:34). From this observation, it seems thus to follow that the unmarried person should be characterized by an inner integration, by a unification that would allow him to devote himself completely to the service of the kingdom of God in all its dimensions. This attitude presupposes abstention from marriage, exclusively "for the kingdom of God," and a life directed uniquely to this goal. Otherwise "division" can secretly enter also the life of an unmarried person, who, being deprived, on the one hand, of married life and, on the other hand, of a clear goal for which he should renounce marriage, could find himself faced with a certain emptiness. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, July 7, 1982)

Understanding of celibacy

This single-heartedness, this strong commitment to celibacy as a way of love, presupposes on the one hand a particular light and understanding, which is a gift of grace (though it certainly need not be experienced as a inspiration, in contrast to so-called ordinary Christian faith and prudence).

Christ speaks about an understanding ("Not all can understand it, but only those to whom it has been granted," Mt 19:11); and it is not a question of an "understanding" in the abstract, but an understanding that influences the decision, the personal choice in which the "gift," that is, the grace, must find an adequate resonance in the human will. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience of March 31, 1982)

Jesus calls attention to the gift of divine light necessary to "understand" the way of voluntary celibacy. Not all can understand it, in the sense that not all are "able" to grasp its meaning, to accept it, to put it into practice. This gift of light and decision is only granted to some. It is a privilege granted them for the sake of a greater love. We should not be surprised then if many, not understanding the value of consecrated celibacy, are not attracted to it, and often are not even able to appreciate it. This means that there is a diversity of ways, charisms, and functions, as Saint Paul recognized, who spontaneously wished to share his ideal of virginal life with all. Indeed he wrote: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each," he adds, "has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (1 Cor 7:7). (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 16, 1994)

Love of celibacy

The firm choice of celibacy presupposes also a certain love of celibacy, deriving from a love of Christ, a desire for a greater freedom for service of others, or similar causes. This does not mean that a person feels no desire for marriage, but that the love of celibacy outweighs it, so to speak, so that the person is capable of devoting themselves wholeheartedly to the love of God and neighbor in celibacy.

Since it is a question of comparison of one desire with another, the sufficiency of a person's will or desire for celibacy depends both upon that will, and upon the desire for marriage. The fact that a person's love seeks expression in marriage rather than in celibacy could be attributed to a "lack" of or "less" appreciation of celibacy as a concrete possibility for onself, arising either from neglect, ignorance, or from God's not giving that "charism"; but it could also be attributed to a "greater" desire for a holy marriage, to raise children for Christ.

The determination of the direction a particular person's love takes depends partly upon natural factors, which make a person more inclined to one way of life than another. This natural difference in a certain way redounds to charity itself, inasmuch as "charity is firmer when it is founded on nature" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 4, lec. 2). The determination of love depends also upon divine providence (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, ch. 134, and Contra Impugnantes II, ch. 4, ad 1), and simply upon the will of God, of which charity is a participation. We do not possess charity as something totally of our own; it is essentially a share in God's own love, and God is the one to direct it. From charity springs a connatural judgment of what is in accordance with God's will, a judgment that is not altogether reducible to human reasoning, though human reasoning may be somehow involved in it. St. Francis de Sales describes this autonomy of charity in his Treatise on the Love of God:

When charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she impels some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another leave it, she has no need to give an account to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in the Christian law, as it is written: charity can do all things (Cf. 1 Cor 13:7); she has the fullness of prudence, as it is said: charity does nothing in vain. And if any would contest, and demand of her why she does so, she will boldly answer: The Lord has need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God. (Treatise on the Love of God, book 8, ch. 6)

This focus on the direction of love as an inner principle does not exclude other motives for marriage: St. Francis also gives the example of one who is required to marry for the sake of the common good: "You are perhaps a prince, by whose posterity the subjects of your crown are to be preserved in peace, and assured against tyranny, sedition, civil wars: the effecting, therefore, of so great a good, obliges you to beget lawful successors in a holy marriage." (Ibid.) But in most cases, such external considerations are not of themselves sufficient for a choice.

In answer to the original question, then, it should be said that the vocation of marriage is not only for those who are too weak to embrace the vocation of celibacy, but for those who, according to circumstances of natural disposition, providence, and the interior movement of charity, find marriage the fullest way of expressing and growing in this charity.

Reply to objections:

To the first set of objections, that marriage is a concession to weakness, for those who cannot otherwise be chaste, it should be said that the saints are addressing their own situation, and that in fact practically all persons marrying were not doing so from a rightly based conviction that marriage was the best means for living the divine love, but out of a desire for offspring, for economic reasons, for convenience, pleasure, or other such motives. For a long time there was a kind of self-reinforcing cycle in this matter. To the degree that little emphasis was put on marriage as a means to holiness, persons tended not to choose marriage in order to become holy–those who were intent on holiness tended to seek to remain single. The result of this was that persons had few examples of marriage as a means to holiness, which led to their not seeing marriage as a means to holiness, which led to persons seeking holiness not getting married, etc. St. Augustine points out: "[There are some marriages in which the spouses are not divided in heart, but completely devoted to God.] But they are very rare: who denies this? And being rare, nearly all the persons who are such, were not joined together in order to be such, but being already joined together became such (On the Good of Marriage, n. 14). That is, where there are few examples of holy marriages, people will not enter marriage seeking or expecting to become holy.

The second set of objections, that celibacy is for those with a strong will, should be granted inasmuch as Christian celibacy, in order to be Christian celibacy, more strictly requires a firm intention of living for God alone than marriage does, which is also a natural way of life. Yet we should note that the strength required is the strength spoken of by St. Paul: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9-10); "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). It is the strength of those who recognize their complete weakness, and rely on God alone.

To the objection based on the superiority of celibacy over marriage, the reply is clear from what was said. The choice of marriage as a vocation normally presupposes a relative inability to choose or live celibacy with a whole-heartedness as a divine calling and way of love, but this formal comparison does not necessarily imply an absolute weakness.

Why not marrying may seem selfish

"It is inconceivable, unfathomable, that it would be Our Lord's will that a young adult, who is dedicated to getting closer to Him and is perfectly able to accept the marriage/family vocation, rejects this vocation and chooses to remain 'single.' "

I did not invent this statement. It is a statement someone actually wrote. I do not agree with this position. Please note: I do not agree with this position. However, I think it is always important to do one's best to understand everyone, including those people with whom we disagree. Hence, I would like to make some remarks on why it might seem selfish for someone not to marry, and yet without becoming a priest or religious. Before getting upset and posting a comment along the lines of: "How can you dare say that single persons are selfish?", please take the time and to care to actually read what I say in this post, and to pay attention to what the actual purpose of this post is.

One person may marry because they think they will be happier in marriage. Another may refrain from marriage because they think they will be happier without marriage. What's the difference between the two cases?

Though in a sense the motivation is the same, there is a difference between these two. What if we described the two situations in this way: some resolve to love because they think it will make them happier; others resolve not to love because they think in this way they will be happier, that love would not make them happy.

I'm not saying that this is the reality of the motivation of all those who remain single by choice. But I would say that as long as it is purely negative, that is, as long as they are single simply because they don't want to marry, and don't intend to use the freedom offered by the single life to love God and/or their neighbor, they are not embracing the single life as a vocation, and are being selfish.

And yes, those who marry without intending to love their spouse through their marriage are also being selfish, and even more so than those who don't marry at all.

When someone doesn't marry, and becomes a priest or religious, then people see that there is some other mode of love that they are devoting themselves to; if they don't see this in another person who remains single, they may see him as selfish. Of course we cannot judge the heart, but if is true than the person remaining single isn't giving themselves in love to any one, he or she is in fact selfish, and that appearance is correct.

Much more could be said about the question of happiness. Everyone seeks to be happy, and no one seeks to be unhappy. St. Augustine and many others have pointed this out many times. The difference is precisely in how we seek to attain that happiness: do we seek to attain it in God, through giving ourselves in love, or do we seek to attain it in a good lifestyle, through piling up things, time, etc., for ourselves? The first way is good, the second way is not.

See also the post "Single vocation?" on whether there is a single vocation.

More articles on the single vocation