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.

Infants and Holy Communion

In the previous post, Faith, Intention and Sacramental Reception of the Eucharist, I spoke about the necessity of an intention to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in order to enter into the sacramental union with Christ specific to this sacrament (rather than merely have Christ within one's body, just as a ciborium does). This raises a question about infants receiving Communion, as is customary in Eastern rites, both Catholic and Orthodox. Can they be said to receive sacramentally, and to receive the grace of the Sacrament?

Thomas Aquinas's position on this is not entirely clear. Though he knows about the Eastern practice of giving the Eucharist to infants, he argues that this is unfitting. The Eucharist should be given only to those who have or have had devotion to it (Summa Theologiae, III q. 80, a. 9). It can be given to those who have lost the use of reason on the condition that they previously had devotion to the Sacrament, but should never be given to those who have never attained the use of reason. It is not clear, however, that Thomas Aquinas considers these persons incapable of thereby being spiritually and sacramentally united to Christ through the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. It may even be more probable that he simply considers it unfitting to the dignity of the Sacrament to give it to those who have shown no actual devotion to it.

Two points should be made in regard to the question: first, the degree to which this was and is practice of the Church makes it virtually certain that the Sacrament can in fact be sacramentally received and fruitful for infants too young to know what they are doing. (St. Thomas was not aware of how wide-spread the practice had been). It was at one time almost universal practice to give Holy Communion to infants, at least on certain occasions, such as at baptism or when in danger of death–the latter practice was seemingly based, in some cases, upon a very literal reading of John 6:53 ,"unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you"; but even if partially based on a misunderstanding, it manifests the conviction that infant reception of the Eucharist was not merely understood as a sign for the adults, but as fruitful for the infants themselves. Again, it has remained and is common practice in multiple rites of the Church. To maintain that the Church has been and is all this time practicing a kind of abuse of the Blessed Sacrament by giving it to those incapable of receiving it, as though they were capable of receiving it, is not a very sound position.

Secondly, when infants receive the Eucharist in an ecclesial and liturgical context, the theological principle that those who are incapable of making an act of faith on their own receive the sacrament and grace in virtue of the faith of others, well established in the case of baptism and confirmation, seems just as applicable. Infants who receive Communion from those who intend to give the Sacrament to them, receive Christ sacramentally and receive grace from him.

For some more information on the practice of Infant Communion, an article by Charles Crawford, Infant Communion: Past Tradition and Present Practice (PDF), is available online.

Aquinas, Averroes, and Habits

A question for my readers: Aquinas quotes numerous times Averroes definition of a habit as "that by which one acts when one wills", and seemingly relies on this definition when he argues, for instance, that the habits animals acquire are not habits in the full sense, since "they do not have the power to use or not use them, as seems to belong to the account of a habit." I do not know of any passage where he justifies this part of the definition of habit as helping to make a clear and systematic treatment of the principles of human action.

I have a number of difficulties with this restriction of the term habit: (1) It does not apply to "habits" of being, such as health or beauty; (2) it does not seem to belong in a meaningful sense to natural habits such as synderesis; (3) in the case of men, the freedom to act or not to act doesn't seem any more applicable to a habit than to other, less stable inclinations or disposition to action–if anything, it seems less applicable.

(Update: number 1 above could be explained by the fact that the definition "that by which one acts when one wills" is meant only to define habits of action, not habits of being; still, the fact that definition does not apply to "habits" of being is at least an indication that it is not included in the meaning of the term habit, or the Latin "habitus" — which is related to "habere" and "se habere").

My question is, then, has St. Thomas simply adopted a linguistic usage of the term "habitus" from Averroes' Commentary on Aristotle, or is there some real justification for the insertion of this phrase "that by which one acts one when wills" into the definition of a habit?

Averroes

Faith, Intention and Sacramental Reception of the Eucharist

While discoursing on who can receive the Eucharist sacramentally (Summa Theologiae III, q. 80, a. 3), St. Thomas Aquinas describes three cases where the one consuming the Eucharist does not receive the Eucharist sacramentally: when the Eucharist is consumed by an unbeliever, an animal, or by one who does not know it to be the Eucharist, for instance, if he thinks that the host is not consecrated. About an unbeliever who receives the Eucharist:

Even if an unbeliever receives the sacramental species, he receives the body of Christ under the sacramental sign. Therefore, he eats Christ sacramentally, if "sacramentally" refers to that which is eaten. But if it refers to the person eating, then properly speaking he does not eat sacramentally, because he does not use what he receives as a sacrament, but as simple food. Unless, perhaps, the unbeliever intends to receive that which the Church bestows, although he does not have true faith regarding the other articles or even regarding this sacrament (Summa Theologiae III, q. 80, a. 3, ad 2).

About an animal that consumes the Eucharist, or a person who does so unknowingly:

Even if a mouse or dog eats a consecrated host, the substance of Christ's body does not cease to be present under the species as long as these species remain, that is, as long as the substance of bread would remain [if it were bread], just as happens if it is cast into the mud… and yet it is not be said that the brute animal consumes the Christ's Body sacramentally, because it is not unable to treat it as a sacrament. Consequently, it does not consume the Body of Christ sacramentally, but only accidentally, just as he who consumes a consecrated host not knowing that it is consecrated (ibid., ad 3).

If I rightly understand Aquinas's position, it could be described in the following manner: the Body of Christ is present under the species of bread as long as the species of bread remains, and in this enters into any person or animal who consumes this species; but, if they do so without at least an implicit intention to receive the Body of Christ, they are not united sacramentally with him; the Body of Christ is present in them in the same way that the Body of Christ is present in a ciborium, or perhaps in a vessel of water that is dissolving the species of bread (somewhat analagous to the process of digestion dissolving the species).

In a similar manner, one who knows that he is consuming the Eucharist, but does not intend to do so sacramentally, does not in fact receive sacramentally. There are two quite different ways  this could occur: (1) someone could ritually receive Communion, e.g., during a Mass, while intending not to receive sacramentally, to be sacramentally united to Christ; this would be a grave sin against the Sacrament; (2) someone could consume the consecrated species in another context; e.g., a minister of the Eucharist consuming a host that falls on the floor, someone consuming remaining hosts or the Blood after Mass, or purifying the sacred vessels. This seems to me not to be a sacramental reception. One liturgical argument that could be advanced for this is that an institute acolyte may take and carry the chalice to the credence table (without receiving it from the priest) and purify it there. If such purification is to be considered a sacramental reception of communion, then this would be self-communication, which is generally forbidden.

Though the distinction between "receiving that which is the Sacrament" and "sacramentally receiving the Sacrament" may in this case seem a subtle one, I wonder whether it might not be  a valuable point of contact with some of the protestant understandings of the Eucharist and their emphasis on the role of faith. Admittedly we cannot overlook the differences; the Council of Trent expressly rejected Luther's position that the Real Presence is only there in the consumption of the Eucharist (in usu) (Session 13, Canon 4); but such points of contact, even if they do not involve simple agreement, are still important.

Lying and Moral Intuitions

Peter Kreeft recently wrote a post titled "Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that". There are three elements to his thesis, two bare affirmations–Live Action did right; we should all know that–and an affirmation of how any sound person would know they did right.

His position and argument can be summed up in the following sentence:

By an intuitive judgment that is based on moral experience and on a comparison with other ways of defending person's lives (eg., spying, physical harming someone else to keep them from killing people), it is evident to most people, and to all normal human beings that what Live Action did is right, and if you think otherwise, you're morally stupid, and care about principles or moral uprightness more than about people.

I'm not going to take a position on the legitimacy of what Live Action did, but I take a definite position on this manner of arguing: it is unsound, guilty of several classic fallacies, and uncharitable, arguing by ridiculing one's opponents.

1. Appeal to the people–because most people think its so, it must be so–or simply begging the question. Peter Kreeft premises: Most of my students immediately and firm conviction is that Dutchmen "were not wrong to deliberately deceive the Nazis about the locations of the Jews they had promised to hide". He then affirms that these students "know, without any ifs or ands or buts," that such Dutch deception is good, not evil, and that anyone who is more certain of a universal philosophical principle, from which he would conclude that such deception was wrong, "is not functioning as a human being but as a computer, an angel, a Gnostic, or a Kantian."

When we discuss Kant and the issue of lying, most of my students, even the moral absolutists, are quite certain that the Dutchmen were not wrong to deliberately deceive the Nazis about the locations of the Jews they had promised to hide. … They know, without any ifs or ands or buts, that such Dutch deception is good, not evil. If anyone is more certain of his philosophical principles than he is that this deception is good, I say he is not functioning as a human being but as a computer, an angel, a Gnostic, or a Kantian.

Here Kreeft is either (1) begging the point at issue, using his students merely as a illustration of that which he takes as a fact anyway, namely that whatever deception was realistically necessary to save lives (whether one uses the term "lying" or not) was good, or (2) arguing from the fact that the intuition of most persons is in favor of lying in such situations.

2. Begging the question and ridiculing your opponent: "Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It's a good thing to do. If you don't know that, you're morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles."

3. Argument by ridiculing your opponent: "If lying is always wrong, then it is wrong to lie to a nuclear terrorist (the "ticking time bomb" scenario) to elicit from him where he hid the nuclear bomb that in one hour will kill millions if it is not found and defused. The most reasonable response to the "no lying" legalist here is "You gotta be kidding"—or something less kind than that."

4. Argument from analogy, which, however, reduces to the previous fallacies, either appeal to the people or a begging of the question). The genuine morality of what Live Action did is the same as that of spying in order to save lives. But spying in order to save lives is morally right. Therefore what Live Action did is morally right.

The closest analogy I can think of to Live Action's expose of Planned Parenthood is spying. If Live Action is wrong, then so is all spying, including spying out the Nazis' atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust.

This is a logically valid argument. Kreeft does not argue for the premise that spying is morally licit, but this premise is probably not disputed by those whom he is opposing. The more questionable premise is his supposition that the morality of spying is the same as that of lying. He does not give any argument for this, thus it is either simply assumed (begging the question) or assumed on the basis of majority opinion.

 

Peter Kreeft does give a certain argument in favor of the use of the argument from majority opinion in moral matters: because they deal with concrete realities, "moral experience, instinctive moral judgments about concrete situations by our innate moral common sense" has priority over "clear definitions of general moral principles and valid logical reasoning from them"

Several questions pose themselves in regard to this: (1) what do we do when faced with a moral situation, such as that of lying to save someone's life, where the instinctive moral judgment says it is morally right, and the instinctive moral judgment of others says that it is morally wrong? If we say that the instinct of the majority is right, it seems we would have to say that the use of artificial contraception is morally right, a conclusion Kreeft would not accept. In the Aristotelian and Thomistic account, it is not just anyone's instinctive judgment which is decisive, but the judgment of the virtuous man? Is Kreeft so sure of his virtue that he can say that one who denies that his instincts are correct are "morally stupid" and is "not functioning as a human being"?

(2) What do we do when faced with a moral situation where, when the situation is presented in one way, we have one instinctive moral judgment, and, if the situation is presented in another way, we have a different instinctive moral judgment?

I hope to return to the question of instinctive judgments and moral reasoning in a later post.

See also: A Response to Peter Kreeft, On Lying, posted on the New Theological Movement Blog, and Augustine vs the Priscillianists by Mark Shea, two other responses worth reading.

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

Discussion of Celibacy, or Abolition?

Not a few of the blogs and news outlets mentioning the 1970 letter of Ratzinger and eight other theologians calling for a new and open discussion of the discipline of celibacy speak of it as though it were a call for the abolition of the law requiring celibacy of those to be ordained as priests. This is, however, a quite unjustified "reading into" the text of the letter, which states that those entering into the discussion should do so with an openness to whatever the outcome of a renewed and frank discussion of the issue might be, but explicitly refrains from proposing what the outcome of such a discussion should be (whether retaining the law regarding celibacy, or changing it).

Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of the other eight signatories to the letter, recently affirmed just that in an address to the Catholic University of Lisbon, namely that he had proposed a discussion of priestly celibacy, not its abolition. Moreover, he suggested that the discussions of celibacy that have taken place do not favor a need for change in the discipline.

"There have been three world synods that have spoken of celibacy, and it was decided to maintain this discipline, and I myself believe that celibacy is a good for the Church."

At present I don't have access to his full address. If I get it, I will post it or a link to it here.

Ratzinger et al. called for reexamination of clerical celibacy

I've translated the 1970 letter of Ratzinger and eight other theologians to the German bishops, which was republished in Pipeline 2/2010, under the title "A reminder to the signatories" (Den Unterfertigten zur Erinnerung), and which has been in a number of newspapers in the past few days.

Some of the parts of the letter that the newspapers for some reason or other aren't citing… :

I. … We are convinced that the freely chosen state of remaining unmarried in the sense of Matthew 19 not only presents a meaningful possibility of christian existence, one which is at all times indispensable for the Church as a sign of its eschatological character, but that there are also good theological grounds for the connection of the freely chosen unmarried state and the priestly office, since this office brings the officeholder definitively and completely into the service of Christ and his Church. In this sense we affirm what was recently said in the "Letter of the German Bishops on the Priestly Office" (See n. 45, par 4; n. 53, par 2). And in this sense we are also convinced that whatever the outcome of the discussion, the unmarried priesthood will remain an essential form of the priesthood in the Latin Church.

V…

Such a positive stocktaking and working through of the problem must also occur because the reality of celibacy itself in the conditions of present-day publicity and society must be presented in an understandable and meaningful manner—so far as possible—granting all knowledge of very clear limits of this endeavor. It will remain a "scandal", but this does not excuse one from promoting and recommending it with the best reasons, in the event that an examination is seriously undertaken and can arrive at positive results (see above, section 1). If we know that celibacy is primarily a fruit of spiritual experience, we must still, as representatives of the science of theology, draw attention to this positive, clarifying, and unavoidable function of an examination.

Read the whole letter

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.