Moral Briefs – Chapter XLIV – The Vow of Chastity

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonReligious are sometimes called celibates. Now, a celibate, one of the bachelor persuasion, is a person who considers himself or herself good enough company in this life, and chooses single blessedness in preference to the not unmixed joys of wedlock. This alone is sufficient to make one a celibate, and nothing more is required. Religious do not wed; but, specifically, that is all there is in common between them. All celibates are not chaste; celibacy is not necessarily chastity, by a large majority. Unless something other than selfishness suggests this choice of life, the word is apt to be a misnomer for profligacy. And one who takes the vow of celibacy does not break it by sinning against the Sixth Commandment; he is true to it until he weds. The religious vow is something more than this.

Again, chastity, by itself, does not properly designate the state of religious men and women. Chastity is moral purity, but purity is a relative term, and admits of many degrees. It is perfect or imperfect. There is a conjugal chastity; while in single life, it may concern itself with the body, with or without reference to the mind and heart. Chastity reaches its highest form when it excludes everything carnal, what is lawful as well as what is unlawful, thoughts and desires as well as deeds.

This is the chastity that is proper to religious, and it is more correctly called virginity. This is the natural state of spirits who have no bodies; cultivated in the frail flesh of children of Adam, it is the most delicate flower imaginable. Considering the incessant struggle it supposes in those who take such a vow against the spirit within us that is so strong, the taking and keeping of it indicate a degree of fortitude little short of heroism. Only the few, and that few relying wholly on the grace of God, can aspire to this state.

From a spiritual point of view, there can be no question as to the superiority of this state of life over all others. The teaching of Saint Paul to the Corinthians is too plain to need any comment, not to mention the example of Christ, His Blessed Mother, His disciples and all those who in the course of time have loved God best and served Him most generously.

Prescinding from all spiritual considerations and looking at things through purely human eyes, vows of this sort must appear prejudicial to the propagation of the species. In fact, they go against the law of nature which says: increase and multiply, so we are told.

If that law is natural as well as positive, it is certain that it applies to man collectively, and not individually. It is manifested only in the instinct that makes this duty a pleasure. Where the inclination is lacking, the obligation is not obvious. That which is repugnant is not natural, in any true sense of the word; whether this repugnance be of the intellectual or spiritual order, it matters not, for our nature is spiritual as truly as it is animal. The law of nature forces no man into a state that is not in harmony with his sympathies and affections.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that to a certain extent the race suffers numerically from an institution that fosters abstention from marriage. To what extent, is an entirely different question. Not all laymen marry. It is safe to say that the vast majority of religious men, vow or no vow, would never wed; so that the vow is not really to blame for their state, and the consequences thereof. As for women, statistics show it to be impossible for all to marry since their number exceeds that of men.

Now, marriage with the fair sex, is very often a matter of competition. Talent, beauty, character, disposition and accomplishments play a very active role in the acquisition of a husband. Considering that the chances of those who seek refuge under the veil are not of the poorest, since they are the fairest and best endowed of our daughters, it would seem to follow that their act is a charity extended to their less fortunate sisters who are thereby aided to success, instead of being doomed to failure by the insufficiency of their own qualifications.

Be this as it may, what we most strenuously object to, is that vows be held responsible for the sins of others. In some countries and sections of countries, the population is almost stationary in marked contrast to that of others. Looking for the cause for this unnatural phenomenon, there are who see it in the spread of monasticism, with its vow of chastity. They fail to remark that not numerous, but large families are the best sign of vigor in a nation. Impurity, not chastity, is the enemy of the race. Instead of warring against those whose lives are pure, why not destroy that monster that is gnawing at the very vitals of the race, sapping its strength at the very font of life, that modern Moloch, to whom fashionable society offers sacrifice more abominable than the hecatombs of Carthage. This iniquity, rampant wherever the sense of God is absent, and none other, is the cause which some people do not see because they have good reasons for not wanting to see. It is very convenient to have someone handy to accuse of one’s own faults. It is too bad that the now almost extinct race of Puritans did not have a few monks around to blame for the phenomenon of their failure to keep abreast of the race.

If celibacy, therefore, means untrammeled vice, and marriage degenerates into New Englandism, the world will get along better with less of both. Vows, if they have no other merit, respect at least the law of God, and this world is run according to that law.