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Monday, 16 January 2012

An Unusual, Controversial Catholic Subject-Celibacy in Marriage

Now, I am not married, but I live a celibate life-style. However, I have an increasing number of friends, traditional Catholics, who have opted for celibacy in their marriages. This is not a new ideal in the Church, and although Christ wants most married couples to be fruitful and multiply, that is, to have the wonderful children God desires them to have, there have been and are couples, who for the sake of the kingdom, have chosen a different way. Of course, the norm, having children as God gives, creates saints, such as Blessed Louis and  Blessed Zelie Martin, Blessed Karl and Empress Zita, SS. Joachim and Anna, SS. Isidore and Maria (who vowed abstinence later in their marriage), and so on. This is not an exhaustive list.

However, the emphasis on celibacy should be rare, but seen as a call within a call. I also think there has to be good reason for not having children. The grand example are two of my favorite Catholics, Jacques and Raissa Maritain, who on the Isle of Wight, as Benedictine Oblates, took a vow of celibacy "for the sake of the Kingdom". Raissa writes in her diary, which I practically have memorized, that it was difficult for her, but she could see that Jacques was called to be in the world and she was his prayer backup, companion in holiness, and confidant, as well as best-friend. They shared philosophy, theology, and the dedication to bringing the Gospel into the workplace in the extreme. God called them to this.

I first met celibate married couples about twenty-five years ago. The first couple I met were in their forties and had a close relationship with the Church and the priest who was the pastor. They were very active in the Church, but did not have normal marital relations. They had chosen that way and had married later in life. The man had been in the Jesuit seminary for years, but left, as he did not think he had a priestly vocation. He found a wife who would support him in his spiritual walk. The second couple I met were in their early sixties. They had decided that past child-bearing age, they would make a celibate commitment. Since then, I have met another couple who have decided the same thing. Their "extra" time is spent in good works, praying and fasting. Obviously, these couples have spiritual directors. This call within a call is, also, obviously, by mutual consent.

Those with a worldly mindset and even some good Catholics may find this call repelling or unnatural. I would say that this call is rare, but not unnatural. I think that those who decide to live in the world, or are called so by God to remain among the laity, can exhibit a variety of calls "for the sake of the Kingdom". And, to be in a relationship which is celibate may be a sign of contradiction to the world as well as giving two people the necessary, daily support a brother and sister in Christ may give to each other. Intimacy has many faces, and the physical side of intimacy is only one aspect of relationship. I have written this to support my friends who have chosen this way and to encourage those who feel the need for companionship without sex to be comforted in that they are not alone. We are all called to be saints, and there are many ways, in Christ, through Mary, to be saints.

In addition, God did not intend people to live all alone. The fact that there are so many single, lonely individuals needs to be addressed by the Church. Those who for whatever reason cannot be a priest or nun or sister, have some options, but loneliness should not be the norm. Church communities have failed, especially in America, to support their singles. Many Catholics are singles for many reasons. There exists a judgmental attitude, which excludes those singles from the larger interaction in the Church. And, for those who desire celibacy in the world, that is an option, but it does not have to equal loneliness. I am very fortunate, as I do not experience the gnawing type of loneliness some do. I may miss my dear friends when apart from them, but that is different than the vague experience of loneliness many feel. We all need to reach out to those who feel this need, pray for them, and include them in our busy lives. To do otherwise is not to be Christian.


Judged By What I Do said...

Very interesting argument that I've never seen before. I disagree because because celibacy is the not the norm for marriage. The fruit of marriage is to have children. The conjugal act of man and woman as one is fulfilled by having relations. It is dangerous to have one way of life with another. A celibate needs to not worry about the married life and a married person should not worry about celibacy. There is nothing more beautiful than a man and a woman becoming one. The selfishness between the two is gone as one. People not having children is selfish and it sound like what some liberals would say to not having kids. I'm a good person and want to do this other things, rather than fulfill my role as a spouse. There really is no point to being married is the two do not become one. We might as well have married priests since we're switching roles.

Supertradmum said...

Judged by....
That the Church has sanctioned celibacy in marriage by canonizing some who practiced it, as partially listed here, indicates that the life of celibacy is, in the hierarchy of state, or call, a higher call than marital relations. It is the liberal members of the Church who have downgraded celibacy, making it equal to marriage, which is not true in the long tradition of the Church. The vocation to the priesthood is the highest call, followed by that of the religious, then the married state. Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God is not selfishness, but the opposite, selflessness. I think you missed the point that marriage relations may be sacrificed for a higher good, such as a role in the large Church. Rare, but acceptable. Of course, the norm is having children, but there are always cases which are not found in the normative state. Remember, that the Eastern rites in the Catholic Church do allow married priests, such as the Ukrainian Byzatines and the Ruthenians, among others. I am friends with a great couple in Canada and the man is a Catholic Byzantine priest.

Supertradmum said...

May I quote St. Augustine on this as well."Believers in Christ are taught not to think carnal connection the chief thing in marriage, as if without this they could not be man and wife, but to imitate in Christian wedlock as closely as possible the parents of Christ, that so they may have the more intimate union with the members of Christ."

And, again, the great Doctor of the Church writes:

"But God forbid that the nuptial bond should be regarded as broken between those who have by mutual consent agreed to observe a perpetual abstinence from the use of carnal concupiscence. Nay, it will be only a firmer one, whereby they have exchanged pledges together, which will have to be kept by a special endearment and concord—not by the voluptuous links of bodies, but by the voluntary affections of souls. For it was not deceitfully that the angel said to Joseph: Fear not to take unto you Mary your wife. Matthew 1:20 She is called his wife because of her first troth of betrothal, although he had had no carnal knowledge of her, nor was destined to have. The designation of wife was neither destroyed nor made untrue, where there never had been, nor was meant to be, any carnal connection."

Supertradmum said...

By the way,there are 119 married couples who are saints, but some are martyred couples, such as SS Adrian and Natalia. Some people think that St. Therese's parents are the first married couple to be raised at the altar, but this is not the case. As to saints who were married and celibate, besides Isidore and Maria listed above, there are Bl. Bartolo Longo and Countess Mariana di Fusco. I shall leave other examples to the readers.

Supertradmum said...

By the way, I shall give my readers a hint as to some of the other Josephite Marriages which have been recognized by beatification-as I am from Luxembourg descent, I know of one famous couple--hint, and as another couple was just made blessed in 2001.

Judged By What I Do said...

The openness to fertility from The Catechism of the Catholic Church

1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory."160

Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: "It is not good that man should be alone," and "from the beginning (he) made them male and female"; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: "Be fruitful and multiply." Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.161

1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children.162 In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.163

1654 Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.

We can't play God in this, married couples are granted by God the gift to have children. Not all couples through infertility have this gift. Thus, if one uses a good gift like celibacy for bad means not having children while married, then there is a problem.

Supertradmum said...

Hello again, Judge,

Are you not confusing the norm with the rare? You cannot be so dogmatic as to expect every marriage to be the same. The Church does not do that. And, I made the case for the higher calling of celibacy. We have St.Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the prime example of what is posted.

Supertradmum said...


I remind you that the Canon Law regarding permanent deacons requires that they remain celibate after ordination. Unless the wife agrees with this, the man should not be ordained. Here is a file on the backing of that law, which has not been abrogated to my knowledge.

Anita Moore said...

Firstly, a note on terminology: we often use "celibacy" and "continence" interchangeably. But celibacy, properly speaking, is the renunciation of marriage. I think the subject in hand is more properly thought of as continence within marriage.

Judged: what is required for a valid marriage is that the parties be capable of consummating the marriage. Pre-existing and permanent impotence is an impediment to marriage. But I challenge you to show me some authority that affirmatively requires spouses to make use of their marital rights. The openness to fertility to which you refer, and for which you appeal to the CCC for support, does not translate into a requirement to use the marital rights, but to a requirement to avoid the grave sin of contraception. There is all the difference in the world between continence and contracepting.

In addition to the quotes from St. Augustine given by Supertradmum, I give you the Angelic Doctor, from Question 61, Art. III of the Summa:

Reply to Objection 1. When both consorts take a like vow of continence, neither renounces the marriage tie, wherefore it still remains: but when only one takes the vow, then for his own part he renounces the marriage tie, wherefore the other is freed therefrom.

There is thus no incompatibility between continence and marriage, provided both spouses consent.

By the way, Catholic Encyclopedia (online in its entirety at the New Advent website) may not be magisterial, but a good point, relevant to this discussion, is made there in the article on continence. Ask yourself whether, in this decadent age, this does not ring true:

It is contended that a state of continence means failure to discharge the social obligation of conserving the species. But such an obligation falls, not upon every member of the community, but upon society at large, and is amply discharged though there be individual exceptions. Indeed the non-fulfillment of this duty is never threatened by a too general observance of sexual abstinence. On the contrary it is only the unlawful gratification of carnal passion that can menace the due growth of population.

gemoftheocean said...

But here is para: 3 of the law:
' § 3. The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation.'

In my neck of the woods this is called 'wiggle room.' And frankly, any bishop would be an idiot to require it of his married deacons and priests. [After a wife dies, that's another thing!]

In other words, a bishop isn't going to tempt married couples with mortal sin.

If you can find ONE bishop who insists on celibacy for the married priests and deacons I'd be surprised!

Anita Moore said...

And frankly, any bishop would be an idiot to require it of his married deacons and priests.

You're probably right, because how many of these married clerics -- particularly permanent deacons, and not to mention their wives -- were advised of this requirement of the clerical state before entering it?

But that doesn't mean celibacy is not a requirement of the clerical state in the Latin Rite. We have simply behaved as though it's not, which is a problem.

Supertradmum said...

Those of you who are more expert than I am on the terms, can we state that celibacy may involve a vow and continence not, as involving more a personal than a formal agreement?

Supertradmum said...


Here is the link on the Canon Law requiring permanent deacons to be celibate and it looks clear to me that there is no wiggle room.

Fr John said...

On the matter of terminology, it is much better to speak of continence within marriage. Broadly speaking, celibacy does indeed mean abstention from married relations. But strictly speaking, celibacy means living alone.

Priests make a promise of celibacy. In contrast, religious make a vow of chastity, since they will not usually live alone, but in community. By the same logic, a married couple who abstain from conjugal relations are better described as continent, rather than celibate.

Supertradmum said...

Thank you, but why do some of the Vatican documents refer to
"continence within celibacy" as if there is a state within a state of being? This is very interesting. So, if a lay person is living alone and is completely continent, or chaste, can such, as I, claim I am living a celibate life, as I do, without a vow?

Anita Moore said...

So, if a lay person is living alone and is completely continent, or chaste, can such, as I, claim I am living a celibate life, as I do, without a vow?

I also live alone and in continence. But I would not describe myself as celibate, because I have not renounced marriage. The distinction between continence and celibacy is well taken, because, while celibacy (the renunciation of marriage) necessarily entails a requirement of continence (sex being lawful only within marriage), continence does not necessarily entail a requirement of celibacy.

I would not make the presence or absence of a vow a distinction between continence and celibacy, because Aquinas talks of married couples -- who by definition are not celibate -- making vows of continence.

Supertradmum said...

Thanks, all for the illuminating comments. I think there is more to be said on this, but these definitions are helpful. I still want to know what the phrase, "continence within celibacy" means.

Supertradmum said...

Father John,

Thanks for your earlier comment and if you have time, can you look up the Vatican term, which I found in more than one document, "continence in celibacy"?