Celibacy and Marriage: Is one really better than the other?


#1

Salvete, omnes.

As a person who has been exploring Catholicism for several months now with the possibility in mind of eventual conversion, the following issue has been bothering me for some time now: celibacy as a “higher” calling than marriage

In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul states, as he speaks of celibacy, that he wishes that all men were as he was. Even though he makes it clear that this is his “opinion” and not any doctrinal issue, he still puts himself forward as a “trustworthy” witness of the things of God, apparently intending to lend some weight to his statements on the matter, so this makes me more hesitant outright to dismiss, as some do, these positions of his on celibacy, though I suppose some could counter that the very fact that he had to make such statements about his “opinions” indicates that he himself may have had some sense that something was not quite doctrinal (right?) about htem, though, again, they are part of inspired Scripture, so, perhaps they should carry some weight with us(?).

At any rate, I have always understood the Catholic Church to believe that celibacy was a “higher” vocation than the married life. However, I have also been hearing lately many Catholics considering both paths to God as different but equal. (I’ve even heard this from folks in such reputable places as EWTN Radio make such statements.) Some here have even claiemd–though I’ve no direct evidence of this–that both Vatican II and Pope John Paul II seemed to lean toward this view. However, as I have read up on the subject, the Council of Trent seems dogmatically and indeed infallibly to have determined that anyone who says that celibacy is not better than marriage is to be considered anathema.

So, what gives? Are marriage and celibacy equal paths to holiness, to God? Or can both be right? Is someone in error here? Is this a case where doctrine has changed over time?

I myself have always struggled with the idea of marriage being a “distraction” to serving God, but, rather, I’ve always seen it as just another way to serve God. After all, the word “distraction” has a very negative connotation to it as if marriage inherently keeps one from serving God. Rather, I’ve always thought that marriage is an equal way to serve God through serving spouse and children. After all, isn’t the highest and best way to serve God is to serve others? The contemplative and solitary life is great, of course, but it truly only benefits the individual engaging in it in and of itself. I would agree that the celibate life does free up more time to do other things in regard to serving God other than serving the family. Still, I just don’t understand why serving the family is put at such a low level as opposed to being an equal way of serving God right up there with, say, helping the poor. Indeed, the view that celibacy is superior to marriage seems not only to denigrate sex–created by God, by the way–but also the very family life so often lauded by Catholics today.

If marriage is indeed a “higher” calling, in what way is it “higher”? Is it morally “better”? Is it spiritually and/or essentially “better”? And, why, exactly, is the celibatte life “better”? Please do elaborate on your answers.

In any case, if celibacy is somehow “better and more blessed” as I believe Trent put it, than shouldn’t every Christian strive for this life? Why is the particular calling to celibacy, then, not encouraged for all Christians, if it’s not the better calling?

Gratias.


#2

Also, forgot to mention…

These days, as I say, the family/family life seems to be lauded to the skies in Catholic circles, as well as the natural-ness of the order ofthe traditional family. Yet, celibacy is in essence unnatural; it goes against the natural order that God seems to have deisgned in us for traditional family life. Therefore, if celibacy is better/higher/more blessed than marriage, why does it seem to go against the naturally designed order of God?


#3

Well yes, there is plenty of documents from.saints, st Paul.as.you mentioned, etc. That indicate that celibacy is the preferred vocation. However that doesn’t mean that you cannot achieve holiness through marriage. Just recently we had a.married couple taken to the altars. Also the catch 22 is that without one you cannot have the other one. If you don’t have any Christian and faithful marriages in which children are raised you won’t have anyone practicing celibacy (don’t believe me…just look at the current situation in which society has become secularized, divorce is rampant, SSM and people frowns upon anyone that believes in celibacy).


#4

I sometimes find myself jealous of those who have been called to celibacy-- because they have an autonomy that I don’t have. I’m tied to my husband, my family. Someone who’s called to the single life, whether within our outside of religious or communal life, has an amazing degree of independence, because no one else is dependent on them for x. So in that way, they have the opportunity to be wholehearted and undistracted from their pursuit of heavenly things. I find myself self-conscious around my nominally-Christian husband, because we don’t perceive the world the same way. I want to support charitable organization x; he perceives it as a waste of money and tells me I can’t, so guess what. I can’t, and I have to find other ways to help causes. He occasionally goes to Mass with me (he doesn’t care for the current priest, because English isn’t his first language, and he’s a bit halting with-- pauses in the-- wrong spots and that-- annoys him) and I always find myself wondering, “Will he like the homily? Is he going to object to something? Is Father going to make some sort of fallacious statement, and is DH going to notice?” Single people don’t generally have that kind of hyper-awareness or caring about what other people think about x, and sometimes, that gets in the way of your own pursuits.

On the other hand, as a mom, I get to participate in creation. I get entrusted with the people God has sent to me, and it’s my job to cultivate them to know, serve, and love God, and help them be the best people God created them to be. That’s pretty awesome! Not even the angels get that privilege. :wink:

So— for the single life, you’re getting to emulate the heavenly existence. You don’t have distractions. You have autonomy and independence. You have the opportunity for a thousand children, instead of just a handful of biological ones. :wink: And in that way, it’s a higher calling.


#5

Scripture tells us simply there is no marriage in heaven. Those who are celibate point to the world to come, our salvation. This is why it is higher, even though Marriage is a nobel and very important vocation and is essential to the spreading of the kingdom.


#6

Celibacy is a higher calling than marriage. But it is NOT a better calling than marriage. It is simply different.

It is like of like macroeconomics vs microeconomics.

Celibacy is “higher” because you are dedicating you’re spiritual life to the betterment of the whole world: either by being a priest or a religious lay person (nun, sister, brother) by focusing on service and/or constant prayer for the human race.

The use of the word “higher” does NOT imply that marriage is “lower.” Marriage is not a lower calling than celibacy, it is rather a more narrow or more focused calling.

The Celibate focuses on the entire human family; they focus their love & spiritual endeavors on the whole Church on a macro level (or higher level). They (especially the priests & bishops) are responsible for trying to get everyone in their parish/diocese to Heaven.

In contrast, the married person focuses on rearing Children of God. Parents, grandparents, God parents, etc. focus on family, which is the building block of the Church and society. The family is the “domestic Church,” or a “micro church.” Married couples are responsible for focusing on helping their spouse & children get into heaven.

So again, married people focus their love & spiritual endeavors on helping the Church in a micro level (or a focused level, not a lower level).

I pray this helps.

God Bless!


#7

I understand why you may have a tendency to say this. Marriage is a very valuable and very important calling, you can become holy in married, we just canonized a married couple. But this is not what the Church nor Scripture says. Celibacy is in fact better and higher than marriage. This isn’t to belittle marriage, or make marriage look evil or something, but it speaks to the simple fact that Celibacy is better than marriage because of where it points, and the fact that a celibate person anticipates how in heaven we will not have marriage.

Pope John Paul II , Vita Consecrata, no. 32: “As a way of showing forth the Church’s holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ’s own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church’s purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery,[62] will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt. 22:30)”

this is a biblical teaching as I think the Church has always made clear. I don’t have time to go into the biblical justification of these things but I may try and do that later.

It’s hard to understand in our contemporary mindset, but celibacy is better than marriage. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t marry, but it is still true that celibacy is superior to marriage.


#8

Interesting posts so far. Please do keep them coming…

Again, though, if celibacy is qualitatively better than marriage, than why shouldn’t all Christians prefer celibacy to marriage? Why would that not be the ideal if celibacy is qualitatively better than marriage? Would this then not make celibacy the ideal and, thus, the thing for which all Christians should strive?

Also, if this is the case, why did God even allow for marriage if marriage is somehow lacking and, thus, arguably, imperfect? Yes, some may argue that it has been made imperfect by the sinfulness of this fallen world, but, if this is the case, why did God not nullify marriage completely immediately after the Fall and require celibacy from that point on?

Some have argued that the better/worse(?) dichotomy is more subjective than objective. If you wish to focus on full-time ministry, for instance, as a religious, then, of course, celibacy frees you up more fully to accomplish this mission which should be the total focus of your life if you are called to such a position. However, if you do not feel called to full-time devotion in this way, then marriage is your highest calling. Therefore, the higher vs. lower calling is more subjective depending on your goals in this life. I’ve heard this argument a number of times of late and wonder what folks think of it. Valid? Not valid? Why or why not?

I’ve also wondered whether the Trent declaration is actually referring not to celibacy most broadly but to religious celibacy. After all, as I understand it, much of this Council was devoted to refting a notion that priests should be married and that marriage was superior to celibacy, but particularly as stated in the context of the religious life. And, again, consdering what I posited just prior to this paragraph, that would certainly make sense. What do folks think of this angle?

The “wider” vs. “narrower” calling that a previous poster mentioned here is an interesting way to look at it and it seemed very cogently argued. For those who either agree or disagree with this position, I would be interested to hear your positions and why you take them.

And, again, for those who think celibacy is qualitatively better, why, precisely, is it? Yes, it is the way it will be in heaven, but, why is it the way it will be in heaven? What, very specifically, gives celibacy its qualitative superiority?


#9

I don’t want to get into semantics, but celibacy is superior to marriage, but it is not “better”

St. John Paul doesn’t say that celibacy is better than marriage, he says it’s superior.

When something is “better” than something else, it has more good and the other thing less good.

Marriage and Celibacy are both good.

One is not more good than the other.

But Celibacy is superior.

For example: a General in the army is superior to a Major. A General receives better pay than a Major, but the rank of “General” is not better than the rank of “Major.” It is superior, it is different, has more responsibility, etc… but it is not “better.”

As a Catholic, when you say celibacy is better than marriage, I personally know what you mean. But to say that to someone who doesn’t understand the gift of celibacy, it doesn’t make sense. Because linguistically speaking, celibacy isn’t “better” than marriage, it’s simply the opposite.

Theologically, celibacy is superior and higher than marriage, but it’s not “better.” If it was better, then we would all be called to Celibacy instead of simply Chastity (which would end the human race).

I pray I’m making sense.

Again, I 100% agree that theologically, celibacy IS a higher and superior calling vs. marriage because it reflects the situation in Heaven, but it is not a “better” calling - it is simply “different.”


#10

Very well stated. :thumbsup:


#11

#12

What is “best” is to please the Lord. Those who are called to celibacy and answer the call please the Lord. Those who are called to marriage and answer the call please the Lord.

(There is also a school of thought that God may move a soul to the understanding that he/she will please God by choosing either path, but for the purposes of this post, I kept it simple above. :o)


#13

You are quite astute for realizing that traditionally in Catholicism celibacy has been exalted above marriage; in Catholicism today most people believe the heretical notion that marriage is as good as celibacy. Of course it must be noted that marriage’s inferiority to celibacy does not make it less valid a path to God as EWTN points out. We must also take care to remember that the superiority of celibacy does not make marriage in any way bad or that marital intercourse is sinful or otherwise dirty.

The family is not viewed as low, it is viewed as a great good, whereas celibacy is the most excellent good.

The excessive praise for the family has had a role in the vocations crisis of today. Celibacy is higher because it allows one to more fully focus on God and others.

Every baptised person who dies in a state of grace will get to Heaven eventually. I wonder how much the prayers for them from their children helped them become saints faster.


#14

not going to argue this on the vocation board,

There is a lot of things I can bring into this discussion, but let me just articulate my best understanding of this position.

You can’t ignore 1 corinthians 7:38

“So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.”

I understand wha you are trying to get across, and I understand why you think we should avoid using the words better, the problem is these are the words St. Paul himself uses. (the greek word translates better or preferable) In the long standing tradition of the Church, the elevation of continence for the kingdom (celibacy) it has always seen it as higher, better, superior. It is the words Paul himself uses. Why go against St. Paul an Apostle of Christ, not one of the first twelve but still an Apostle.

What we have to explain is that when we say celibacy is better than marriage we aren’t degrading marriage, and the beauty of it is that those who live out countenance for the sake of the kingdom, in consecrated life or priestly life, live out a FULLER meaning of the body.

Let me try to use an analogy, Think about Martha and Mary, Martha wasn’t doing something bad, she was serving the Lord doing good works for the Lord, but Mary sat by the Lord and listened to him, she choose the better part. Now I would say the understanding is similar here, those who marry do well, just like martha, those who are celibate are doing better.

Don’t forget what Christ said, not all are able to receive this, but let those who can receive it. This is why some men are called others aren’t.

I challenge you, to try to explain this with using better, because any time we try to water down biblical language to not offend someone or make it sound better can be destructive. Don’t be afraid to say Celibacy is better than Marriage, but Marriage is still a good.


#15

Once you experienced how hard celibacy is you’d probably stop being jealous. Being celibate outside of a religious space such as a convent can get very lonely, by the 30s your friends are pairing off and by your 40s while being surrounded by people you have become so isolated you might as well be a hermit.

That celibacy is a greater good than marriage does not mean that marriage is not a good, a lesser good is still a good.

[quote=Pope Pius XII]When one thinks upon the maidens and the women who voluntarily renounce marriage in order to consecrate themselves to a higher life of contemplation, of sacrifice, and of charity, a luminous word comes immediately to the lips: vocation!.. This vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse manners… But also the young Christian woman, remaining unmarried in spite of herself, who nevertheless trusts in the providence of the heavenly Father, recognizes in the vicissitudes of life the voice of the Master: “Magister adest et vocat te” (John 11:28); It is the master, and he is calling you! She responds, she renounces the beloved dream of her adolescence and her youth: to have a faithful companion in life, to form a family! And in the impossibility of marriage she recognizes her vocation; then, with a broken but submissive heart, she also gives her whole self to more noble and diverse good works. (Address to Italian Women, October 21, 1945, AAS 37 (1945), 287).
[/quote]


#16

If you want to get deeper into this there is no better place to look than St.John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body I believe there is a section in the book talking strictly about “Celibacy for the Kingdom.” He talks about the Scripture verses where Jesus talks about enuchs. God Bless!


#17

I think this is why people get confused, since higher calling may also mean better calling which is not the case.


#18

I agree with what you are saying. And I totally agree.

However, the problem in this case isn’t the watering down of Church teaching, but differences in the English language, and the different levels of mastering it.

It’s like using the word “pray” or “worship” today. Many protestants think we worship Mary because we have prayers to Mary and in some older English versions of some devotional prayers, the word “worship” is used.

Another great is example of language changing is Holy Ghost vs. Holy Spirit in English. In Latin, the Third Person of the Trinity was always Holy Spirit, but over the years the word spirit gained a negative notion in English, in part, due to the phrase “evil spirit.” But if you follow the correct/historical root of the word “spirit” you will realize that you can’t have an evil spirit because “spirit” is derived from God. “Evil spirit” isn’t the correct term, “demon” is.

When talking to people who are not Catholic, we have use language that is going to best communicate the correct message because we don’t know their level of mastery of the English language.

Anyway, my point is once someone properly understands “Celibacy is a higher calling than marriage”, then they can properly understand the ways it is better, as St. Paul teaches. But when people don’t understand the concept, they believe it’s because we are saying marriage is less holy, etc.

Again, we have to understand that English is not a stable language, and it varies greatly over time and according to region & education levels.

I would never condone watering down the teachings of the Church. But I do believe we sometimes need to water down the English language, which after all, is the hardest language to master.

God Bless you and God bless you for entering the seminary.


#19

All right, let me just say that I have never at all gotten the whole so-called “hierarchy of goods” notion. To me, it iss utterly illogical and the analogies so far used, I think, are really comparing apples to proverbial oranges.

If Object A is good and Object B is better, than, to me, that necessarily means that Object A is lacking in some goodness compared to Object B. To substitute marriage and celibacy, if marriage is good but celibacy is better, then marriage is lacking goodness in some way that celibacy is not. Frankly, as I understand it, there is good and there is bad. In and of themselves they cannot be lacking in themselves. Pure Good is Perfect Good. Pure Bad/Evil is “Perfect” Bad/Evil. Essentially, they cannot lack in any way, neither one of them. Something can only be lacking in good or bad in relation to something else. To keep to our present topic, as I’ve stated, celibacy may be “better” than marriage because it frees up time/attention to attend to a broader Christian mission, but marriage may be better than celibacy because marriage allows one to have a constant companion in life and helps the individual to experience and give a love in a relationship that, as much as possible, is to mirrow the love expressed between God and His Church. (Of course, now that I think on it, this could be an arguable point as well.) All right, then. While celibacy may be better for the person called to full-time religious work/devotion, marriage may be better for him who is not called to such work.

You can’t just say something is “good” and something else is “better” without qualification, I think, especially if you’re calling both of these things good.

I mean, it only makes sense! If one thing is absolutely more “good” then the other, it is only logical that we should all pursue the “better” thing. If gold is laid in front of me as is tin, chances are I (and you, if you’re of sound mind and everything else is equal) are going to choose the gold because you have judged it, for beauty, rarity or whatnot, to be “better” than the tin. On the other hand, if you are building a building, would you choose to build with softer gold or with, say, iron? In this case, you will use iron because your end is different, not based on your desire for beauty or rarity. So, in this case, if gold and iron are placed before you, iron is better because it is better suited to your purpose.

Again, this is why I cannot and never have been able to wrap my mind around the whole marriage=good, celibacy=better…full stop, deal.

If I am completely off, here, could someone please correct me and explain to me in a way that makes logical sense this apparent “hierachy of goods” as it relates to marriage/celibacy?

As always, all the other questions/issues I’ve raised are still out there. Still interested in your responses to these as well.

Thanks again.


#20

Protestants also hold to a hierarchy of goods as well. This time it’s reversed. Marriage being the highest ideal for any given Christian with celibacy being lesser. Not necessarily sinful, but far from ideal.


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