Confused about 1 Cor 7: Is Marriage Really Second Rate?


#1

Okay, married folk and smart Catholic people. :)

I was trying to write a reflective devotional today on marriage-related things (in response to my marriage prep assignment to read Fr. Wojtyla's "Love & Responsibility") and noted he recommended reading 1 Cor 7. So I flipped open my Bible.

Given how beautifully JPII spoke of marriage and sexuality, this scripture is very jarring for me. Yes, I've read it before, but it really hit me just now how "second rate" marriage sounds in this passage. Paul really seems to emphasize that while marriage isn't a sin (gee thanks Paul LOL), it's just not the best path in life. Stick to celibacy unless you just REALLY can't control yourself. (Huh? Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me. I want to marry a man who CAN control his passions).

I just got really depressed and confused reading this passage. Here I am getting married, and it sounds like God has either called me to the second-rate vocation (huh?) or perhaps *I *am just lacking in self-control to embrace the "better" vocation? Where's does marriage being one of the Seven Sacraments and a beautiful reflection of God and a path to holiness and true Godly love fit into all this? Because Paul seems pretty adamant here that just about everyone is better off than married people - spiritually and materially - and it's really ideal to avoid it.

Sorry my thoughts aren't coherent. I guess what I am looking for here is some wise Catholic reading and encouragement explaining/putting this passage in perspective. B/c I feel Paul just slammed my vocation lol (and being God's Word, I almost fee a little rejected by God in reading this. Am I crazy?).


#2

I think you have to take Paul's word for what it is: an opinion of a man (either never married or no longer married) who was not expecting the world to continue in its current form for more than a few years. Had Paul known that we would be puzzling over his words two millennia later perhaps he would have had something different to say.

Paul believed it was better to have the freedom to serve all members of the Body of Christ over having an obligation/vocation to put the needs of a particular member of the Body of Christ first.

I don't believe it occurred to Paul that there would be a genuine need to perpetuate the human species so that the Body of Christ could continue to exist. Then (and really today also) there are enough potential converts such that even if no current Catholics have children the Church would still continue.


#3

Jesus instituted the sacrament of marriage, as well as Holy Orders. Jesus is God, and God is perfect, so marriage is perfectly ordained for a man and a woman.

The key is are YOU called to the vocation of marriage. If so, then it is what God wants for you. If that is what God wants for you, then it is His perfect will - and nothing is second rate to God's perfect will.

Here's what Paul said:

Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

1 Corinthians 7, 7
I think this reflects what I said, personally. I think the gift of Holy Orders or a vocation to other religious life is beautiful as it is a direct marriage to Jesus (for women) or His Church (for men). Paul feels the joy in this vocation, and wishes everyone to feel his joy. However, Paul recognizes that each person has a personal gift from God.

So, in a sense it is "better" to have a direct marriage to God. Nevertheless, if what God calls you to do is to be married, then it is the perfect plan for YOU, and you should embrace it with all your heart!

Anyway, I think the bottom line is that if you are called to marriage, then it cannot be second rate because (1) Jesus raised marriage to a sacrament and (2) it is God's perfect plan for the person called to marriage.


#4

I wouldn't say that marriage is second rate, but is true and has been stated throughout the history of the Church that celibacy and vocations are a higher state than marriage. The statement assumes that the celibate is spending their full time doing the service of God, praying, fasting etc. I doesn't mean that your average single person today is in a higher state then married, quite the contrary.


#5

Jesus said that marriage was a sacrament. He said that nobody was allowed to divorce, because marriage is the binding of two people into one flesh.

His Apostles were surprised at how strong that command was and realized that a lot of people would have trouble staying with one person. Not only that, but they also realized (because they were Apostles doing God's own work) that doing the work of the Church would be hard to do if one was married and had to stay married. They said, "Maybe it's better to not get married at all."

Jesus said, "Yes, but not everybody can be celibate." Don't forget that children are always seen as signs of blessing and salvation - Jesus blessed littles everywhere and got annoyed with his own Apostles when they wouldn't let mothers bring their littles to be blessed by Christ. And for there to be littles, there have to be parents.

Think of it this way - Marriage is good. Marriage is the reflection of Christ's love for the Church (that's all of us). Marriage is how people become co-creators with God. We fall in love and the product of that love is new life.

So, therefore, marriage is awesome. Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is a step above because it's a way of sacrificing oneself directly for God. It may be placed higher on the "food chain" than marriage, but for celibacy to be so excellent, marriage has to be good. There's nothing wrong with being married, and Christ never implied that there was. :)

Paul was simply poining out that to those who could, the prefered state was celibacy, but not everyone has that vocation.


#6

God directed Adam and Eve to reproduce and multiply, and you can't follow that command by being celibate. IMOHO being married and raising children is first rate, but everyone has opinions :)


#7

It is not as good as the consecrated celibate life and I say that as a married man who has no problem with that whatsoever, however that in no way takes away from the dignity of married life itself as far as I or the Chruch are concerned, they are both good's, the consecrated life is just a greater good, for those who can take it.

Pope John Paul II , Vita Consecrata, 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, will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (c.f., Matt. 22:30).”

Pope Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas, 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.”

Council of Trent:

"If anyone saith that the marriage state is to be preferred before the state of virginity, let him be anathema." ...] "writing to the Corinthians, [Paul] says: I would that all men were even as myself; that is, that all embrace the virtue of continence...A life of continence is to be desired by all.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 916

"The state of the consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come."

If you are called to marriage go and read everything the Church has said about marriage, no one is slamming marriage, start with this:

papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11CASTI.HTM


#8

[quote="Advocatus_Fidei, post:7, topic:203285"]
It is not as good as the consecrated celibate life and I say that as a married man who has no problem with that whatsoever, however that in no way takes away from the dignity of married life itself as far as I or the Chruch are concerned, they are both good's, the consecrated life is just a greater good, for those who can take it.

[/quote]

agreed. I was in a seminary, I left in February. It is a very humbling thing, to know how beautiful the celibate vocation is and to realize that you are not called to it. Marriage is great, celibacy is better, but the vocation you are called to is the best for you, as it's your path to holiness.


#9

I believe that Neal said it very well. It's not that marriage is second rate. The theological question that Paul responds to is about Jesus' teaching concerning celibacy.

The statement made by one poster about Paul not being married and expecting the Kingdom to come shortly is gratuitous. Paul was a theologian. He is responding to a doctrinal question that was posed by the Church of Rome.

At the time, the Roman Christians did not understand why Paul insisted that they remain celibate. Paul attempted to explain that to be as Jesus inplied to adopt not only his teaching, but to become like him.

Herein comes the teaching of the Church. Marriage is a holy sacrament. To be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom is to live as Christ lived, to relate to the Father and to others as he related to them, to offer one's life to God in body and soul as Christ did.

The Council of Trent took up the question of those who challenged Paul's position on celibacy by declaring that is it not only a doctrine that consecrated celibacy is superior to marraige, but those who call it into question are anathema.

That being said, the superiority of the celibate state is not a statment about those who embrace consecrated celibacy. It is the state that is higher on the rank of holiness, not the individual. The individual's superiority is a hierarchical one, not one of holiness. There are many men and women who are not consecrated celibates and are very holy men. Many have become great saints too.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :)


#10

Brother JR, thanks for your instructive posts. The quoted part got me thinking about how the armed forces work. A General is higher in the hierarchy than a Lieutenant or Sergeant, and they are all above a Private. But they all have their essential and irreplaceable roles, including the lower rank military personnel. You cannot run a military operation using an army made up of only Generals, and no lower rank soldiers at all. You need those Privates, Corporals, and Sergeants, and some of the greatest heroes of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who received the US Congressional Medal of Honor, have been military personnel of lower rank.

See at

cmohs.org/

cmohs.org/recent-recipients.php

So, I guess, in the Church, too, we need both celibate and married people, and the married people have no less dignity than the celibate ones. Lower rank, yes, but no less dignity.


#11

Thanks all for your responses! They have provided much for me to think about. I really really like the analogy of military ranks. I think that is what I was looking for... an explanation that helped me grasp that we're all of equal "value" in God's eyes but that doesn;t demean the "higher state" of celibacy (after all, the Scriptures here are sacred so I couldn;t dismiss them!). While reading the scripture I just couldn;t sort it out in my mind how that worked.

On a practical level I also see how say, an Lt can become holy and a General may not (but also can and hopefully will!). The Lt isn't "less" important or less holy, but of a different role and thus ranked differently. It is a great honor to become a General and yet that doesn't diminish the value of the Lt.

As a "high achiever" haha it stings a little to not be chosen as a "general" however it is simply not my calling. Also, I like how it was pointed out that many Saints were not "generals." In particular I love the story of St. Therese who was raised in a very holy family by holy parents. We can;t totally separate her own Sainthood from the formation she received as a child born to holy parents. She also yearned for the priesthood but could not "go there" due to being female! This did not diminish her role as a religious tho... just wasn't her calling. Also, St. Gianna comes to mind as do the many non-religious celibates.


#12

[quote="Joseph_L_Varga, post:10, topic:203285"]
Brother JR, thanks for your instructive posts. The quoted part got me thinking about how the armed forces work. A General is higher in the hierarchy than a Lieutenant or Sergeant, and they are all above a Private. But they all have their essential and irreplaceable roles, including the lower rank military personnel. You cannot run a military operation using an army made up of only Generals, and no lower rank soldiers at all. You need those Privates, Corporals, and Sergeants, and some of the greatest heroes of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who received the US Congressional Medal of Honor, have been military personnel of lower rank.

See at

cmohs.org/

cmohs.org/recent-recipients.php

So, I guess, in the Church, too, we need both celibate and married people, and the married people have no less dignity than the celibate ones. Lower rank, yes, but no less dignity.

[/quote]

Thank you. This is an excellent example of the two kinds of superiority. The one is a rank of hierarchy. You need those or you have chaos. The other is a rank of vocation. Just as the office of the General does not make the General a better human being than the Captain, consecrated celibacy does not make someone holier than than marraige. It's all up to the person to use the gift well.

There were many centuries when this went unquestioned. Today the challenge is coming up again. It's very interesting to see that it's more among Catholics than anyone else. I would remind Catholics to very careful and to be gentle with themselves. Most importantly always ask yourself (universal you) whether your challenge of the superiority of consecrated celibacy comes from the right motives and a real lack of understanding of the Church's teachings.

It is very easy to challenge a teaching, because of one or more of the following:

  1. We don't know that it's an established doctrine of the Church.

  2. We have been contaminated by the world's hatred of the Catholic clergy and religious.

  3. We have insecurities of ouir own that we have never resolved.

  4. We have bought into the lies of the Culture of Death.

  5. We do not separate the person from the sin or the married person from his work. Both can happpen.

In any case. we have to be very careful not to get sucked into the re-brith of anti-clericalism. The best way is to be gentle on ourselves. We don't always have to undersand why the Church subcribes to something. There are things that are very far away from us. We don't hear them every day. We never know that th Church beleives this or teaches that, until it comes up. At that time, it is better to make an act of faith than to try to study every possible event that let to this. The reasont hat I say that is because these kinds of questions are not daily. Why bother with the time and energy required to respond to a question that will not come up again anytime in the near future.

Fraternally,

Br. JR. OSF :)


#13

[quote="ContegoFides, post:3, topic:203285"]
Jesus instituted the sacrament of marriage, as well as Holy Orders. Jesus is God, and God is perfect, so marriage is perfectly ordained for a man and a woman.

The key is are YOU called to the vocation of marriage. If so, then it is what God wants for you. If that is what God wants for you, then it is His perfect will - and nothing is second rate to God's perfect will.

Here's what Paul said:
1 Corinthians 7, 7
I think this reflects what I said, personally. I think the gift of Holy Orders or a vocation to other religious life is beautiful as it is a direct marriage to Jesus (for women) or His Church (for men). Paul feels the joy in this vocation, and wishes everyone to feel his joy. However, Paul recognizes that each person has a personal gift from God.

So, in a sense it is "better" to have a direct marriage to God. Nevertheless, if what God calls you to do is to be married, then it is the perfect plan for YOU, and you should embrace it with all your heart!

Anyway, I think the bottom line is that if you are called to marriage, then it cannot be second rate because (1) Jesus raised marriage to a sacrament and (2) it is God's perfect plan for the person called to marriage.

[/quote]

I also like the point made about differing gifts. This has a very positive connotation to it and I think is very true. :) And the point that God created marriage and He doesn;t create things "second rate."

I have always enjoyed contemplating while looking at images of the Holy Family. God is love, and He shows that love to the world in different ways (but obviously in consistent ways too). I've always hoped and prayed my future marriage (which is now not so far in the future!) would demonstrate God's love to anyone who encountered us just through our relationship and commitment to God (and occasionally using words :)). I feel like our culture is woefully confused about love and faithful marrieds and celibates each have their roles in helping people understand, convert, and experience God;s love.


#14

[quote="JReducation, post:12, topic:203285"]
Thank you. This is an excellent example of the two kinds of superiority. The one is a rank of hierarchy. You need those or you have chaos. The other is a rank of vocation. Just as the office of the General does not make the General a better human being than the Captain, consecrated celibacy does not make someone holier than than marraige. It's all up to the person to use the gift well.

There were many centuries when this went unquestioned. Today the challenge is coming up again. It's very interesting to see that it's more among Catholics than anyone else. I would remind Catholics to very careful and to be gentle with themselves. Most importantly always ask yourself (universal you) whether your challenge of the superiority of consecrated celibacy comes from the right motives and a real lack of understanding of the Church's teachings.

It is very easy to challenge a teaching, because of one or more of the following:

  1. We don't know that it's an established doctrine of the Church.

  2. We have been contaminated by the world's hatred of the Catholic clergy and religious.

  3. We have insecurities of ouir own that we have never resolved.

  4. We have bought into the lies of the Culture of Death.

  5. We do not separate the person from the sin or the married person from his work. Both can happpen.

In any case. we have to be very careful not to get sucked into the re-brith of anti-clericalism. The best way is to be gentle on ourselves. We don't always have to undersand why the Church subcribes to something. There are things that are very far away from us. We don't hear them every day. We never know that th Church beleives this or teaches that, until it comes up. At that time, it is better to make an act of faith than to try to study every possible event that let to this. The reasont hat I say that is because these kinds of questions are not daily. Why bother with the time and energy required to respond to a question that will not come up again anytime in the near future.

Fraternally,

Br. JR. OSF :)

[/quote]

Thank you, Br. JR for your perspective. I personally have wondered about this scripture for years but it hit me hardest the other day. I work in a field where I write and publish content about marriage and also, being in Christian media, get questions about our "weird" Catholic practices of celibacy, so I usually will ask questions and seek answers to just about everything as I feel I need to arm myself with decent answers to questions. :) (And yes I know my typing is sloppy for a professional writer, but I am typing w/ a broken hand so forgive that!!!). :))

I agree tho that some questions really may not require that level of effort put into it. One thing I love about being Catholic is that it seems like our faith is such a deep well with no bottom in sight!!! It can be impossible, it seems, to know and understand *everything *even tho I personally love to learn as much as I can!


#15

[quote="zaramarie81, post:14, topic:203285"]
Thank you, Br. JR for your perspective. I personally have wondered about this scripture for years but it hit me hardest the other day. I work in a field where I write and publish content about marriage and also, being in Christian media, get questions about our "weird" Catholic practices of celibacy, so I usually will ask questions and seek answers to just about everything as I feel I need to arm myself with decent answers to questions. :) (And yes I know my typing is sloppy for a professional writer, but I am typing w/ a broken hand so forgive that!!!). :))

I agree tho that some questions really may not require that level of effort put into it. One thing I love about being Catholic is that it seems like our faith is such a deep well with no bottom in sight!!! It can be impossible, it seems, to know and understand *everything *even tho I personally love to learn as much as I can!

[/quote]

You’re right. There is a lot to learn about the faith. I always suggest that lay people read as much as they can from the mystics. They are the best teachers of the spiritual life. The other branches of theology are more technical. They attempt to explain how things work and where they come from. But Mystical Theology tells you how to get to heaven.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :)


#16

See this excellent blog post.

Ultimately, I think this question comes down to why God does not love all things equally (, Ia q. 20 a. 3*Summa Theologiæ*) and why God would will things to be unequal, of various degrees of goodness (, q. 47 a. 2*ibid.*). Why would He will Holy Orders to be better than Matrimony, although both are good? In response to these questions, read the first few short chapters of Card. Silvio Antoniano's beautiful book Dell'Educazione Cristiana e Politica de' Figliuoli (On the Christian and Political Education of Children), the first ~23 chapters of which I have translated into English. (I am so surprised this book hasn't been entirely translated into English; Pope Pius XI gave it much praise in his 1929 encyclical on education Divini illius magistri.)

Then the question comes down to theodicy: Why would God allow some "to be burnt," for whom "it is better to marry" (1 Cor. 7:9), and others He wills able to resist these fires of temptation, for whom Holy Orders might be their vocation? Why does God distribute His grace unevenly, "according to the measure of the giving of Christ" (Eph. 4:7; cf. , Ia-IIae q. 112 a. 4*Summa Theologiæ*)? Why do people respond differently to the grace? Judging from God's ultimate response to Job, these questions are not answerable in this life.
We must endeavour by all means in our power to preserve this unity, especially by avoiding jealousy, or being envious of the graces which have been given to our neighour; considering that they all proceed from the same God, who divides to each one as he pleaseth. (Haydock Commentary)


#17

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