Confused About Evangelical Counsels or Counsels of Perfection

Salvete, omnes!

As I understand the teaching on the Evangelical Counsels or Counsels of Perfection, tobeying them makes salvation quicker/easier/more expedient/more sure. Also, I understand the teaching to be that those who desire to be “perfect” should (or even must?) follow them.

However, shouldn’t EVERYONE desire to be perfect? Therefore, shouldn’t EVERYONE follow the Counsels of Perfection?

Yet, I understand that few are expected to do this. I have even heard that few are even called to do this.

On all these points, I am thoroughly confused.

Is it not a sin to fall short of even desiring to be perfect? Then, why is observing these Counsels apparently considered a matter of vocation, and a rare vocation at that?

Shouldn’t we all desire to have the greatest assurance that we will inherit eternal life? Wouldn’t taking a risk on something so important by not obeying the COunsels of Perfection be a grave mistake? Then, why do so few obey these Counsels and why are so few apparently expected by the Church to do so?

Are those who wish to serve Christ in as much perfection as possible but who still remain in the world not living up to their full potential, as it were? Should these kinds of people adopt the Counsels? Should those that know that they struggle with a particular area of sin in the world adopt them? Should even those who might possibly encounter sin in some area of life adopt them, just to be safe?

Is observing the Counsels always considered a special vocation on someone’s life? How does someone know that he/she has this vocation? Is it really as simple as a matter of choice/preference? As I understand what I have read, the Counsels are to be observed in relation to Christ and to more fully serve Him. However, does this serving Him relate more to an overtly “religious” service, say, that one attains through the Priesthood or other Religious (cap R) life, or does this service to Him mean the kind of everyday service that we all strive to carry out?

And, what of those who are living, as it were, in the world? Are they therefore called vocationally to live in this state and, therefore, shouldn’t consider themselves as falling short in any way? Should they enjoy the world with which God has blessed them fully and completely (but, of course, within Christian principles) without guilt? Or, should they always consider themselves in some way as falling short of true perfection meant for them?

I have already read both the Catholic ENcyclopedia’s and even Wikipedia’s entries on this subject, but am still as confused about the issue as I indicate above.

Any clarification from you guys or from other sources would therefore be most appreciated.

Also, a bit of a P.S. kind of question: Is the notion of the Counsels considered an infallible article of faith by the Church?

Gratias vobis.

Personally I am not familiar with the counsels. But as for striving for a perfect life, we are called to be holy but that differs between people. There is no set standard of what holiness entails. A doctor’s method of holiness differs from a cashier’s. While one person may attain holiness by giving up all they own and preaching each day, the other might attain holiness through being a politician and championing policies that help people and bring peace to the world.

Side note: I figured I may as well do a Google search of the Counsels and this newadvent piece seems to give a decent defence. newadvent.org/cathen/04435a.htm

God calls us all to a unique vocation.

All people are called to holiness and all ought to follow the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to their state in life.

Religious life is a vocation that God calls some men to and others to married or simply single life in the world. The relgious practice the counsels in a radical way that others cannot and should not try to practice in the same way.

newadvent.org/cathen/04435a.htm

From the article:

***To sum up: it is possible to be rich, and married, and held in honour by all men, and yet keep the Commandments and to enter heaven. Christ’s advice is, if we would make sure of everlasting life and desire to conform ourselves perfectly to the Divine will, that we should sell our possessions and give the proceeds to others who are in need, that we should live a life of chastity for the Gospel’s sake, and, finally, should not seek honours or commands, but place ourselves under obedience. These are the Evangelical Counsels, and the things which are counselled are not set forward so much as good in themselves, as in the light of means to an end and as the surest and quickest way of obtaining everlasting life.


What do you not understand about this? Be specific so that we can address the issue at hand. This seems fairly basic.

Yes, indeed. So basic that mahy many non-Catholics struggle with it mightily. And, all the questions I have (or, rather, still have to some extent with another to follow in this post) occurred in my first post.

Someone said earlier that some people “cannot” obey the Counsels, as was said, in a “radical” way. What is meant by this? Theoretically, cannot everyone, say, be chaste or live in total poverty? I mean, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be hard, but, theoretically, can’t everyone do it?

As regards singleness, Jesus, when His disciples say that it is better not to marry, says basically that “whoever is able” or, more literally, “can make room” for or “give place” to this, let him do it. BUt, again, isn’t everyone theoretically able to “make room” for it if they try hard enough? So, say, if someone has a rather low physical/sexual desire for others (a naturally low libido), would it be required of them not to marry, even though they may truly desire someone with whom they can spend their lives and even children?

BTW, I would still appreciate any clarification on the questions posed in my original post also. I mean, theoretically, someone like this cold pretty easily give up the sexual dimension of relationship and could also, though it would be more difficult, give up the idea of having a life partner and kids, so, then, shouldn’t they, in order to achieve the quickest/most expedient/surest way to salvation?

Thanks.

Something else I admit I’ve also always struggled with on this matter is this whole notion of “quick and easy” – the fact that people would be willing to give up all the beautiful and wonderful blessings of the world for which we should be most thankful (as long as we treat them correctly according to Christian principles) for a life bereft of those blessings to amke the path to salvation “quick and easy”. I mean, I’ll admit, I love the world, not immoderately or excessively or inordinately or too much of however you want to put it, but I love its beauty, its diversity that our Creator gave to it. Still, I love the world so much that I am willing to risk some instance of sin (knowing that I will most likely ask for forgiveness for them later, if my heart is in the right place) than to throw off all of the beauty and wonder of it. Does this make me a bad person? Or, at least, an unwise person? Am I too in love with the world?

I mean, I suppose I can see taking the “quick and easy” way if, say, you struggle with a particular aspect of it, and that frequently, but, to be honest, that’s the only situation where I can see someone giving up the world.

The point is to live on Earth as if one were already in Heaven, just as Jesus did. And according to the measure of GRACE one has received in relation to these counsels, one ought to respond to the invitation to follow them. Everyone is bound to follow them to some degree, but not everyone is bound to follow them perfectly. If one without the grace to live in poverty, for instance, tried to do so, he would despair or grow bitter or become proud as a way to cope with a part of his nature which has not yet been healed and elevated by grace, a grace which is not given to all but to some.

Since these counsels - in their most perfect mode - form the basis of the way of Jesus’ life, we know that they are objectively better, as the life of Heaven is objectively better than that of the world. But because it requires a special grace to live them as Jesus did, it is not a precept or command.

Eventually, when our natures are all perfectly healed and elevated (and finally confirmed in glory) in their totality in Heaven, we will all live these counsels as Jesus did. In the meantime, each must know what his gifts are and aren’t and respond accordingly. The hand needs the foot, and so on. And to whom more is given, more is expected…

And yes, Trent did comment on this authoritatively. It was about virginity being objectively better than the conjugal state, if I remember correctly. You can easily find the reference. But it must be read with the above points in mind!

Does this help?

In my case, I don’t think I would grow “bitter” or “despair” if I, say, were to take on poverty or chastity in its most radical sense, but I will say that I wouldn’t probably enjoy it much. I would want to enjoy the beauty that is out there in the world in all its forms, maintaining, of course, a Christian perspective on it. So, then, if I would not “despair” or become “bitter” as you say, ven though it would be hard, would that be an indication that I was called to radical observance?

And, what of all this modern talk about more than one way to serve God and be holy? Is that all it is? – modern talk with no groudning in Church teaching?

Also, could you explain this notion of grace as it relates to the Counsels? So, then, does God simply implant a certain amunt of grace in us and there’s really nothing we can do about the amount we have? We must just passively accept the amount we’re given because we have no control over it?

Indeed, isn’t being so attached to the world that we are unable to serve God in the best way possible in itself sinful? So, those who might be “bitter” or whatever if they were radically to observe, arren’t they still sinful in their thoughts?

Also, why would GOd allow us to live in such an amazing world only to ultimately desire us to forsake all of it? Why would He even ordain marriage as a holy thing, if He really wanted us to forsake it because it is not the Perfect Way? Why would He ordain something that is in itself imperfect?

It can be quite difficult to figure these things out. That’s why formation in religious orders is so intensive… There is scrutiny before the application even begins, there is the application itself, then postulancy, then novitiate (which must be over a year long), then temporary vows at least for 3 years, sometimes more temporary vows, and finally one is allowed permanent entrance into the community.

Maybe you would grow bitter and just don’t know it. But maybe not, and you might really enjoy dedicating yourself entirely to the service of the poor, for example, to the point where the lack of a spouse does not disturb you much. In other words, the lack itself is not enjoyed, but what is gained is enjoyed more. One must admit that the lack of a total dedication to the service of God and his people should not be enjoyed either! We should only be enjoying the world because we find God in it. Anything else, while not necessarily sinful, does not in itself help us to advance.

Those who embrace the counsels do so out of special guidance from the Holy Spirt, and therefore they flow from a heart that loves in a deeper way, willing to make this sacrifice. Until one is ready or called, it is best not to force oneself to embrace them, perhaps out of a guilt complex believing that one will not be able to please God or become perfect.

St. Paul teaches, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31. He cautions elsewhere that even if we give our body to be burned, but have not love, it profits us nothing! Love is the underlying reason for all that we do. It is unworthy of God for us to undertake the counsels out of forceful constraint. You see already how it would not allow you to enjoy God’s creation and give Him praise. The heart is heavy and not lifted up to Him, ready to glorify Him in all that you do.

This could be a temptation. The devil would make such folks so disconsolate that they would give up the pursuit of a holy life. Jesus calls us as we are made ready for such sacrifices. “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” There is a spiritual progression that follows the prompting of grace as one is enabled.

But, that’s what I’m saying! I enjoy the world because of His creating it, because it is His gift to us that, even according to the Scriptures, He WANTS us to enjoy! Otherwise, why would He give it to us?

And, yes, right now, I don’;t think I would enjoy making, say, giving to the poor my primary vocation, and I was always under the impression that that was one indication that this is not my calling. I thought that, because A was not my inclination, A was therefore not my calling. I thought that a calling was an internal drawing to a thing, as if a kind of magnetism drawing one toward one’s ultimate vocation. This is not to say that a life dedicated solely to giving to the poor is not a good thing. It is obviously a very noble thing and certainly more noble than many other things, but I always thought that each person was called and was meant to be in a particular way in life, whether that be toward something that is objectively superior or objectively inferior but still meant for each individual.

I don’t know if I would say that one called to an objectively superior life necessarily “loves” more. (Just my opinion, perhaps.) They just love differently (in the sense of performing acts of love, though their interanal sense of “love” is the same). They are “called” to a different, and, yes, objectively superior kind of service (but not of “love” per se).

No, they don’t love *more than *those who do not receive this calling. Whether one is a baby Christian or a full-grown one of many years, our decisions need to be formed in love. It is a good practice to begin our day consecrating all of our thoughts, words and deeds to God, asking Him for the grace to do all out of love and for His glory.

I’m thinking of St. Therese of Lisieux who offered herself as a “victim of love” for the salvation of souls. Indeed, she suffered, but her primary sacrificial gift was born in pure angelic love. THAT is the purity of intention that we can all strive for, no matter how little our deeds, no matter what stage of development we are in spiritually.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this and, of course, I still look forward to other responses.

Indeed, to state the reverse of what I stated earlier, I was under the impression that, if someone, say, feels better/more acclimated/more inclined to living, as it were, in the world, and less inclined to a solitary or semi-solitary consecrated/religious life, that is where God has called him, even though the other life may be objectively superior. I have definitely seen people who are naturally inclined to a solitary/semi-solitary/religious life in the sense that they are “drawn” to it from a young age and cannot escape the draw. That is how I have always understood a calling to this life. Granted, there are probably some who are “drawn” like this and come to find that this “draw” is actually more superficial/temporary than they would have expected, but I’ve always considered the “daw” to be central to the notion of a calling, just as, perhaps, I am drawn to the beauty and diversity of the created world and desire to love as fully as I can in that context. I am drawn to the idea of having a life partner in order to grow with them and to love them and to become one even, as it were, on a spiritual level, with them. That is perhaps how I have always understood indwelling “grace” as it relates to vocation and even to the counsels of perfection. We may even see this “draw” in the rich young ruler that comes to Christ; he feels called to the deepst religious life possible, truly in his heart, yet he feels, I would say sinfully, the things of the world battling against and interfering with that calling, yet that underlying draw still remains, that true calling that he should’ve ultimately listened to as spoken in the words of Christ.

I am indeed wonderign where these issues of what exactly a “calling” is and so-forth have been precisely defined and established already by the Church or whether there is actually some room for discussion/debate as to, say, what exactly is the nature of being “call” / what does it involve / what does it feel like, at least as far as that initial/baseline part of the calling is concerned.

Again, I think that my understand does fit perhaps even better the analogy of “the hand cannot survive without the eye”. Just because one may be objectively superior does not mean that everyone should follow it. Some may be called to objectively higher things, some may be called to objectively lower things, but all are called according to God’s Will. Perhaps everyone has their own inclinations (“graces”?), their own draws, some objectively inferior, some objectively superior in the sense of some being more fundamentally “spiritual” than others, but each one is meant where it is meant and each are valuable even in themselves.

Perhaps, getting back to the rich young ruler, that particular person was being called to a radical form of observance, but that this doesn’t mean that everyone is called to this or that God means everyone ultimately or even would prefer everyone ultimate to live this kind of life. Perhaps the Counsels are not always so objective in the sense that they apply differently to different people depending on thier own individual callings.

Some people may have a “special heart”, say, for the poor and this may indicate at least a baseline for a calling toward that ministry. Others may have a “special heart” for service in politics, as was mentioned earlier so that may indicate a calling toward that profession. Some are drawn to the spiritually contemplative life, even from a young age, and this may indicate a calling to that life. Some really find no true joy in the Creation but find far more joy in solitary or semi-solitary prayer; this may indicate a calling in this direction. I would think that interests, personality configurations, if you will and other factors all contribute to this and are (perhaps) the “graces” given by God toward particular callings. Where He wants is us where we feel drawn, sincerely, in our heart of hearts, perhaps?

Wondering if any of this goes against established or even infallibly established theology or if these are valid ideas to have.

It seems to be on the right track. But we have to maintain that grace is more than a mere inclination - it is a gift of God abiding in the soul, in this case.

As for what constitutes a calling and how exactly one discerns that, that is a larger discussion.

Oh, as far as grace, I can agree with that. All I’m saying is that that gift of grace, I think, is providentially given as an inclination with which one is either born or acquires over (God’s Good) time.

Also, this draw or inclination, I propose, is merely a (as I said) “baseline” for determining the possibility of calling. I think of it, at least as I have conceived it, as a kind of “starting-point” with which to go further in determining whether it really is a true calling.

Of course, I am also not unwilling to concede that a supernatural kind of “tug” at the heart might manifest itself even contrary to one’s personal interests, but I would think this would have to be pretty clear and distinct to the person. Surely it is possible for callings to manifest in a variety of ways?

I suppose I look at the whole inferior vs. superior callings as similar to inferior and superior secular “callings” (in an objective sense).

Of course, I think we could all say that the profession of firefighter is objectively superior to that of dancer, for example, though maybe dancers would have a kneejerk emotional reaction to such a thing being said. At any rate, since it is the job of the firefighter to save lives and property but the job of the dancer to entertain and delight, we could say tha the former is superior objectively. We appreciate that both exist and indeed both serve their puropses, but, without life, we cannot enjoy entertainment or art. Even with all this in mind, there are those who choose (and even feel “called”) to be firefighters and those who choose (and even feel “called”) to be dancers, yes, sometimes because firefighting is just too scary/too much a sacrifice, but, many times, I think, because it simply alligns more with thier own inclinations/interests/preferences or that it has always spoken to them in some way, maybe even more than other even more “superior” (in an objective sense) careers.

Similarly, celibacy is superior to marriage in that it objectively provides more time/opportunity to serve God in a more direct way and because many called to it are also called to more directly “religious” vocations, However, those called to marriage are serving God in a less “direct” way and, yes, may encounter “bumps” along the way that may conflict with serving God in this lifestyle.

Of course, the question becomes, was this the way that Trent looked at the issue? Or, can we even really know precisely in what way the council considered marriage inferior to celibacy. (As I understand the context, Trent was largely if not entirely responding to what it considered Protestant heresies, one of which spoke against celibacy and forms of asceticism.) And, as far as counciliar decisions on these matters being infallible, is it the possible thoughts that were in the heads of those who wrote that are infallible or merely the words that come down to us, that may be interpreted later in a more proper way in the future than they may have been intended originally?

I think you may be reading far too much into this whole concept. It all depends on one’s vocation, and we know for certain that married couples may become saints. Recent canonizations affirmed that beyond a doubt. Both St. Therese’s parents were canonized. St. Gianna Molla was married and her husband attended her canonization. :clapping:
Let’s not forget St. Joachim and St. Anne, the blessed parents of Mary.
Other married saints became widows and entered later upon a new vocation, but marriage was never an impediment to sanctity.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.