Is religious life a holier vocation than marriage?

I have heard some people suggest that religious life is more perfect vocation than marriage (even St. Paul himself said something to that effect), but I’m a bit confused. Does this mean that those called to this vocation are holier than married people? Also, do they experience a greater degree of glory in Heaven?

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I wouldn’t think so? Jesus calls people to various different vocations. We all have our own story and if we listen to God he will lead us where he wants us to go.

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I don’t know about that, but it’s said that, like clergy, during the Judgements they will be judged, by Christ, all the more carefully, because of their heightened knowledge and responsibility as servants of the Church.

As has often been said “the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops…”

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I would say they have the potential to be “holier” but that this potential may not be met. This shouldn’t be controversial, either.

We would all recognize that Mary, St. Joseph and John the Baptist had greater roles to play in the divine plan, and had the potential (which, thankfully, they did meet) to be holier than the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean we are loved less by God or are worth less.

The same can be said for the glory of Heaven. It is true that some people in Heaven will be more glorified than others, that there is a hierarchy of a kind in Heaven. Our Blessed Mother is the example of one a creature who is more glorified and above all other creatures in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean you will lack anything in Heaven. Wherever you end up, you will be perfectly and completely happy.

So whether you are called to marriage or to the religious life, the key is to do well.

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I really do like Catholic Answers write up on this question it is worth reading…

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I think it’s important to note that a lot of people don’t pursue a religious vocation because they are simply not called by God to do that.

It is not always because they don’t think they can be celibate. The life of a priest or a member of a religious order has a great many aspects and challenges to it besides/ beyond celibacy.

Marriage is not some sort of a consolation prize for people who don’t think they can go without sex. Speaking as one who has been married, marriage also has a huge number of aspects and challenges to it that have nothing to do with marital relations.

As for who experiences glory in heaven, we don’t know for sure what happens in heaven, but there are married laypeople who became great saints of the Church and are obviously enjoying Heaven’s glory.
And while we can’t say for sure who didn’t get to Heaven, it seems entirely possible that some professed clergy or religious may have ended up in Hell.

It’s all about how well you live out the vocation and life that God has planned for you personally.
Not that some vocations are greater or “holier” than others.

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“Yes.”

The Church does teach that religious life is the superior life, virginity is superior to married life, and celibate life is better :slight_smile:

However, it teaches also that it is a gift that not everyone is called to!

For those called to marriage, to fulfill their calling to marriage would be better for them than if they tried living celibate without the gift.

The Bible tells us Virgins will follow Christ wherever he goes and sing special hymns only they will know (Revelation). It tells us that it is better to not be married and to follow only God (St. Paul), and that we will not be married in heaven.

And from other sources :slight_smile:
“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 John Paul II , Vita Consecrata , 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.”

  • Pope Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas , 32

“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.”

  • Council of Trent

“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.”

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church , 916
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As AngelicusPoena’s post shows above, the religious state is closer to the Heavenly state, since there is no marriage in Heaven. In that sense, it is holier. Marriage is only for the here and now.

That being said, a particular individual person in the married state can certainly achieve a greater degree of holiness than a particular person in the religious state, based on each person’s own merits. There are saints who were married, and there have been religious who are not saints (and vice versa).

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Greater glory is per greater merit, so by the amount of good that was done in the state of sanctifying grace.

Council of Florence – Ecumenical XVII – 1438-1445, From the Bull “Laetentur coeli,” July 6, 1439 (See Denzinger 693)

And that the souls of those, who after the reception of baptism have incurred no stain of sin at all, and also those, who after the contraction of the stain of sin whether in their bodies, or when released from the same bodies, as we have said before, are purged, are immediately received into heaven, and see clearly the one and triune God Himself just as He is, yet according to the diversity of merits, one more perfectly than another.

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No, I don’t think so. It’s just different.

Married life can be just as holy as religious life.

Religious life is eschatological. Meaning it mirrors the way the saints in heaven live. There will be no marriage in heaven, so we will spend our time in heaven the way those in religious life spend their life here on earth.

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No.

They are both called to the same result: Christian perfection, and God gives one vocation to some and the other vocation to others.

Saint John Chrysostom says: “You certainly deceive yourself and are greatly mistaken if you think that there is one set of requirements for the person in the world and another for the monk. The difference between them is that one is married and the other is not; in all other respects they will have to render the same account … For all people must reach the same point: [the full measure of Christ; to become perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect]. And this is what throws everything into disorder - the idea that only the monk is required to show a greater perfection, while the rest are allowed to live in laxity. But this is not true!”

(St. John Chrysostom, “Against the Opponents of Monastic Life”, 111. Translated by David Hunter, pgs. 156-168)

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Celibacy more completely imitates the life of Christ than marriage.

As far as glory: glory corresponds with love. Where love increases, glory increases.

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@ReaderT

Chrysostom believed in the elevated state of celibate life though for those with this vocation. The call to holiness is identical but that is because love is a universal vocation whereas celibacy in some states of life is a specific vocation for specific people.

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Objectively yes, but subjectively what matters is holiness in your current state in life. If God isn’t calling you to religious life, choosing that vocation, even though it is objectively higher, would be a bad idea.

I agree that celibacy is a specific vocation for specific people, but I don’t think he (Chrysostom) concluded that celibacy makes a vocation any more holy - actually I don’t think vocations are ontologically holy by themselves apart from the lives of the people in them. Saint Paisios said a pious mother will exceed all the grumbling celibate nuns in the next life, meaning the important part is not so much what God called you to (teacher, monk, mother, electrician, painter) but how you used your calling.

There is also this story about St. Anthony the Great in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

“It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.”

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Totally true, the important thing 100% is how you use your vocation/calling/state in life. That’s what we need to focus on. But - the religious state is objectively, and celibacy is objectively, a higher state, and the saints and fathers of the Church are quite unanimous on that point.

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I don’t understand what it means that “celibacy is objectively a higher state” - what does it mean to be a “higher state”? Closer to God? But that certainly can’t be true. So what does it mean?

The best way I can answer that is these two passages:
“So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.” 1 Corinthians 7:38

“I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-34

PS - Maybe someone else could bring up one of the numerous quotes from the saints on this issue.

John Paul II explained it by means of contrast. A person can see a contrast between sin and goodness, but then a person can make a further contrast by seeing something that is good and then seeing something that is given up that is good in order to receive something better.

“When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.

Rightly indeed does St. John Chrysostom say: ‘Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good.’”
( Familiaris Consortio 16)

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Beautifully put! Thank you for those lovely words.

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