Is there a higher path and a lower path?


#1

All through my spiritual awakening I have found difficulty in accepting some of the Church’s teachings. I struggled with accepting sexual love as good, then I struggled with the church’s teachings on self defense. I have accepted these teachings as true, but all along the way I have concluded that the way of celibacy and complete denial of self is superior to the path of Marriage and worldliness. The impression that I get off many here, however, is that asceticism is in no way a superior path, but rather an equal alternative to Married life. So I ask you, is there any superiority in the ascetic path? Or are Marriage and Monasticism of the same merit?


#2

Same merit. If Monasticism were superior, then in a perfect (but fallen, so “perfect” is a relative term here) world, procreation would cease, and God explicitly told us to procreate.


#3

Following God’s will for you is the best path. Some people are called to marriage, others not. St. Paul obviously thought that his celibate way was superior. Living completely for God in the state of life He calls you to is the highest path. There is a universal call to holiness. The denial of self is good insofar as it allows you to put God at the center of your life. A good husband denies himself and puts his wife and children ahead of himself in order to follow God’s will. A monk denies himself and prays for the whole world in order to follow God’s will. God calls us to live for Him and for others. God knows us each individually. Some have become saints living on top of pillars. Some of us are weirder than others but there is a place for all.


#4

I don’t understand, why would God call some to enjoy life, and all others to forsake it’s pleasures, and the give both the same treatment? Is the self-denial exemplified in Monks and Nuns pointless? The Catechism calls celibacy for the Kingdom the “most excellent good”. Also, I believe some Fathers, St. Athanasius comes to mind, called monasticism the higher path.


#5

First, this implies that forsaking pleasures entitles you to heaven or something. I’m reminded of the parable of the day laborers (I can’t never remember the official name of it) where all were given a day’s pay even though some worked all day, some worked for half a day, and some worked for only an hour.

Second, life’s pleasures are a double-edged sword. They make you complacent. The ascetics have less to worry about in that respect.

Third, some people respond better to asceticism while others respond better to raising a family.

Is the self-denial exemplified in Monks and Nuns pointless?

It would be for some. For others, it’s just right. Similar to occupation, it’s different for different people. Two people might both be able to, say, teach Calculus to high school students, but where one would hate it, the other would do it till they day they die.

The Catechism calls celibacy for the Kingdom the “most excellent good”.Also, I believe some Fathers, St. Athanasius comes to mind, called monasticism the higher path.

Well, I can’t speak to those without citations. All I can say is that everyone has a different path set in front of them and that each person’s is equally in accord with God’s plan if they follow it.

Frankly, this strikes me as one of those questions that is simply unhelpful to ask. What does one gain by the knowledge that monasticism is greater than or equal to raising a family in the eyes of God? I mean, if it is, do you want to know so you can feel superior and lord it over other people? If you have a vocation to the monastic lifestyle, shouldn’t it be completelly immaterial whether it’s somehow greater than family life or not?


#6

I just can’t wrap my head around the concept that someone who gives up everything and suffers for God, and someone else who enjoys the pleasures in life are rewarded equally. One way does indicate a greater love for God and man. That is obvious, at least to me.

As for the quotes, from the CCC…

1620
*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 truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good. *

And here is the quote from St. Athanasius…

"There are two ways in life. One is ordinary and worldly, that is marriage; the other one is angelic and a higher one, that is celibacy. If someone chooses the worldly way — marriage — he will not be censured, but he will not receive the same gifts. However, he will receive some of them, because he brings the thirty-fold fruit. But if one chooses a glorious way which is high above the world he will receive more wonderful gifts, though this way is more mournful and difficult than the first one: because he has brought a perfect and hundred-fold fruit."


#7

But why is it a relevant question?

1620
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 truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good.

This doesn’t say that chastity is better than marriage at all. The bolded part in particular is about how good things are simply good, not good relative to evil.

Also, here are some other relevant parts of the catechism:
(From the Compendium of the Catechism)

  1. Are all obliged to get married?
    Matrimony is not an obligation for everyone, especially since God calls some men and women to follow the Lord Jesus in a life of virginity or of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. These renounce the great good of Matrimony to concentrate on the things of the Lord and seek to please him. They become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love and of the ardent expectation of his glorious return.

  2. In what way is everyone called to live chastity?
    As followers of Christ, the model of all chastity, all the baptised are called to live chastely in keeping with their particular states of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others, if they are married live in conjugal chastity, or if unmarried practise chastity in continence.

Marriage isn’t just a pleasure. It’s an objectively good thing. The married couple bears witness to God’s love in a very special, specific way. It’s also not just a gift but a set of responsibilities. The husband has a hard job ahead of him, the wife equally so, and the parent’s responsibilities and travails are as numerous as the trees in a forest. Plus don’t forget that the injunction to reproduce is from before the fall.

*And here is the quote from St. Athanasius…

"There are two ways in life. One is ordinary and worldly, that is marriage; the other one is angelic and a higher one, that is celibacy. If someone chooses the worldly way — marriage — he will not be censured, but he will not receive the same gifts. However, he will receive some of them, because he brings the thirty-fold fruit. But if one chooses a glorious way which is high above the world he will receive more wonderful gifts, though this way is more mournful and difficult than the first one: because he has brought a perfect and hundred-fold fruit."*

Not to disagree with a Church Father, but I really really doubt marriage is easier than asceticism. I’m not married, but even just dating someone is really, really hard.

Other than that, I’m not really sure what to say about this quote. It strikes me as ignorant of what marriage is; in the most basic sense, it’s one of the seven sacraments, and therefore not worldly, by definition.


#8

I think that celibacy when used in dedication to God is the higher calling. Unfortunately not many seem to be able to accept this calling. I know I can’t. I’m not gifted with this grace.

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.


#9

#10

I do believe that there are greater rewards in heaven for those who achieve higher spiritual growth. But also note that to those that much is given much is expected. We do not really live for our own spiritual development and achievement. We can do nothing on our own. All merit comes from being cooperative with God’s grace. What we must do is be the best we can be to God and The Church as a member of a greater body.

I personally believe that the monastic life offers a greater opportunity to rapidly grow in God’s grace to become Holy and more useful to God in serving His Church and His Will. However, I think that there may be more opportunities to develop and express love in a married life. We have 2 great commandments to balance. We must love God with all our hearts minds and souls as well as our fellow man. This is the definition of Charity. We can not be Charitable if we do not love BOTH God and neighbor. I think some of the highly devote and pious brethren in monastic life attain very high spiritual development and love for God but also are susceptible in taking an almost selfish or self absorbed refuge in that and forget to actively love their neighbors. Its not good to put ourselves on a tower reaching for God just for our own achievement. God wants us to be instruments too of His love for each other and return to Him Love through others as well.

So what to do? Some can do both. There are many wonderful secular 3rd order cofraternities where one or both spouses can be married and also work in the context of marriage to attain very high levels of spiritual development and commitment that can approach the levels of pure monastic life. There is also the diaconate available for married males willing to accept a conditional vow of chastity if their wife should pass away (essentially a conditional path toward full priesthood). And of course there is many monastic options each with specific focus areas - some being very oriented toward service of fellow man others being more focused on prayer FOR their fellow man (an act of love).

The thing that is most important is keeping oneself in a state of grace and minimizing the occasion for sin so that God may grow us spiritually and give us spiritual gifts. What we do with our gifts is what matters most to God. Each member of the Body of Christ has their role. Pray to God to find out how best to serve Him.

Hope this helps.

Jame


#11

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.