THE VOW OF CHASTITY
RELIGIOUS are sometimes called celibates. Now, a celibate, one of the
bachelor persuasion, is a person who considers himself or herself good
enough company in this life, and chooses single blessedness in
preference to the not unmixed joys of wedlock. This alone is sufficient
to make one a celibate, and nothing more is required. Religious do not
wed; but, specifically, that is all there is in common between them.
All celibates are not chaste; celibacy is not necessarily chastity, by
a large majority. Unless something other than selfishness suggests this
choice of life, the word is apt to be a misnomer for profligacy. And
one who takes the vow of celibacy does not break it by sinning against
the Sixth Commandment; he is true to it until he weds. The religious
vow is something more than this.
Again, chastity, by itself, does not properly designate the state of
religious men and women. Chastity is moral purity, but purity is a
relative term, and admits of many degrees. It is perfect or imperfect.
There is a conjugal chastity; while in single life, it may concern
itself with the body, with or without reference to the mind and heart.
Chastity reaches its highest form when it excludes everything carnal,
what is lawful as well as what is unlawful, thoughts and desires as
well as deeds.
This is the chastity that is proper to religious, and it is more
correctly called virginity. This is the natural state of spirits who
have no bodies; cultivated in the frail flesh of children of Adam, it
is the most delicate flower imaginable. Considering the incessant
struggle it supposes in those who take such a vow against the spirit
within us that is so strong, the taking and keeping of it indicate a
degree of fortitude little short of heroism. Only the few, and that few
relying wholly on the grace of God, can aspire to this state.
From a spiritual point of view, there can be no question as to the
superiority of this state of life over all others. The teaching of St.
Paul to the Corinthians is too plain to need any comment, not to
mention the example of Christ, His Blessed Mother, His disciples and
all those who in the course of time have loved God best and served Him
Prescinding from all spiritual considerations and looking at things
through purely human eyes, vows of this sort must appear prejudicial to
the propagation of the species. In fact, they go against the law of
nature which says: increase and multiply, so we are told.
If that law is natural as well as positive, it is certain that it
applies to man collectively, and not individually. It is manifested
only in the instinct that makes this duty a pleasure. Where the
inclination is lacking, the obligation is not obvious. That which is
repugnant is not natural, in any true sense of the word; whether this
repugnance be of the intellectual or spiritual order, it matters not,
for our nature is spiritual as truly as it is animal. The law of nature
forces no man into a state that is not in harmony with his sympathies
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that to a certain extent the race
suffers numerically from an institution that fosters abstention from
marriage. To what extent, is an entirely different question. Not all
laymen marry. It is safe to say that the vast majority of religious
men, vow or no vow, would never wed; so that the vow is not really to
blame for their state, and the consequences thereof. As for women,
statistics show it to be impossible for all to marry since their number
exceeds that of men.
Now, marriage with the fair sex, is very often a matter of competition.
Talent, beauty, character, disposition and accomplishments play a very
active role in the acquisition of a husband. Considering that the
chances of those who seek refuge under the veil are not of the poorest,
since they are the fairest and best endowed of our daughters, it would
seem to follow that their act is a charity extended to their less
fortunate sisters who are thereby aided to success, instead of being
doomed to failure by the insufficiency of their own qualifications.
Be this as it may, what we most strenuously object to, is that vows be
held responsible for the sins of others. In some countries and sections
of countries, the population is almost stationary in marked contrast to
that of others. Looking for the cause for this unnatural phenomenon,
there are who see it in the spread of monasticism, with its vow of
chastity. They fail to remark that not numerous, but large families are
the best sign of vigor in a nation. Impurity, not chastity, is the
enemy of the race. Instead of warring against those whose lives are
pure, why not destroy that monster that is gnawing at the very vitals
of the race, sapping its strength at the very font of life, that modern
Moloch, to whom fashionable society offers sacrifice more abominable
than the hecatombs of Carthage. This iniquity, rampant wherever the
sense of God is absent, and none other, is the cause which some people
do not see because they have good reasons for not wanting to see. It is
very convenient to have someone handy to accuse of one's own faults. It
is too bad that the now almost extinct race of Puritans did not have a
few monks around to blame for the phenomenon of their failure to keep
abreast of the race.
If celibacy, therefore, means untrammeled vice, and marriage
degenerates into New Englandism, the world will get along better with
less of both. Vows, if they have no other merit, respect at least the
law of God, and this world is run according to that law.
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