Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aloysius Gonzaga, Thomas More, and second marriages

St. Aloysius, the pure

June 21st, St. Aloysius Gonzaga
June 22nd, St. Thomas More
While St. Aloysius Gonzaga is notable for his great purity – indeed, not only did he shun all impurity, but it is said that he did not even look upon the face of any woman, not even his own mother! – St. Thomas More is recognized as one of the great married saints of the modern Church. Certainly, St. Thomas More was mot pure and chaste, but St. Aloysius lived out the evangelical council of chastity to is perfection through a life of perpetual continence and virginity (i.e. avoiding all sexual pleasure).
And so, we see something of a tension: Can the Church on the one hand teach that St. Aloysius is a better example of purity on account of his perfect celibacy, and on the other hand still honor and reverence St. Thomas More who was married not only once but twice (after his first wife died)? How is it that the Catholic Church can exalt celibacy without degrading marriage?

The marriages of St. Thomas More
While many are aware of the virginal purity of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who died at the young age of twenty-three, the married life of St. Thomas More is perhaps less well known. He married Jane Colt in 1505, when he was about twenty-seven and she only about eighteen. Having had four children with Jane (Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John), she died in 1511.
Upon the death of his first wife, St. Thomas More remarried almost immediately. His second wife was herself a widow named Alice Middleton. While Alice had a daughter from her first marriage, the two never had any children of their own.
In St. Thomas More, then, we have an example not only of a married man, but even of a widower who remarried, who has become a saint.
The celibate vocation is more perfect
The tradition of the Church and the wisdom of the saints, rooted also in the explicit teaching of Sacred Scripture (cf. 1 Corinthians 7), maintains that the celibate vocation is the greatest and most perfect of all. Indeed, by vowing perfect and perpetual continence, religious monks and nuns together with diocesan priests of the West (and even certain lay people, like the numeraries of Opus Dei) live on earth something of the life of heaven, where there will be no marriage.
The life of consecrated virginity is a sign of the glory of heaven and also a most secure means of whole-hearted devotion to the service of Christ and his Church. Surely, it is not that married people are unable to give their hearts to Jesus, but they will be divided. Divine Scripture teaches the same:
He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. (1 Corinthians 7:32-33)
Essentially, the wisdom of the saints is that, if a man is able to live without the pleasures and supports of married life (which, of course, include but also go far beyond sexual intimacy), then he ought to strive for the more perfect life of celibacy.
On the other hand, if a man cannot live without the pleasures and supports of married life – either because of struggles with lust or because of the desire for a family – then he would do well to be married.
And, of course, in the end, it all relies on the call of God – since both celibacy for the kingdom and Christian marriage are supernatural vocations which infinitely exceed the power of human nature unaided by grace. If a man is called to celibacy, God will give him the strength to live it fruitfully. Likewise, if a man is called to married life, the Lord himself will happily dwell in that family just as he lived a hidden and humble life in the sacred home of the Holy Family. What is most important is that each follow the call he has received from God.
A danger for celibates: Looking down on married life
Now, to exalt celibacy does not require the demotion of married life. That celibacy is perfect, does not mean that marriage is not even good. Rather, the proper love of celibacy should help to build family life, and the proper respect for marriage should give new light to the celibate vocation – just as good and holy priests who are happy and holy in their celibate vocation will give support to and be supported by happy and holy families.
One of the best ways to test whether or not we have a proper respect and honor for the vocation to marriage is to consider how we react to the thought of second or even third marriages (after the death of the previous spouse). Can we recognize the sanctity of Thomas More, even when he was not only married once, but twice? Are we tempted to judge or question in our hearts? Examining ourselves in this way is a great means of purifying our approach to celibacy and married life.
Consider the following words of advice from the great St. Francis de Sales. In this passage, the Doctor of the Catholic Press is writing to encourage those women who, after the death of their first husband, have chosen to live out the rest of their lives as widows rather than seeking to be remarried.
“Nothing can be said more, unless it be to warn the widow indeed not to condemn or even censure those who do resume the married life, for there are cases in which God orders it thus to His own greater Glory. We must ever bear in mind the ancient teaching, that in Heaven virgins, wives, and widows will know no difference, save that which their true hearts’ humility assigns them.” (Introduction to the Devout Life III,40)
What St. Francis de Sales asserts is firmly rooted in the whole tradition: While the vocation to celibacy is greater than that to married life, holiness is more a matter of personal growth in charity (and the other virtues, especially humility) than of the objective state in life to which a person is called.
Thus, in heaven, there is no difference between St. Aloysius and St. Thomas More, excepting that in whatever degree of charity to which each had attained. An uncharitable celibate will go to hell, while the (re)married widower who is filled with charity will attain to great glory in heaven.
Finally, because of the great duties and responsibilities incumbent upon priests (who are charged with the care of many souls) it is far safer to be a monk or nun than to be a priest. Indeed, it is even safer and easier to be saved for a man to get married than for him to become a priest. For this reason, it is a serious mistake for anyone to enter holy order who has not attained at least to the illuminative way of proficients (that is, who has not yet passed beyond the dark night of the senses and the way of the beginners – men don’t become priests in order to become holy, they ought already to be holy in order to worthily become priests).
Hence, though there is a great dignity to the priesthood (and in this respect it is better than marriage), there is greater safety in marriage – it is easier to get to heaven as a husband and father than as a priest. And the vocation to the religious life of monks and nuns is safer still, since celibacy is more perfect in itself (than married life) and the monk or nun does not have the additional burden of caring for souls (which the priest must carry).
Hence, as Catholics, we must at the same time affirm the object value of celibacy while never judging or condemning those who choose married life.


Anonymous said...

"but it is said that he did not even look upon the face of any woman, not even his own mother"

Father Erlenbush,
I do not understand this statement. It seems to me as there is no need to not look at your mom, certainly no body would be tempted to impurity because of the sight of his own mohter! Secondly, the Church does not see not looking at women as the greatest sign of perfection, maybe if one is especially tempted, but not ordinarily, and not avoiding looking at your mom. Plenty of great celibate saints looked at women, and I'm sure that these great saints looked at their own moms, I don't understand how you would go through life without looking at your own mom, Jesus looked at His mother
Could you help me understand how this is related to the virtue of purity...Thanks

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Many of the saints (including St Alphonsus, the Doctor of Morals) recommend that men ought to avoid ever looking women in the face (including their own sisters, but excepting their wives).
However, I agree with you that this is certainly no longer practical in our own day (at least in western culture).

The point is that St. Aloysius was wholly exceptional in his love for purity ... so much so that he shunned even the very least occasion of impurity.
I do not think that we should necessarily follow his example 100% in regards to never looking at members of the opposite sex ... but I do think we should be inspired by his commitment.

Hope that makes sense! Peace!
-- and, by the way, I too was surprised the first time I read of how strict many of the saints were in this regard!

Albus said...

1) How does one know if he has passed through the dark night of the senses?

2) Should one have passed through the dark night of the senses to become a seminarian?

Anonymous said...

I have real trouble with this verse from Corinthians. It reminds me of the renunciation of the body as it was practiced in late antiquitiy. From our perch today much of that does not square with what we know of Creation and the physiology of the human body. God created us as physical beings, and our innate physical nature is made for marriage. There is no getting around this fact. In this life we will always be divided between the physical and the spiritual, and this reality will always create a certain tension. But why still attach this hiarchy of celibacy being more perfect than being married? From a physiolgical perspective the act of procreation is a natural developmental stage in the life of the body, and those who don't partake chose not to live this developmental stage. Why is it deemed superior conduct to forego a part of our God-given nature? I can't escape thinking there is a bit of elitism at work here.
As fruitful married people, it is our investment of our own flesh and blood into the future that makes it possible for individuals to live a celibate vocation. We, the married, are the ones literally producing our own intermediaries to God. So the relationship of religious celibates to the rest of us is reciprocal and equal. Whether religious or married, we have our own sacraments, vows, and vocations. Both are beautiful, vital, and one cannot be without the other.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response to my question.
I do admire his purity, but at the same time I feel as though it is not helpful to discuss certain things like this, at least over a blog. What I am trying to say is that if someone were to come across this blog (the average lay Catholic, a non-Catholic looking into the Faith), they might find the quote about not looking at his own mother troublesome, to the point where it would actually do more harm to that person's soul than good. Firstly, because such measures are simply impractical (not to look at women in general but esp. your own mother). Secondly, I feel as if they actually detract from true Christian charity in our world (in general) because we are called to serve one another and it would be hard to form relationships and serve one another without being able to look them in the eye. Third, it seems incompatible with marriage to not look at women. In reality, I think for most men looking at women who are modest is only a remote occasion of sin. And certainly looking at your own mother is in no way an occasion of sin of impurity. Actually, in some ways, seeing the face of your own mother whom you love in a completely non-sexual way could be seen as a deterrent from impurity because it reminds us of the dignity of women, rather than seeing them as sex objects (imho). But anyway, however you see it, I am just trying to point out for the good of this blog and those who read it that some things might come across as odd and do more harm than good even if they are not intended as such. Please do not take offense, as I do enjoy your blog and find it very helpful, I am just trying to give my best advice as a reader.

Alessandro said...

Dear Anonymous (June 21, 2012 11:00 AM),
Of course, both celibates and married people play an equally vital role in the life of the Catholic Church. But, of course, you need to read St. Paul’s statement in Corinthians in the light of Jesus’ discourse on the “eunuchs for the Kingdom”. Marriage and priesthood are two vocations which often clash with each other. How can a priest be present to his spiritual children if he needs to carry his biological children to school, provide some means for his family’s sustenance (i.e. a salary), etc? In other words, how can he be a full-time priest and a full-time pater familias? So, St. Paul’s point is that those who want to serve God and dedicate their lives to Him exclusively do a much better service if they keep celibate. Marital life is an entirely different vocation than religious orders or holy orders. They are complementary, of course, but the choice of celibacy is a better sign of Christ’s imitation and full dedication to the Lord. The Church cannot live without priests, monks and nuns who dedicate 100% of their energies to give the Sacraments, to teach the Gospel and to assist the poor. They aren’t split in their functions. They’re not part-time ministers of the Lord who play a role in the Church only when the family isn’t in need.
Also, this shows the high dignity of marriage in Catholicism. The Church doesn’t want neither bad fathers nor bad clergymen. The Church rather prefers fully committed fathers who love their wives and grow their children up without any binding side-role such as priesthood. Similarly, the Church prefers fully committed priests, monks and nuns who want nothing but to serve God’s people. As a consequence, since serving God 100% is a higher task than serving God only in free time, or than serving the creature full-time rather than the creator, needless to say celibacy is a higher task in the Church than marriage.


PS: I'm not a celibacy advocate, but I can see the wisdom of the Church in her understanding of that wonderful vocation.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to concur with Terry here, the refusal--or inability--to look at a woman's face in a pure manner is not a sign of perfection. In fact, looking at the face--a reminder of a woman's dignity as person--is a rather effective way of remaining pure of mind and heart. The saint that can look upon the face of a woman and be pure in mind and heart in fact has attained a greater purity than the one that is either unable because of lustful tendencies or unwilling because of a misguided notion of chastity.

Unknown said...

I think asserting that celibacy/religious life/priesthood is "more perfect" than another (i.e. marriage) is making a theologically muddy statement and misses the more precise distinction. I also think it is an incorrect inference from statements the Church and scripture make.

The short version of my response to the unhelpful and misguided notion that priesthood / religious life is superior/more perfect than married vocation... can be stated in three words: MARY and JOSEPH. What was Mary's perfection? Perfect charity and conformity to God's will. Was it in the fact that she was ever-virgin? Was it in the fact she was married? Does the virtuous conjugal act (God himself designed) itself deprive one of a level of perfection? We know Mary is highest in heaven, under her Son and tradition teaches St. Joseph would rightly be second. These are vocations to marriage. So how is it you assert celibate vocations are more perfect, and what useful distinction or exhortation does it provide?

What does perfection consist in, and how is one judged as more or less perfect? By their vocation/office or by their charity? Perfection consists in doing God's will, following Jesus' Commandment of charity - to "love one another as I loved you". Clearly, St. Thomas and the unanimous teaching of the Church is that charity endures unto heaven for eternity and one's perfection is commensurate with the level of charity they attain, through the grace of God. I think one could agree with the assertion, for example, that there are certainly some married people (yes, who engage in the virtuous act of conjugal love) who are more perfect than some clergy. We will be examined in love at the end of life, as St. John of the Cross says.

From this, we see that attempting to call religious life/priestly vocations superior or "more perfect" ... is rather inapposite. It is asking the wrong question (frankly, it is one that is more of a temptation to pride and division than it is helpful or edifying) The question is really: what is GOD's WILL for ME ... is he calling me to marriage or a celibate vocation? Doing God's will and doing it perfectly is the reality of what will cause us to reach the highest level of sanctity. Does one choose a vocation because it is more "perfect" or because they wish to express their love for God and answer a personal call in their heart? The end/goal is perfection in charity ... the vocation by which we "get there" is a MEANS, not and end in itself. St. Anthony had a vision given to him when he asked our Lord who his equal would be in heaven. He was shown a humble shoemaker. There are several additional layers to this discussion to be had, but I wanted to make some introductory points. There are ways celibate vocations give glory to God in a particular way and so too with marriage. What is more perfect ... what is sanctity is the most important question and it is measured by charity, not by a sort of hierarchy of vocations. (Finally, even if one wanted to admit for the sake of argument that celibate vocations are superior or more perfect ... there is still the overriding wisdom and distinction that individually and in concrete application ... doing God's will in our lives, following the vocation we discern for us and attaining perfection through charity makes such a distinction, again, inapposite/unhelpful and even distracting). I am not knocking or subordinating celibate vocations, I love these vocations and they are necessary to the Church, but so is marriage lived according to the mind of the Church, and I would recommend we not attempt to somehow subordinate marriage to celibate vocations as second-class/less perfect. It just misses the deeper, more salient theological (and personally experienced) truth. God bless - Dcn Dan G

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Well it is certainly different from our modern world ... but, then again, I don't think people are scandalized when they hear that Damien of Molokai contracted leprosy in serving the lepers ... why should we not admit of the supreme excellence of St. Aloysius' purity? Or at least, why hide what he himself thought was a great act of purity?

The mere fact that a married man shouldn't imitate St. Damian and run off to a leper colony doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about the Leper Priest ... neither then should we ignore or be ashamed of St. Aloysius.

However, yes, I do agree that most men are shocked to learn of Aloysius' acts ... that is probably because most men are not shocked when they see a woman in a bikini.
Sad days indeed.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymouses ... claim your comments with a pseudonym if you want to enter this discussion.

[how is it that people can take the time to read an article, but not take a couple seconds to read the instructions of commenting which are posted just above the comment box and just under the words "post a comment"?]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dcn Dan G,
Please allow a short response to your long comment ...

The fact that you reference Our Lady and St. Joseph is a bit surprising ... seeing as they are images for the perfect marriage, since they were celibate/continent within their married life.

In other words, they show that a marriage is better insofar as it is closer to celibacy and free-er from sexual intimacy.

However, of course, most people are not called to this in their life on earth ... however, I am certain that couples will have a more perfect love in heaven, when they are free from carnal union.

And this is why celibacy is more perfect than marriage ... it is a clearer sign of heaven.
Still, marriage is good. Indeed, it is a great means of attaining perfection (not the state of perfection, but personal sanctification and perfection).

Well, in any case, as I made very clear in the post ... it would be quite wrong for any celibate to claim that married people are "second class" ... anyone who reads this article in charity will see that I have not done this.

[a final point ... you mention the comparison between married people and clergy ... in this you very much miss the point of the article ... I am talking about celibacy, not holy orders ... it is very sad that people so often confuse these two vocations and conflate them into one ... as I said in the article, it is easier to become a saint as a married man than as a priest, and safer still to be a monk]

Anonymous said...

Could you please comment on the Scripture in St. Paul I believe where he says he thinks he speaks for the Lord when he tells widows that, although it is permissible to remarry, it is better that they do not?



Alessandro said...

I don't know why, but it seems that many people have taken some offence for nothing. Is it envy I can smell in the air of this post? I really don't understand this "I'm married and I'm equal to you celibates" logic. Especially when Jesus, Paul, the Magisterium and a hundred saints in the past have claimed so.
We are called to perfection, yes. But we don't have to take any offence for God's preferences. Remember these words in the Gospel, when Jesus is asked by James and John:
"Grant to us, that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38 And Jesus said to them: You know not what you ask. Can you drink of the chalice that I drink of: or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? 39 But they said to him: We can. And Jesus saith to them: You shall indeed drink of the chalice that I drink of: and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized, you shall be baptized. 40 But to sit on my right hand, or on my left, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared."

Christ's glory shines in sacrifice. The celibates sacrifice their lives at a higher level, when they reject the human passions and the comforts of married life to dedicate their energies to God alone and, in His name, to His People.
Those who sit nearer to Christ in the glory of heaven are those who deserved it the most, since they conformed themselves more to Christ than anybody else. Paul says: "Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ". Those in the celibacy live a life of fuller imitation of Christ, for they reject all human passions and dedicate their lives to God alone, as Jesus did refusing to live an ordinary life with marriage and children. But is that compulsory? No. I will (God willing) get married, but I don't feel any envy or perceive an unjust choice by God if I will find millions of celibate saints between my sit and God's throne when (also God willing) I will go to heaven. Should I be jealous? No: I will give those brethren the love and appreciation they deserve as more perfect than me. This is possibly a lesson too hard to accept, but this is God's logic, not ours.


Unknown said...

Fr. Ryan -

Thanks. We're talking past each other somewhat. You assert the "celibate vocation is more perfect"- my comments hold true no matter how you construe the celibate vocation. How is it that sexual intimacy in marriage makes one less perfect, exactly? Where does the Church teach this?

You failed to address the superseding issue, which was the point of my comment. i.e. - that you are making a largely inapposite distinction. Perfection is not based on whether one has a "celibate vocation" vs non-celibate. It is based on one's degree of charity. Even if the celibate vocation is more perfect in the abstract, what matters is that one live out their calling by God with the greatest charity. There is so much more to say on this, but I appreciate the forum. Blessings - DD

Chatto said...

Since Father (surprisingly) didn't reference the Angelic Doctor, I'll point out that St. Thomas deals with a couple of issues regarding remarriage (it's lawfulness and sacramental nature) in the Supplement to the ST, Q.63.

As for what 'perfect' is, and how it's measured, I couldn't find anything in the ST. As someone who is more and more convinced that I'm called to the ordinary vocation of marriage (mercifully, I think she is too), I have no problem assenting to the notion (reality? cf. Bl. Newman) that the celibate vocations are "more perfect" than marriage. I understand it to simply reflect the ultimate nature of each i.e. it's in the nature of marriage to come to an end; each individual one in death, and all marriage at the Resurrection. What is only temporary cannot be perfect, properly understood. Therefore, Marriage isn't 'perfect' in this strict sense. So while it may not be perfect in itself, if it's going to be my school of perfection (sainthood), then I'm all for it!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dcn D,
Ah ... there is the problem ... you think I have said that sexual intimacy makes one less perfect ... which is precisely what I have not said.
However, the vocation to celibacy is more perfect, while it is certainly not true that every celibate is more perfect.

As to whether it is important to speak of these things ... the Church thinks so.

"Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, 'so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,' bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God." (Famililiaris Consortio, 16 -- apostolic exhortation, John Paul II, 1981)

Bl. John Paul II makes this assertion with reference also to the encyclical Sacra Virginitas, of Ven. Pius XII.

Again: The Church has always defended the superiority of celibacy to marriage.

If John Paul II thinks it is important and helpful, then so do I.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thanks for the note to St Thomas!
Another place to look is the last few questions of the II-II in which place the Angelic Thomas discusses the active and contemplative lives ... here, it becomes clear that the religious vocation is greater than the secular vocation (which is what both married people and also diocesan priests [though in a very different way] are called to).

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I should make clear one point though ... you are certainly correct in stressing that the degree of individual perfection depends wholly on the degree of one's charity.
This is firmly rooted not only in St. Thomas, but also in the works of St. John of the Cross (whom, you referenced earlier).

That was the point of the quote from de Sales ... or at least, that was what I was trying to say when quoting St. Francis de Sales! :-)

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents: as someone who married late in life, and who therefore knows well what it means to live life as a single Catholic, my experience has affirmed the teaching that marriage results in a division of heart. I believe both myself and my wife made the right choice to marry, but although I maintain my personal devotions as I did from before I was married, they are often not as devoted in spirit as they used to be. My wife has experienced something similar since we married.

As for the teachings in regard to the superiority of the evangelical counsels, I never doubted their truth. Each has his own gift, as the apostle wrote.

St Francis de Sales also said marriage is a cross...and I paraphrase--a most effective one, since it is full of, true, true. The division of heart is also a cross, if you love God, IMO.


Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.