Preparatory schema on marriage and family: 3

Draft of a dogmatic constitution on chastity, marriage, the family, and virginity

Part III: Sacred virginity

35. The excellence of sacred virginity

If holy Mother Church has always especially honored chastity as a choice fruit of the Holy Spirit, it has certainly always regarded as among its supremely precious treasures that perfect chastity by which a person consecrates himself to God's service by sacred virginity and, out of singular love for God, for the sake of the Kingdom of God (see Mt 19:12), by a spiritual and free decision abstains from marriage and from its bodily delights. This honor given by the Bride of Christ is still greater when that chastity is undertaken by a permanent bond and is thus surrounded by a greater strength and firmness.[1] By such a consecration, a man emulates in some ways the purity of the Angels,[2] in some degree already here on earth he anticipates the state of heaven,[3] is more perfectly likened to Christ the Virgin, born of the immaculate Virgin, and is more closely united with God, the most pure Spirit. By such a consecration, with the help of God's grace, a person can totally hand himself over to the service of the divine Majesty, more easily engages in the contemplation of divine things, and, free from secular and fleshly cares, undertakes apostolic works in order to spread the Kingdom of God.[4]

36. Virginity and marriage

It cannot be surprising, therefore, if Holy Church, taught by the divine Teacher himself and by the Apostle of the Gentiles (see Mt 19:11-12; 1 Cor 7:25-27, 32-36, 38-40), has never ceased to extol virginity over marriage, even if, as the Lord himself attests, there always have been and will be, those who cannot accept this (see Mt 19:12). Soberly, yet clearly, following as usual other God-speaking Fathers,[5] St John Damascene said, "Virginity is an angelic kind of life, marked by characteristics of an incorporeal nature. Nor do we say this in order to detract from marriage, far be it; for we know that the Lord blessed marriage by his presence and we know who it was who said 'Let marriage be honored,...and the marriage bed undefiled' (Hb 13:4); but we acknowledge that virginity is better than marriage, good as this is."[6] No less soberly and clearly did the Sacred Council of Trent teach that it is better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy (undertaken for God's sake, of course) than to be joined in marriage.[7] Nor does virginity, by which in a singular way we are conformed to Christ the Virgin impede or diminish the development of one's own personality, rather it augments it and can lead it to a higher level (see 1 Cor 7:33-40).[8]

37. The practice of the Church

While the dignity of marriage and of the Christian family can never be sufficiently praised, the Church, considering the objective order established by God through Jesus Christ, has wished that chaste marriage, which is a great mystery in Christ and the Church (see Eph 5: 32), cede in honor to the state of sacred virginity, even where virginity is not linked to a vow or profession of the other evangelical counsels, so long as it is undertaken not for human reasons but for the sake of the love of God and of Jesus Christ; and of the sacred ministers of the Latin rite it demands that they willingly and freely choose virginity as their spouse and remain faithful to it until death, while it recommends the same virginal chastity to ministers of the Oriental rites as a sweet priestly ornament.[9]

38. Errors are rejected

Kindly Mother Church joyfully exults over the great number of those who in various regions, particularly in recently founded churches, under the Spirit's inspiration and with his help, are embracing the sacred state of virginity. But it also observes with anxiety that in not a few regions where sacred virginity was once the ornament of many families, the number of those who by divine grace are aspiring to a state so singularly loved by God is diminishing and sometimes is being notably reduced. This is happening not only because of a worldly spirit, penetrating more easily today than before even into Catholic families, but also because of errors spread and propagated concerning the character of marriage and of sacred virginity. For that reason, compelled by harsh necessity, she renews the severe condemnation once uttered by the Sacred Council of Trent against those who dare to maintain that the marital state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy,[10] and she also seriously rejects the view of those who claim that the bond of celibacy today is obsolete, indeed impossible today, exceeds the competence of the Church and should be relaxed according to the will of the subject.[11] She also must severely reject the dangerous view, very injurious to the life of the Church, which teaches that the obligations with regard to virginal chastity assumed by young people desiring to dedicate themselves to God are practically non-existent, on the grounds that adolescents should be a priori and generally presumed to lack psychological maturity and the required experience of persons of the opposite sex.[12]

Finally, the Sacred Synod exhorts Christian parents by prayer, purity of life, and veneration for the priestly and religious state, to foster sacred vocations, knowing that chaste marriage is then most greatly honored when from it flow the flowers of sacred virginity.


39. A brief encouragement

These are the things which the Sacred Synod has thought it necessary to say to meet the needs of the day, not only so that the truth might be not only better known, but also more readily acknowledged and profitably expressed in life itself. It encourages Pastors religiously to instruct the faithful about these decrees and to help them by their good advice. It encourages the married to allow continually to grow within themselves the gifts and graces which they received from heaven when they received the Sacrament in which the spousal love of Christ and the Church was symbolized. It encourages parents and children by imitating the sacred Family of Nazareth continually to strain towards the higher things. It encourages those who serve God by sacred virginity to refuse secular desires out of the love for Jesus Christ and so to change all fleshly love into spiritual love. It encourages all, generously and in a spirit of love and subjection, to accept and to offer to God the troubles and difficulties which in this order after Adam's fall are as it were inevitably linked with the divine gifts. As the kindly Mother of the faithful, the Church sympathizes with the distress, miseries, and torments with which the great number of her children is burdened and not seldom oppressed. But it also cannot remain silent about the sacrifices willed by God and Jesus Christ. And it is forced to respond no less to some lamenting faithful than to the many calumniating enemies: "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judge....We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 4:19 and 5:29). But if the voice of the Church is truly heard, marriage and the family will correspond to the counsels of God, who is love, and of Jesus Christ who loved us with a perpetual charity; and "this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor 4:17-18).


1 See Pius XII, Encyclical Sacra virginitas, March 25, 1954 (AAS 46 [1954], 161-91); on the vow, Ibid., p. 165.

2 St. John Chrysostom, In Matt. hom. 70, 5 (PG 58, 660); St. Bonaventure, De perfectione evangelica, q. 3, a. 3; St. Thomas, Catena aurea in Matth. Evang., ch. 22, v. 30-32 (Parma ed., 1860, p. 254B): "...thus all the virtues are angelic things, especially chastity through which nature is overcome by the virtues;" St. Cyprian, De habitu virginum, 22 (PL 4, 462): "When you persevere as chaste virgins, you are equal to God's Angels"; St. Ambrose, De virginibus, bk. 1, ch. 8, n. 52 (PL 16, 202-203); Pius XII, Sacra virginitas, l.c., pp. 167, 173.

3 See Mt 22:30.

4 See 1 Cor 7:32-34.

5 See especially Didymus of Alexandria, Contra Manich., 8 (PG 39, 1096) and St. John Chrysostom, De Virginitate, 10 (PG 48, 450).

6 De fide orth., IV, 24 (PG 94, 1210).

7 Council of Trent, Session XXIV, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Marriage, c. 10 (D 980):

If anyone should say that the conjugal state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or of celibacy and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or in celibacy than to be joined in marriage, A.S."

8 Pius XII, Sacra virginitas, l.c., pp. 176f:

"For although all those who have embraced a life of perfect chastity have deprived themselves of the expression of human love permitted in the married state, nonetheless it cannot thereby be affirmed that because of this privation they have diminished and despoiled the human personality. For they receive from the Giver of heavenly gifts something spiritual which far exceeds that 'mutual help' which husband and wife confer on each other. They consecrate themselves to him who is their source and who shares with them his divine life, and thus they do not diminish themselves but make themselves immensely greater";

Pius XII, Speech, September 15, 1952 (Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, XIV, p. 334):

Today we wish to address ourselves only to those, priests and lay people, preachers, orators, or writers, who no longer have a word of approval or of praise for virginity vowed to Christ, who for years, despite the warnings of the Church and in spite of its teachings, assign marriage a preference in principle over virginity, who go even to the point of presenting it as the only means capable of assuring the development and natural perfection of the human person. Those who speak and write such things should become aware of their responsibility before God and before the Church."

9 Council of Trent, Session XXIV, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Marriage, c. 10 (D 980).

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., c. 9 (D 979).

12 Thus Pius XII, Sacra virginitas, l.c., pp. 183f:

Some indeed claim that all Christians and the clergy in particular should not be separated from the world as in the past, but should be present to the world; therefore they should take the risk and put their chastity to the test in order to show whether or not they have strength to resist; therefore, they say, let young clerics see everything so that they may accustom themselves to gaze at everything with equanimity, and thus render themselves immune to all temptations."

But now things have developed to the point that amorous relationships are being advised for those who desire to vow themselves to perpetual chastity. Furthermore, this passage intends to reject what many psychologists maintain, namely that during puberty and early youth a man is incapable of a fully free and fully responsible human act. This opinion, unfortunately, is heard even from Catholic psychologists. The Constitution obviously does not reject healthy types of education for chastity, in which young people and even the clergy, if they are destined for the care of souls, are educated so that they will be able to see and deal with pure and simple minds with whatever they have to see and deal with. Neither is the text aimed at extraordinary or pathological conditions or at an impetuous sexuality, which would render a youth less fit for vowing himself to perpetual chastity or which could diminish imputability. All these things would have to be measured according to circumstances in the particular cases.