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On Christian Celibacy / Chastity


The whole of Scripture from its beginning in earthly paradise to its culmination with the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem adorned as a bride ready for her bridegroom describes God’s purposes of uniting us with him in a bond of spiritual marriage – that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.  Earthly marriage points to this divine purpose if it is so consecrated (i.e. if it is Christian marriage) through its openness to bearing fruit in procreation, and by revealing Christ-like love.  And for Christians, a clear alternative suggested in Scripture is the single life consecrated to God.  It is also meant to point to this spiritual marriage and, while it may be a more or less powerful witness depending on the individual, it is nonetheless a more explicit witness, since in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven [Matt 23:30].  In such a marriage, the fruit born of such a union are spiritual, and on God's side the love is not Christ-like but perfectly Christian (perfectly faithful, forgiving, sacrificial, serving, wise).

For the background of this in Scripture, see Genesis 2 and the interpretation of that passage by St. Paul in Ephesians 5.  Elsewhere this is found especially in the Wisdom literature: in the Old Testament see Proverbs (3-9) and the Song of Songs; and in the Apocrypha, see for example the Wisdom of Solomon (7-8) (God as Lady Wisdom).  In the Old Testament Prophetic tradition, God describes himself as a husband and Israel the bride (e.g. Isaiah 54; Jeremiah 3, 12, 31; Ezekiel 16; Hosea).  In the New Testament, Jesus is the Messiah come to bring about the messianic age which is the mystical marriage - the first miracle at the wedding of Cana; John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the bridegroom (John 3:29); Jesus refers to himself explicitly as the bridegroom when explaining why his disciples do not fast (Mt 9:15; Mk 2:19; Lk 5:34).  Jesus uses parables of invitations to a wedding feast of a king’s son (Lk 14:7-11; Mt 22:2-14) and of wise virgins ready for marriage (Mt 25:1-13) to describe the kingdom of heaven, he says some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake (Mt 19:12). St. Paul is a strong proponent of the single life (1 Cor. 7), not because he is against earthly marriage but so that one might think how he may please the Lord...that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

Some writings from the Early and Medieval Church draw out this theme in Scripture on Celibacy/Virginity as spiritual marriage (the links are to ccel.com where the treatises can be read in full) (this is a quick list, and will hopefully be added to in time);

Some Reformation writings on Celibacy / Virginity

Some Counter-Reformation writings on Celibacy / Virginity

  • St. Theresa of Avila describes an ecstatic experience in her consecrated life...

  The Ecstacy of St. Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful - his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Cherubim…I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.


Some Recent books on the subject of chastity for consideration (the links are to Amazon.com where you can read excerpts and see the table of contents):



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