“Steeped in Romanity” — Fr. Victor-Alain Berto

Articles written, translated or selected by John S. Daly

The guiding star of this site is fidelity to Rome.

From torrid south to frozen north,
The wave harmonious stretches forth,
Yet strikes no chord more true to Rome’s,
Than rings within our hearts and homes.
Cardinal Wiseman

Jovinian 1982 by Professor Corbi

Professor Gustavo Daniel Corbi

Professor Corbi (†2012) studied in universities in his native Argentine, Rome and Munich and worked as a researcher for the Argentine National Scientific and Technical Research Council This study was originally written and published in Spanish (Iction, Buenos Aires, 1982). It was translated into English by John S. Daly with the permission of the author.

Chapter I

Surely it is inconceivable that a heresy which was current in the fourth century, which has been condemned by the Fathers, by the Magisterium and by the whole of ecclesiastical tradition up to and including the great Pope Pius XII, including by St. Thomas, the Council of Trent and the Syllabus, should rear its head once more after more than fifteen hundred years in the year 1982?

And surely this would be all the more inconceivable if this heresy denies a dogma already found in the Gospel (Matthew, 19:10 ff.), clearly taught by St. Paul (I Corinthians 7:25 ff.), believed by the whole of Catholic tradition and defined in the Holy Council of Trent: the superiority of the “state of virginity or celibacy” to the “conjugal state” (Denzinger 980).

What better way can be found of unmasking the fallacies of the modernists than to present in chronological order the main documents of Catholic tradition which prove this truth and dogma of the faith.

Chapter II

Jovinian was a heretical priest and monk of the fourth century. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and, above all, St. Jerome, fought his heresies:

“From Jovinian, a certain monk, comes this heresy which has arisen in our age, while we were still young men.”(1)

Among others, he maintained these two heresies:

(a) Virginity and matrimony are of equal value and are equally meritorious in the sight of God:

“Virgins, widows and married people, once they have been regenerated in Christ, if they do not differ in their other works, have equal merit.”

St. Augustine reports that Jovinian…

“…attributed to conjugal chastity the same rank as that of virgins consecrated to the Lord.”(2)

Jovinian he says urged nuns to enter matrimony, using this argument:

“Are you then, virgin, greater than Sara and than Susanna and than Anna?”

And if Christians exalted virginity above matrimony, Jovinian used to accuse them of Manichæism:

“Jovinian, who has endeavoured for several years to establish a new heresy, affirmed that the Catholics were supporting the Manichees because, against his opinion, like them, they put holy virginity before matrimony.”(3)

(b) As the logical consequence for anyone who denies the excellence of virginity, Jovinian ended by denying the perpetual virginity of Mary.

He asserted that if Mary had indeed conceived miraculously through the working of the Holy Ghost, she ceased to be a virgin at the moment of, and as a result of, giving birth.(4)

About the year 390 Pope St. Siricius – as we shall see in greater detail in chapter III – condemned the opinion of Jovinian, excommunicating him.

Jovinian took refuge in Milan. Pope St. Siricius sent a copy of the sentence of condemnation with three priests to the Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose.

It is thanks to the answering letter from St. Ambrose that we are aware that Jovinian denied the perpetual virginity of Mary.

About the year 393, St. Ambrose condemned Jovinian in a synod at Milan.

In 398 the Emperor Honorius banished Jovinian to an island on the coast of Dalmatia.

Jovinian died before the year 406:

“Rather than expiring, he vomited out his last breath amid pheasants and swine flesh.”(5)

Protestants have made of Jovinian one of the first victims of “Roman intolerance”.

The Protestant Harnack says of him that he was “a Protestant before the name existed,” in other words the first Protestant.

Ecclesiastical Writers Who Wrote Against Jovinian

1. Pope St. Siricius condemned his writings. (Letter 7, “Optarem”, (Patrologia Latina, XIII, 1168-1172).

2. St. Ambrose condemned Jovinian’s opinion in his Letter 42, “Recognovimus” (Patrologia Latina, XVI, 1124-1129).

3. St. Jerome about the year 393-394 wrote his “Two Books against Jovinian” (Patrologia Latina, XXIII, 211-338), in which he calls him “the Christian Epicurus”, “whose name is derived from that of an idol” (11, 38).

4. St. Augustine took the occasion of the heresy of Jovinian to write, about the year 401, his beautiful moral treatises “De Bono Coniugali” and “De Sancta Virginitate”.

References to Jovinian are also encountered in St. Vincent of Lerins, Pelagius, Julian of Eclanum, etc.

Chapter III
Pope St. Siricius

St. Siricius, a Roman Pope (384-399), successor of St. Damasus, was placed by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) in the Roman Martyrology (26th November), because…

“…he was distinguished for his learning, piety and zeal for religion, condemning various heretics and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline by very salutary decrees”.(6)

About the year 389 or 390 (or, according to others in 392), St. Siricius summoned a council for all the Roman clergy in which he solemnly condemned the “temerarious composition” of Jovinian – which he called “a horrific writing” – and excommunicated him by name along with eight of his followers, declaring them “abettors of a new and blasphemous heresy”.(7)

In his letter to the Church of Milan, the Pope declared:

“We certainly do not hold nuptial vows in contempt; indeed we officially preside at the ceremony at which they are exchanged; but we honour with greater esteem virgins – born of marriages – who are consecrated to God.”(8)

Chapter IV
Fathers of the Church

1. St. Ambrose (c. 333-397)

In his letter 42, to Pope St. Siricius written about the year 392:

“We do not deny that matrimony was sanctified by Christ, who said with His divine voice, ‘they shall be two in one flesh’ (Matthew 19:5) and in one spirit, but what we are born comes before what we are made; and the ministry of the divine work is much more worthy than the remedy of human frailty. The good wife is rightly praised, but the pious virgin is better preferred.” (9)

2. St. John Chrysostom (344-407)

“Virginity is good and to this I agree; moreover it is better than matrimony, this too I confess. And if you wish to know how much better it is I shall add: by as much as heaven is better than earth, by as much as angels are better than men; would indeed that I might express the difference even more strongly and clearly.” (10)

3. St. Augustine (354-430)

St. Augustine refers to the superiority of virginity principally in three works: De Bono Coniugali (401), De Sancta Virginitate (end of 401) and De Hæresibus (428).

(a) De Bono Coniugali (401) Chapter 8:

“...just as that which Martha did was good when she was occupied in the service of the saints, but that which her sister Mary did was better as she sat at the feet of the Lord listening to His word: so we praise the goodness of Susanna in conjugal chastity; but we still prefer to this the goodness of the widow Anna and much more so of the Virgin Mary” (11)

It is worth pointing out that this text is cited by St. Thomas in the Summa Theologiae, II-II, 153, 2, in the response to the first objection.

Chapter 9:

“...and thus it is a good thing to marry because it is a good thing to procreate children and to be mothers (I Timothy 5,14); but it is better not to marry since it is better for human society itself to have no need of this.”

“Hence it is deduced that in the first days of the human race, especially in order to propagate the people of God of whom the Prince and Saviour of all nations was to be prophesied and born, pious folk were obliged to have recourse to the good of marriage not because it is in itself desirable but because it was necessary for extrinsic reasons. Now, however, when from every race and from every locality for the formation of a holy and perfect society the matrimonial bond is found in plentiful abundance, those who desire to be joined in matrimony, even for the sake of children alone, are to be advised to prefer the greater good of continence.”

Chapter 11:

“Hence it is written in relation to the greater holiness of unmarried women over married women, (who deserve also a greater reward in so far as their good is better than the other good) that she [the unmarried woman] thinks of this one thing alone, how she may please the Lord.”

Chapter 23:

“So if we compare the two things together, there is no room for doubt that the chastity of continence is better than nuptial chastity, although both are good; and if we compare men together, that man is better who has a greater good than another.”

“Matrimony and virginity are certainly two goods of which the latter is the greater.”

(b) De Sancta Virginitate (c. end of 401) Chapter 19:

“For since it is an error either to equate marriage with holy virginity, or to condemn it altogether, these two errors, by each one excessively fleeing from the other one, rush into headlong collision, since they do not wish to accept the middle way of truth; from which, both by sure reasoning and on the authority of Holy Scripture, we find that marriage is neither a sin, nor however as good as virginal continence or even the continence of widows.” (12)

It is worth observing that St. Thomas, in the Summa Theologiæ II-II, q. 152, a. 4, where he asks “whether virginity is more excellent than matrimony,” reproduces by way of reply the final part of this authoritative and definitive text of St. Augustine, beginning from “by sure reasoning and on the authority of Holy Scripture...”

Chapter 21:

“We, however, according to the faith of the Holy Scriptures and sound doctrine do not say that marriage is sinful, but we rank its goodness not only below the goodness of virginal continence but even below the continence of widows; we say that the present necessity of married folk impedes their merit not indeed for eternal life, but for the surpassing glory and honour which is reserved to perpetual continence.”

(c) De Hæresibus (428)

“Here too I found the Jovinianists whom I already knew. This heresy arose from Jovinian, a certain monk, in our age, while we were still young men. This man said, as did the Stoic philosophers, that all sins were equal and that, once he had received baptism, a man could no longer sin and that neither fasting nor abstinence from any kind of food was of any avail. He attacked the virginity of Mary, saying that she was corrupted in giving birth. He set on an equal footing the virginity even of consecrated religious and the continence of the male sex in those saints who chose the celibate life with the merits of chaste and faithful spouses.” (13)

4. St John Damascene (end of the 7th century to before 754)

“Virginity is an angelic kind of life, being the peculiar mark of the whole of incorporeal nature. Neither do we say this in order to detract from marriage – far from it. For we know that the Lord blessed marriage with his presence and we know who it was who said, ‘marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled’ (Hebrews 13:4); but we say it because we recognise that, although marriage is in some ways good, virginity is better.” (14)

5. St. Thomas.

We shall indicate the principal texts in the Summa Theologiæ, in the Summa Contra Gentiles and in The Compendium of Theology.

1. Summa Theologiæ

At II-II, q. 152, a. 4, St. Thomas inquires “whether virginity is more excellent than matrimony” and replies:

“As is established in Jerome’s work Contra Jovinianum, it was the error of Jovinian to deny that virginity should be placed higher than matrimony. It is refuted above all by the example of Christ who both chose a Virgin Mother and Himself remained a virgin, and by the teaching of the Apostle who counsels virginity as the greater good.

“It is also refuted by reason. In the first place, because divine good is better than human good, in the second, because the values of the soul are to be chosen rather than those of the body and in the third because the values of the contemplative life are to be chosen rather than those of the active. Virginity is for the soul’s good in the life of contemplation, mindful of the things of God. Marriage is for the body’s good in the life of action, namely the growth of the human race. For men and women who embrace matrimony must needs ‘think of the things of this world,’ (15) to quote the Apostle. And so without doubt virginity is to be esteemed more highly than conjugal continence.”

2. Contra Gentiles

St. Thomas treats of this question in book III of the Contra Gentiles, chapters 136 and 137.

III Contra Gentiles, 136, 4:

“...to abstain from all carnal pleasures without any reason is known as the vice of insensibility; but if this be done according to reason, it is a virtue which even exceeds the common practice of men, for it makes men to have a certain participation in the likeness of God; whence virginity is said to be related to the angels.”

This theme of virginity which “makes us equal to the angels” is constant throughout Catholic tradition. It is found in all the Fathers of the Church and in the Magisterium itself. Since we cannot quote all of the texts, let one from Pope Pius XII suffice:

“But where immaculate marriages flourish, adorned with the Christian virtues, there exists and increases, side by side with them, chaste virginity, nourished by the love of Christ. Exhort your clergy, we implore you, to hold in great esteem and to cultivate religiously this highest form of life which makes men equal to the angels ...” (16)

III Contra Gentiles, 137

It is above all in chapter 137 of book III of the Contra Gentiles that St. Thomas refutes the heresy of Jovinian which claimed that the matrimonial state is equal to continence.

In this regard, as the Leonine edition indicates, all the editions of the Contra Gentiles put as the title of this chapter,

Against those who make matrimony equal to virginity

“There are however others also who, although they did not reprove perpetual continence, yet claimed equality for it with the state of matrimony, which is the heresy of Jovinian. But the falsity of this error is sufficiently apparent from the foregoing, since by continence man is rendered better equipped for the elevation of his mind to spiritual and divine things, and is in a certain manner placed above the state of man in a certain likeness to the angels.

“Nor is it an objection that some men of the most perfect virtue were married, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; since the stronger the virtue of a soul is, the less can anything drag it down from its height. Nor however, since these men were married, did they love the contemplation of truth and divine things less; but, as the condition of that time required, they used marriage for the multiplication of the faithful people.

“Nor yet is the perfection of a particular individual a sufficient argument for the perfection of his state in life; since one person may use a lesser good with a more perfect spirit than another person might use a greater good. Therefore it is not true that, because Abraham or Moses was more perfect than many who remained continent, the state of marriage is on this account more perfect than the state of continence, or equal to it.”

3. Compendium of Theology

Chapter 221: That it was fitting that Christ was born of a virgin.

“But by as much as anyone is separated from carnal things, so much the more is he filled with spiritual gifts. For by spiritual things a man is led upwards, while by carnal things he is dragged downwards” (n. 451).

“For the Son of God came into this world, having assumed flesh, for this end – that He might lead us to the state of resurrection in which they neither marry nor are married but men will be as the angels in Heaven. For which reason He introduced the doctrine both of continence and of integrity so that in the life of the faithful an image of future glory might in some manner shine forth. It was, therefore, fitting that even in his own origin he should commend integrity of life by being born of a virgin; hence it is said in the Apostles’ Creed, ‘born of the Virgin Mary’” (n. 452).

Chapter VI
The Council of Trent

Canon 10 of Session 24 defined forever the traditional doctrine of the superiority of virginity.

To show the importance of this Canon, there could be no better explanatory context than the Introduction to Session 24 itself, in which the doctrine concerning the Sacrament of Matrimony is expounded:

“With regard to this teaching, ungodly men of this age, raving madly, have not only formed false ideas concerning this venerable Sacrament, but, introducing a carnal liberty under the pretext of the Gospel as is their wont, have by word and writing asserted, not without great harm to the faithful of Christ, many things that are foreign to the teaching of the Catholic Church and to the usage approved of since the times of the Apostles; wherefore this holy and general Council, desiring to restrain their boldness, has thought it proper, lest their pernicious contagion should attract more adherents, that the principal heresies and errors of the aforesaid schismatics be destroyed by directing against those heretics and their errors the following anathemas. (Denzinger 970)

“Canon 10. If anyone should say that the married state should be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibate than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema. (cf. Matthew 19:11; 1 Corinthians 7:25; 38-40)” (Denzinger 980)

Chapter VII
The Syllabus

The Syllabus of Pope Pius IX (1864) was entitled: “Syllabus comprising the principal errors of our age.” Section VIII, which embraces propositions 65 to 74, treats of the “Errors concerning Christian Marriage”, and after proposition 74 there is a Nota Bene:

“N.B. Two other errors may be included at this point – the abolition of clerical celibacy and preference for the state of matrimony over the state of virginity. The first of these errors is condemned in the encyclical letter Qui Pluribus, 9th November 1846, and the second in the apostolic letter Multiplices Inter, 10th June 1851.” (Denzinger 1774a).

The apostolic letter Multiplices Inter was entitled:

“Condemnation and Prohibition of the work in six volumes produced in the Spanish language bearing the title Defence of the Authority of Governments and Bishops against the pretences of the Roman Curia by Francisco de Paula G. Vigil, Lima, 1848.”

In it, Pius IX said the following:

“For the author, although a Catholic, and allegedly exercising the divine ministry, (...) shamelessly assails the law of celibacy and, after the manner of the innovators, prefers the conjugal state to the state of virginity...”.

Chapter VIII

In his letter of 8th February 1893 – Novæ Condendæ Legis – addressed to the bishops of the province of Venice concerning the plan for civil marriage, Leo XIII expressed himself as follows:

Virginity indeed is, in itself, better than matrimony, and those who are inspired by God to embrace this state of life are worthy of the highest praise; but this gift of perfect continence is not granted to all, in which case, according to the dictum of the Apostle ‘it is better to marry than to be burnt.’” (17)

Chapter IX
Pius XII

The principal document of Pope Pius XII concerning this subject is his most beautiful encyclical Sacra Virginitas (1954) which is full of doctrinal unction. We shall also include however his other main texts from before and after the encyclical.

A. Before Sacra Virginitas

1. 23rd September 1951 address to the discalced Carmelites:

“Nor should he who has chosen for himself the state of virginity undervalue or spurn marriage. Marriage is good, but virginity is better. The state of matrimony is honourable, but, as the Gospel itself bears witness, the state of virginity embraced for the love of Christ and fruitful in charity is more exalted...” (18)

2. 15th September 1952 address to the superiors of religious congregations:

“Today we wish to address Ourselves exclusively to those who, whether priests or laymen, preachers, orators or writers, no longer have a word of approval or of praise for virginity devoted to Christ; who for some years, despite the warning of the Church and against Her mind, have accorded to marriage a fundamental preference over virginity; who even go so far as to present it as the only means capable of assuring the human personality of its natural development and perfection: let those who speak and write in this manner take conscience of their responsibilities before God and before the Church.” (19)

3. 23rd November 1952 address to the youth of the “Oases”:

“If it is certain that the family is the fundamental unit of society and that it is upon the reconstruction of the family that the renovation of the world depends, what a powerful impulse could be given by youth such as yourselves for the achievement of such an exalted and such an urgent end.’ On the other hand, your consecration prepares young minds to accept, when Our Lord inspires them, their vocation to the religious life, which will always be a more perfect state than that of matrimony (which is nevertheless also holy).” (20)

B. The Encyclical Letter Sacra Virginitas (25th March 1954). (21)

a) Reaffirmation of the “Catholic Truth” of the “Excellence of Virginity”:

“Since however today there are those who, forsaking the right path in this matter, so far extol matrimony that they practically place it before virginity, and thereby impugn chastity dedicated to God and ecclesiastical celibacy, our awareness of our Apostolic Office demands that We declare and defend especially in this document the doctrine concerning the exalted honour of virginity, so that We may defend the Catholic Truth against these errors.”

b) This doctrine was received from Christ:

“in the first place we consider that it should be noted that it was from the lips of Her Divine Spouse that the Church received the principal points of Her doctrine concerning virginity.”

c) The foundation in Scripture and in reason for the excellence of virginity:

“For this reason it must first be affirmed – as the Church clearly teaches – that holy virginity surpasses matrimony in its excellence. Already our Divine Redeemer had urged this upon his disciples as a counsel of a more perfect life. (22) And the Apostle Paul, after saying of a father who joined his daughter in matrimony, ‘he doth well’, adds this continuation, ‘and he that giveth her not doth better.’ (23) And the same Apostle, in comparing marriage with virginity, reveals his opinion not only once, but especially with these words:

“‘for I would that all men were even as myself.. but I say to the unmarried and to the widows: it is good for them if they so continue, even as I.’ (24) So if virginity, as we have written, is more excellent than matrimony, there can be no doubt that this is principally so because it has regard to the acquisition of a more excellent end; (25) and moreover because it also assists with the greatest efficacy in enslaving oneself entirely to the service of God; while by contrast the mind of one who is involved in the bonds and duties of wedlock is to a greater or lesser extent ‘divided’. (26)

d) The traditional doctrine of the Church is defined as a dogma of divine faith:

“This doctrine, which affirms that virginity and celibacy are more excellent than, and surpass, the state of matrimony, was, as we have said, already revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Likewise it was solemnly defined in the most holy Council of Trent as a dogma of divine faith and always declared, with concordant judgment, by the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Moreover, like our predecessors, We Ourself whenever the occasion has arisen, have explained this matter more and more and greatly commended it. Nevertheless, since of late there have not been lacking those who would impugn this same doctrine passed on by our fathers in the Church, with grave danger and detriment to the faithful of Christ, we, in accordance with our awareness of our Office, have considered it expedient once more to summarise the matter by this Encyclical Letter and to unmask and condemn the errors of this kind which are very frequently put forward disguised as truth.”

e) Virginity and Christian Perfection:

“Let us come now, Venerable Brethren, to those things which, arising from this doctrine of the Church concerning the excellence of virginity, can be put to practical effect in life.

“In the first place it must be openly declared that, although virginity is to be considered as more perfect than matrimony, it does not follow from this that it is necessary for the attainment of Christian perfection. Holiness of life, even without chastity dedicated to God, can in reality be attained; a fact which is frequently testified to by the holy men and women whom the Church honours with public devotion, and who are shining examples of faithful spouses and excellent fathers and mothers of families; indeed it is by no means a rare thing to encounter married couples who are very eagerly striving after Christian perfection.

C. Subsequent to Sacra Virginitas

1. 14th September 1956: Allocution to the participants in the sixth week of pastoral adaptation.

“The most recent encyclical, Sacra Virginitas, of 25th March 1954, has shown you, among other things, the mind of the Church on the interminable debates of our contemporaries, especially the young, on the importance and even the absolute necessity – so some maintain – of marriage for the human person (who, without it would remain – according to them – a spiritual cripple), as also on the pretended superiority of Christian marriage and the conjugal act over virginity (which is not a sacrament producing effects ex opere operato.)” (27)

2. 25th April 1957: Allocution to the First National Italian Congress of Nursing Sisters.

It is a truth of faith, recently recalled by us in the encyclical Sacra Virginitas under date of 25th March 1954, that virginity is superior to the married state because the virgin soul contracts bonds of absolute and indissoluble love directly with God, even more, with God incarnate Jesus Christ. In fact, all that she has received as a gift of God to be wife and mother, is offered to her as holocaust on the altar of a complete and perpetual renunciation. To reach the heart of God, to love Him and to be loved by Him, the virgin soul does not go through any other hearts, does not stop to treat with other creatures; nothing comes in between her and Jesus; no obstacle, no medium.

“On the contrary, marriage, while it is a real sacrament, one of the seven sources of grace instituted by Christ Himself; while it comprises the reciprocal offering of each of the parties to the other; while it brings about a real fusion of life and destiny, nonetheless includes, in God’s eyes, something which is divided, something which is not completely given and which is not based upon complete surrender. Only virgin souls offer what for other souls who love is an inaccessible goal; for them the first rung of their ascent is also the last; it is the term of their development; it is at once both the summit and a profound abyss.” (28)

3. 13th July 1958: Allocution to the Young Women of Catholic Action of Italy.

“On various occasions we have been obliged to condemn the error of those who assert that the Christian virgin is in some way mutilated, in some way incomplete, in some way incapable of achieving the perfection proper to her. Virginity, on the contrary, is, as it were, an angelic life. It is by its excellence a superior state to matrimony. But this superiority, on the other hand, detracts nothing from the beauty and grandeur of married life.” (29)

4. 29th July 1958: Papal Wireless Message to the Enclosed Religious of the Entire World.

“The Encyclical Sacra Virginitas treats in its first part of the excellence of virginity. It proves this excellence first of all by texts from the Gospel and by the very words of Christ; then by the declarations of the Apostle of the Gentiles concerning virginity chosen for God; it quotes St. Cyprian and St. Augustine, who demonstrate the power of its effects; it emphasises the importance of the vow which confers upon virginity the constancy of the virtue; it demonstrates its superiority over marriage; it illustrates all of the divine blessings which that state attracts and the admirable fruits which it produces.”(30)

What a beautiful synthesis of Sacra Virginitas by its author himself, and the last reference which he made to this subject which preoccupied him so much; that was on the 29th July 1958. Two and a half months later, on the 9th October 1958, after a pontificate of almost twenty years, the “Angelic Pastor” rendered his soul to the Lord.

Chapter X

I. Jovinian, “the first Protestant” (Harnack):

i. equated matrimony with virginity: “That is the heresy of Jovinian.” (St. Thomas)

ii. ‘maintained that Catholics favoured the Manichees, because ... they preferred holy virginity to matrimony.” (St. Augustine)

iii. his doctrine was qualified as “a horrifying document” and condemned as “a new and blasphemous heresy” in 390 by Pope St. Siricius.

II. Virginity – Superior to Matrimony...

i. “Matrimony and virginity are undoubtedly two good things, of which the second is greater.” (St. Augustine)

ii.Without any doubt virginity must be preferred to conjugal continence.” (St. Thomas)

iii.Virginity (...) is, as it were, an angelic state of life. It is a state which, by its excellence, is superior to matrimony.” (Pope Pius XII )

iv. “Matrimony is good, but virginity is better; the state of matrimony is honourable, but more exalted is – as the Gospel itself bears witness – the state of virginity.” (Pope Pius XII )

III. It is a Dogma of Divine Faith.

This doctrine, which affirms the advantages and excellencies of virginity and of celibacy over matrimony:

i. is “a traditional doctrine of the Church”.

ii. … was revealed by Our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles (“the Church has received the principal points of her doctrine concerning virginity from the very lips of her divine spouse “

iii. … was always declared, with unanimous agreement, by the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church.”

iv. “In the holy Council of Trent it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith.” (Pope Pius XII)

“If anyone should say that the married state should be preferred to the state of virginity or of celibacy and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibate than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent; Denzinger 980.)

The Extraordinary Catechesis Of The 14th April 1982

On the Easter Wednesday, 14th April 1982, John Paul II referred twice in the same day to the relation between virginity and matrimony.


Allocution to Spanish Delegations in St. Peter’s Square (14th April 1982) (Delivered in Spanish).

(...) “And now, as in previous weeks, we are going to continue our reflections upon the theme of continence for the Kingdom of Heaven. In the words of Christ we ought not to see a superior evaluation of virginity or celibacy with respect to matrimony. Continence and matrimony are two basic situations, two ‘states’ of life, which differ from one another and complement one another within the Christian community. It is precisely this which in its unity and in all of its members has an eschatological orientation and in this distinct tendency is realised for the Kingdom of Heaven.

“The perfection of the disciple of Christ would not then be gauged simply by belonging to one of these states, the gauge of the perfection of the Christian life is charity, in the acquisition of which the practice of the evangelical counsels is undoubtedly helpful. Hence it is that everyone who is faithful to the spirit of these counsels can reach perfection, be he in a religious institute or living in the world.

“With a great desire that every Christian should lead a life in conformity with the teachings of Christ, I impart the apostolic benediction.”(31)


Catechesis in the General Audience of Wednesday

14th April 1982.

“Let us now continue our reflections of recent weeks on the words about continence ‘for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven’, which, according to the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 19: 10-12), Christ addressed to his disciples.

“Let us say once more that these words, concise though they be, are admirably rich and precise; rich with a number of implications both of a doctrinal and a pastoral nature. At the same time they establish a proper limit on the subject. Therefore, any kind of Manichæan interpretation (32) decidedly goes beyond that limit, just as the lustful desire ‘in the heart’ referred to by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:27-28) also goes beyond it.

In Christ’s words on continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven’ there is no reference to any ‘inferiority’ of marriage with regard to the ‘body’, or in other words, with regard to the essence of marriage, consisting in the fact that man and woman join together in marriage, thus becoming ‘one flesh’ (Genesis 2: 24: ‘The two will become one flesh’). Christ’s words recorded in Matthew 19: 11-12 (as also the words of Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 7) give no reason(33) to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy inasmuch as by their nature virginity and celibacy consist in abstinence from the conjugal ‘union in the body’. Christ’s words on this point are quite clear. He proposes to his disciples the ideal of continence and the call to it, not by reason of inferiority nor with prejudice against conjugal ‘union of the body’ but only ‘for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. (34)

“2. In this light a deeper clarification of the very expression ‘for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven’ is particularly useful, and this is what we shall try to do in the following, at least briefly. However, with regard to the correct understanding of the relationship between marriage and continence that Christ speaks about, and the understanding of that relationship as the whole of tradition has understood it, it is worthwhile to add that that ‘superiority’ and ‘inferiority’ fall within the limits of the same complementarity of marriage and continence(35) for the Kingdom of God.

“Marriage and continence are neither opposed to each other nor do they divide the human (and Christian) community into two camps (let us say, those who are ‘perfect’ because of continence and those who are ‘imperfect’ or ‘less perfect’ because of the reality of married life). But these two basic situations, or, as it was often said, these two ‘states’, in a certain sense explain and complete each other as regards the (Christian) existence and life of this community, which in its entirety and in each of its members is fulfilled in the dimension of the Kingdom of God and has an eschatological orientation, which is precisely of that kingdom. So with regard to this dimension and this orientation – in which the entire community, that is, all of those who belong to it, must share in the faith – continence ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’ has a particular importance and a special eloquence for those who live a married life. Besides, it is known that these latter constitute the majority.”

“3. It therefore seems that a complementarity understood in this way finds its foundation in the words of Christ according to Matthew 19: 11-12(36) (and also in the First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 7 (37)) On the other hand, there is no basis for a presumed counterposition according to which celibates (or unmarried women), only by reason of their continence, would make up the class of those who are ‘perfect’, while on the other hand, married persons would makeup a class of those who are ‘imperfect’ (or ‘less perfect’). (38) If the expression “a state of perfection” (“status perfectionis”) is current in a certain theological tradition, (39), this is not on account of continence in itself, but of the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience (40)), since this life corresponds to Christ’s call to perfection (‘If you would be perfect...’: Mt. 19-21). The perfection of Christian life is in fact measured with the yardstick of charity. (41) It follows that a person who does not live in the state of perfection’ (that is, in an institution that bases its life plan on vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), or, in other words, who does not live in a religious institute, but in the ‘world’, can in fact (42) reach a superior degree of perfection – whose measure is charity – as compared with the person who lives in the ‘state of perfection’ with a lesser degree of charity. In any case, the evangelical counsels undoubtedly help us to achieve a fuller charity. Therefore, whoever achieves it, even if he does not live in an institutionalised ‘state of perfection,’ reaches that perfection which flows from charity through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels (43). Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man, both in a ‘religious institute’ and in the ‘world’.(44)

“4. It seems then that the complementarity of marriage and continence for ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ in their significance and manifold importance adequately corresponds to Christ’s words recorded in Matthew (Mt. 19: 11-12). In the life in an authentically Christian community the attitudes and values proper to the one and the other state(45) – that is, to one or the other essential and conscious choice as a vocation for one’s entire earthly life and in the perspective of the ‘heavenly Church’ – complete and in a certain sense interpenetrate each other.(46) Perfect conjugal love must be marked by that fidelity and that donation to the only Spouse (and also by the fidelity and donation of the Spouse to the only Bride), on which religious profession and priestly celibacy are founded. Finally, the nature of one and the other love is ‘conjugal’, that is expressed through the total gift of oneself. Both types of love tend to express that conjugal meaning of the body which ‘from the beginning’ has been inscribed in the personal make-up of man and woman.

“We shall return to this point at a later date.

“5. On the other hand, conjugal love which finds its expression in continence ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’ must lead in its normal development to ‘paternity’ or ‘maternity’ in a spiritual sense (in other words, precisely to that ‘fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit’ that we have already spoken about) in a way analogous to conjugal love, which matures in physical paternity and maternity,(47) and in this way confirms itself as conjugal love. For its part, physical procreation also fully responds to its meaning only if it is completed by paternity and maternity in the spirit,(48) whose expression and fruit is all the educative work of the parents in regard to the children born of their conjugal corporeal union.

“As can be seen, there are many aspects and spheres of the complementarity(49) between the vocation in an evangelical sense, of those who ‘marry and are given in marriage’ (Luke 20: 34) and of those who knowingly and voluntarily choose continence ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mt. 19: 12).

“In his First Letter to the Corinthians (which we will analyse later in our consideration), Saint Paul will write on the subject: ‘Each has his special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (1 Corinthians 7: 7).’”

(The translation of the whole of the “Catechesis in the General Audience of Wednesday 14th April 1982” is taken from the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 19th April 1982, p. 10, with the exception of one or two infelicities which have been improved by the translator. The emphases, however, were not in the English edition and were superimposed on the translation from the Spanish edition cited by Professor Corbi, which concurs with the original Italian. – Translator.)

Colophon for Interpreters and
Specialists in Hermeneutics

Note that the whole of the modernistic, equivocal and nebulous allocution comprising the “catechesis” of the general audience, is summarized with the greatest clarity in the first allocution in St. Peter’s Square on the same day (cf. p.25 above). There is no room for benevolent interpretations. There is no place for the principles which the scholastics understood by the formulae “exponere reverenter”(50) and “benigne interpretandum est.”(51)


1. St. Augustine, De Hæresibus.

2. St Augustine, Retractationes, Book II.

3. St. Augustine, De Coniugio et Concupiscentia, Chapter 23. Note that to accuse Catholic morality of Manichæism is nothing new: it is a myth invented by Jovinian in the fourth century. Cf. in this regard footnote 33 and the corresponding text.

4. St Ambrose, Letter 42, Migne, Patrologia Latina, XVI, 1124-1129. St. Augustine, Contra Julianum, Book 1, Chapter 2.

5. St. Jerome, Adversus Vigilantium.

6. Donald Attwater, A Dictionary of the Popes, Burns and Oates, 1939, p. 33.

7. St Siricius, Letter 7, “Optarem”, Patrologia Latina, XIII, 1168-1172.

8. St Siricius, Ad ecclesiam mediolanensem, Patrologia Latina, XVI, 1123.

9. Patrologia Latina, XVI, 1124, (Enchiridion Patristicum, n. 1253)

10. Patrologia Græca, 48, 540, (Enchiridion Patristicum, n. 1116).

11. Patrologia Latina, 40, 379.

12. Patrologia Latina, 40, 405.

13. Patrologia Latina, 42, 45, (Enchiridion Patristicum, n.1975).

14. De Fide Orthodoxa 4,24; Patrologia Graeca, 94, 1209.

15. I Corinthians 7:33.

16. Pius XII, Discourse to the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, 2nd November, 1950.

17. Acta Sanctæ Sedis, 25 (1892-1893), p. 464.

18. Acta ApostolicæSedis, (1951) p. 36, Allocution to Discalced Carmelites.

19. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 44 (1952) p. 824, Denzinger.

20. Solesmes, Papal Teachings, The Woman in the Modern World, n. 414.

21. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (1954), pp. 161-192.

22. Cf. Matthew 19:10-11

23. I Corinthians 7:38

24. Ibid., 7:7-8; cf. 1 and 26.

25. Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, II-II, q.152, a. 3-4

26. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:33.

27. Solesmes, Papal Teachings, Matrimony, n.751.

28. Ibid. nn. 753-4.

29. Professor Corbi’s original footnote referred this quotation to the Solesmes text of the Papal Teachings Series – the volume entitled The Woman In the Modern World, n. 665 in the Spanish translation. Unfortunately the English version was completed earlier than the Spanish version, having been given the Imprimatur at the end of 1958, and for this reason was not able to include this text of a speech given in July 1958. The original Italian text of the speech is contained in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, volume 50 (1958) p. 533. (Translator)

30. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 50, pp. 570-579, here 573.

31. L’Osservatore Romano, Spanish edition, 18th April, 1982, p. (263) 3, (cols. 3-4), (Our emphasis added).

32. Emphasis in the original. The accusation of Manichæism is not new: it is more than 1500 years old.. Jovinian had already made it to the early Catholics at the end of the fourth century, as St. Augustine relates (cf. chapter 2, note 3, and conclusion ii (p. 15). – Author.

33. (Our emphasis) Observe that the whole of Catholic tradition, including the dogmatic definition of Trent, resort to these two passages of the New Testament to prove the superiority (without inverted commas) of virginity. – Author.

34. Emphasis in the original

35. Emphasis in the original.

36. Emphasis in the original.

37. As we gave already seen in the sources previously cited, the whole of Catholic tradition bases the superiority of virginity upon these two passages. There is no trace of this alleged ‘complementarity’ in the whole of Tradition. And we shall say nothing of the clouding and vitiating of the superiority of virginity and of its implicit equation (if they are complementary’...) with the state of matrimony. – Author.

38. Here the speaker returns to the vulgar sophism already denounced by St. Augustine (cf. De Bono Coniugali, chapter 23, see p. 7 above) and St. Thomas (cf. III Contra Gentes, chapter 137, see pp. 7-8) above): the “presumed counter-position” to which John Paul II alludes is not between individuals – between “the celibate” and “the married” – but between states. The only and inevitable effect of this failure to distinguish between these two spheres and of passing without indication from one of them (cf. point 1 of the papal allocution) to another is to increase the confusion of the faithful. The sheer unscholarliness is manifest. – Author.

39. At this point he changes, without any indication that he is doing so, from speaking of continence or virginity as a state of perfection to the religious life as a state of perfection (cf. footnote 45). As for the superiority of virginal continence – this is not a tenet of “a certain theological tradition:” it is the dogmatic doctrine of divine faith solemnly defined by the Catholic Church. That is certainly light years away from “a certain theological tradition” and does not deserve this contemptuous treatment. – Author.

40. Here the speaker is playing with a terminological ambiguity. The listener (it should not be forgotten that these are oral catecheses and not articles to be read) will infer from this paragraph that the opposition is between marriage and the “state of perfection” so called, because of its three vows. By contrast, the whole of Catholic tradition refers exclusively to the opposition between the state of virginity and the state of matrimony, in order to proclaim unconditionally the excellence of the former. In this context the allusion to the other two evangelical counsels is, therefore, redundant. – Author.

41. Emphasis in the original.

42. Emphasis in the original

43. Emphasis in the original

44. This is no novelty. It is found in St. Thomas and everywhere in tradition. We shall spare the reader an exhaustive list of references and refer him to Sacra Virginitas of Pius XII, cited above. – Author.

45. Here he reverts to playing on the ambiguity of the term “state” which can refer either to the “state of life” (marriage or virginity) or to the “state of perfection” of the consecrated life of which he speaks immediately before in point 3. He jumps without warning from one subject to another, making death-defying leaps reminiscent of the circus. – Author.

46. Emphasis in the original

47. Emphasis in the original

48. Emphasis in the original.

49. The dialectic of the catechetical discourse can be summarized as follows:

(i) It is absolutely silent concerning the dogma of divine faith, defined at Trent (Dz. 980) of the superiority of virginity;

(ii) It proclaims the equivalence or equality of virginity and matrimony.

(iii) By insisting on the “complementarity” of these two states, it reinforces its equation of them.

(iv) It is expressed throughout in a vague and confused terminology, with no differentiation of topics, leaping from one to the next without indication – which seems only to increase the confusion of the listener.

50. Explain with reverence. (Translator)

51. To be interpreted benignly. (Translator).