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marriage, which decision is unquestionably given in v. 38; and besides the reasons which Dr. Paley and others insinuate for this decision, viz., a preference of a single to a married state, on account of the distress of present persecution; for the other reasons given in verses 32, 33, 34, 35 and 40, which reasons are not temporary, which have no concern with a state of persecution rather than any other state, but rest wholly upon the kingdom of heaven's sake. In the previous part of this chapter, the Apostle writing concerning the duties of married persons to each other, which was apparently the first topic proposed, after laying down those duties, recommends, as we read: “Defraud not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say, therefore, to the unmarried and the widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain let them marry.” Upon this I make but two remarks: one of the fact that St. Paul did lead a life of celibacy; the other, that he would recommend what he would wish; and he did wish that others should live in that state in which he lived. But what, it may be asked, has St. Paul's recommendation to do with the question ? Dr. Paley's statement was, that our Lord recommended not celibacy as carrying men to a higher degree of divine favor. My answer is, I have produced our Lord's own recommendation, and lest there should remain a doubt of my proper explanation of its meaning, I adduce the recommendation of St. Paul, who taught exactly the same doctrine which was taught by our Lord. Now I might introduce several passages from other parts of the inspired writings, to show that my exposition of our Lord's doctrine was in accordance with the doctrine of 1 I Cor., v. 5-9.
St. John and other inspired writers. I might introduce the facts and writings of the eminent Christians of the first three ages to show that they believed, as we Catholics now do, that our Lord did teach what Dr. Paley asserts He did not teach regarding, what he is pleased to term, “the extravagant merit very soon ascribed to celibacy;” and would conclude that the Gospel is plain, the acts of the Apostles furnish us with facts, the earliest history gives us examples; the inspired epistles and the revelations of St. John are distinct, and the earliest writers are clear upon the subject, that our Lord did teach that a state of celibacy, entered upon and persevered in with the proper dispositions, did carry men to a higher degree of divine favor, and therefore did recommend it. All this was certainly very soon, because it was coeval with Christianity. We know that extravagant encomiums might have been bestowed upon the state by unguarded eloquence or by thoughtless fanaticism; but the doctor belongs, I have no doubt, to that class of men who can distinguish between the calm assertion of the superiority of a state, for a special purpose, and an extravagant encomium bestowed upon that state. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which is that of those very soon ages, leaves extravagant hyperbole which may outrage common taste and almost common sense, though it should not contradict truth, to the rejection and the reproof of all sober minds, but calmly asserts that our blessed Lord did teach that such a state of celibacy as I described was preferable to a state of marriage, though the married state is holy and honorable, but that all are not called to this latter state. Dr. Paley was Archdeacon of Carlisle, which is a very respectable living in the Church of England; of course the doctor subscribed his assent and consent to the thirty-nine articles of that Church, and amongst others to the following: “The second book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this, article, doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary for those times, as
doth the former book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and, therefore, we judge them to be read in churches by the ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.” Now, in the book of Homilies, as set forward in the time of Edward the Sixth, is a homily or sermon against adultery, in three parts, mear the conclusion of the third part of which is the following sentence: “Finally, all such as feel in themselves a sufficiency and ability, through the working of God's Spirit, to lead a sole and continent life, let them praise God for His gift, and seek all possible means to maintain the same; as by reading of the Holy Scriptures, by godly meditations, by continual prayers, and such other virtuous exercises.” Dr. Paley should have recollected that this “article is received by his Church, so far as it declares the books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrines and instructive in piety and morals.” He would have also done well to recollect that on the 20th of May, 1814, the House of Bishops in General Convention of the Church, made this book of Homilies a work to be studied, and a knowledge of the contents of which would be indispensably required from candidates for ordination; and that in consequence the said books were published in New York in 1815. Thus, Archdeacon Paley could have had but little difficulty in embracing the Roman Catholic principle, which neither binds any individual to marriage nor to celibacy except upon the full, free, and unbiassed choice and determination of the party concerned. Our Church indeed teaches what I have above exhibited, and as yet I am to learn that it is condemned therefor by either the Church of England or by the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Where God leaves persons free, the Church does not bind, and if God shall give to any person the sufficiency and the ability to lead a sole and continent life, and this person had determined to lead such life, she thinks it would be equally cruel to compel such person to marriage, as to compel one desirous of marriage to enter a cloister. For my part, I can see no difference between the tyranny in one case and in the other; either is criminal. I have frequently heard and read of cases of criminal compulsion to a religious profession, but I speak from my own experience when I assert that I never knew of a case where an individual was compelled or induced by force, threat, or entreaty to enter a convent; but I have known many cases in which persons desirous of living in a state of celibacy have been tyrannically forced to marriage; several in which entreaty, threats, and violence have been used to prevent persons embracing a life of celibacy. The principle of the Roman Catholic Church is not to compel either, but to afford the opportunities for each, and to permit individuals to make their own free choice. This is not fanaticism; this is Christian liberty.
The next topic which naturally presents itself, is that of “the extravagant merit very soon ascribed to solitude.” I am not, nor is the Church to which I belong, disposed to ascribe extravagant merit to solitude; the doctor may perhaps deem extravagant what we deem rational. There is not and there cannot on these subjects be any fixed standard by which reasonableness can be measured, so as to give a scale which will answer for all. The principle in the Roman Catholic Church is now what it has ever been, viz.: That respecting austerities, what would be reasonable for one individual would be extravagant for another, and therefore that the judgment in each case must depend upon the special circumstances of the individual, the time, the place, the connections, and the other obligations. Hence, in order to guard as much as possible against fanaticism, the Church has always had prudent, pious, and well-informed men of experience in official stations, and she has requested of her children not to undertake any extraordinary practices of devotion without the
consent of those authorized guides, and where the acts of those who consulted them and followed their advice were seen to be extravagant, the advisers were deemed incompetent and others better qualified were substituted in their places. In order to aid those advisers, some of the best maxims of the best and wisest eminent Christian writers were appointed for their study, and some of the most respectable tribunals are always ready to aid in the solution of their difficulties. It does not then carry upon its face the semblance of fanaticism, to use such precaution to afford salutary counsel to those who wish to advance in virtue.
These advisers and these tribunals have as general principles laid down : That avoiding the distraction of society is a great help to religious wisdom; that they who are neither obliged nor disposed to enter into business or society, are at full liberty to live in retirement more or less, according to their circumstances, and provided they be occupied in the fulfillment of the great duty of prayer, or in the devotional contemplation of God and of heavenly things, or in profitable reading or meditation upon the Holy Scriptures, or manual labor, they serve God well; but that solitude and idleness are destructive to virtue.
Now, that I have so far explained as to know what is meant by the word, I take the archdeacon's proposition: “Our blessed Lord did not recommend solitude, as carrying men to a higher degree of divine favor.”
In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read, as spoken by our blessed Lord: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, among them that are borne of woman, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” In the 9th verse of that chapter, he called him “more than a prophet.” In the vii chap. of the Gospel of St. Luke, we find our blessed Lord use the same expressions. Now I have no doubt that our blessed Lord recommended the conduct of John as carrying men to a higher degree of the divine favor. What was part of that conduct?
*St. Matt., c. xi, v. 2.