Thursday, March 29, 2012


by Mary Beth Bonacci in Stay Catholic

It’s not about avoiding teen pregnancy. It’s not about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. It’s not even about preventing AIDS. All of those goals are good, mind you. But the concept of chastity is about so much more. Chastity is, quite simply, about finding and living real love. It is about living our human sexuality the way it was designed to be lived, and in the process putting that sexuality at the service of real, authentic love.

Chastity is the radical notion that sex has a meaning. It speaks a language -- the language of self-gift. Everything about sex is about permanence. It says, "I give myself to you. And I give to you my potential offspring, knowing that if a child is conceived, you and I will always be together to raise and form this product of our love." Sex brings new life into the world. New souls, destined to live forever, come into the world through the love of a man and a woman, through their sexual union. And that fact alone makes it a sacred, holy act.

Our bodies conspire in a myriad of ways to make sex a permanent, self-giving act. Hormonally, sexual arousal and intercourse set off a chain reaction designed to keep married couples bound together. Women experience a flood of oxytocin -- the same hormone which they produce in labor and in nursing a baby. Oxytocin causes a woman to be forgetful, decreases her ability to think rationally -- and causes an incredibly strong emotional attachment to form with the man she is with. Men also produce some oxytocin during sexual intercourse. But their bodies also produce a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin, called "the monogamy molecule," kicks in after sexual activity, and its impact is to heighten a man’s sense of responsibility. It encourages that part of him which says, "My gosh, she may be carrying my child! I’d better get serious about life! I’ve got to get to work, to provide for this family!"

Sex flourishes in the context of permanence. It speaks the language of marriage. Within a marriage, it’s an incredibly powerful expression of self-giving love. It helps to bind a couple together, for better or for worse. It’s an instrument of the grace of matrimony. It helps a husband and a wife live out their commitment to each other.

But what about sex outside of marriage? Simply put, it’s speaking the language of the body in a lie. It’s physically saying, "I give myself to you forever" when that is not in fact the case. It is putting the other person at physical risk -- of pregnancy and of disease. It is, more importantly, putting the other person at emotional and spiritual risk -- allowing a bond to form with no commitment to back it up. It puts relationships at risk, by creating uneven and inconsistent levels of communication. The body is saying one thing, but the relationship says something else. Love means wanting what is best for the other person. Real Love would never put the other at any kind of risk. But sex outside marriage does just that -- it puts one’s "beloved" at significant risk. And that, my friends, is not real love.

Chastity -- respecting the language of sex and saving sexual expression for marriage -- frees us to find real love. It helps to insure that our dates care about us for ourselves, and not just as a way for them to find sexual satisfaction for themselves. It weeds out those who would use us. And it helps to insure that we treat our dates as the images and likenesses of God that they are!

Chastity is the way -- the only way -- to find and live real love. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for, anyway?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vast re-evangelization: some keys

A key to vast re-evangelization is to turn those who actually go to church into zealous evangelizers.

Those who go to church have to frequently hear these truths:

1. The Command of Christ, his last words on earth: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you."

If we are to teach Christians to follow all of Christ's commands, we should never miss to include his last and most crucial command: Go and make disciples, the very continuation of his divine mission to save all men. It's a command, an imperative command --not a request nor a mere plea-- that is self-perpetuating and self-multiplying.

2. CBCP's Catechism for Filipino Catholics: Today, we realize that "each disciple of Christ has the obligation of spreading the faith to the best of his ability" (LG 17) PCP II asserts: "All are called to mission...all --without exception-- are called to evangelize." (PCP II 402) (bold in the original)

Take note it says, Today we realize... This shows how the church has been cleric-centered in its approach to evangelization for some time. It is up to us today to be thoroughly faithful to Christ's commissioning of the laity into his saving work.

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church:

> The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well. - CCC 863

> "To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer. ...Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization." - CCC 904

> The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. - CCC 2472. This discussion of the 8th commandment in the CCC shows that evangelization, apostolate, is a clear obligation.

Second, the laity have to allow grace into their life, because only the grace of God is capable of bringing people to his divine level. If Christians are not habitually in the state of grace, if do not have the life of Christ in their soul, no evangelization can take place. Thus, Benedict XVI has lately said that the beginning of all evangelization is confession. The premise of a vast re-evangelization is a vast evangelization on the healing and sanctifying power of confession. A powerpoint presentation, entitled Sin and Confession, can be found in this dropbox link.

Lay leaders, influential Catholics and priests have to keep on reminding Christians --other Christs!-- of these fundamental truths, if we want the new evangelization to take place.

Of course, these truths are not enough to turn Christians into evangelizers. They need to study Christ's revelation so they can truly fall in love with Christ and transmit all of his teachings to others. Here below are some internet resources for this work.


> Course of Catechesis in Catholic Doctrine - 60 powerpoint presentation on the Catechism of the Catholic Church
> Beginning Catholic
> Catholic Home Study Service
> Explore your Faith

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Science Facts on Contraception

Download the flyer here

The world’s leading scientific experts and extensive research found in peer-reviewed science journals have already resolved the key questions surrounding the use of contraceptives.

1. The pill and the IUD kill children.
When does human life begin? At fertilization, when the sperm penetrates the egg. This was the “overwhelming agreement in countless scientific writings”, and of top experts (including scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic) at an eight day hearing of the US Senate.

Do birth control pills and the IUD kill the young human being?
Yes, the pill also kills the young baby when the contraceptive effect fails, according to the scientific journal of the American Medical Association. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of 2005 pronounced that the intrauterine device brings about the “destruction of the early embryo.”

2. The pill injures women’s health.
Is the pill safe? The International Agency for Research on Cancer in a 2007 study made by 21 scientists reported that the pill causes cancer, giving it the highest level of carcinogenicity, the same as cigarettes and asbestos. A 2010 study showed that it “carries an excess risk of breast cancer.” It also causes stroke, and significantly increases the risk of heart attacks. Several scientific journals have stated that the natural way of regulating births has no side-effects, and is 99 % effective.

3. Wide use of contraceptives destroys the family.
Will the greater availability of contraception improve the stability of families? Wide contraceptive use leads to more premarital sex, more fatherless children, more single mothers, more abortions, according to the studies of Nobel prize winner, George Akerlof.

4. Wide contraceptive use leads to greater poverty.

Is contraceptive use correlated with poverty? Since widespread contraception increases the number of fatherless children and single mothers, it is linked with greater poverty. In a separate article, Akerlof concluded that contraception leads to a decline of marriage, less domesticated men, more crimes and more social pathology and thus more poverty.

Isn’t population control connected with economic development?
“No clear association” is the answer of Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner in the science of economics. Many later studies confirmed this, including a 2003 study of the RAND Corporation, a world leader in research associated with 30 Nobel Prize winners.

5. Wide condom use promotes the spread of AIDS.

Will the use of condoms lower the rate of HIV/AIDS in a country? It will increase it, according to the “best studies”, concluded Harvard Director for AIDS Prevention, Edward C. Green. Availability of condoms makes people willing to take greater sexual risk, thus worsening the spread of the disease. He showed that fidelity and abstinence are the best solutions to the AIDS epidemic.

Help dispel ignorance of these science facts. Make copies and pass on to many, including our leaders. TODAY!

This one-page flyer is based on Science Facts on the RH Bills, whose first version was written in November 2010.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Benefits of All-boys and All-girls Schools: Q&A on what the best research says

By Dr. Raul Nidoy
Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF)
Association for Single-Sex Education in Asia (ASSEA)

Download the article in brochure form here.

Are there benefits to single-sex schooling?

The best research on this topic was sponsored by the U.S. government in 2005. The research demonstrated “a single-sex school advantage by far” over coed schools.

Do those results refer to academics?

Yes, they found better results in math, science, English, and social studies achievement. But advantages extend to social and emotional development of the children too.

But isn’t this just one study?

The U.S. study is a meta-analysis covering 2221 studies worldwide. Then they culled the 40 best. The review showed that “positive results are three to four times more likely to be found for single sex schools than for coeducational schools in the same study for both academic achievement and socio-emotional development.”

That’s quite impressive. Do they explain why girls’ schools and boys’ schools are better?

There are more than a dozen reasons! For one, teachers observe that there are less distractions. Children are prone to distraction. What more when they are with the other sex who have a different learning style, and who can catch their attention. 

In single-sex schools children compete on fairer grounds. Girls develop faster than boys, and boys can easily get discouraged when faced with such competition. Then boys can pull down the performance of the girls.

But aren’t the kids helped by the presence of the opposite sex to behave better?

Not in the majority of cases. Based on studies, when kids of the same sex are together, they give themselves more mutual support, a sense of community and greater confidence. Thus, they participate more and are more engaged.

Won’t coed schools make children more well-rounded?

The opposite is true. Coed schools tend to perpetuate stereotypes of girls as good in creative arts and boys as strong in math, science and leadership. In single-sex schools, teachers can address the unique needs and interests of the students, making them strong in areas where they are usually weak. This is another explanation why students in single-sex schools perform better in academics.

Let’s not forget too that children don’t want to appear having some of the good habits of the other sex, lest they be teased as being girlish or boyish.

But isn’t it that kids get inspired by the opposite sex to study harder?

Again, you are talking about exceptions. In most cases, based on recent research findings, the effect of the interaction between the two sexes means less homework done, less enjoyment of school, lower reading and math scores.

You mentioned earlier that there are social and emotional advantages.

U.S. government research points to less sexual harassment, less delinquency and other student behavior problems, more community involvement, more positive self-concept among children, more positive student role models, more leadership opportunities, and higher career aspirations. Children in these schools put more value on grades and leadership rather than on attractiveness and money. These schools also allow for more opportunities for social and moral guidance.

I am concerned that my high schooler will not learn how to deal with the opposite sex.

As you might already have observed, the alumni of the top single-sex schools of this country are very capable of dealing with the other sex, and in fact they are known to have an edge on the basis of their culture, manners, and self-confidence. Boys’ schools and girls’ schools have the privileged condition of providing age and gender-appropriate guidance and social skills training to their students.

One of my concerns is that my children go to the best colleges.

Your child will have better chances to achieve that through a single-sex school. There was a randomized experiment done on this in Korea, whose results were published on January 2012. A randomized experiment is the most reliable evidence in all scientific research, since it eliminates bias and pre-selection. The study found that 45% of boys from single-sex schools entered college compared with only 39% of the boys from coed schools. For the girls, it’s 44% of girls from all-girls schools and 40% of girls from coed schools. So the research concluded that “Attending all-boys schools or all-girls schools rather than attending coeducational schools is significantly associated with higher average scores.”

Could it be that single-sex schools are effective because well-to-do students enroll there?

Another surprise: Four studies have actually found that these type of schools “are significantly favorable for students who are historically or traditionally disadvantaged--minorities and/or low and working class and/or at-risk students.”

But if all of this is true, why isn’t single-sex schooling the mainstream way of educating the kids?

The news has not yet spread. That’s the reason behind this Q&A! And for your information, there is a revival of single-sex schools even in the public schools in the U.S. From only 4 single-sex public schools in 1998, there were already 540 such schools by 2010. An expert said that “21st Century education will be single-sex schooling.”


1. Mael, F., Alonso, A., Gibson, G., Rogers, K., & Smith, M., (2005). Single-sex versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review. Washington D.C.
2. Riordan, C. (2007). The Effects of Single Sex Schools: What Do We Know? Building Gender-Sensitive Schools: First International Congress on Single Sex Education. Barcelona.
3. Riordan, C., Faddis, B., Beam, M, Seager, A., Tanney, A., DiBiase R., Ruffin M., Valentine, J. (2008). Early Implementation of Public Single-Sex Schools: Perceptions and Characteristics. Washington D.C.
4. Riordan, C. (2009). The Effects of Single Sex Schools: Alced. Argentina.
5. Park, H. , Behrman, J, Choi,, J .(2012) Causal Effects of Single-Sex Schools on College Entrance Exams and College Attendance: Random Assignment in Seoul High Schools. Philadelphia, PA. University of Pennsylvania, PSC Working Paper Series.
6. Martin, A. J., Marsh, H. W., McInerney, D. M., Green, J. Young People’s Interpersonal Relationships and Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes: Scoping the Relative Salience of Teachers, Parents, Same-Sex Peers, and Opposite Sex Peers. Teachers College Record. March 23, 2009, 1-6.

Download the article in brochure form here:

These one-page leaflets have started going viral around the world. One leaflet was posted in the website of the Archdiocese of Westminster in London ("The Mother Church of England"), in the Corpus Christi Parish in Canada,  in Kenya and in Macau. To get the full collection, please visit see this: One Page Leaflets for New Evangelization Starting to Go Viral!

You might also be interested in:

Giving Real Love to Your Child: an outline on how parents can educate their children in human sexuality

Strategies for a Great Family

Purity and the Best Remedy for Lust

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Celibacy in the First Two Centuries

by Fr. Michael E. Giesler. The sub-titles and formatting were added to facilitate reading. Taken from Stay Catholic.

Highly valued in ancient times

It is a fact that virginity and continence (restraint from sexual activity) were highly regarded in ancient times. Many non-Christian peoples valued these practices for their ascetical example as well as for their religious significance.1

Hebrew priests were asked to abstain from intercourse in order to prepare themselves for certain rituals, the Roman vestal virgins were considered sacred guardians of the city, and many tribal religions considered sexual abstinence, at least for a time, as a way to win favor from God.

Closer to the time of Christ, a religious group of Jews called the Essenes seems to have practiced a form of celibacy in expectation for the coming of the Messiah. From what we can gather from Scripture, John the Baptist was celibate, along with two of the greatest Hebrew prophets, Elijah and Jeremiah.

Occasionally we also hear of Jewish scholars, such as the Rabbi Akiba in the second century A.D., who with the permission of their wives lived long periods of continence in order to devote themselves more completely to the study of the Law.2

Jesus and the biblical record

But while most first-century Jewish rabbis were expected to marry, in the hope of adding to the numbers of the chosen people and raising children well-formed in the Law, we do know of one egregious exception to this practice, the young rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus Christ. He did not choose to marry, and there is clear evidence that he also asked his apostles to live celibacy in order to follow him.

As a matter of fact, many scholars believe that he was making a defense of his own and his apostles' celibacy when he affirmed that "there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive this" (Matt. 19:11). In other words, Jesus and his apostles had freely renounced their right to have a wife and children, in order to spread the kingdom of God.

And he later declares that this generosity will not go unrewarded: "For everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29). Luke's Gospel specifically mentions the leaving of a wife for the sake of God's kingdom (Luke 18:29), along with the reward that God will give.

Christ also speaks of the kingdom of God as the definitive state of mankind, where there will be no marrying or giving in marriage (cf. Mark 12:25). Though at that point he was answering a question about eternal life posed by his opponents, his response highlights the power and beauty of celibacy: those who practice it in this world are truly anticipating the final state of man in paradise, where God's love is the greatest and most exclusive reality.

Therefore virginity for the sake of God's kingdom can truly be called the "pearl of great price" (Matt. 13:46), to use the expression of one of Christ's parables.

It is clear then that the origin of virginity or celibacy is intrinsically connected with love for God, and as a result of that love, with evangelization. Implied in both love and evangelizing is closeness to Christ; we can surmise that this was the main motive of the apostles, at least at first, when they made their commitment to celibacy. We know that one of them, Peter, had married, though we are not sure if his wife was still living at the time of the Gospels, since we never hear of her. We can assume that some of the others were married also, but again, we hear nothing of their spouses, since the main message of the Gospel is that they gave up everything to follow the Master. They wanted to be close to the Messiah, and therefore practiced his way of life; they were deeply and personally drawn to his holiness and mission.

This exclusive love of Christ seems to have been experienced particularly by one of his apostles, John, who according to Catholic tradition lived virginity all of his life. And the Master requited his dedication in a deeper way than to the others; for it was John, the youngest of them, who was called the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23), and it was to him that he entrusted his virgin mother.

It is also clear from the Gospel text and later Church history that Christ did not restrict his invitation to celibacy and the hundredfold to the apostles or to priests. At the time of their calling the apostles were not priests, but simply his disciples. The very wording of Christ's invitation is purposefully general — let him who can take it, take it; that is, virginity for the kingdom of God is open to all those who have received this grace, and who wish to follow him in this special way.

Certainly, among all the apostles, Saint Paul understood this most clearly, and manifested it in his letters. In 1 Cor. 7 he speaks of his own celibacy, and encourages as many men and women as possible to embrace this state in life, in order to be more concerned with the Lord's affairs (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35). Though some think that he was originally addressing only Jewish Christians and their marital concerns in this text, the early Church always understood his words in a broader way, referring to the gift of celibacy and its power to free a man or woman for spreading Christ's kingdom, as Paul himself had done so assiduously.

Another reason that the Apostle gives for endorsing celibacy is the fact that time is passing by quickly: "I mean, brethren, that the time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning" (1 Cor.7:29). Obviously Paul has his eyes on the coming of Christ and the definitive kingdom of God, as did so many of the early Christians; in this context human marriage, like all earthly realities, is a temporary condition and will pass away. Given this reality, it is much easier and more advantageous for people of faith to live continence, including within marriage.

The other great apostle, John, was himself a virgin and celibate all of his life, as we mentioned above. In the fascinating book of Revelation, which many believe to be his work, there is a vision of celibate men "who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb" (Rev. 14:4). Again, as in the case of the Gospel and the text of Paul, there is no indication that these men were all clerics.3 The main point of the vision is that they had given up everything, including their right to intercourse with women, in order to follow Christ.

Testimony of the early Church

In immediate post-apostolic times we have clear testimony that men and women throughout the Roman Empire had received the charism of celibacy and lived it fervently, though we have no specific numbers of them. One of the earliest post-apostolic documents that we possess is the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, from around the year 95, which gives witness to the charism of continence or celibacy. In this letter, as the head of the church of Rome, Clement is trying to restore order to the church in Corinth, which had been divided into factions and was not loyal to their bishop.

In speaking of what God intends for them, he mentions the various gifts received in the church of Corinth, including wisdom and charity, and states that each one has its place. For those who practice celibacy or continence he simply says: "Let him who is continent (literally holy in the flesh) not boast of it — knowing that it is another that giveth him the power of continence."4 Obviously continence was highly esteemed in Corinth, but it had to be accepted and practiced with humility. The persons receiving this gift had to realize that it came from God, and not from human virtue or power alone.

Writing only ten years later, Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom in the Colosseum in Rome, wrote to Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna about those who practiced celibacy and the need to be humble: "If anyone is able to remain continent, to the honor of the Flesh of the Lord, let him persistently avoid boasting."5 This particularly significant text places the source of celibacy's greatness in Christ; those who give up sexual experience are really honoring the Flesh of Christ, who himself was a virgin. This is without doubt a great gift and privilege, but it should not give way to pride. Apparently in Smyrna there was a danger that some men (or women) would fall into boasting.

In another text he speaks of the Flesh of Christ in the Eucharist, which unites all of us in himself, "for one is the Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one the cup to unite us with his Blood, and one altar, just as there is one bishop assisted by the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants."6

Other very early works, such as the Didache and the Letter of Barnabas, contain strong moral exhortations to charity and sexual purity, but they do not directly mention the gift of continence or virginity. Perhaps the reason for this is the purpose of the documents themselves. The Didache was written for recent converts, and highlighted the basic morality of the Church and how to follow it. Continence or virginity was a more advanced gift to be considered later for some of them. The Letter of Barnabas was probably written to Jewish Christians suffering persecution by the Jews during the first decades of the second century; it exhorts them to have purity of life and self-control, but does not directly mention celibacy.

The Letter to Diognetus, which appears to be an apology and defense of Christianity written to a certain educated pagan, contains a moving passage about Christians living in the middle of the world, as the soul is in the body, and how they lived personal and marital chastity; the fact that some men and women lived total continence is implied, but not stated. Aristides of Athens in his Apology (ch.15) to the Emperor Hadrian also highlights the Christians' cleanness of life, contrasted to the lives of non-Christians.

Justin Martyr, on the other hand, writing his Defense of Christianity around A.D. 150 to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, refers specifically to individuals who have given up marriage to practice continence, and whose lives and dedication are well known to the other faithful (cf. Apology I, n.29). He does refer to one Christian youth, who actually had asked to be made a eunuch, but the Roman authorities refused him (cf. Apology I, n.29). Earlier in his Defense (n. 15) he reports how widespread the practice of celibacy and virginity had grown throughout the Roman Empire: "And many, both men and women, who have been Christ's disciples from childhood, have preserved their purity at the age of sixty and seventy years; and I am proud that I could produce such from every race of men and women."7

Remaining pure (in Greek, aphthoroi) could refer either to leading a chaste life or to embracing a continent or celibate life from the time of baptism. He cites these examples because he obviously considers that Antoninus, who was a practicing Stoic, would understand the meaning of virtue and self-denial, and would be impressed with this asceticism. Referring to the Christian community in general, he also speaks of the sexual purity of Christians; they marry to bring children into the world, and they do not abandon them or expose them, nor practice promiscuity. He obviously states these facts in order to contrast the family life of Christians with that of the pagans, many of whom practiced contraception and abortion.

It also appears that Justin himself never married and spent many years teaching at a school that he founded in Rome, trying to show the underlying unity between Christian and Greek philosophy. Some speculate that he could have been a deacon, but it is just as likely that he was a layman who had received the gift of celibacy and had dedicated himself completely to spreading Christ's truth through his words and classes. He apparently converted many young people to Christianity but earned the enmity of certain pagan philosophers in Rome who denounced him as a Christian. He was beheaded under Marcus Aurelius in 165, along with several of his students.

Shortly after this time another Christian apologist, Athenagoras of Athens, wrote a plea to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, also defending the Christians, while asking them to consider objectively the virtues of the Christians. As Justin did, he reiterates that Christians marry for the sake of having children, not to gratify lust, then adds significantly that "one might find many amongst us, both men and women, who are growing old in virginity, their hope being to have greater fruition of God."8

In line with Justin's statement mentioned earlier, we hear that there were many (in Greek, pollous) men and women who lived the charism of celibacy, most likely dwelling in the major cities of the Empire. We also note that the dedication of these faithful Christians was lived over a lifetime; it was not restricted to young people only, and its purpose was not to possess moral excellence in itself (the Stoic ideal), but to have a life of closer communion with God. In the next chapter he refers to the persecution that Christian celibates had to endure from the non-Christians.9

Yet not all non-Christians were so hostile. Galen, the great physician and philosopher of the second century, and contemporary of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, was particularly impressed at the high standards of morality practiced by the followers of Christ. After praising their continence and fearlessness before death, he states that the Christians "also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers."10 To be called a "philosopher" was a great honor in the minds of non-Christians of that era; it was also one of the central aspirations of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Writing at the end of the second century, Minucius Felix in his apologia entitled Octavius speaks of those who practiced perpetual virginity of body. In this dialogue Octavius, a Christian, does not describe their life in detail, but is simply trying to show the pagan Caecilius that the Christians were not low-life criminals, as they were accused of being, but that they had very high moral standards.

We should note that all of these apologists were addressing pagans, and wanted to impress them with the holiness and purity of Christians, often in contrast to the immorality of non-Christians. Believers in Christ had been maliciously slandered and portrayed as fanatics and criminals. In general these early apologists do not state the greatest reasons for celibacy — to be close to Christ and to spread his kingdom. These reasons must have been very obvious to the Christian community from the start, but there was no need to mention them to pagan emperors or leaders. Not only would they misunderstand these reasons, but also, since Christianity was proscribed, they could have these celibate men and women arrested for being zealots. Therefore the Christian apologists stressed personal virtue and moral conduct instead, emphasizing asceticism, which noble pagan minds would find more impressive.

We saw earlier that there was a danger of pridefulness in some celibate faithful even at the end of the first century. This tendency would actually develop into a heresy during the second century under the influence of Gnosticism, which despised marriage and marital relations as unclean and material. The heretic Marcion was tainted with this view, since he would admit and baptize into his church only those who practiced continence. The mere fact that his heretical group was so successful demonstrates the large number of Christians who were actually practicing continence in the second century. Apart from spiritual ideals, it seems that many of them were simply repelled by the sexual excesses of the pagan society in which they lived; practicing celibacy or continence was a dramatic way of showing their independence and conviction.

One of Justin's students, Tatian, author of the Diatesseron, actually took the ideal of continence too far, and he left the Catholic Church to found his own sect, called the Encratites, which eschewed marriage and considered themselves to be the "self-controlled," as opposed to those who married. Many apocryphal writings of Gnostic origin, including parts of the Gospel of Thomas made famous in the spurious novel The Da Vinci Code, actually scorned marriage, and even went to the point of saying that Christ did not really exist in the flesh, but was a kind of spiritual apparition. The apocryphal work entitled the Acts of Peter and Andrew is also of this variety.

But there are many other apocryphal writings of the second and third centuries that show the real value of celibacy, connecting it with dedication to God and the mission to evangelize. One of the most famous of these is the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which narrates the life of a dedicated virgin and disciple of Saint Paul from Iconium (Asia Minor).

Without question the power and appeal of celibacy in the first two centuries came above all from the direct example of Jesus Christ, his mother and the apostles, and from the dedicated lives of both male and female Christians. The fact that the charism of virginity and celibacy was highly esteemed, and that it was extended and thriving among both sexes is clear from the above early writings. How much influence did these celibate men and women have on the Church and pagan society? Judging from the lives of persons such as Saints John and Paul, Cecilia and Seraphia, it must have been great, equivalent in some ways to martyrdom in both pagan and Christian eyes. We know from later Church writings that both virgins and martyrs were called "Christopheroi," or "Christ bearers."

How they lived their dedication

We don't know with certainty how the early faithful lived their dedication. Many celibate women seemed to have lived at home; that was the case of the famous virgins and martyrs Cecilia and Agnes. But other women, either individually or in groups, appear to have served the Church from earliest times through their domestic work. This custom surely began with the services of the holy women to Christ and his apostles mentioned in the Gospel (cf. Luke 8:1-3). From that example other dedicated women continued to serve the apostles and presbyters in the years ahead as sisters in Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:2-6). Since they had more social independence, celibate Christian men may have lived alone or in communities. Since Christ himself and his apostles lived as a group of celibate men in complete dedication to God and his kingdom, it is quite possible that in subsequent decades other groups of faithful, particularly men, would want to imitate them in some way. Certainly Saint Justin in the middle of the second century seemed to have formed some kind of community around himself as he taught Catholic philosophy to his students, particularly about Christ as the Logos, or Saving Word, who recapitulated and elevated the best of Greek philosophy in himself. Since Justin himself seems to have been celibate, it is quite likely that many of his students would choose the same path, though one of them after Justin's death erred from the Church's teachings, as we saw above.

In the first part of the third century we have two letters, originally attributed to Clement of Rome, that are addressed to virgins of both sexes who lived in community. They are certainly praised and encouraged for their commitment, which is said to be like that of Christ and the apostles, but are severely warned against lack of charity and temptations against chastity.11

In the latter part of the third century continence and virginity were more and more connected with special consecrated states of life, which separated celibate men and women from other Christians. This was the beginning of the religious phenomenon, from the era of Saint Anthony onwards. By the time of Saint Augustine (late fourth century), many virgins had actually taken a kind of public vow and were called spouses of Christ; a Church ceremony was also established in the fourth century called the velatio, in which these women were given special veils to wear, signifying their mystical marriage with Christ. In the third century a ceremony began for the public profession of consecrated virgins before the bishop, which has been restored to the Church in recent times.

We do know however that in Saint Augustine's time there were still virgins and continent men called confessors who continued to live in the world; they most likely lived alone or with their families, and would meet frequently in groups for common prayer and support. In 590 Gregory the Great also refers to celibate men and women living in the world, encouraging them to be generous, and not to fall into a lukewarm dedication.

In later centuries however, perhaps due to the barbarian invasions with the resulting chaos in society, and also due in part to the phenomenal growth of monasteries and convents, the charism of continence among the lay faithful in the middle of the world — motivated by the desire to imitate Christ and to spread his kingdom — largely disappeared from the Church. The practice of virginity or celibacy became almost exclusively restricted to ordained ministers and to those in religious orders.

End Notes

Cf. Gran Enciclopedia Rialp, Vol.5, section on "Celibato" n.1 (Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Rialp, 1991), 450.

A text from the Jewish Mishna (Keth.62b) speaks of the famous Rabbi Akiba who abstained from marital relations with his wife for twelve years in order to study the Torah. The Mishna (meaning Second Law) was a series of oral traditions on the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures; they were compiled and handed down by rabbis in the century following the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

With regard to the celibacy of the clergy, Stefan Heid and others have given ample evidence that the practice of continence, or abstaining from sexual relations, was part of a priest's and bishop's commitment, even if they were married. Through a scholarly analysis of New Testament sources and early Church documents, they demonstrate that the celibacy and continence of the clergy, including deacons, is a perennial tradition that has its roots in the life of Christ and his apostles, and was not a mere man-made law or juridical discipline from the fourth or fifth century. See Stefan Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).

Clement of Rome, Letter to Corinthians, Ch. 38.2. Quoted from Ancient Christian Writers, edited by J. Quasten and Joseph Plumpe (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Bookshop, 1946), 32.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Polycarp (n.5). from Ibid, p.98.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Philadelphians (n.4). from Ibid, p.86.

St. Justin Martyr, Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius nn.15 and 29, taken from Ancient Christian Writers, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997), 32.

Athenagoras of Athens, Apology to Marcus Aurelius, chapter 33, taken from Ancient Christian Writers, (London: The Newman Press, 1956), 74.

Ibid., chapter 34.

This statement was preserved in an Arabic document (see Leslie W. Barnard, Athenagoras [Paris: Editiones Beauchesne, 1972], 55). Also R. Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians (Oxford, 1949), 19-20.

See Joannes Quasten, Patrology (Vol. I), (Utrecht-Antwerp: Spectrum Publishers, 1966), 58-59.

Copyright © 2008 Homiletic & Pastoral Review

Rev. Michael E. Giesler obtained his doctorate in theology form the University of Navarre (Spain). He is the author of a book and several articles on Sacred Scripture and the natural law, along with a series of audio tapes on the marks of the Church and the writings of Pope John Paul II. He has also recently published two books of historical fiction on the lives of the early Christians. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and co-founder of the Midwest Theological Forum, an educational service that sponsors conferences and workshops for diocesan priests. Father Giesler is a priest of the prelature Opus Dei; he was raised in Chicago and since 1989 has been stationed at the Wespine Study Center in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to his service to lay people, he has given many reflections and retreats to diocesan priests, along with individual spiritual direction.