Why Poverty Chastity and Obedience Are Done and Confirmed Under Vow

by admin on June 5, 2011

BUT someone will say: Why is this done under vow, since poverty, chastity, and obedience may be observed with­out vows? To which St. Thomas and all theologians very well reply that it was necessary in religion that this should be done under vows, because vows are the essence of reli­gious life, and of them it comes to be a state of perfection; and without them religion would not be religion, nor a state of perfection. The reason of this is that for a state of perfection there is required a perpetual obligation to the things of perfection; since a state means of itself something stable, firm, and permanent, as we speak of the state of matrimony and the perpetual tie that it carries with it  So, also, for a man to be in a state of perfection, there is needed a perpetual tie and obligation to perfection, and that is made by the vows of religion. St. Thomas says this is the difference between parish priests and bishops, whereby the latter are in a state of perfection, and the former are not; because parish priests are not bound to the care of souls by vow and perpetual obligation—they can resign it when they like; but bishops are in a state of perfection because they are under a perpetual obligation to the pas­toral office, which they cannot resign without leave and authorization of the pope. This is also the difference between the perfection of a man in the world and that of a religious; for, though it may well be that there in the world a man may be more perfect than a religious, never­theless he is not in a state of perfection, and the religious is. The perfection of the man in the world is not confirmed by vows like that of the religious, and so has not that firm­ness and stability in good which the religious has by rea­son of his state. Today he is chaste and well-purposed, and tomorrow he goes back; but the religious, though he is not perfect, is in a state of perfection, being tied and bound to it by vows of things that belong to perfection, and for him there is no going back. Hence the answer of a holy man [Brother Giles] on being asked whether it was pos­sible to obtain the grace of God and perfection while remaining in the world. He answered: “Yes, it is possible; but I would rather have one degree of the grace of God in religion than ten in the world.” And the reason is that in religion grace is easily preserved and increased, as there­in man lives apart from the tumult and perturbation of the world, the deadly enemy of grace, and is helped and spurred on to virtue and perfection by the example of his spiritual brethren, and has many other things to help him thereto; but quite the contrary is found in the world, and so the grace which one has there in that secular life is easily lost and with difficulty maintained. Hence we may infer, said that holy man, that it is better to have less grace, secured and safeguarded by the many supports that foster it in religion, than a much higher degree with the evident danger that there is in the world.

Hence will be readily understood the temptation of cer­tain novices, who fancy that there in the world they will keep up their meditation and recollection as they do here, and will lead a very edifying life. The devil is deceiving them, trying to get them to give up what they have and entice them out of religion. There in the world an ex-nov­ice will begin by being very devout, going to confession every week, making meditation, avoiding occasions danger­ous to chastity. But as he remains his own master and is not under any perpetual obligation, and many lets and hin­drances get in his way, it comes to be that one morn­ing he omits his meditation, another day his confession, another day he engages in a distracting conversation, and another day he loses everything. We have daily experience of this. But a religious cannot leave these things out, nor go back upon his profession and the state in which his vows have placed him. His vows are that triple cord of which the Holy Ghost says: A triple cord is hardly broken (Eccles. iv. 12). That is hardly broken or untied which is fastened and tied with these three cords.

It is these three vows, then, that make our mode of life a religious life and a state of perfection. The saints say that the apostles, taught by Christ, made a begining in themselves, and laid these foundations of religious life, offering themselves to Christ our Lord by vow, when they left all things to follow Him (St. Thomas 2a—2se, p. 88, art. 4, ad 3). So it is by apostolic tradition, derived from Christ, that the usage obtains in the Catholic Church of religious’ dedicating themselves to God by these three vows.

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