The vow of virginity or celibacy
This page and the following pages are an adaptation and abridgment of the indicated sections of Plan of Augustinian Formation (Ratio Institutionis), which details the preparation of candidates for the Order of St Augustine.
42. Marriage and religious celibacy are different forms of entering into relations with other persons. The renunciation of marriage does not mean a renunciation of relationships and affectivity. There are many ways of “being there for others”.
Through freely chosen celibacy a religious renounces marital union, but he does not renounce relationships with others. As a celibate he wishes to give love, friendship, happiness, support, help, and encouragement to others. He also expects to receive these elements from others in return.
He wants to be the companion of people in distress or in need, the companion of lonely people and of people seeking desperately for the meaning of life. He wants to be present to them because of, and together with, his faith in God, his hope in God, and his love of God. In this way we find an apostolic meaning in this vow.
43. Augustine's interpretation of this vow is founded more on tradition than his interpretation of the other vows. He begins his reflections with a very meaningful distinction between physical virginity and virginity of the heart.
Just as in the Old Testament the people of Israel are called “virgin", so Paul regarded the Church as a “chaste virgin” (2 Cor.11,2). Certainly, not all the Church's members are virgins in a physical sense, but each of the faithful should possess, by the gift of himself or herself to Christ, a spiritual virginity.
This latter consists in the integrity of one's faith, hope, and love, and this kind of virginity is to be attributed to all Christians. But physical virginity vowed to God is, according to Augustine, not only a particular expression and realization of the virginity of the Church. It is also a witness and contribution to it (Ecclesia Virgo).
Moreover, he stresses that consecrated virginity has to be fruitful in a spiritual way, for it ought to bestow the life of Christ, our Savior, on other people (Ecclesia Mater). In these two approaches we discover some valuable community aspects, which have not lost their topical interest. It is a part of the Church's life, and it has to be fruitful for others.
44. “Virginity is held in honor, not because it is virginity, but because it is dedicated to God” (On holy virginity 8,8). This means that our energy is concentrated on one single goal: serving God’s Reign, for “Where your treasure is, there is your heart” (Mt.6,21).
This reminds us of Augustine's ideal as it is expressed at the beginning of the Rule: a common life of mutual trust and interdependence, which expresses unity of heart and mind, centered upon God.
This concentration on God is the reason why Augustine stresses so strongly in his Rule mutual responsibility, fraternal concern, and, in the case of someone damaging the common ideal, admonition, accompanied by love of the person. This applies not only to sexual misbehavior, but also to other grave offenses.
When the unity of striving for God is broken by the failure of one member, the group as a whole suffers. Mutual protection is the embodiment of God's care for each one.