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Virginity Confers to the Soul the
Noblest & Highest Moral Dignity

In his Encyclical Sacra Virginitas, Pope Pius XII refutes the sophisms of those who pretend that marriage is superior to virginity and celibate life. The response we transcribe today addresses those who accuse the state of virginity as harmful to the human psychology.

This argument is common among many present-day Catholics who think that those who embrace virginity and the celibate life suffer a capitis diminutio (a loss of status and capacity) in comparison with normal persons who, according to them, must be married.

Pope Pius XII

This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as we have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the Council of Trent (session 24, canon 10), and explained in the same way by all the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, we and our predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered itself.

But recent attacks on this traditional doctrine of the Church, the danger they constitute, and the harm they do to the souls of the faithful lead us, in fulfillment of the duties of our charge, to take up the matter once again in this Encyclical Letter, and to reprove these errors. which are so often propounded under a specious appearance of truth.

First of all, it is against common sense, which the Church always holds in esteem, to consider the sexual instinct as the most important and the deepest of human tendencies, and to conclude from this that man cannot restrain it for his whole life without danger to his vital nervous system, and consequently without injuring the harmony of his personality.

As St. Thomas very rightly observes, the deepest natural instinct is the instinct of conservation; the sexual instinct comes second. In addition, it is the rational inclination, which is the distinguishing privilege of our nature, that must regulate these fundamental instincts, and, by dominating them, to ennoble them. (Summa Theologiae I, II, q. 94. a. 2)

It is, alas, true that the sin of Adam has caused a deep disturbance in our corporal faculties and our passions, so that they wish to gain control of the life of the senses and even of the spirit, obscuring our reason and weakening our will. But Christ's grace is given us, especially by the Sacraments, to help us to keep our bodies in subjection and to live by the spirit. (Cf. Gal 5:25; 1 Cor 9:27) The virtue of chastity does not mean that we are insensible to the urge of concupiscence, but that we subordinate it to reason and the law of grace, by striving wholeheartedly after what is noblest in human and Christian life.

In order to acquire this perfect mastery of the spirit over the senses, it is not enough to refrain from acts directly contrary to chastity, but it is necessary also generously to renounce anything that may offend this virtue nearly or remotely; at such a price will the soul be able to reign fully over the body and lead its spiritual life in peace and liberty. Who, then, does not see, in the light of Catholic principles, that perfect chastity and virginity, far from harming the normal unfolding of man or woman, on the contrary, endow them with the highest moral nobility?

Pius XII, Encyclical Sacra Virginitas
of March 25, 1954, nn. 32-36.



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Posted July 7, 2018

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