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Were I to write all the ingenious
tricks, pious lies, shameful stories called miracles, and sacrilegious perversions
of the Word of God made use of by superiors of seminaries and nunneries to entice
poor victims into the trap of perpetual celibacy, I should have to write ten
large volumes, instead of a short chapter.
Sometimes the trials and obligations of married life are so exaggerated that they may frighten the strongest heart. At other times the joys, peace and privileges of celibacy are depicted with such brilliant colours that they fill the coldest mind with enthusiasm.
The Pope takes his victim to the top of a high mountain, and there shows him all the honours, praise, wealth, peace and joys of this world, united to the most glorious throne of heaven, and then tells him: "I will give you all those things if you fall at my feet, promise me an absolute submission, and swear never to marry in order to serve me better."
Who can refuse such glorious things? But before entirely shutting their eyes, so that they may not see the bottomless abyss into which they are to fall, the unfortunate victims sometimes have forebodings and presentiments of the terrible miseries which are in store for them. The voice of their conscience, intelligence and common sense has not always been so fully silenced as the superior desired.
At the very time when the tempter is whispering his lying promises into their ears, their Heavenly Father is speaking to them of the ceaseless trials, the shameful falls, the tedious days, the dreary nights, and the cruel and insufferable burdens which are concealed behind the walls where the sweet yoke of the good Master is exchanged for the burdens of heartless men and women.
As formerly, the human victims crowned with flowers, when dragged to the foot of the altar of their false gods, often cried out with alarm and struggled to escape from the bloody knife of the heathen priest, so at the approach of the fatal hour at which the impious vow is to be made, the young victims often feel their hearts fainting and filled with terror. With pale cheeks, trembling lips and cold-dropping sweat they ask their superiors, "Is it possible that our merciful God requires of us such a sacrifice?"
Oh! how the merciless priest of Rome then becomes eloquent in depicting celibacy as the only way to heaven, or in showing the eternal fires of hell ready to receive cowards and traitors who, after having put their hand to the plough of celibacy, look back! He speaks of the disappointment and sadness of so many dear friends, who expected better things of them. He points out to them their own shame when they will again be in a world which will have nothing for them but sneers for their want of perseverance and courage. He overwhelms them with a thousand pious lies about the miracles wrought by Christ in favour of his virgins and priests. He bewitches them by numerous texts of Scripture, which he brings as evident proof of the will of God in favour of their taking the vows of celibacy, though they have not the slightest reference to such vows.
The text of which the strangest abuses are made by the superiors to persuade the young people of both sexes to bind themselves by those shameful vows is Matthew xix. 12, 13, "For there are eunuchs which were born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there are eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
Upon one occasion our superior made a very pressing appeal to our religious feelings from this text, to induce us to make the vow of celibacy and become priests. But the address, though delivered with a great deal of zeal, seemed to us deficient in logic.
The next day was a day of rest (conge). The students in theology who were preparing themselves for the priesthood, with me, talked seriously of the singular arguments of the last address. It seemed to them that the conclusions could not in any way be drawn from the selected text, and therefore determined to respectfully present their objections and their views, which were also mine, to the superior; and I was chosen to speak for them all.
At the next conference, after respectfully asking and obtaining permission to express our objections with our own frank and plain sentiments, I spoke about as follows:
"Dear and venerable sir: You told us that the following words of Christ, `There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake,' show us evidently that we must make the vow of celibacy and make ourselves eunuchs if we want to become priests. Allow us to tell you respectfully, that it seems to us that the mind of our Saviour was very different from yours when He pronounced these words. In our humble opinion, the only object of the Son of God was to warn His disciples against one of the most damnable errors which were to endanger the very existence of nations. He was foretelling that there would be men so wicked and blind as to preach that the best way for men to go to heaven would be to make eunuchs of themselves. Allow us to draw your attention to the fact that in that speech Jesus Christ neither approves or disapproves of the idea of gaining a throne in heaven by becoming eunuchs. He leaves us to our common sense and to some clearer parts of Scripture to see whether or not He approves of those who would make eunuchs of themselves to gain a crown in heaven. Must we not interpret this text as we interpret what Jesus said to His apostles, `The time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service' (John xvi. 1,2).
Allow us to put these two texts fact to face:
"'There are eunuchs which have "'The time cometh that whosoever made themselves eunuchs for the killeth you will think that he kingdom of heaven's sake' doeth God service' (Matt. xix. 12,13.) (John xvi. l,2).
"Because our Saviour has said that there would be men who would think that they would please God (and of course gain a place in heaven) by killing His disciples, are we, therefore, allowed to conclude that it would be our duty to kill those who believe and follow Christ? Surely not!
"Well, it seems to us that we are not to believe that the best way to go to heaven is to make ourselves eunuchs, because our Saviour said that some men had got that criminal and foolish notion into their mind!
"Christian nations have always looked with horror upon those who have voluntarily become eunuchs. Common sense, as well as the Word of God, condemns those who thus destroy in their own bodies that which God in His wisdom gave them for the wisest and holiest purposes. Would it not, therefore, be a crime which every civilized and Christian nation would punish, to preach publicly and with success to the people that one of the surest ways for man to go to heaven would be to make himself a eunuch. How can we believe that our Saviour could ever sanction and such a practice?
"Moreover, if being eunuchs would make the way to heaven surer and more easy, would not God be unjust for depriving us of the privilege of being born eunuchs, and thus being made ripe fruits for heaven?
"It seems to us that that text does not in any way require us to believe that an eunuch is nearer the kingdom of God than He who lives just according to the laws which God gave to man in the earthly paradise. If it was not good for man to be without his wife when he was so holy and strong as he was in the Garden of Eden, how can it be good now that he is so weak and sinful? "Our Saviour clearly shows that He finds no sanctifying power in the state of an eunuch, in His answer to the young man who asked Him, `Good Master, what must I do that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. xix. 16). Did the good Master answer him in the language we heard from you two days ago, namely, that the best way to have eternal life is to make yourself an eunuch make a solemn vow never to marry? No; but He said, `Keep the commandments!' But where is the commandment of God, in the Old or New Testament, to induce us to make such a vow as that of celibacy? The promise of a place in heaven is not attached in any way to the vow of celibacy. Christ has not a word about that doctrine.
"Allow us to respectfully ask, if the views concerning the vows of celibacy entertained by Christ had been like yours, is it possible that He would have forgotten to mention them when He answered the solemn question of that young man? Is it possible that He would not have said a single word about a thing which you have represented to us as being of such vital importance to those who sincerely desire to know what to do to be saved? Is it not strange that the Church should attach such an importance to that vow of celibacy, when we look in vain for such an ordinance in both the Old and New Testaments? How can we understand the reasons or the importance of such a strict and, we dare say, unnatural obligation in our day, when we know very well that the holy apostles themselves were living with their wives, and that the Saviour had not a word of rebuke for them on that account?"
This free expression of our common views on the vows of celibacy evidently took our superior by surprise. He answered me, with an accent of indignation which he could not suppress: "Is that all you have to say?"
"It is not quite all we have to say," I answered; "but before we go further we would be much gratified to receive from you the light we want on the difficulties which I have just stated."
"You have spoken as a true heretic," replied Mr. Leprohon, with an unusual vivacity; "and were it not for the hope which I entertain that you have said these things to receive the light you want than to present and support the heretical side of such an important question, I would at once denounce you to the bishop. You speak of the Holy Scriptures just as a Protestant would do. You appeal to them as the only source of Christian truth and knowledge. Have you forgotten that we have the holy traditions to guide us, the authority of which is equal to that of the Scriptures?
"You are correct when you say that we do not find any direct proof in the Bible to enforce the vows of celibacy upon those who desire to consecrate themselves to the service of the Church. But if we do not find the obligation of that vow in the Bible, we find it in the holy traditions of the Church.
"It is an article of faith that the vow of celibacy is ordered by Jesus Christ, through His Church. The ordinances of the Church, which are nothing but the ordinances of the Son of God, are clear on that subject, and bind our consciences just as the commandments of God upon Mount Sinai; for Christ has said, those who do not hear the Church must be looked upon as heathen and publicans. There is no salvation to those who do not submit their reason to the teachings of the Church.
"You are not required to understand all the reasons for the vow of celibacy; but you are bound to believe in its necessity and holiness, as the Church has pronounced her verdict upon that question. It is not your business to argue about those matters; but your duty is to obey the Church, as dutiful children obey a kind mother.
"But who can have any doubt about the necessity of the vows of celibacy, when we remember that Christ had ordered His apostles to separate themselves from their wives? a fact on which no doubt can remain after hearing St. Peter say to our Saviour, `Behold, we have forsaken all and follow Thee; what shall we have, therefore?' (Matt. xix. 27). Is not the priest the true representative of Christ on earth? In his ordination, is not the priest made the equal and in a sense the superior of Christ? for when he celebrates Mass he commands Christ, and that very Son of God is bound to obey! It is not in the power of Christ to resist the orders of the priest. He must come down from heaven every time the priest orders Him. The priest shuts Him up in the holy tabernacles or takes Him out of them, according to his own will.
"By becoming priests of the New Testament you will be raised to a dignity which is much above that of angels. From these sublime privileges flows the obligation to the priest to raise himself to a degree of holiness much above the level of the common people a holiness equal to that of the angels. Has not our Saviour, when speaking of the angels, said, `Neque nubent neque nubentur?' They marry not, nor are given in marriage. Surely, since the priests are the messengers and angels of God, on earth they must be clad with angelic holiness and purity.
"Does not Paul say that the state of virginity is superior to that of marriage? Does not that saying of the apostle show that the priest, whose hands every day touch the divine body and blood of Christ, must be chaste and pure, and must not be defiled by the duties of married life? That vow of celibacy is like a holy chain, which keeps us above the filth of this earth and ties us to heaven. Jesus Christ, through His Holy Church, commands that vow to His priests as the most efficacious remedy against the inclinations of our corrupt nature.
"According to the holy Fathers, the vow of celibacy is like a strong high tower, from the top of which we can fight our enemies, and be perfectly safe from their darts and weapons.
"I will be happy to answer you other objections, if you have any more," said Mr. Leprohon.
"We are much obliged to you for your answers," I replied, "and we will avail ourselves of your kindness to present you with some other observations.
"And, firstly, we thank you for having told us that we find nothing in the Word of God to support the vows of celibacy, and that it is only by the traditions of the Church that we can prove their necessity and holiness. It was our impression that you desired us to believe that the necessity of that vow was founded on the Holy Scriptures. If you allow it, we will discuss the traditions another time, and will confine ourselves today to the different texts to which you referred in favour of celibacy.
"When Peter says, `We have given up everything,' it seems to us that he had no intention of saying that he had for ever given up his wife by a vow. For St. Paul positively says, many years after, that Peter had his wife; that he was not only living with her in his own house, but was traveling with her when preaching the gospel. The words of Scripture are of such evidence on that subject that they can neither be obscured by any shrewd explanation nor by any tradition, however respectable it may appear.
"Though you know the words of Paul on that subject, you will allow us to read them: `Have we not power to eat and drink? have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?' (I Cor. ix. 4, 5). St. Peter saying `We have forsaken everything' could not then mean that he had made a vow of celibacy, and that he would never live with his wife as a married man. Evidently the words of Peter mean only that Jesus had the first place in his heart that everything else, even the dearest objects of his love, as father, mother, wife, were only secondary in his affections and thoughts.
"Your other text about the angels who do not marry, from which you infer the obligation and law on the vow of celibacy, does not seem to us to bear on that subject as much as you have told us. For, be kind enough to again read the text: `Jesus answered and said to them, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels of God in heaven' (Matt. xxii. 29, 30). You see that when our Saviour speaks of men who are like angels, and who do not marry, He takes care to observe that He speaks of the state of men after the resurrection. If the Church had the same rule for us that Christ mentioned for the angelic men to whom He refers, and would allow us to make a vow never to marry after the resurrection, we would not have the slightest objection to such a vow.
"You see that our Saviour speaks of a state of celibacy; but He does not intimate that that state is to begin on this side of the grave. Why does not our Church imitate and follow the teachings of our Saviour? Why does she enforce a state of celibacy before the resurrection, while Christ postpones the promulgation of this law till after that great day?
"Christ speaks of a perpetual celibacy only in heaven! On what authority, then, does our Church enforce that celibacy on this side of the grave, when we still carry our souls in earthly vessels?
"You tell us that the vow of celibacy is the best remedy against the inclinations of our corrupt nature; but do you not fear that your remedy makes war against the great one which God prepared in His wisdom? Do we not read in our own vulgate: `Propter fornicationem autem unus quisque uxorem snam habeat, et unaquaque virum suum'? "To avoid fornication let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband' (2 Cor. vii. 2).
"Is it not too strange, indeed, that God does tell us that the best remedy He had prepared against the inclinations of our corrupt nature is in the blessings of a holy marriage. `Let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.' But now our Church has found another remedy, which is more accordant to the dignity of man and the holiness of God, and that remedy is the vow of celibacy!"
The sound of my last words were still on my lips when our venerable superior, unable any longer to conceal his indignation, abruptly interrupted me, saying:
"I do exceedingly regret to have allowed you to go so far. This is not a Christian and humble discussion between young Levites and their superior, to receive from him the light they want. It is the exposition and defense of the most heretical doctrines I have ever heard. Are you ashamed, when you try to make us prefer your interpretation of the Holy Scriptures to that of the Church? Is it to you, or to His holy Church, that Christ promised the light of the Holy Ghost? It is you who have to teach the Church, or the Church who must teach you? Is it you who will govern and guide the Church, or the Church who will govern and guide you?
"My dear Chiniquy, if there is not a great and prompt change in you and in those whom you pretend to represent, I fear much for you all. You show a spirit of infidelity and revolt which frightens me. Just like Lucifer, you rebel against the Lord! Do you not fear to share the eternal pains of his rebellion?
"Whence have you taken the false and heretical notions you have, for instance, about the wives of the apostles? Do you not know that you are supporting a Protestant error, when you say that the apostles were living with their wives in the usual way of married people? It is true that Paul says that the apostles had women with them, and that they were even traveling with them. But the holy traditions of the Church tell us that those women were holy virgins, who were traveling with the apostles to serve and help them in different ways. They were ministering to their different wants washing their underclothes, preparing their meals, just like the housekeeper whom the priests have today. It is a Protestant impiety to think and speak otherwise.
"But only a word more, and I am done. If you accept the teaching of the Church, and submit yourselves as dutiful children to that most holy Mother, she will raise you to the dignity of the priesthood, a dignity much above kings and emperors in this world. If you serve her with fidelity, she will secure to you the respect and veneration of the whole world while you live, and procure your a crown of glory in heaven.
"But if you reject her doctrines, and persist in your rebellious views against one of the most holy dogmas; if you continue to listen to the voice of your own deceitful reason rather than to the voice of the Church, in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, you become heretics, apostates and Protestants; you will lead a dishonoured life in this world, and you will be lost for all eternity."
Our superior left us immediately after these fulminating words. Some of the theological students, after this exit, laughed heartily, and thanked me for having so bravely fought and gained so glorious a victory. Two of them, disgusted by the sophisms and logical absurdities of our superior, left the seminary a few days after. The rest, with me had not the moral courage to follow their example, but remained, stunned by the last words of our superior.
I went to my room and fell on my knees, with a torrent of tears falling from my eyes. I was really sorry for having wounded his feelings, but still more so for having dared for a moment to oppose my own feeble and fallible reason to the mighty and infallible intelligence of my Church!
At first it appeared to me that I was only combating, in a respectful way, against my old friend, Rev. Mr. Leprohon; but I had received it from his own lips that I had really fought against the Lord!
After spending a long and dark night of anguish and remorse, my first action, the next day, was to go to confession, and ask my confessor, with tears of regret, pardon for the sin I had committed and the scandal I had given.
Had I listened to the voices of my conscience, I certainly would have left the seminary that day; for they told me that I had confounded my superior and pulverized all his arguments. Reason and conscience told me that the vow of celibacy was a sin against logic, morality and God; that that vow could not be sustained by any argument from the Holy Scriptures, logic or common sense. But I was a most sincere Roman Catholic. I had therefore to fight a new battle against my conscience and intelligence, so as to subdue and silence them for ever! Many a time it was my hope, before this, to have succeeded in slaughtering them at the foot of the altar of my Church; but that day, far from being for ever silenced and buried, they had come out again with renewed force, to waken me from the terrible illusions in which I was living. Nevertheless, after a long and frightful battle, my hope was that they were perfectly subdued and buried under the feet of the holy Fathers, the learned theologians and the venerable popes, whose voice I was determined now to follow. I felt a real calm after that struggle. It was evidently the silence of death, although my confessor told me it was the peace of God. More than ever I determined to have no knowledge, no thought, no will, no light, no desires, no science but that which my Church would give me through my superior. I was fallible, she was infallible! I was a sinner, she was the immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ! I was weak, she had more power than the great waters of the ocean! I was but an atom, she was covering the world with her glory! What, therefore, could I have to fear in humbling myself at her feet, to live of her life, to be strong of her strength, wise of her wisdom, holy with her holiness? Had not my superior repeatedly told me that no error, no sin would be imputed to me as long as I obeyed my Church and walked in her ways?
With these sentiments of a most profound and perfect respect for my Church, I irrevocably consecrated myself to her services on the 4th of May, 1832, by making the vow of celibacy and accepting the office of sub-deacon.