August 20, 2009

Bernard on the Dangers of Celibacy

For his feast day today, here's one of my favorite challenging quotes from St. Bernard's On Conversion, a Sermon to Clerics (trans. Bernard Saïd, OSB) against all of us who put forth an external image of renunciation but are really willing victims of all manner of luxury within and without.

If only those who are incapable of remaining continent would fear to profess perfection rashly and to assume the title of would without doubt have been better to marry than to burn (1 Cor 7:9), to be saved in the humble ranks of the faithful than to live less worthily in the lofty ranks of the clergy and be more severely judged...They abstain from from the remedy afforded by marriage and give themselves up to all forms of vice.

This can be a hard thing to hear, because in the clergy and religious life you rejoice to encounter those for whom celibate chastity seems to have worked as advertised, leaving them more open, more completely giving of time and self, utterly non-exclusive with their attention and affection, etc. But for others it seems to have hardened them into their private eccentricity or provided a consequence-free setting for their affective disorderliness, sexual and otherwise.

So for celibates who are young in the spiritual order, it is critical to choose our spiritual mothers and fathers carefully!


Paul A. Zalonski said...


Do you have the complete sermon of St Bernard handy? If so, save for me.

Brother Charles said...

Unfortunately, I read the sermon when I was on retreat, and had transcribed this passage (among others) in my journal. I believe that this is the volume in which I read it.