Virginity: A Positive Approach to Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

We must have the courage to invite young people to embrace the consecrated life not despite the virginity and celibacy it entails, but because of them, or at least also because of them (xi).

Part 1: The Biblical Motivations for Virginity and Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven

1: There are some who choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven

His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:10–12).

“for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”

  • The nature of virginity & celibacy & their justification depend on the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven itself.
    • We could say that virginity is the most “natural” state because we are only called to live in an eternal relationship with God.
  • Celibacy is a prophetic existence to live the final condition of the Kingdom on this earth.

“I believe that [virginity] is not ontologically (that is, in itself) a more perfect state, but it is an eschatologically more advanced state, in the sense that it is more like the definitive state towards which we are all journeying” (7).

Virginity and marriage

  • virginity reminds married people:
    • that marriage is holy, beautiful, and redeemed by Christ.
    • of the primacy of the spirit and of God.
    • that marriage and the family cannot be turned into an idol
    • liberates marriage from despair from an eschatological viewpoint.

The missionary dimension of celibacy and virginity

– The second motive for virginity and celibacy = since God’s Kingdom has come in intensity within the Church, but not in extension, we need men and women who will devote themselves full-time and wholeheartedly to the coming of that Kingdom (12).

Virginity signifies the utmost fruitfulness, obviously on a different, higher level than physical – fruitfulness of the spirit.

“The first Virgin is the holy Trinity” ~ St. Gregory Nazianzen

Gratuity = the most beautiful characteristic of virginity.

(2) “The unmarried give their minds to the Lord’s affairs”

This is the 2nd great New Testament text on virginity.

For the present form of this world is passing away. 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. ~ 1 Corinthians 7:31–35

Although St. Paul’s motivation seems subjective, psychological and centred on the good of the individual, he actually has the same exquisitely objective & theological motive which has God as its aim, not oneself.

“for the Lord” –> ever since Easter, then has been equivalent to “for the Kingdom of Heaven”.

“For the present form of this world is passing away” = “The appointed time has come”

One difference. Jesus spoke about virginity for a cause, Paul spoke about virginity for a person. * shows progression in the idea of virginity, thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“free from anxiety” of worldly affairs VS. anxious about the affairs of the Lord (the souls Christ died for)

  • celibates and virgins exist to be concerned solely for God’s interests.

Virgins are not people who renounce marriage. They are people who renounce life-long commitment to a creature. 

Virgins are not people who renounce a “concrete” love for the sake of an “abstract” one, a real person for an imaginary one. Virgins renounce one concrete love for another concrete love, one real person for Another Who is infinitely more real. Difference = according to the flesh (one flesh) VS. according to the spirit (one spirit).

Virgins are people who have realized that another person, a family, children, all of these are not enough for them. They felt “too confined” by them, they needed something divine to love.

“how to please the Lord”

  • having espoused the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are called to serve that cause; having married a person, we are called to please that person.

“unhindered devotion the Lord” / “devoted to the Lord without distractions”

  • Although the primary reason for celibacy is objective –
  • Virginity fulfills a second function of personal enhancement and growth. A strong subjective and existential significance helping a person to achieve the finest, most difficult enterprise of all, which is to become inwardly unified.
  • If Jesus asked us: “What is your name?” We too would have to reply “My name is legion, for there are many of us” (Mk 5:9).
  • Virginity is a powerful aid to progress toward interior unity, in virtue of the fact that it enables us to live united to the Lord, and able to devote ourselves to Him “without distractions”.
  • United in oneself and united to the Lord.
  • This unity is what Jesus calls “purity of heart” and it is realized most of all at the level of the will. It consists in wanting fewer and fewer things, until eventually one wants “one thing only” = God.
  • This “virginity of heart”, of which physical virginity is the sign and safeguard.
  • this undivided heart is a good thing, as long as you love somebody.
  • the essence of celibacy and virginity for the Kingdom is a spousal love for the Lord. The very fruitfulness of this state of life depends on it (32).
  • Whereas the Fathers of the Church seem to have a negative and ascetical motivation for celibacy (from eschatology to protology – to live before the fall rather than as children of the resurrection), the main motive for biblical Christian virginity is therefore positive (the Kingdom, the Lord), not negative.

Virginity and the Paschal Mystery

  • Since the Kingdom of God came & Jesus became Lord by the Cross, being espoused to Christ means, here below, being “crucified with Christ,” but also in the hope of being glorified with Him.
  • “All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
  • The Cross = the marriage bed, in which the soul is joined to its divine Spouse.
  • Where and how did that union between Christ and the Church actually come about? In a bed of pleasures? Or rather, as St. Paul says, “in blood,” on the cross?
  • To crucify the flesh does not belong exclusively to virgins, but it does belong to them under a different and stronger title, because they have made it their way of life.
  • Since married persons have to struggle and renounce many things to protect their love for one another, so a man or woman called to be the spouse of God’s majesty must logically face an even more radical and demanding struggle and renunciation.
  • * the ascetical, self-denying component of virginity and celibacy is based on the Paschal Mystery. I believe that this is where the ultimate “why” of virginity and celibacy truly resides.

Q. But why does the Kingdom call for celibacy? 

A. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:21).

We know that the “foolishness” of the Gospel proclamation is the Cross. From this principle the three religious vows of poverty, obedience and chastity draw their origin and justification. Human beings have been unable to use their intelligence, will, created goods, and sexuality to go to God, but have made them into idols, God revealed in the Gospel the way of active renunciation of these gifts.

“God reveals himself in his opposite” (sub contraria specie) ~ Martin Luther. In other words, God reveals His wisdom in “foolishness”, His wealth in poverty, etc. So we must receive Him in the way that He reveals Himself.

Poverty, chastity and obedience are not a renunciation – or worse, a condemnation – of a created good, but a rejection of the evil that has come to overlay that good (45). They are a proclamation of the original goodness of created things. They are the “most eloquent proclamation there is of Christ’s redemption and of the Paschal Mystery,” recapitulating original creation bringing out into the light from under the covering of sin.

A virginal and chaste life is therefore in a very profound sense a paschal life.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship ~ Romans 12:1

We are called to be a living sacrifice like Christ. Virgins are obliged to own it and to live it in a more radical way, making it the substance of their daily life.

4 dimensions:

  1. Existential
  2. Prophetic
  3. Missionary
  4. Spousal

Part Two: How to Live Virginity and Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom

(1) Matrimony and Virginity: Two Charisms

  • Charisms = manifestations of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:7) – gifts received from God
  • You do not choose celibacy and virginity in order to enter into the Kingdom, but because the Kingdom has entered into you.
  • We need a conversion of attitude – from thinking we are making a sacrifice and giving a gift to receiving a great gift and due thanks needed.
  • As a charism, it must be lived charismatically – living it as one usually lives a gift.
    • 1st with humility. Lust is carnal pride and pride is spiritual lust.
    • 2nd with joy and peace (Gal 5:22).
    • 3rd with freedom (2 Cor 3:17). Interior freedom.
  • Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom is both a paschal detachment from the world and a prophecy about the future life.
  • Since virginity and matrimony are two charisms, both are therefore manifestations of the Spirit, both confirm and strengthen each other.
  • Since marriage is beautiful and good, the renunciation of it for a higher motive is even more beautiful (60) (cf. 1 Cor 7:38).
  • The Holy Spirit does not do new things, but makes things new.

A charism is a particular “manifestation of the Spirit given to each one for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7, cf. 1 Peter 4:10).

  • A charism is something specific and individual, yet it is also for the service of all.
  • Example of mothers waking up at night to feed children helping celibates to wake up at night for spiritual children.

2. How the cultivate the charism of celibacy and virginity

  • Mortification – 1st and most common way to preserve virginity of the heart. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13). Both internal and external practiced with the help of the Holy Spirit. Mortification of the eyes in particular these days – we need healthy fasting from images. Food and drink are never impure, but certain pictures & images are.
  • Healthy knowledge & acceptance of sexuality – to develop a calm, untroubled view of the whole of created reality, including the transmission of life. To be healthily realistic about married life, to avoid mistaking things of the flesh for spirit & vv. Temptation is the crucible in which chastity is purified, the cold bath in which it is toughened. If you have no struggle at all, rather be afraid and question yourself (either free gift from God or a slip on our part).
  • The “call” of the other sex – we should turn that into the best part of our “living sacrifice”
  • Importance of “spiritual virginity” that we must pursue day by day.
  • Community

3. The Virgin Mary

  • Mary, in her virginity, embodies the new form of life which has been made possible precisely by the coming of the Kingdom.
  • The Visitation – Elizabeth (OT economy – married) meets Mary (NT economy – virgin).
  • In Mary appears all the splendour of the biblical motivation for virginity.
  • Mary is also the advocate and protector of virgins.
  • We need constant attention and devotion to Mary to cultivate the charism of celibacy.


  • We must offer to God once more our “Here I am!” through the hands of Mary.
  • We must re

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