Christian Community

Christian Community and the States of Life: A Reflection on the Anthropological Significance of Virginity and Marriage

David S. Crawford

"If the counsels and marriage disclose the authentic structure of creaturehood, as well as the meaning of the community creaturehood implies, then they also are called to 'reconfigure' the world . . . by simply being 'what they are' in the world."

Any discussion of “Christian community” should begin by grappling with the issue of how that community is grounded. Certainly it is true that the sacraments of initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—are the primitive source of ecclesial communion, and hence “Christian community.”1 But what is the role of the Christian alternatives of marriage and virginity or celibacy? The fact of the matter is that their importance and centrality are often downplayed. This is despite the fact that the Church’s Magisterium has generally reinforced the significance of marriage and virginity for Christian life, particularly in the pontificate of John Paul II. The human person is a bodily creature, and this means that the question of how he bestows himself necessarily involves his self-gift precisely as a bodily creature.2 Thus, “Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being ‘created in the image of God’” (FC, 11), that is to say, in the image of the triune God who is both love and communion. Consecrated virginity, as “superior,”3 constitutes a direct gift to God of one’s whole personal being. Marriage sacramentally “signifies and participates [significant atque participant]” in the mutual self-gift of Christ and his bride.4 But isn’t this being a gift both to and from God, and the resultant human “vocation” to love, the foundation of all Christian community?

There are many reasons, no doubt, to downplay the states of life.5 With respect to marriage, the growing acceptance both legally and culturally of liberalized divorce, the drift toward an estrangement of marriage from procreation, the “mainstreaming” of nonmarital “cohabitation” have all contributed to a diminution of marriage’s identity and mission. On the other hand, we often hear of the “vocations crisis” and the concomitant “graying” of many religious orders. And then, of course, there are the repeated demands to “rethink” the Roman Catholic discipline of priestly celibacy. With all of these difficulties, it might seem safest to anchor our discussion of Christian community on simple membership in the Church and allow the “states of life” to serve more generally as “contexts” in which Christians live out that membership, according to their predilections and sense of calling.6


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