Ontological Bonds: Priesthood, Sacred Virginity, Marriage

by Therese Ivers, JCL

The existence of ontological bonds in some of the Church vocations are among the most challenged teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Three bonds in particular are challenged for different reasons.  They are the ordained priesthood, the nuptial bond of sacred virgins, and the nuptial bond of marriage.


Most Protestant sects do not believe in ordained clergy in the sense that Catholics do.  Catholics believe that clergy receive a special mark of the soul, an ontological bond that is unique to men who receive Holy Orders.  This ontological bond separates the clergy from the rest of the faithful.  The Church teaches that this bond:

  • Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
  • Comes into existence when the Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred upon the man
  • Is restricted to baptized males
  • Is indissoluble (nothing can dissolve it; men can be priests in Hell)
  • Is essentially different from the common priesthood of the faithful

Most Protestants, however, consider this to be an elitist position and following their interpretation of St. Paul in his “one Body” analogy, do not believe that a priest is essentially different than a layperson.  They cannot conceive of a Divinely instituted hierarchy with a power given to some that is not equally given to others.  Protestant pastors are pastors by reason of their persona, education, preaching ability, by choice of the people, etc., and not because they have a special ontological bond with Christ Jesus that the other faithful do not possess.  This is especially true of the beliefs of major sects who do not accept Transubstantiation and/or other Sacraments.


The Roman Catholic Church teaches that an ontological bond is formed between a man and a woman when they are validly married.  Here are some dogmatic facts about this ontological bond:

  • Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
  • Comes into existence during the exchange of vows of the spouses
  • Is restricted to the unions of one man with one woman
  • The bond is indissoluble only when it is both sacramental and consummated(the bond is dissoluble by death alone; once a spouse has died the bond totally disappears)
  • Is essentially different than the common motherhood or fatherhood of the baptized faithful since it is a commitment of a specific woman to a specific man

The Catholic Church, from its very inception, has been under attack for these teachings.  Licentious Rome was all for divorce.  Polygamy, polyandry, adultery, and other sins against the bond of marriage were and continue to be quite common.  The most challenging dogma is about indissolubility of consummated sacramental marriages.  All major religions other than the Catholic Church teach that under certain circumstances, the consummated sacramental marriage can be dissolved.  Many speculate that it was not so much the primacy of the Pope or the stance on consubstantiality that led to the rift between the Catholics and the Orthodox, but the teaching on divorce with the Catholics claiming indissolubility and the Orthodox claiming dissolubility of consummated sacramental marriages.  People are very passionate when it comes to sexual matters, and we live in an age of “temporary marriages” and other aberrations.

Sacred Virginity

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sacred virgins (female virgins who have received the Consecration to a life of Virginity from their bishop) have an ontological bond between the virgin and Christ.  Here are some facts about this bond:

  • Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
  • Comes into existence when the Sacramental of Consecrated Virginity is conferred upon the woman
  • Is restricted to baptized females who are virgins
  • Is indissoluble (nothing can dissolve it; virgins can be virgins in Hell)
  • Is different from the common priesthood and bridehood of the faithful

The sacred virgin’s bond, just like the bond of the priesthood and of marriage, does not come about simply by her fiat, but by the ministry of another (in marriage this is a mutual conferral).  The Church teaches that it is an indissoluble nuptial bond, which means that it cannot be dissolved by anyone.   While it may come as a surprise to some, Martin Luther was not the first person to think that consecrated life, and in particular, consecrated virginity or consecrated chastity was worthless, or even against Christian principles.  Jovinianus was one of the first to erroneously claim that all lifestyles (marriage, digamy, virginity, widowhood, etc.) were all to be given the same and equal reward in Heaven.

Because there are people who dispute these aspects of all three of these vocations with ontological bonds in the Catholic Church, no comments will be permitted that make it clear that documents such as Pastores dabo vobis, The Council of Trent Session 24, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, and Vita Consecrata have not been read and understood.   A working knowledge of theological terms (such as vinculum) and their significance, as well as ecclesiastical Latin may be necessary to fully understand the full import of the Church’s writings.  Any comments not in keeping with these documents will be deleted or edited.

(c) 2013 by Therese Ivers, JCL

All rights reserved.


This entry was posted in Consecrated Life, Consecrated Virgins, Holy Orders, Marriage, priesthood. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Ontological Bonds: Priesthood, Sacred Virginity, Marriage

  1. mysteriumfidai says:

    Some priests say that the indissolubility of the consecration is only one interpretation.
    They say that solemn vows may be dispensed, so why not CV’s ? I said about it being a consecration of a propositum, but they said that abbots are consecrated and can be dispensed.

    I know for a fact that in at least one country, Bishops do give dispensations from CV upon request (whether the ‘dispensation’ actually does dispense is another matter!). I tried to explain the indissolubility of CV to some bishops and priests, but the closest thing to an explicit refernce stating this that I could find was Summa Theologiae II-II Q.88, which does not state that CV cannot be dispensed, rather it talks about circumstances where vows of chastity to God can be dispensed, and when they cannot. (Aquinas includes propositum in the three stages of making a vow)

    Even many learned people cannot understand the difference between the consecration of a propositum and a making of a solemn vow, therefore they cannot understand why the vow can be dispensed but consecration of CV cannot. I think on some well known blogs (maybe the Stillsong Hermatige one?) it talks about ‘religious are consecrated people too’, and of course religious can be dispensed of their vows.

    What documents would you suggest would be useful for bishops/priests to explain why a) CV cannot be dispensed b) ontological bond is formed. You can just list them. Most of these Bishops and Priests of course know the Rite, and Vita Consecrata, and have had substantial theological formation. The documents can be in any language.

    Also, since matrimony can be ‘anulled’, can the consecration of a CV be annulled too, under the same circumstances? Perhaps that is what the bishops were offering?

  2. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    They obviously have not read the Rite in the Latin nor do they get the concept that religious vows are a means to an end whereas nuptial vows (marriage) or nuptial consecration (CV) establishes a nuptial relationship. The propositum has nothing to do with dispensation- it’s not a vow or promise, nor is it by definition indissoluble. To claim that the consecration can be dissolved on the basis of the propositum is like claiming Holy Orders can be dissolved on the basis of the promise of obedience to the bishop made by the ordinand. St. Thomas does discuss consecrated virginity, (brief references in the Summa and more heady stuff elsewhere, but I do not provide citations here).

  3. mysteriumfidai says:

    I didn’t say the propositum was indissoluble on the basis of it being a propositum. I based my argument on where Aquinas says that a vow of chastity to God can only be dispensed where the end-purpose of vow is NOT inextricably tied to the chastity that is the subject of the vow. Then I said to them, in religious profession, the vow of chastity, even a solemn one, is to facilitate a end-purpose e.g. greater devotion/time/efforts in an undivided way to the apostolate. But in CV the end-purpose of the ‘vow’ (he classes the propositum as one of the three stges of vows) is inextricably linked to chastity – i.e. creation of a nuptial relationship, therefore falls under the categories of vows of chastity that Aquinas feels cannot be dispensed.
    I also found in L’Osservatore Romano a reference that specifically says it is irrecovable.

    I know this blog is not for references, but many Bishops do not seem to fully understand the vocation nor have the time to research it, and can only rely on us non-theologians if we give a specific reference, so he can easily and quickly check it. hence why i am trying to research as much as possible, but most of the info is hard copy only, and in various specialist libraries – not online. there is so much confusion out there, we also have CV’s (and their consecrating bishops) amending the rite to replace ‘virginity’ with ‘celibacy’ and being consecrated that way.

    what we need is a book which is densely referenced and authoritative about the post-1970 revised rite. so far the closest i can find is the USACV info back, and a dissertation by Gloria Sanz which the USACV gives to bishops.

  4. mysteriumfidai says:

    I just saw someone had posted a CDW response online with protocol nr:

    In yr 2003 I sent following Questions to the Congr for the Inst. of Cons. life in Rome :
    Canon 604#1 says that we are consecrated by the Bishop. How exactly is this different from the Prayer of consecration in the Rite for the Profession of Religious Women ? In several theological articles it is said that in the Cons. of virgins what is specific is the charismatic element in the Rite whereas in the Rite of Religious Profession what is specific is the ascetic element or the Profession of vows according to the Constitution of the Institute ………….Since the Consecration takes place by the very words in the Prayer of Consecration, the Information provided by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins says that it is Irrevocable. They say there can be no dispensation from the commitment ………..in case later in life the virgin feels a call to marriage. How far is this true ?

    Their response : Prot.n. SpR 862-4/2003 was :

    …….. it is to be hoped that as the Rite is better known,and is studied both by the candidate and by the consecrating bishop, it will be clear that the candidate’s proposito expresses her intent and the solemn prayer of the Bishop consecrates her. This is distinct from the rite of religious profession in which the profession of the evangelical counsels- all other canonical requirements being in place–consecrates the candidate to God[c.654]

    It would be true to say that the Consecration effected through the Rite is permanent. For this reason some Bishops require periods of time with a private vow of chastity during the formation time, before accepting a candidate for the Consecration. We have , however, received the question of a possible dispensation from the proposito and from the obligations arising from the Consecration. This while regrettable, would seem would be within the competency of the Diocesan Bishop. There has not been any formal definition in this regard.

  5. mysteriumfidai says:

    Sorry – *Congregation of Cons. life.

Leave a Reply