Table of contents for Ever Ancient Ever New
- Overview: Ever Ancient Ever New, an Introduction to consecrated Life and the Ordo Virginum by Caroline J. Nolan
- Overview, Ever Ancient Ever New, Part II
by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV
In Part I of this overview, I gave a general outline of Dr. Nolan’s work on consecrated virginity. For the second part, I will focus on some of the key concepts presented in this book that are questionable.
The most striking feature of Dr. Nolan’s book on consecrated virginity is that with a few minor exceptions, it could be read as a description of the vocation to secular institutes and not consecrated virginity per se.
In the first place, Nolan states that the vow of chastity is made. She claims that it is the propositum and the consecration prayer proper that makes the virgin a consecrated virgin. This is incorrect. Nolan does not recall that in ancient times, there were often two ceremonies. One was for the propositum, and the other was for the veiling (consecration). Sacred virgins living in the world and consecrated with the 1970 Rite do not make any vows as the propositum is not a vow but a resolution. Members of secular institutes, on the other hand do make vows (or sacred bonds).
Second, the description of virginity given in this book could be used to describe chastity, even marital chastity. Secular Institute members (consecrated lay men and women and consecrated priests and deacons) also are to exercise purity of heart.
Third, it is quite striking that although Nolan once or twice fleeting refers to virginity as being necessary for the consecration in the Ordo Virginum, she has hundreds of references to “celibate chastity”. Consecrated laymen/laywomen in secular institutes are called to celibate chastity, as well as others in the consecrated state. The vocation to sacred virginity is not about celibate chastity, it is about consecrated virginity. All consecrated forms of life call for celibate chastity but only sacred virginity calls for virginal chastity consecrated by God.
Because Nolan does not delve into the theology of virginity, she does not link the concept of virginity with the spousal identity of the sacred virgin. This spousal identity differs from that of religious, hermits, and consecrated laymen/laywomen of secular institutes in that the sacred virgin is a bride with eternal marriage bonds with Christ. A sacred virgin is a virgin bride forever in the Marian Order just as a priest is a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek.
Nolan identifies consecrated virgins as consecrated laypersons. “It is not a vow, canonically speaking, neither is it a promise, but a unique resolve that changes the canonical status of each of the women from being a layperson to becoming a publicly consecrated layperson.” This is incorrect, because consecrated laypersons are laymen and women who have received the consecration given to professed members of secular institutes. These are the people the Church refers to as consecrated laypersons. Consecrated virgins, on the other hand, are no longer in the lay state. They join the consecrated state upon being consecrated by the bishop with the prayer of Consecration.
It is not surprising that given the profound lack of insight on the spousal and bridal nature of the vocation to sacred virginity that Nolan’s suggestions reflect a view that is more appropriate for consecrated laywomen (members of secular institutes) than sacred virgins. For example, she doesn’t think a veil should be given to the sacred virgin because modern religious have dropped its use. The Church calls for sacred virginity to be understood in light of marriage, not in light of the sequela Christi proper to religious. The Rite itself calls the veil “bridal insignia”. This using the religious vocation as the paradigm for understanding the virginal vocation also arises in her treatment of the bridesmaids in the consecration Rite. She claims that candidates don’t need bridesmaids because “the canonical form that they are entering into is not communal in nature, unlike religious orders and congregations”. Again, she fails to understand that the origin of the bridesmaids is both biblical and nuptial, and does not come from religious life.
Another intriguing notion that surfaces about two thirds of the way into the book is the idea that the sacred virgin “must be content with the role and function the consecrated virgin plays in the Church, i.e., prayer and service in a spirit of humility and peace.” The role that the sacred virgin has in the Church is more profound than being a person who merely prays and serves. The consecrated virgin represents the Church in a visible way. She shares with the Church the role of virgin, bride, and mother. Her role is essential to the very nature of the Church, just as the role of the clergy is essential for the Church in time. It is remarkable that the author calls for an understanding of why only men can be clerics, but she omits to say that only women can be consecrated virgins.
The charism of the sacred virgin is the charism of the Church herself. Other forms of consecrated life partake in limited expressions of this charism, but the sacred virgin is graced with the entirety of the Church’s own charism gifted by the Holy Spirit. This is not a matter of resignation to being content with some kind of inferior role. This is a major role, not less essential than the clerical role! It is specific to consecrated virginity, however, which may be a reason why Nolan may have missed it, as she concentrated on celibacy rather than on virginity.
Although the biblical section of the book was very good, and many suggestions Dr. Nolan offers are worthy of consideration, there are numerous texts which indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of certain forms of consecrated life. Nolan almost entirely misses the boat on diocesan hermits. She does not appear to realize that secular institutes are different from other lay ecclesial movements because they are a form of consecrated life (as opposed to dedicated life). She does not demonstrate a firm and authentic understanding of the differences between private vows and the vows made by religious, diocesan hermits, and secular institute members.
With regard to specific claims about the vocation made about sacred virginity, there are several major factual errors that appear in the book. In the first place, Nolan assumes that the Ordo Virginum is comprised of women who have received the Consecration to a Life of Virginity who are living in the world. In point of fact, the Ordo Virginum also embraces nuns who have received the same consecration to a life of virginity. This is similar to ordination. Ordination may be received by men in secular life (diocesan priests), but it can also be received by monks. Both religious and secular priests belong to the Ordo Presbyterum.
Another erroneous claim made is that virgins make implicit vows of obedience to their bishop “since they are at the service of their bishop and diocese where they reside permanently”. One cannot make an implicit vow. A vow is an explicit thing promised to God as a vow. Just as one is either pregnant or non-pregnant, so too one either makes an explicit vow or does not make a vow at all.
Further, a sacred virgin is not at the service of their bishop. Sacred virgins are at the service of the Church and of God. To say that virgins are at the service of their bishop would be like saying religious are at the service of their superior. Neither is true. In addition, the service due to the Church is not limited to the diocese of one’s residence. The Church is speaking of service to both the diocesan Church and the universal Church. Many virgins have more than one diocese they reside or work in, and quite a few have international apostolates.
While Nolan may be an expert in Sacred Scripture studies, she is not a canon lawyer. Several things she claims as “canonical” are simply her own opinion. For example, sacred virgins do not have a canonical obligation to wear a consecration ring daily, despite the assertions made twice to the contrary in the book.
There are a number of really great things about the book, but also serious errors,as has been noted in this overview. Reading should be done judiciously and one should keep the Church’s teaching and praxis of consecrated virginity over the two millenia in mind when discerning the weight to be given to individual statements made by Nolan.
(c) 2013 by Therese Ivers, JCL
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