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Saintly Marriage | Catholic Life

Saintly Marriage

Whenever I read about married Saints I seem to uncover the fact that they did not have “normal” marriages. Since many of my readers are under the impression that celibate marriage is not good, I assume that you must know of married Saints who had “normal” sexual relationships. I have never read the books on married Saints, so I would love your help in finding them.

“Normal” Married Saints

I’ll start the list off with Elizabeth of Hungary. We know that she had children, and that she sought to detach herself interiorly from her husband, but that he would not agree to celibacy so they had a “normal” marital relationship (if you call her staying up all night praying normal) until God conveniently killed him off his death in the crusades. She then embraced celibacy.

Then there is Saint Gianna who had four children in five years and died for the sake of the last.

Thomas More was married twice and I know of no evidence that he was ever celibate in marriage.

Elizabeth of Portugal had children and appears to have had as normal of a marriage as one can have with a jealous licentious husband.

Rita of Cascia is somewhat similar in having two sons with her abusive husband and joyfully embracing celibacy after his death.

Margaret of Scotland is said to have at first refused marriage due to desire to remain a virgin, but eventually consented and bore eight children.

Bridget of Sweden also had eight children, and embraced celibacy only after her husband’s death.

Stephen of Hungary had a son, but I don’t know much else about him other than that he lived in a context where celibacy was not taken seriously by anyone, even priests/bishops.

Something that stands out to me in this list is that it seems that most either suffered a heroic death/martyrdom or else had a less-than-holy spouse who probably was not up for the challenge of chastity, let alone celibacy.

Not so “Normal”

Catherine of Genoa
Francis of Rome
Edward the Confessor
Cecilia
Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini
Henry II
Louis Martin and Marie Guerin (we are all glad renounced their celibacy, but it would be silly to ignore it)
Catherine of Sweden

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Jane Francis de Chantal etc. don’t count because it is highly unlikely that they would have been canonized if their husbands hadn’t died and freed them to embrace, guess what, a celibate life.

What other Saints can you think of who we know were married and never embraced celibacy in marriage?

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18 Responses to “Saintly Marriage”

  1. practicinghuman 02. Sep, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    I’m not entirely sure, but I think St Macrina the Elder falls into this category.

  2. practicinghuman 03. Sep, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    Also, Sts Justinian and Theodora fall into this category. Additionally, I think it should be considered that there are many widows and widowers who did not wed a second time but embraced celibacy, perhaps even monastic vocation, after their spouse reposed.

  3. Salome Ellen 03. Sep, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Ignatius Press has a book Married Saints and Blesseds which probably covers the topic. I read it a while ago, but wasn’t paying attention to this particular issue.

  4. Claire 03. Sep, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Gina Loehr’s book “Real Women, Reals Saints” is actually about holy women (not only Blesseds and Saints, but also Ven. and S.of. G). It has quite a selection of lay women, many of whom were married. There was one, nicknamed Conchita (can’t remember her full name) who seemed extremely “normal.” Also, Servant of God Elizabeth de Leseur wished for children all the way up until the cancer that eventually took her life. We can only imagine that she and her husband tried their best! I can’t remember if she was included in that book, but maybe.

  5. Rae 04. Sep, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    Thank you everyone! I knew *none* of these.

  6. Rachel 04. Sep, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    I have always found this topic to be rather intriguing, as one who feels intensely called to married and family life. I myself have thought about what I would do should my husband die before I do, and our children are all grown. So I have toyed with the idea of becoming a nun or consecrated in some way. Though I would also like to just care for my grandchildren, etc, and be a grandmother, too. I don’t know! I obviously don’t have to worry about it right now, lol.

    I always noticed, when learning about a saint or couple saints that the renouncing of marital relations came after children, or after the children were grown. And it does seem many, many saints became nuns or monks or priests after their spouse died, as a way to continue a life of sacrifice, perhaps.

    And that brings me to how I always saw their mutual vows of celibacy – a sacrifice, offered to God. I highly doubt that in many or most cases of the mutual celibacy, that it was an easy or simply-done sacrifice. In reading a bit about Luigi and Maria, that certainly was the impression given. It was a sacrifice for God, similar to someone else renouncing a certain food or other comfort or pleasure for the rest of their life. Even for those who become a nun, priest, or monk without having been married before/are virgins, or the vocationally single, it is still seen as a sacrifice for God, and for some it may be easier than others, but it’s still a sacrifice. A sacrifice is giving up something good for the sake of something “better” or “higher” or considered to be more valuable. I suppose even single laypeople can consider it a sacrifice, their commitment to chastity. It is a sacrifice, not enjoying the pleasures of sexual intimacy or giving in to one’s ordinary desires, for the sake of something better – virtue, spiritual growth, etc. Even married couples are generally called to some abstinence, like when using Natural Family Planning. A week (or more) of no physical intimacy is a sacrifice, but it helps to bring them closer to each other, and not let their desires control them or enslave them and become lust, and instead turn them into something beautiful for each other and for God. It allows them to have mastery over themselves, and be more fully able to offer themselves to each other without reserve, and to God, without fearing descending into lust or exploiting each other for pleasure’s sake.

    Maybe I just missed it, but are there any known cases of mutual celibacy in marriage (of saints, I mean) from the get-go? And not just after they had children, etc? And stayed that way, not including the example of the couple mentioned above who waited some years before consummation. I personally have never heard of any like that. It always seemed to come after children. Which keeps the natural end of marriage intact, and allows the couple to continue a life of sacrifice for God as per their calling after their children are grown.

    Anyway, sorry for my rambling. xD

    As to saints who had “normal” marriages, I think we are forgetting the obvious Biblical ones. Sts. Joachim and Anna, they obviously had a normal marriage, and I think we are glad they did. haha. xD I am aware of icons that depict them embracing – the conception of the Theotokos, a sort of iconic-version of the marital embrace without being explicit. :)

    Then there are Sts. Elisabeth and Zachary, parents of St. John the Baptist. All the other matriarchs and patriarchs of the Bible, too, of course. Too many to list! I think we can all think of many. Let us not forget Sts. Adam and Eve, either. :)

    St. Clotilde converted her husband, King Clovis. St. Juan Diego was married, though you don’t hear much about it. St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, was married, but her husband wasn’t exactly nice to her… Tobias and Sarah, from the Book of Tobit. St. Perpetua was married and nursing a son at the time of her martyrdom, and St. Felicity was an expectant mother who only gave birth right before the executions. No mention is made of a husband of St. Felicity, though, were slaves not allowed to be married then? I have no idea. 😛

    Here is along list of married saints. It may help you. http://saints.sqpn.com/saints-who-were-married/ :)

    That is all I can think of right now!

    • Rae 05. Sep, 2010 at 6:49 am #

      “are there any known cases of mutual celibacy in marriage (of saints, I mean) from the get-go?” I’m no expert on these things, but of those mentioned above, Cecilia and Catherine of Sweden are venerated as virgins. Edward the Confessor also had a virgin marriage. Modern historians say that there is no basis for the tradition of virgin marriage of Henry II. But since he was canonized partly *because* that is what the faithful believed, for purposes of determining what is appropriate as an example for others I think that it is only right to take the view of those who first venerated him rather than of historians.

      The problem with the Holy Ones of the Old Testament is that they lived under the law and did not have the option of having simply spiritually fruitful marriages. So they are still good examples, but part of our tradition teaches us that they would have had celibate marriages had that been an option for them.

  7. Rachel 04. Sep, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Commenter Clair mentioned one called Conchita, might she be thinking of this one? http://spiritualmotherhoodforpriests.blogspot.com/2010/06/wife-mother-and-mystic-of-mexico.html

    :)

    Oh, and I forgot to mention St. Monica. She suffered, though, because her husband refused to convert, if I remember rightly.

    Also, it’s Elizabeth and Stephen of Hungary, not Hungry. 😉

    • Rae 05. Sep, 2010 at 6:50 am #

      Ah! Thanks for the correction. The really sad part is that I’ve made that mistake before and know better!

  8. practicinghuman 06. Sep, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Fr Stephen Freeman at Glory to God for All Things had a fantastic post towards this end today called “It’s All in the Family” The permalink is http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/its-all-in-the-family/

  9. Nino 12. Sep, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Well there are many in Asia! hahaha!

    here are some examples:

    – Blesseds John and Thecla Hashimoto of Kyoto, Japan. THe two were burned alive with five of their children and one unborn
    – St. Damian Nam and Maria Yi who were killed for assisting French missionaries in Korea

    and many more.

    • Rae 12. Sep, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

      Thank you! I didn’t know about either of those couples. I need a greater education on Asian Saints!

  10. Nino 19. Oct, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    There are also Saints who had not-so-normal marriages. They had extra-marital affairs too:

    – St. Fabiola divorced her first husband and married another one in a civil marriage
    – St. Philip Howard, the English martyr, left his wife in before his conversion to Catholicism and had a mistress
    – St. Michael Ho Dinh Hy, a Vietnamese Martyr, had extramarital affairs with a younger woman who bore him three children

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