The vow of chastity is undertaken for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. By chastity, the heart is capable of even greater love of God, is more available in the service of others.
As well, it can be dedicated to the undivided service of Christ and his church in all forms of the apostolate. In that we all are vessels of clay, the preservation of the treasure of chastity must always rely on the help of God. Augustine explained that the dignity and worth of chastity does not consist in continence (a voluntary restriction of sexual matters) as such, but in its being offered to God as a holy gift.
In addition, chastity is linked to the community existence that religious share, and is supported and safeguarded in a community where true love and mutual vigilance exists among the members. Accordingly the Rule of Augustine states, "Exercise a mutual care over purity of life. Thus, by mutual vigilance over one another, will God, who dwells in you, grant you his protection."
Augustine on Chastity. An extract from his Sermon 82. http://www.passtheword.org/GOSPEL-REDISCOVERY/augustinechastity.htm
The vow of virginity or celibacy
This Augnet page and the next page are an adaptation and abridgment of the indicated sections of Plan of Augustinian Formation (Ratio Institutionis), which details the preparation of candidates for the Order of St Augustine.
Regarding its bibliographical details, this edition was first published in Rome during 1993. The document’s chapter on the basic elements of Augustinian formation appears elsewhere on Augnet.
42. Marriage and religious celibacy are different forms of entering into relations with other persons. The renunciation of marriage does not mean a renunciation of relationships and affectivity. There are many ways of “being there for others.” Through freely chosen celibacy a religious renounces marital union, but he does not renounce relationships with others. As a celibate he wishes to give love, friendship, happiness, support, help, and encouragement to others. He also expects to receive these elements from others in return.
He wants to be the companion of people in distress or in need, the companion of lonely people and of people seeking desperately for the meaning of life. He wants to be present to them because of, and together with, his faith in God, his hope in God, and his love of God. In this way we find an apostolic meaning in this vow.
43. Augustine's interpretation of this vow is founded more on tradition than his interpretation of the other vows. He begins his reflections with a very meaningful distinction between physical virginity and virginity of the heart. Just as in the Old Testament the people of Israel are called “virgin", so Paul regarded the Church as a “chaste virgin” (2 Cor.11,2). Certainly, not all the Church's members are virgins in a physical sense, but each of the faithful should possess, by the gift of himself or herself to Christ, a spiritual virginity.
This latter consists in the integrity of one's faith, hope, and love, and this kind of virginity is to be attributed to all Christians. But physical virginity vowed to God is, according to Augustine, not only a particular expression and realization of the virginity of the Church. It is also a witness and contribution to it (Ecclesia Virgo). Moreover, he stresses that consecrated virginity has to be fruitful in a spiritual way, for it ought to bestow the life of Christ, our Savior, on other people (Ecclesia Mater). In these two approaches we discover some valuable community aspects, which have not lost their topical interest. It is a part of the Church's life, and it has to be fruitful for others.
44. “Virginity is held in honor, not because it is virginity, but because it is dedicated to God” (On holy virginity 8,8). This means that our energy is concentrated on one single goal: serving God’s Reign, for “Where your treasure is, there is your heart” (Mt. 6,21). This reminds us of Augustine's ideal as it is expressed at the beginning of the Rule: a common life of mutual trust and interdependence, which expresses unity of heart and mind, centered upon God.
This concentration on God is the reason why Augustine stresses so strongly in his Rule mutual responsibility, fraternal concern, and, in the case of someone damaging the common ideal, admonition, accompanied by love of the person. This applies not only to sexual misbehavior, but also to other grave offenses. When the unity of striving for God is broken by the failure of one member, the group as a whole suffers. Mutual protection is the embodiment of God's care for each one.