Evangelical Counsels

An Insight into the Life of Evangelical Counsels

[1] Non-biblical origin. There is no corresponding Greek word for evangelical counsel; because the idea of evangelical counsel was the invention of the scholastic during the middle ages, and strictly speaking, it does not exist in the Sacred Scripture. Although the words evangelical counsels are not biblical, the three virtues as vows – obedience, poverty, and chastity – are all in the entire Sacred Scripture (cf., Mt. 19:21).

[2] Origin of obedience-poverty-chastity as evangelical counsels. The Rule of St. John Matha of the Trinitarian Order, approved by Pope Innocent III in 1198, is the earliest known Rule formally approved that professes the vows of obedience, chastity, and without any possession. However, the phrase evangelical counsels were not yet present in the document. The same is with the Solet annuere 1223 of the same pope regarding the Regula bollata of the Franciscans. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who discussed the (evangelical) counsels in the first part of the second part of his Summa Theologiae.1 Thomas distinguished between the commandment and the counsel, which are both under the New Law of Liberty, that is, the Law of Christ in the New Testament period; the commandments under the new law have been given those necessary for salvation. On the other hand, the counsels deal with matters that render this end (salvation) more assured and expeditious. (ibid.) Thomas also listed poverty, chastity, and obedience as evangelical counsels.2

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
(Mt 19:21)

[3] Proposed New Law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the distinction between precepts and counsel because of charity: “In general, the teachings of the New Law proposed by Jesus to his disciples lead to the perfection of the Christian life. In the New Law, the precepts are to remove whatever is incompatible with charity; the evangelical counsels are to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if not contrary to it.3 The public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience is a constitutive element of the state of consecrated life in the Church."4 The evangelical counsels propose a new way of life. The authority of the Church highly regards the liberty of the candidate. No one is dragged before the altar of the Lord to take the vows of the evangelical counsels.

[4] A stable form of sequela Christi. The Code of Canon Law teaches that the profession of the evangelical counsels constitutes a consecrated life that characterizes this life as an enduring form by which the faithful could follow closer the Lord Jesus Christ.5 The Code acknowledges chastity, poverty, and obedience as the evangelical counsels. The three virtues become synonymous with evangelical counsels.6 Remember that the profession of evangelical counsels effects the following on the person (1) whose life becomes consecrated; (2) who becomes dedicated: (a) to God, (b) to the mission of building the Church, (c) to the salvation of the world; (3) who aims for the perfection of charity, (4) and he is becoming a sign in the Church who foretells of the heavenly glory.

[5] Conclusion. The non-biblical origin of the phrase evangelical counsels should not cause frustration nor suspicion to the magisterium of the Church. Someone called to the life of evangelical counsel participates in the divine plan of salvation through the individual's talents, and the charisms of the community wherein God is calling his chosen one. The technical realization of the idea of evangelical counsels is inherent in the life and ministry of the Church. The phrase evangelical counsels in the consecrated life is like fixing the number of the canonical books of the Sacred Scriptures and the number of the sacraments during the Council of Trent. They exist before their institutionalization. Instead of frustration and suspicion, such realization should lead us to awe in the splendid dynamic of God's revelation who deems the Church with her frail children to collaborate in His ongoing revelation.


1 Thomas Aquinas, O.P., S. Th. I-II, q. 108, art. 4, Whether certain definite counsels are fittingly proposed in the new law?

2 For St. Benedict, the object of the profession is threefold: stability, conversatio morum, and obedience, "The one who is to be received should take a vow in the oratory in front of everyone: he must promise stability, conversion of his way of life and obedience before God and his saints so that if he ever does otherwise, he will be clear that he will be condemned by the one whom he scorns" (Excerpt from Benedict of Nursia. “The Rule of Benedict.” Rule Chapter 58).

3 CCC, 1973.

4 CCC, 915.

5 Cf., CIC, 573 §1.

6 Cf., ibid., §2.

Author

Fra Alfonsus D. Panaligan, OFMConv., SThD
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