Wednesday, December 28, 2005

You've Asked Twice -- Now the Answer

Kristina has on a couple of previous instances asked what the difference between a vow and a promise are, specifically how do they relate to one's vocation and one's state of life.

Okay, let's start with just some definitions from the Code of Canon Law. A vow, according to the Code, is "a delibarate and free promise made to God, concerning some good which is possible and better..." (CIC Canon 1191:1) The Code further specifies that "[U]nless they are prohibited by law, all who have an appropriate use of reason are capable of making a vow" (CIC Canon 1191:2). Also, a vow cannot be considered valid and binding if it is made under duress, deceit, or unjust fear (CIC 1191:3). So at the outset, a vow could be directed toward any authentic good so long as it is possible to attain and more perfect realization of the good in question.

Then the Code goes on to state that vows can be public or private, solemn or simple, and personal or real (Cf. CIC 1192). In essence the Church makes a distinction between those vows which the Church accepts and thereby creates a public recognition of the vow, with proper rights and membership with a religious state or community attendant to it, and those vows which a person might make simply between God and the person in question. So when a man is ordained a transitional deacon, he makes a public act, promising not to marry (and by concommitance, perfect chastity in the realm of conjugal union), which binds him for the rest of his life. In a religious order, however, one may make a vow for a time, an act better known as simple profession. When the time period of the profession is up, the person needs to make either another simple profession or make solemn (i.e. permanent) profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and all attendant issues related to the institute of consecrated life they are joining.

The real crux of the matter though falls on who has the authority to suspend or alter the vow. In the case of public, solemn vows, the case usually goes to the Roman Pontiff. In private vows, along with the Roman Pontiff, the local Ordinary (generally the bishop) and the parish priest in respect to all their proper subjects, the Superior of a religious order, or those with proper faculty can suspend or change the private vow for the person. This is useful in cases where the vow might actually harm a third party, such as when someone vows to visit a particular church every day for a week, and then can't because they are tending a sick parent. That vow can be suspended as per above.

A promise generally speaking is something a little looser. For instance, I make a promise of obedience to my bishop at my ordination. I make a promise and not a vow because of the nature of how the obedience must be exercised -- namely, I can't call him every day and find out what he wants me to do. Therefore, I am freer to act so long as my intention and my actual work is directed toward fulfilling his intention for my parish or my apostolate to which I am assigned. A vow of obedience would suggest something more direct, that the superior would, in theory, daily be giving me direction and orders for what to do.

In general, I don't like the phrase, a promise, because it is unclear. It seems to me that the idea of vow sufficiently covers the idea of making a duty toward God and neighbor and contains within it enough room to make necessary distinctions between this state and the next. Most importantly, however, to the discussion about the single state not being a vocation, you'll notice that all other vocations demand a solemn, public vow rather than a private matter specifically because the vow creates a new relationship to the Church and rights within that body.

Hope that helps.

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