Consecrated Celibacy: A Review

Ed Shaw
Reviews 3 mins

Christine Barnabas, Consecrated Celibacy: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Calling (Sacristy Press, 2022)

There are not many people out there writing about singleness and celibacy. From the evangelical stable there are excellent books by Kate Wharton and Sam Allberry, but it’s not often you come across anything from further afield. So it was an encouragement to stumble across this short book by Christine Barnabas. She describes herself as a spiritual director, retreat leader, writer and a ‘consecrated celibate’. Her book is autobiographical (not coming from an experience of same-sex attraction), thoughtful and practical when it comes to positively embracing her clear calling to live life without marriage and sex.

For those who have heard any of us from Living Out promote singleness, there will be some familiar territory in her biblical case for it. Like our friend Kate Wharton, Barnabas has found it helpful to make a public declaration of her commitment to celibacy in a liturgical way (one of the appendices shares how she did this). But there will be plenty unfamiliar in her exploration of ‘consecrated celibacy’ and what it means to be called to it. Her membership of the dispersed monastic Northumbria Community and her love of Celtic spirituality will introduce new, and sometimes unsettling, language and perspectives for many: more than an occasional eyebrow was raised as I read it.

But I was really helped by her fresh perspective: most of all by her chapter on ‘Sexuality and Celibacy’. If singleness is rarely explored from a Christian perspective – how much less does anyone ever talk about the sexuality of single Christians?!

As I do in Purposeful Sexuality, Barnabas helpfully makes the biblical connections between our sexualities and spiritualities and encourages her readers to ask why we have been made sexual. She rightly expresses the human need for connection and intimacy and is practical in how these can be experienced by the single Christian in their relationships with both God and other people. She is braver than most in tackling the place of masturbation in the life of a celibate Christian: rejecting a simplistic ban, whilst recognising how problematic it can become, and so encouraging each individual to carefully discern whether or not it can be a healthy part of enjoying the physical bodies God has given us. Whatever you make of this, her call for single people to recognise, rather than just repress, the reality that we are embodied, sexual creatures was helpful, and the discernment questions around sexuality that she provides in the appendices would be beneficial for all.

So, if you’re wanting to hear about singleness and sexuality from a different Christian tradition than the evangelicalism embraced by Living Out, this hundred-page book would be a great place to go to be challenged and helped in equal measure.