Against mandatory clerical celibacy

Particular churches. Philosophy, theology, and fundamental theory of canon law. Juridic and physical persons. Associations of the faithful. Institute of consecrated life. Society of apostolic life. Clerical celibacy is the discipline within the Catholic Church by which only unmarried men are ordained to the episcopateto the priesthood with individual exceptions in some autonomous particular Churchesand similarly to the diaconate with exceptions for certain categories of people.

In other autonomous particular churches, the discipline applies only to the episcopate. The Catholic particular church which principally follows this discipline is the Latin Churchbut among the Eastern Catholic Churchesat least the Ethiopic Catholic Church applies it also. In this context, " celibacy " retains its original meaning of "unmarried".

Though even the married may observe abstinence from sexual intercourse, the obligation to be celibate is seen as a consequence of the obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Advocates see clerical celibacy as "a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

In Februarythe Vatican acknowledged that the policy has not always been enforced and that rules had been secretly established by the Vatican to protect non-celibate clergy who violated their vows of celibacy.

The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, without exception, rule out ordination of married men to the episcopate, and marriage after priestly ordination. Throughout the Catholic Church, East as well as West, a priest may not marry. In the Eastern Catholic Churchesa married priest is one who married before being ordained. The Catholic Church considers the law of clerical celibacy to be not a doctrinebut a discipline.

Exceptions are sometimes made, especially in the case of married male Anglican and Protestant clergy who convert to the Catholic Church, and the discipline could, in theory, be changed for all ordinations to the priesthood.

Clerical celibacy

Theologically, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that priesthood is a ministry conformed to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Priests as sacramental ministers act in persona Christithat is in the mask of Christ.

Thus the life of the priest conforms, the Church believes, to the chastity of Christ himself. The sacrifice of married life is for the "sake of the Kingdom" Luke —30Matthew —30and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, viewed by Catholicism and many Christian traditions as the "Bride of Christ" following Ephesians —33 and Revelationtogether with the spousal imagery at Mark —20 ; cf.

Matthew — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger later Pope Benedict XVI in Salt of the Earth saw this practice as based on Jesus' words in Matthew : "Some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.

Is it Time to End Mandatory Celibacy for Priests?

The one who can accept this should accept it. Paul, within a context of having "no command from the Lord" 1 Correcommends celibacy, but acknowledges that it is not God's gift to all within the church: "For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am,It is a question that comes up among even devout Catholics at coffee hour after Mass and at cocktail parties.

A married clergy is seen as the obvious solution to a number of problems that confront the Church, ranging from the shortage of priests to the recent sex scandals. So do Protestants; and, in fact, the rejection of clerical celibacy was a much larger issue for the leaders of the Reformation than the fuss over indulgences. Luther, Zwingli, Carlstadt, Bucer, and many other rebellious priests soon took wives often former nunswhile Thomas Cranmer already had one hidden in Germany.

During the Council of Trent, powerful rulers like the Emperor Ferdinand put enormous pressure on the Church to abolish the law of celibacy, but the popes resolutely declined, and have done so ever since. The agitation for a married priesthood has sharpened in recent decades. There is a drumbeat in the media, often from ex-priests who write copiously for the op-ed pages.

Probably a majority of American Catholics also favor the change. So, it's not surprising that my engaged couples think that Rome should "get with the times" and allow priests to marry. Isn't the rule of celibacy simply another example of a retrograde Church sitting on somebody's rights?

I surprise my audience by first telling them that clerical celibacy is not a Church doctrine. It is a discipline, and so can be changed. The pope could wake up tomorrow and allow priests to marry. Moreover, in the early centuries there were married priests, starting with some of the apostles. We know that Peter was married, because we're told that Jesus cured his mother-in-law. The immediate successors to the apostles were also allowed to marry.

Paul writes to Timothy that a bishop should be "married but once. But a further surprise for my audience there are, in fact, married priests in the Latin Church today. There aren't many, because a priest may have a wife only in one circumstance: A Lutheran or Episcopalian minister who is already married and wishes to convert to Catholicism is allowed the option of becoming a Catholic priest, on condition that his wife gives full consent.

You don't usually see these married priests, because they're generally not given parish assignments; they teach in seminaries or work in the chancery. But this one exception to the general rule is the occasion of a story that I tell my audience. It is about a friend of mine who is now a prominent Catholic moral theologian.

Years ago, he was an Episcopalian priest who decided to convert to Catholicism.

He was married with children and was given the option of becoming a Catholic priest. He agonized over the decision. He was already an ordained minister although the Church does not recognize the validity of Episcopalian orders and was deeply attracted to the Catholic priesthood. But at the same time, he recognized that there must be serious reasons why the Church insists on a discipline that is such a sign of contradiction to the modern world.

The debate went on, until finally there came the moment of clarification. He was up all night with one of his children who was seriously ill. Feeling drained and haggard, he went to Mass the next morning, and the priest celebrating Mass came out looking equally drawn. During the brief homily, the priest mentioned in passing that he had been up all night with a parishioner's child who was dying of meningitis. A light bulb went off over my friend's head: You can't do both.

If you fully understand the vocations to marriage and to the priesthood the total availability and self-emptying that each demands you would not choose to do both. And so he became a lay theologian and, apart from raising a large family, has served the Church in ways that he probably could not have as a member of the clergy.

As my bleary-eyed friend discovered at that early morning Mass, the sacraments of Holy Orders and matrimony are too consuming to allow for both. A married priest can't help giving his first thoughts to his wife and children. To the extent he does so, he may be forgoing his priestly role as "father," and people who call a married priest "father" would rightly get the idea that they are second in line as spiritual children.First of all, I should say that as a married priest I feel un qualified to speak on the issue of clerical celibacy.

I am humbled by the majority of my brother priests who accept the discipline of celibacy and who, for the most part, seem to do so with maturity, grace and good humor.

Can I comment on this issue? I do have some first hand experience. I served as a celibate minister for seven years in the Anglican church before getting married, and thinking outside the box, it could be argued that a married priest is especially well qualified to comment on the discipline of celibacy. The issue of celibacy for priests is complex and the history varied. Conservatives will argue that celibacy is a very ancient tradition and that even when there were married clergy they were expected to live with their wives as brother and sister.

Progressives say celibacy was, at best, a practical measure to counter the tendency for priests who owned the church properties to hand on the church wealth to their sons. They say celibacy only became the norm as monks gained more control of the church. Progressives will also argue that celibacy is rooted in a Augustinian understanding of sexuality influenced by Manicheanism which sees all sexual activity as dirty.

These particularities can be debated forever, and if the argument for celibacy is based only on practical concerns the debate becomes even more complicated. I have learned that for every practical reason in favor of having married priests there is an equal argument against the innovation.

Likewise for every practical reason in favor of celibacy I can think of an equal practical reason why it is a bad idea. It is natural and wholesome for him to have a wife and family. As such they can serve the Lord better and be an example to the whole community of a positive Catholic marriage. But let some of the Protestant brothers and sisters tell you about the horrors when that goes wrong.

What is the reason for the celibacy rule? We should put practical, utilitarian arguments on one side because that way lies shifting sands.

How Celibacy Developed in the Early Church

If you argue from the practical point of view you will chase your tail forever, furthermore a utilitarian argument is relativistic and subjective. The celibate therefore becomes a sign of the relationship all of the baptized should have with Jesus. He is the bridegroom. We are the bride. The celibate therefore reveals to all of us the total self giving to God to which we are all spiritually called.

Complementing this, the married reveal to the celibate just what that means. The married, in their own mutual self giving which brings forth life shed light on the sacrificial life of the celibate. This is why Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony are twinned in the sacramental economy, and why celibacy is a great gift to the church which we should not abandon.

However, in saying that, the Lord says in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone and we should also remember a wise detail in the Rule of St Benedict. He says a man may not be a hermit until he has lived successfully for many years as a member of the monastic community.

When there were many priests most men lived together in a community of their priest brothers. If they were not actually members of a religious community, they shared a home and life together. Now, with a reduced number of priests, most priests live alone. Is this the ideal? St Benedict lived first as a hermit, so he knew the particular hardships and temptations of the solitary life and recommended that the monks live in community. What are those hardships?

In addition to the loneliness, the temptation to self indulgence and the obvious sexual temptations, there are two special problems that accompany the single religious man. The first is common to all men. It is the partitioning problem. Those who know more about psychology than I do tell us that the human brain is divided left and right. The right side is traditionally seen as the intuitive, artistic, feeling and relating capability.Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download.

Celibacy is the renunciation of marriage implicitly or explicitly made, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades. The character of this renunciation, as we shall see, is differently understood in the Eastern and in the Western Church.

Speaking, for the moment, only of Western Christendomthe candidates for orders are solemnly warned by the bishop at the beginning of the ceremony regarding the gravity of the obligation which they are incurring.

He tells them: You ought anxiously to consider again and again what sort of a burden this is which you are taking upon you of your own accord. Up to this you are free. You may still, if you choose, turn to the aims and desires of the world licet vobis pro artitrio ad caecularia vota transire. But if you receive this order of the subdiaconate it will no longer be lawful to turn back from your purpose. You will be required to continue in the service of Godand with His assistance to observe chastity and to be bound for ever in the ministrations of the Altar, to serve who is to reign.

By stepping forward despite this warning, when invited to do so, and by co-operating in the rest of the ordination service, the candidate is understood to bind himself equivalently by a vow of chastity.

He is henceforth unable to contract a valid marriage, and any serious transgression in the matter of this vow is not only a grievous sin in itself but incurs the additional guilt of sacrilege. Before turning to the history of this observance it will be convenient to deal in the first place with certain general principles involved.

Celibacy of the Clergy

The law of celibacy has repeatedly been made the object of attack, especially of recent years, and it is important at the outset to correct certain prejudices thus created.

Although we do not find in the New Testament any indication of celibacy being made compulsory either upon the Apostles or those whom they ordainedwe have ample warrant in the language of Our Saviourand of St. Paul for looking upon virginity as the higher call, and by inference, as the condition befitting those who are set apart for the work of the ministry.

against mandatory clerical celibacy

In MatthewChrist clearly commends those who, "for the sake of the kingdom of God", have held aloof from the married state, though He adds: "he who can accept it, let him accept it". Paul is even more explicit: I would that all men were even as myself; but every one hath his proper gift from God But I say to the unmarried and to the widowsit is good for them if they so continue, even as I. And further on: But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God.

But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment.

From the earliest period the Church was personified and conceived of by her disciples as the Virgin Bride and as the pure Body of Christor again as the Virgin Mother parthenos meterand it was plainly fitting that this virgin Church should be served by a virgin priesthood. Among Jews and pagans the priesthood was hereditary.

Its functions and powers were transmitted by natural generation. But in the Church of Christas an antithesis to this, the priestly character was imparted by the Holy Ghost in the Divinely-instituted Sacrament of Orders. Virginity is consequently the special prerogative of the Christian priesthood.

700 Years of Clerical Celibacy in History

Virginity and marriage both holy, but in different ways. The conviction that virginity possesses a higher sanctity and clearer spiritual intuitionsseems to be an instinct planted deep in the heart of man. Even in the Jewish Dispensation where the priest begot children to whom his functions descended, it was nevertheless enjoined that he should observe continence during the period in which he served in the Temple. No doubt a mystical reason of this kind does not appeal to all, but such considerations have always held a prominent place in the thought of the Fathers of the Church ; as is seen, for example, in the admonition very commonly addressed to subdeacons of the Middle Ages at the time of their ordination.

On the other hand, such motives as are dwelt upon in the passage just quoted from the Epistle to the Corinthians are of a kind which must appeal to the intelligence of all.

The more holy and exalted we represent the state of marriage to be, the more we justify the married priest in giving the first place in his thoughts to his wife and family and only the second to his work.For him, such a gesture seemed the natural or obvious thing to do. But will, or, more importantly, should the next generation of Christian leaders share the same zeal to affirm American civil religion?

In increasing numbers, American Christians have come to realize that the ethos and ends of the American government often undermine Christianity and its institutions. Like other Western, secular states, the United States now seems antagonistic to religious institutions, threatening their capacity to form their members and to engage in the practices they need to grow and flourish.

It seems more plausible now than in the recent past that Church and state will be locked in a long struggle. It and not the Church often sets the agenda. The calls for religious freedom very quickly focus on the rights of conscience, reinforcing an individualism that downplays the importance of the freedom of the Church to occupy public space on her own terms.

If the new health care law were only more American, there would be no need to protest. We need to use more than the weapons of modern political culture—the language of rights, for example—to make a cogent defense of the Church. Discipleship makes claims on the follower that differ from those made by the nation on the citizen. This is a lesson taught by the Catholic understanding of papal primacy and, perhaps unexpectedly, of clerical celibacy.

Both function as spiritual declarations of independence for the modern Christian citizen. Both preserve Catholic identity, not by petitioning the state for rights but by mounting a theological counteroffensive against the pretensions of the modern nation-state.

Mandatory clerical celibacy became a topic of heated discussion between traditional Catholicism and the enlightened spirit of reform in eighteenth- and ninteenth-century Germany. This debate belonged to a broader dispute over how to modernize German Catholicism. Enlightened reformers deemed harmful the veneration of relics, worship in Latin, and the promotion of miracles. Critics also suggested that mandatory celibacy was a needless, unnatural alternative to conjugal life, which should be regarded as normative for human flourishing.

Of course many Catholics objected to these arguments, but many others found them persuasive. The debate about celibacy went from simmer to boil in Two Catholic laymen from the University of Freiburg—Karl Zell and Heinrich Amann—penned a Denkschrift opinion piece arguing that the Church needed to set aside the discipline of celibacy for priests.

The authors handed out hundreds of free copies to influence literate townsfolk and university students. They appended letters to the Baden parliament, Archduke Leopold, and the archbishop of Freiburg. Twenty-one others, mostly lay professors at the university, added their signatures of support. Mandatory celibacy, Zell and Amann argued, had no meaningful theological foundation: Biblical arguments seemed inconsistent, and the early councils had produced no law of celibacy.

It was merely a practice imposed in the medieval period to ensure that parish plots of land stayed in ecclesial possession rather than passing down to the children of clergymen. Since the imposition was both unnatural and lacked clear theological warrant, many Catholic men who would have otherwise chosen the priesthood decided against it. Intellectually mediocre and spiritually tepid, those who entered the priesthood were proving incapable of promoting vigorous piety and joyful religiosity.

Mandatory celibacy was hurting the Church. They argued that abolishing mandatory celibacy would benefit Germany as well. History showed, they said, that celibacy was one of the means through which the pope secured power.

Priestly celibacy was made mandatory first by monastic communities and later by religious orders. These orders, the Jesuits in particular, relied on Rome for charters that allowed them a degree of freedom from local ordinaries. Roman power increased, while the ability of bishops to shape local matters waned.

Anyone learned in European history, added Zell and Amann, knew how frequently the papacy abused whatever power it had accrued.We will hear claims that clerical celibacy was introduced only in the 12 th or 5 th century and that it is not a discipline that can be traced back to the apostles. Before being bombarded with these outright lies and half-truths, it is important to learn the history of clerical celibacy so as to counter these arguments and preserve this sacred discipline.

Paul does not explicitly speak about clerical celibacy and in fact does mention bishops and deacons being married. By the late 3 rd century or early 4 th century, just before the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius notes that during this time, some tried to argue that as the priests of the Old Testament fathered children, it is appropriate for priests of the New Testament to do likewise.

Eusebius explained the error of this reasoning when he wrote:. And this explanation of the ancient men of God begetting children cannot be said to apply to the Christians [i. Anticipating that those who oppose clerical celibacy will point to St. This shows that celibacy, if not mandatory, was the expected discipline from the time of the apostles:. As early as the second century, while we do not see evidence that clerical celibacy was an ecclesiastical rule, we see Tertullian extolling the virtues of celibate clerics and holding up clerical celibacy as the ideal:.

against mandatory clerical celibacy

In A. Bishops from all across Spain attended this synod, and its canons applied to all of Spain [iv]. This synod promulgated 81 canons, mostly relating to ecclesiastical discipline.

Canon 27 forbade any woman, excepting mothers, aunts, sisters, or consecrated virgins, to live under the same roof as a cleric [v]and canon 33 explicitly forbade any clerics to have conjugal relations:.

against mandatory clerical celibacy

It has seemed good absolutely to forbid the bishops, the priests, and the deacons, i. The canons of this council clearly indicate that many clerics at the time were married men; however, it even more clearly commands these married men to celibacy within their marriages. Cardinal Stickler notes that the canons in this synod were not new laws imposed upon the Church, but were codifications of previous tradition that was being violated [vii].

The next council that most people consider in the matter of clerical celibacy is that of Nicaea. However, there were two more important councils that discussed clerical celibacy before Nicaea. These were the Councils of Ancyra c. While the Council of Ancyra dealt primarily with how to treat repentant apostates, it also touched on the issue of clerical celibacy.

The Council of Neocaesarea dealt with all manner of sexual and marital issues and touched on the issue of clerical celibacy. While these were only local councils, and therefore not binding on the entire Church, they clearly show that the practice of clerical celibacy was well established even in the East at the beginning of the 4 th century — even before Nicaea.

Ten years after Neocaesarea, the Church again came to discuss the issue of clerical celibacy at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea in At this council was Bishop Hosius of Corduba, who strongly advocated for mandatory clerical celibacy on behalf of all deacons, priests, and bishops it is unclear whether he also advocated for celibate subdeacons and proposed the same canons that had been promulgated at Elvira.

The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus notes that a certain Bishop Paphnutius also attended the council and spoke in opposition to Hosius [x]. He relates that Paphnutius defended conjugal relations between married clerics and their spouses and stated that only those unmarried men who had been ordained should refrain from contracting marriage and the conjugal rights attached to marriage.

The council did, however, promulgate one canon that many have taken to mandate clerical celibacy. Canon 3 of Nicaea states:. The great Synod absolutely forbids, and it cannot be permitted to either bishop, priest, or any other cleric, to have in his house a subintroductawith the exception of his mother, sister, aunt, or such other persons as are free from all suspicion.

Many, including Pope St. Gregory the Great, saw in this canon a proscription against conjugal relations for clerics. The testimony of St. She does accept the abstinent husband of one wife, or a widower, as a deacon, presbyter, bishop and subdeacon [but no other married men], particularly where the canons of the church are strictly enforced.

However, the Latin Church did not adopt the practice, and it can be demonstrated that the Latin Church maintained the discipline of clerical celibacy up until the present day. In the late 4 th century, Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona, sent Pope Damasus a letter in which he sought clarification, among other matters, regarding the discipline of clerical celibacy. Sadly, Pope Damasus died before he had a chance to respond.

However, his successor Pope Siricius took on the responsibility and responded in in his letter Dicrecta ad decessorem [xv]. In this letter he decried those clerics who had children by their wives, and, in much the same way as Eusebius of Caesarea, he condemned those who argued that the married priests of the Old Testament indicated that priests of the new law could similarly exercise conjugal rights with their spouses.Question: Does life agree with nature or not?

Answer: If life agrees with nature and never rejects it, also nature agrees with life. God said to mankind: Grow and multiply ; therefore also priests since they are human beings, come to maturity owing to that blessing.

If it lets them grow up according to God's will, lets them procreate as well, if it's true that "the whole can be recognized by a part"; indeed growing up is only a part of the blessing. Well, if growing is a part of the divine blessing and procreation another one and so all the remaining promises, then all the parts together form the whole unity. Of course if in the priest you don't find all the parts but only some of them he isn't perfect.

How can the man who possesses imperfectly God's blessing bless the others? Moreover, if the priest doesn't grow in both: age and knowledge, as God's blessing established, he doesn't procreate either; if instead he comes to maturity, obviously he'll get a breed.

In fact, from a thing you can get the knowledge of the necessity of the other: God's gifts are without repentance. If this is the truth, those who prevent that God's blessing get its effect, are both God's and nature's enemies no less than murderous peoples.

As God has created no limbs of the human body in vain, but each one for its utility, it's necessary for this reason to refrain only from those things in which God is clearly scorned and offended. But Zechariah's and many others' married life in the New Testament proves that a legitimate wedding and their fruits are respected in cooperation with God and not against.

Objection: Writing these things, you exalt marriage because God has blessed it in the paternity of Saints. But what about virginity?

As the Lord, new Adam, was virgin, isn't obvious that what comes from the same Christ must observe virginity as the Lord himself and imitate Him mainly and not the elder Adam? Answer: As we can't imitate his birth without a human contribution, without passion or corruption from the Virgin, so it's also impossible to imitate the perfection of the virginity, if you don't get a divine help from heaven.

The Lord, talking about this question, said: "Who is capable of that, be that", showing that not everybody can understand this gift. As the teachers of the Holy Church say, the faith in Christ is the renewal of the human nature, not its annulment: faith is either the destroyer of passions and sin or the healer of nature. I think that the faith in Christ doesn't ruin the creative plan of God: God doesn't contradict himself and so neither his eternal decrees.

Marriage is the root of virginity and if you let it dry, there won't be fruit. So marriage is necessary for virginity and God's total will, that is man's justice, truth, wisdom, strength, and all the other virtues. If men didn't procreate, where could priests, monks, martyrs and all the others come from? If God's law for mankind isn't universal, but only particular, why does God ask from sons the fruits of the laws that their fathers received?

Moses' law and that of grace were given for the restoration of the natural law created by God, which comes from the first man and is in everybody in the same way: in the same way we don't want to die or to be damaged, so we've got natural and innocent passions: hunger, thirst, sleep fear, etc. How couldn't be universal the laws of the human nature, revealed both in the New and Old Testament, since the principles of natural law created by God can be found in ourselves?

Peter defined God's speeches "words of life", because they generate life for human nature. If they are of life, certainly they agreed with the living nature; if they agree, who is so irresponsible to refuse his own nature to run along with life? If the law of sin has become universal, handed down from father to son naturally, why God's law, greatly superior, doesn't remain in the nature universally, since God has said "to use mercy in thousand generations on those that love him"?

If the Law of the Gospel is universal, as it is actually, it maintains and supports mankind in its continuity, blessing, increasing and giving it the eternal life; it doesn't reduce, neither suppresses or forbids the growth of those that preach and listen.


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