THE CASE FOR CLERICAL CELIBACY!!
by Dave Keene, The Catholic Apologetics Network
"Thus, the double charges of the secularists, though throwing nothing but darkness and confusion on themselves, throw a real light on the faith. It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colors which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a color: not merely the absence of a color. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colors coexistent but pure. It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross." (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p 93-4)
Isn't it interesting that prior to 1123 AD, Catholic Priests were allowed to marry! 1Tim4:1-3, "Now the Spirit distinctly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach, Through hypocrisy and pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, Who forbid people to marry..." After 1123AD, all of a sudden Priests were no longer allowed to marry! I find this interesting.
The Catholic Response:
Although the teaching of "celibacy" did not become "official" until the 12 century, the discipline of "celibacy" was most definitely the rule that was followed. Read this from the Council of Illiberi dated between 300-306 AD
Celibacy of the Clergy
52b Can. 27. A bishop, or any priest at all, may have with him only a sister or a virgin daughter dedicated to God; it is decided that he by no means have a stranger.
52c Can. 33. It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office. (Denziger)
again: "The Celibacy of the Clergy"
[From the epistle to Himerius]
For we have learned that very many priests and levites of Christ, after long periods of their consecration, have begotten offspring from their wives as well as by shameful intercourse, and that they defend their crime by this excuse, that in the Old Testament it is read that the faculty of procreating was given to the priests and the ministers. . . . All priests and levites are bound by the indissoluble law of these sanctions, so that from the day of our ordination, we give up both our hearts and our bodies to continence and chastity, provided only that through all things we may please our God in these sacrifices which we daily offer. "But those who are in the flesh," as the vessel of election says, "cannot please God" [Rom. 8:8]. (ST. SIRICIUS 384-398,Denziger)
As you can see by these two quotes above (which could be multiplied), celibacy was practiced early on in the Catholic Church.
Now let us look at the Bible verse provided us by our opponent: 1Tim4:1-3, "Now the Spirit distinctly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach, Through hypocrisy and pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, Who forbid people to marry..."
Is it true that the Catholic Church is contradicting this Bible verse by forbidding it's priests to marry? Is this verse to be interpreted in that way? Using the Protestant axiom of 'interpreting a verse by other verses like it,' what do we discover?
In Matthew 19:12 we read "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
Here is a verse dealing with the issue of celibacy. Jesus says there ARE people who "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." This is clearly an affirmation of this type of lifestyle for those "who (are) able to receive this."
This is Pope John Paul II's take on this verse: "In the same chapter of Matthew's Gospel (19:3-10), Jesus, interpreting the Mosaic Law on marriage, rejects the right to divorce, appealing to a "beginning" more fundamental and more authoritative than the Law of Moses: God's original plan for mankind, a plan which man after sin has no longer been able to live up to: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8). Jesus' appeal to the "beginning" dismays the disciples, who remark: "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry" (Mt 19:10). And Jesus, referring specifically to the charism of celibacy "for the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 19:12), but stating a general rule, indicates the new and surprising possibility opened up to man by God's grace. "He said to them: 'Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those to whom it is given"' (Mt 19:11). (Pope John Paul II; Veritatis Splendor, #22)
This, then, is the key. Celibacy is a charism that is not given to all, but to a few. Thus marriage is not forbidden in the respect that Protestants want to interpret this verse. No man is forced to become celibate. If he feels called to the priesthood, then he must decide if he can live up to this teaching. The man in desire of the priesthood chooses that by his own free will as his lifes calling. No one is coerced and no arms are twisted, so in this sense marriage is not "forbidden" in the strict sense!
Those who attack the Church's position on this issue do not realize that St. Paul, the Apostle they most like to quote, was CELIBATE, and urged others to be celibate. In 1 Cor 7, we read"
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion . . .(7-9)
Every one should remain in the state in which he was called . . . . .(20)
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin . . . Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. . .(27)
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; But the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord . . . So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. (32-37)
Yes, St. Paul believed as the Catholic Church believes today. Marriage is good, the Catholic Church has elevated marriage to a sacrament, but celibacy is better. It is a gift, a charism, not to be taken lightly.
was the Gospel alone that fully brought out the positive significance
of virginity consecrated to God in
Christ. In relation to poverty, even as understood in the very interiorized sense already given it among the 'anawim'
of Israel, virginity voluntarily preserved represents a transfer from the giving up of our exterior goods to the giving
up of ourselves, and thanks to this transfer, this renunciation now becomes the center of asceticism.
It is remarkable, furthermore, that this transfer took place, not in consequence of any deprecation of marriage, but
rather of its exaltation. St. Paul, like Christ Himself, far from setting up the ideal of consecrated virginity against
that of Christian marriage, exalts them both together, and, even more, exalts the one by the other......." (CLERICAL CELIBACY AND THE PRINCIPLE OF ASCETICISM IN CATHOLICISM, Louis Bouyer, edited by Dave Armstrong)
Armstrong adds from another tract: "Opponents of celibacy often
simply assume, like Luther, that a life without sex is utterly
impossible, whereas our Lord Jesus and St. Paul undeniably teach the
contrary, and the desirability - even preferability - of celibacy for
those so called. One must make a choice for or against the biblical
teaching. If sexual abstinence is
impossible and "unnatural," men and women are reduced to the level of mere beasts, devoid of God's image and
strengthening power, utterly unable to control their appetites and passions. This is not the Christian view!" (CLERICAL CELIBACY: THE BIBLICAL RATIONALE)
Karl Keating notes that "A form of priestly celibacy can also be seen in the Old Testament. The Prophet Jeremiah was forbidden by God to take a wife in order to enable him to fulfill his ministry better. "The word of the Lord came to me: 'You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place'" (Jer. 16:1-2). (Celibacy and the Priesthood, Catholic Answers tract)
Let's face it folks, if "forbidding to marry" is to be interpreted in the strict Protestant sense, then Jesus, St. John the Baptist, and St. Paul would all fall under its curse. These three, among many early Christians, saw the vitrue of "renouncing all and following Jesus." (cf Matt 19:27-29; Mark 10:28-30; Luke 14:33)
I would argue that this "forbidding to marry" is most likely directed at schismatic groups like the Albigensians and Catharists who forbade marriage to ALL, because they taught it to be evil! It must be asserted here also, that celibacy is only a discipline within the Church. That means it can change should the Church see fit. In fact, there are other Catholic rites that are loyal to the magisterium that permit married clergy (in the Eastern Rites, marriage is possible only for priests, not bishops).
there seems to be a lack of understanding (or downright denigration)
of the validity and
seriousness of vows and oaths, from the biblical and Christian perspective. We see how lightly the marital vows are
taken by many in our time ("for better or worse" and "till death do us part" are almost forgotten by thousands, it
seems). The Law of Moses made vows and oaths sacredly and solemnly binding (Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12,
Deuteronomy 5:11, 23:21-23). Ezekiel says that perjury is punishable by death (Ezekiel 17:16-18). Jesus taught that
oaths were binding (Matthew 5:33). St. Paul once had his hair cut off as the result of a vow of some sort (Acts
18:18). Even God bound Himself by an oath (Hebrews 6:13-18). The notion of covenant is closely related to
oath-taking. A deceptive vow is an affront to God, and brings about His curse (Malachi 1:14, Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
Vowing is completely voluntary and optional in biblical thought, but once made, the vow must be performed and is a
very serious matter indeed." (CLERICAL CELIBACY: THE BIBLICAL RATIONALE, Dave Armsrong)
From the Fathers, we read: "God therefore will give the good gift, perfect purity in celibacy and chastity, to those who ask Him with the whole soul, and with faith, and in prayers without ceasing." (Commentaries of Origen, 240 AD)
"He espoused the Church, which is His wife. Clement expounds very wisely those sayings of our Lord which put honor upon voluntary celibacy, where the gift has been imparted, for His better service." (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Or Miscellanies, Book 3, 6, circa 210 AD)
"For those who are passing their days in virginity, and celibacy, and discipline, and for those in holy matrimony; and for the holy fathers and brethren agonizing in mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth." (Early Liturgies, The Divine Liturgy of James, 1st cent.)
As Chesterton noted above, it is only within the Catholic Church that both celibacy and the fruitfulness of a married couple are extolled as virtous!
Let's close out this treatise with a quote from the Second Vatican Council:
6. (Celibacy is to be embraced and esteemed as a gift). Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life. It is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special source of spiritual fecundity in the world. Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches. where, besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit. This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.
Indeed, celibacy has a many-faceted suitability for the priesthood. For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and which has its origin "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ. In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives.
these reasons, based on the mystery of Christ and his mission,
celibacy, which first was recommended to priests, later in the Latin
Church was imposed upon all who were to be promoted to sacred
orders. This legislation, pertaining to those who are destined for
the priesthood, this holy synod again approves and confirms, fully
trusting this gift of the Spirit so fitting for the priesthood of
the New Testament, freely given by the Father, provided that those
who participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of
Orders-and also the whole Church-humbly and fervently pray for it.
This sacred synod also exhorts all priests who, in following the
example of Christ, freely receive sacred celibacy as a grace of God,
that they magnanimously and wholeheartedly adhere to it, and that
persevering faithfully in it, they may acknowledge this outstanding
gift of the Father which is so openly praised and extolled by the
Lord. Let them keep before their eyes the great mysteries
signified by it and fulfilled in it. Insofar as perfect continence
is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent
priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the
Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who
seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available.
They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical
norms which have been proved by the experience of the Church and
which are scarcely less necessary in the contemporary world. This
holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they
might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their
hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his
Church. (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Vatican Council
II; PRESBYTERORUM ORDINIS, Chapter III The Life of Priests, Section
2 Special Spiritual Requirements in the Life of a Priest)
"The Greeks felt virginity when they carved Artemis, the Romans when they robed the vestals, the worst and wildest of the great Elizabethan playwrights clung to the literal purity of a woman as to the central pillar of the world. Above all, the modern world (even while mocking sexual innocence) has flung itself into a generous idolatry of sexual innocence — the great modern worship of children. For any man who loves children will agree that their peculiar beauty is hurt by a hint of physical sex. With all this human experience, allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father’s garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day." (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p 153-4)