Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Celibate Clergy: Scripturally and Sensically Justified

Arguments FOR priestly celibacy

1. Celibacy reaffirms marriage.
In a society that is completely saturated with sex, celibate priests are living proof that sexual urges can be controlled and channeled in a positive way. Far from denigrating the sexual act, celibacy acknowledges the goodness of sex within marriage by offering it up as a sacrifice to God. The sanctity of marriage is dishonored if it is treated merely as an outlet for sexual impulses. Rather, we as Christians are called to understand marriage as the inviolable commitment of a husband and wife to love and honor one another. A priest offers up a similar commitment of love to the Church, a bond that cannot be broken and that is treated with the same gravity and respect as in marriage.

2. Celibacy is scriptural.
Fundamentalists will tell you that celibacy has no basis in the Bible whatsoever, saying that Christians are called to "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). This mandate speaks to humanity in general, however, and overlooks numerous passages in the Bible that support the celibate life. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul actually seems to prefer the celibate life: "Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage... Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that... 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" (7:27-34). This is not to say that all men should be celibate, however; Paul explains that celibacy is a calling for some and not for others by saying, "Each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (7:7).

Jesus Himself speaks of celibacy in Matthew 19:11-12: "Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it." Again, the emphasis is on the special nature of celibacy, one for which not all men are suited, but one that nevertheless gives glory to "the kingdom of God."

Perhaps the best evidence for the scriptural support of celibacy is that Jesus Himself practiced it!

3. Celibacy is historical.
Most people assume that the celibate priesthood is a convention introduced by the Church fairly late in history. On the contrary, there is evidence that even the earliest Church fathers, such as St. Augustine, St. Cyril, and St. Jerome, fully supported the celibate priesthood. The Spanish Council of Elvira (between 295 and 302) and the First Council of Aries (314), a kind of general council of the West, both enacted legislation forbidding all bishops, priests, and deacons to have conjugal relations with their wives on penalty of exclusion from the clergy. Even the wording of these documents suggests that the councils were not introducing a new rule but rather maintaining a previously established tradition. In 385, Pope Siricius issued the first papal decree on the subject, saying that "clerical continence" was a tradition reaching as far back as apostolic times.

While later councils and popes would pass similar edicts, the definitive promulgation of the celibate, unmarried priesthood came at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 under Pope Gregory VII. Far from being a law forced upon the medieval priesthood, it was the acceptance of celibacy by priests centuries earlier that eventually led to its universal promulgation in the twelfth century.

4. Celibacy emphasizes the unique role of the priest.
The priest is a representative of Christ, an alter Christus. In this respect, the priest understands his identity by following the example of Jesus, a man who lived His life in perfect chastity and dedication to God. As Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe of Grado explains, "[A priest's] being and his acting must be like Christ's: undivided" (The Relevance of Priestly Celibacy Today, 1993). As such, the sacramental priesthood is holy, something set apart from the rest of the world. Just as Christ sacrificed His life for His bride, the Church, so too must a priest offer up his life for the good of Christ's people.

5. Celibacy allows the priest's first priority to be the Church.
The image used to describe the role of the priest is one of marriage to the Church. Just as marriage is the total gift of self to another, the priesthood requires the total gift of self to the Church. A priest,s first duty is to his flock, while a husband's first duty is to his wife. Obviously, these two roles will often conflict, as St. Paul noted and as many married priests will tell you. A celibate priest is able to give his undivided attention to his parishioners without the added responsibility of caring for his own family. They are able to pick up and go whenever necessary, whether this involves moving to a new parish or responding to a late-night crisis. Celibate priests are better able to respond to these frequent changes and demands on their time and attention.

Objections and responses...

We know the apostle Peter, the first pope was married.
Circumstantial, and yes: Peter was married when Christ first asked him to go and follow him. Would Christ himself have expected anyone of His followers to divorce their wife in order to do His work? As a reasonable human being, I don't think anyone would have even considered terminating their marriage so that they could become the pope, a bishop etc. The fact that Peter was married is no more contrary to the Catholic faith than the fact that the pastor of the nearest Maronite Catholic church is married.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 the apostle Paul calls the teaching that forbids marriage a "doctrine of devils"… Just as no human law can alter or abolish a command of God, neither can any vow alter a command of God.
It comes down to choice. If you choose that vocation; if you respond to the calling placed-upon your heart, then you know full-well the sacrifices you must make. And what of people that choose the consecrated single life? Is a person committing a sin because they do not feel called to marriage and procreation? Is a married person committing a sin when they abstain [naturally] from intercourse?

For example, Paul recognised that since he was unmarried he could devote all his time to the ministry and not have to divide his time between ministry, wife and children (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). However, the Bible states that “if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1st Corinthians 7:9). Moreover, although even a married couple could abstain from physical relations it is to be for a predetermined and agreed upon temporary period of time (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Paul even goes on to make a case for preferring celibacy to marriage: "Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. . . those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. . . . 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" (7:27-34).

Paul’s conclusion: He who marries "does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (7:38).

Celibacy is neither unnatural nor unbiblical. "Be fruitful and multiply" is not binding upon every individual; rather, it is a general precept for the human race. Otherwise, every unmarried man and woman of marrying age would be in a state of sin by remaining single, and Jesus and Paul would be guilty of advocating sin as well as committing it.

Obviously there were issues that recurred with the allowing of the clergy to marry, thus the doctrinal teaching and canon on priestly celibacy. To be quite frank for a moment, if a man cannot control his sexual urges, then he should probably not be considering the clergy in the first place, and the same can be said for a person that is considering marriage: if they cannot control their sexual urges, then they should not marry for fear of the sin of adultery. Both marriage and the priesthood require mastery of the sexual urges and acknowledge that sexual unification is a gift given to us by God that allows a husband and a wife to express their love ordained by Christ physically, and to bear the fruit of children; the epitome and climax of married life.

I had a friend who spent eight years in the seminary, and was on the cusp of his ordination before he left because he desperately wanted to be with a woman he was with before commencing his clerical studies. This woman had taken her first vows and was on her way to becoming a nun.

It comes down to matter of the human heart: if you feel God calling you to a particular vocation, no matter what it is, they require some sort of sacrifice in order for the work of the Lord to be carried-out. Think of the many sacrifices a married person has to make in order to raise and rear their children in the way that God instructed us to.

"All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."70 Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord,"71 they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.72" - CCC 1579

70 Mt 19:12.
71 1 Cor 7:32.
72 Cf. PO 16.

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