Celibacy and God

While the issues over child abuse have died down, the Catholic Church continues to resist changing its position on celibacy and married clergy. The basic argument against clerical marriage is that celibacy allows a priest to focus on God and not be distracted by “earthly” issues of family and sexuality. Some point to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:12. [emphasis added]

For 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. The one who can accept this should accept it.

Note the last sentence. It is not inconsequential. Others point to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34a

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife–and his interests are divided.

The real question though, is what is the norm, not just what Paul wants but does not command? Is this renunciation the norm or is it a special calling for special circumstances and not to be expected of all who enter the ranks of the clergy? Well two New Testament scriptures answer that question while one Old Testament verse explains the actual need for wholesome marriage, even for most clergy.

Let’s start with the Old Testament and Genesis 2:18.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

To most people that is self explanatory, but two New Testament scriptures from Paul, who I earlier quoted about the freedom of being single, add additional weight to the principal of marriage. The first is from 1 Timothy 3:1-5.1. [emphasis added]

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer [traditionally a bishop], he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)

It is assumed a bishop will be married and that his conduct in administering his own family will show his worthiness in administering the family of God. The second, also from Paul, is from Titus 1:6. [emphasis added]

An elder [traditionally a priest] must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

The first elders and overseers were the apostles, chosen by Jesus himself. Some of them were married and none left their wives [which would have been against the Mosaic law], bringing Paul to say in 1 Corinthians 9:5

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter]?

Jesus could have chosen only single men. He did not. So one must ask, what is lost by forcing celibacy on all Roman clergy? Several important things. One is the right of choice, offered by both Jesus and Paul. Both argued for celibacy for those who could accept it, who were especially called to it. However, neither Aaron nor Peter, the archetypes of priestly leaders were celibate. Both were married and had children.

Couple those fundamental biblical principals and practices with the fact that celibacy was not demanded of Roman priests until the 11th century, and when it was instituted it was not for spiritual reasons but because of the problems of inheritance and the growth of powerful rival clergy families, and you see a prescription for failure and the problems now facing the Roman church. We no longer live in the feudal system of the 11th century, we should no longer be constrained by its failures.

Jamie Glaszov, in an archived article in FrontPage Magazine, discusses the same issues, though he focuses on the problems with homosexuality, misogyny, and fear of human sexuality, especially between a man and a woman, that plague the Roman Church . I have known three married Episcopal priests who have joined the Roman Church and now serve as parish priests. The recent problems in the Episcopal Church over the ordination and consecration of non-celibate homosexuals have sent many others into the arms of Rome. It seems disingenuous to me to on one hand say the Roman Church can accept a married Episcopalian into the priesthood but if you start out Roman you cannot be married.

I would venture to say that those Catholic parishes with married former Episcopal priests feel a lot safer and secure these days than those populated only with their celibate Roman brethren.

  8 comments for “Celibacy and God

  1. July 30, 2004 at 1:20 am

    I would venture to say that those Catholic parishes with married former Episcopal priests feel a lot safer and secure these days than those populated only with their celibate Roman brethren.

    I disagree. The cleric collar automatically calls for a certain amount of respect for the position, but it is the character of the person wearing the collar that merits or demerits whether one “feels” safe and secure.

    Celibacy is not the issue. It is the character and holiness of the clergy that matters. Celibacy is part of the call to be chaste for *anyone* not married.

    It seems disingenuous to me to on one hand say the Roman Church can accept a married Episcopalian into the priesthood but if you start out Roman you cannot be married.

    Celibacy is not the rule for all Catholic priests. In fact, for Eastern Rite Catholics, married priests are the norm, just as they are for Orthodox and Oriental Christians. Even in the Eastern churches, though, there have always been some restrictions on marriage and ordination. Although married men may become priests, unmarried priests may not marry, and married priests, if widowed, may not remarry. Moreover, there is an ancient Eastern discipline of choosing bishops from the ranks of the celibate monks, so their bishops are all unmarried.

    The basic argument against clerical marriage is that celibacy allows a priest to focus on God and not be distracted by “earthly” issues of family and sexuality.

    You greatly underestimate this reason. There are two paths to sanctification: marriage and the religious calling. Both vocations are designed to transform our selfishness into selflessness, to transform us from thinking about ourselves into thinking about other people. In marriage, spouses give themselves to God and to each other (and to their families). Although marriage does a good job of transforming us, it is or can be, on another level, still a form of selfishness because your family becomes priority over someone else’s family. Because one has a family, one is bound to that family, and their freedom, to a degree, is limited in helping others.

    The religious vocation is the higher calling because a priest or nun gives themselves totally to God and to others. A priest becomes the spiritual “father” of the community. They have much more freedom to help others than a married person. The religious are more detached than married persons. It is in this detachment, the lack of personal entanglements, that gives them that freedom.

    Priests are called to imitate Christ. Not because Jesus was not married, but in the fact that He came to serve others in His totality. He do not come to serve Himself. Marriage, to some degree, is self-serving. Being married and being a priest at the same time looks like one would be trying to serve two masters.

  2. July 30, 2004 at 1:35 am

    A lot to respond to there. I will have to think about it and probably respond in a post, rather than a comment.

  3. July 30, 2004 at 1:46 am

    Thanks for stopping by my blog way-back-when. Just wanted to say hello.

  4. July 30, 2004 at 8:44 am

    And a hello back at you. Are you in or near Baltimore? I am in Ellicott City, actually Oella. I have a thing for old mill towns.

  5. July 30, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    I’m in Catonsville at the moment (Woodbridge Valley). I really like Ellicott City/Oella. But sometime in Aug. I’ll be moving back downtown (Balto city).
    Yes, indeed, old milltowns are great.

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  7. August 4, 2004 at 4:37 pm

    The celibacy of the priesthood is an interesting contrast to the married life of a member of the Sanhedrin. You could not be a member of the Sanhedrin if you weren’t married because it was thought that a single, childless man did not have enough wisdom about life itself to lead God’s people. Personally, I think celibacy is more of a Greek concept than a Jewish one. Besides that, Paul and everyone else had a modicum of expectation that Jesus would return sooner rather than later, and so his comments make sense for the time and circumstances.

    However, you have Jesus, who we presume to be celibate (unless you believe the DaVinci Code) because his celibacy reminds us that he is still waiting for his Bride. Priests, as minor vicars of Christ, are attempting to replicate this symbology through their own celibacy. The problem lies in the fact that we are ALL to be kings and priests, and so, Paul’s admonition would imply that the higher good would be for all Christians to be celibate. This, however, would result in the death of Christianity itself, if there were no children for us to teach the ways of God.

    I understand the motivation, but I think the historical Church has been wrong about this issue, with regard to the priesthood. Now, monastic life I think is a little different, and I could see arguing for celibacy in that environment.

  8. August 4, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    Neil, as to monastic. I agree. Remember, it was Jesus himself who said becoming a spiritual eunich was for those who could accept it.

    That said I must emphasize that a monastic life demands becoming a eunuch. However, it has historically often been the refuge of homosexual activity where the larger culture would have actively punished it. That is a violation of Jesus’ intent and there is no way around the demand. A eunuch is a eunuch is a eunuch, and if you cannot be one, then the monastic life is not for you, though it may be necessary a waystation for a short time.

    Re: The Divinci Code. Please don’t get me started on that rubbish. An well written yarn but blasphemous at its core. I agree that Jesus was unmarried because he is awaiting his true bride, the Church to which he was betrothed in eternity. Along that vein we can look at the interval between his resurrection and second coming as the betrothal period in which the husband built the house his wife and he were to inhabit. Jesus does say he is going back to the Father to “prepare a place for you” does he not, just like a proper Jewish husband during the betrothal period.

    Thanks for your insightful comment.

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