Friday, February 9, 2018

Sunday Sermon, February 5 -- The Real History of Priestly Celibacy (Sermons on Priestly Celibacy, part 2 of 3)

"Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever." (March 1:30)

Having discussed the theology of priestly celibacy last week -- pointing out the gift of celibacy where by the priest imitated Jesus who was a celibate priest and is consecrated entirely to the Lord for divine worship -- we turn this week to the history of clerical celibacy.

There is a common myth that says that the priests were married in the early Church and only in the Middle Ages did the Church force priests to be celibate. This is a false and incomplete picture of the early Church. In fact, from the time of the Apostles (example, St John and St Paul), there were men who embraced celibacy as they lived their priestly vocation. On the other hand, we note that St Peter was married, and likely even had children -- thus, we see that there were married priests in the early Church.

However, we also know from divine revelation, that St Peter gave up married life with his wife when he was called to be an Apostle. And this was the common practice throughout the early Church, that when married men were called to become deacons, priests, or bishops, they voluntarily abandoned married life with their wives and children. St Jerome testifies to this saying, "Though they have wives, they are no longer husbands." In order to be ordained, the common practice of the early Church was that a man would give up marital intimacy with his wife - we call this "continence", whereby a married couple chooses perpetually to abstain from conjugal union.

This is explicit in the Bible: The Lord says to Simon Peter, "You have left wife and children to follow me" (cf Luke 18:29). This indicates that St Peter gave up the intimacies of married life with his wife, when he was called to be an apostle and a priest.

Furthermore, even in those Eastern Churches where married men are permitted to be ordained as priests, and also in the Roman Catholic Church where married men are ordained as deacons, we see that Holy Orders (of its very nature) tends toward celibacy. Indeed, once a man is ordained, he is not permitted to marry - thus, if the wife of a married priest or deacon dies, that man is not permitted to remarry, but is expected to embrace celibacy. We might even say that even in those cases where a married man is ordained as a deacon or a priest, he is making a "conditional promise" of celibacy, if ever his wife should die.

This is the real history of clerical celibacy and married priests in the early Church, and it shows even more plainly that celibacy is intimately tied with the very nature of the deacon, priest, and bishop.

Listen online [here]!


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