Friday, January 17, 2020

January 16th, Adult Ed Series on Priestly Celibacy -- Session 2, The History of Clerical Celibacy

In this course on priestly celibacy, we will present the history and theology of the discipline of celibacy. Further, we will put forward the great value of celibacy for the whole Church.

Session 2 - History of Clerical Celibacy
While it is true that celibacy was not required in the first years of the Church, there is every indication that continence was demanded of the Apostles and the priests of the early Church. Which is to say, in places where the faith flourished the most and where the disciplines of the Church were most carefully kept, even when a married man was ordained he would cease from that time from relations with is wife and would even separate from married life.
From the very beginning, Holy Orders has been moving more and more towards clerical celibacy.

Listen online [here]!


Priestly Celibacy
The History and Theology of the Church’s Discipline
Session 2: History of the Development of Clerical Celibacy

Note on Schedule:  Session 1, Introduction. Session 2, History. Session 3, Theological Reflections. Session 4, Celibacy and the Nature of the Priesthood.

I. Review of Key Terms
A. Continence vs Celibacy
B. Virginity vs Celibacy
C. Vows vs Promises
D. Ordaining married men as clerics vs Allowing deacons/priests to get married
E. The East vs The West

I. Biblical Foundations:
A. Is virginity/celibacy a “higher calling” than Marriage? Yes.
St Paul would prefer that all be celibate: “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 widows, it is good for them if they so continue, even as I.” (1 Cor 7:7-8) and “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.” (1 Cor 7:32-35)

St John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 16 – “the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism [celibacy] to that of marriage.”

B. Is celibacy possible for all? By God’s grace
“At this, his disciples said to him, If the case stands so between man and wife, it is better not to marry at all. That conclusion, he said, cannot be taken in by everybody, but only by those who have the gift. There are some eunuchs, who were so born from the mother’s womb, some were made so by men, and some have made themselves so for love of the kingdom of heaven; take this in, you whose hearts are large enough for it.”  (Matthew 19:10-12)

C. Did the Apostles embrace perfect continence? Yes.
“Hereupon Peter said, And what of us? we have forsaken all that was ours, and followed thee. Jesus said to them, I promise you, everyone who has forsaken home, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children for the sake of the kingdom of God...”  (Luke 18:28-30)

D. The witness of St Paul, who had embraced celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.
E. The witness of other apostles: We know Peter was married, and likewise generally held that Simon the Zealot was the groom from the wedding at Cana. Very likely that many of the apostles were married – and yet, it is equally certain that they did not continue living with their wives in a normal married state.

II. The Priesthood in the Old and New Testaments
A. We can say much more about this when we discuss the theology of clerical celibacy, but notice that the priesthood of the Old Testament was hereditary and passed from father to sons; but the priesthood of the New Testament is wholly spiritual.
B. To be among the Chosen People in the Old Testament was to be born of a Jewish father and mother, but to be among the Chosen People of the New Testament is to experience spiritual rebirth through faith and baptism.
C. The celibacy of Christ and the continence/celibacy of the New Testament priesthood points to this change from the Old to the New.

III. The First Period of the Church
A. St. Paul teaches (1 Timothy 3:2, 12, and Titus 1:6) that a bishop or a deacon should be "the husband of one wife". These passages seem fatal to any contention that celibacy was made obligatory upon the clergy from the beginning, but on the other hand, the Apostle's desire that other men might be as himself (1 Corinthians 7:7-8) precludes the inference that he wished all ministers of the Gospel to be married. The words beyond doubt mean that the fitting candidate was a man, who, amongst other qualities which St. Paul enunciates as likely to make his authority respected, possessed also such stability of divorce, by remaining faithful to one wife. The direction is therefore restrictive, no injunctive; it excludes men who have married more than once, but it does not impose marriage as a necessary condition.
          1. What is more striking than the statement that bishops could have been married, is that they could only have been married once. Why does St Paul insist, only once? Perhaps because something about being ordained meant that they could not remarry – and if they had already needed to remarry (after the death of their wife, etc) then there is no certainty that the man would be able to persevere in celibacy?
          2. In fact, this indicates that, from the time of the Apostles, it was understood that, once ordained, a man could never marry. Why could he not marry? Perhaps tied to a practice of continence – that man left off ever having relations even with his wife. If he is bound to continence by virtue of ordination, this would explain why he couldn’t remarry.

B. There is good reason to believe, and we need to be fearful to accept, that celibacy was not demanded universally in the Early Church. In fact, we know that many men who approached Orders had been married.
1. We need not even maintain that it was universally mandated that all married priests/deacons embrace continence – although we do know that this was the practice in many places.
2. We do point out that, even in those places (for example, some places in the East) in which it was common for married men to be ordained and to continue in normal marriage relations with their wives, it was the practice to abstain for a period of time prior to offering the Divine Liturgy (Mass) – and this is still the practice in many of the Eastern Churches today. Where the daily offering of the Mass was more highly valued and commonly practiced [as we know it was in the first days of the Church], perpetual continence was kept in connection to abstinence for the sake of offering Mass.
3. The practice of abstaining from relations prior to offering Mass is connected to the practice of abstinence of the Old Testament priesthood. This aspect of the Old Testament priesthood pointed prophetically to the celibacy of the New Testament priesthood – even as the periodic abstinence of the East points to the celibacy of the West.

C. Witness of St Epiphanius: “Holy Church respects the dignity of the priesthood to such a point that she does not admit to the diaconate, the priesthood, or the episcopate, no nor even to the subdiaconate, anyone still living in marriage and begetting children. She accepts only him who if married gives up his wife or has lost her by death, especially in those places where the ecclesiastical canons are strictly attended to.”
1. However, while he maintains this is the ideal, he admits that there are some places where this practice is not strictly held.
2. Still, it is clear that in many places throughout the early Church, continence was demanded of the clergy. And, even in other places were it wasn’t strictly enforced, continence/celibacy was still honored.

D. Many recent studies (example: Cardinal Stickler, “The Case for Clerical Celibacy” and Cochini, “The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy” and Heid, “Celibacy in the Early Church”) are showing that celibacy or continence were practiced from the earliest days of the Church – it seems that variations from this are more likely examples of laxity rather than the preservation of authentic customs.

IV. The Second Period, The Time of the Councils
A. By AD 300, there were synods in Spain expressly mandating celibacy for deacons, priests, and bishops. In other parts of the world, synods and canons mandate at least that, once ordained, the deacon/priest cannot remarry. In many places, at least continence is mandated.

B. The West is more explicit and forceful in mandating both celibacy and continence in the various local Churches. By the late 300s, the Popes were mandating that married deacons/priests must embrace perpetual continence. Consider the wonderful quote from St Jerome: “Though some priests have wives, they are no longer husbands.” By 450s, the law of celibacy was recognized generally throughout the West.

C. Even in places (for example, Germany and northern France) where some married men were still being permitted to be ordained as deacons/priests – forceful decrees by the 500s were mandating not only that they embrace continence, but even that they cease to live with their wives.

D. Notice how quickly and universally this practice of celibacy was accepted in the West, following upon the Apostolic Tradition of continence. It is no easy thing for men to embrace celibacy – what can account for this excepting that celibacy is of Apostolic Origin and tied to the very nature of the priesthood?  It is especially noteworthy that, in the places where the faith and devotion was healthiest, continence and celibacy were most quickly accepted and practiced.

E. In the East, there is a general refusal of continence, though it is admitted that deacons/priests cannot be remarried. Further, bishops generally were chosen only from those who had embraced celibacy. Again, although married priests/deacons were permitted to continue with their wives, abstinence was/is generally mandated for the days prior to assisting at or offering Mass.

V. The Medieval Period, Mature Formation of the Law of Celibacy
A. By the year 1,000 there was great moral decline throughout Europe and even among the clergy. The famous “Book of Gomorrah” of St Peter Damian was written to the Pope and refers to the sins of the clergy of his day – many of whom were guilty of the sins of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this book, St Peter Damian also laments that many of the married clergy continue to live with their wives, and refuse to accept continence.

B. St Gregory VII (Hildebrand), the Great Reformer! Truly, one of the greatest men of all times!
              1. Lived 1020-1085, and advised six Popes before being elected Pope himself. After one of the times of greatest corruption came one of the greatest popes in history! And the renewal and reform of Pope St Gregory VII opened the door to the great flourishing of the Church in the 1100s and 1200s, the founding of the Mendicant Orders and establishment of Universities.  This is hopeful in our own times – to remember that only 200 years after a time of great depravity came the golden age of the Church!
              2. When Gregory VII sent legates to northern Europe to remind the married priests of the obligation of continence, the legates were tortured and some even killed. In response to this Pope St Gregory VII took a very stern position against incontinent married priests – forbade them from saying Mass or administering any sacraments. Further, the Pope very strictly insisted upon the requirement of celibacy for all who would be ordained in the future.  This decisive reform (which was part of a great renewal of the whole Church) has set the West firmly in place until our own time.

VI. The Modern Case of Married Deacons and Priests in the West
A. For married men who are to be ordained deacons, their wives must agree to this. Why? Perhaps because their wives must renounce their claims to marital intimacy – the wives must accept continence.  At the very least, it seems clear that the wives must accept that their married life must now come second to the demands of clerical life.  [however, this is often precisely the opposite of what married deacons are told when being formed – but were does anything state that the married vocation comes before their diaconal ministry?!]

B. The Code of Canon Law currently states that all clergy (apparently including married deacons and married priests) are bound to continence.  [Canon 277.1 – All clergy are bound to perfect and perpetual continence].  An early draft of Canon Law excepted married deacons from this requirement, but this was removed – seemingly because the Church does intent to mandate continence for married deacons/priests.

C. Why is it that a married man can be ordained a deacon, but a deacon can’t get married? Is there any logic to this law – unless it is related to continence? That, by virtue of ordination, a man renounced not only any future marriage, but even renounces marital relations within his marriage?  Possibly there are other explanations – but looking at the history of how the practice developed in the West (recognizing that the East has a different history), is there any more likely or more reasonable explanation?


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