I think that priestly celibacy in the West, at its root is more than cultural. Because it is a discipline and not a doctrine doesn't mean it doesn't have some serious theological background. I think that to follow St. Paul's teaching on this is to believe the state of celibacy to be superior for the purpose of the ministry in the Church.And Fr. Richard's response:
In fact, St. Paul himself makes the marriage analogy that Subvet is pointing out, that a married man is thinking about how to please his wife and his attention is divided. Christ himself speaks of those who have the special grace of being "eunuchs" for the Kingdom.
There has been a long rich history of celibacy in the Church, as others have pointed out here, not just for priests but for Religious who are "consecrated" as celibates. It is also tradition that the Blessed Virgin Mary was one such consecrated virgin, which gives context to her question to Gabriel, "how can this be?" when told she would bear a child. So it was not unheard of in Jewish religious practice prior to the coming of Christ. I think that is why St. Paul could say that it is better not to marry if possible and I think that is the source of the development of the Roman Catholic practice.
There are misconceptions about the East as well. To say there are married priests is accurate but not the entire story. A married man can be ordained, but a priest cannot marry. Nor can a married priest become a Bishop. That is why there is a great flurry of weddings near the end of seminary, before ordination, because once ordained, that man's marital status is permanent.
So conceivably, the same scenario could take place in the East, whereby a celibate priest could decide he wants to marry and walks away from his commitment to Holy Mother Church. And I think that Subvet's case for infidelity to his vows, analogous to marital infidelity would hold true in such a case as well.
LJ,Read all of the comments here. Fr. Richard and I have talked many times about this issue and related matters, and we agree one problem that continually arises is many Catholics have difficulty seeing this issue in a non-competitive manner, that is: the celibate priesthood vs. the married priesthood. Yet this, I think, is akin to pitting the single life against married life, even though the two are not in competition with one another. Catholics should support the vocations of both marriage and the single life. The former, of course, is a sacrament—John Paul II called it the "primordial sacrament"—and the latter is a visible and powerful sign of self-gift to God; both are expressions of chastity, too which all Catholics are called:
Thanks for writing. If you read my comments again, I don’t believe I wrote that celibacy is basically a product of culture. (But, of course, there are cultural elements attached to both celibacy and marriage, because, as I’m sure you know, many lay Catholics believe it is an issue of doctrine, not discipline.)
I have found, over 30 years, that it’s always difficult to write about Eastern Catholic married priests, because, I believe, Roman- rite Catholics see the priesthood, understandably, according to Western Catholic culture. That is what they are familiar with. And you note that.
But for me, trying to write about married Catholic priests is like walking through a minefield. People often feel they need to defend celibacy, even if I do not attack it. I am a celibate priest, and I understand and embrace the benefits of that calling. I have not criticized, nor do I disparage the Western tradition, or theological rationale in this matter.
It is just very difficult because in our society where certain Catholic and non-Catholic elements continue to denounce celibacy, and call for a change in the “rules”, those Catholic Churches with married clergy are ignored, as though our Catholic perspective does not exist, except for the occasional one sentence reference.
And I deeply regret that. Because there is also a long history of celibacy in the Eastern Catholic Churches, and it seems to me it would be helpful to those who are interested to ALSO hear from them, instead of simply applying a Roman Catholic / Protestant template to the topic, as I have heard, over and over again throughout the years. (And I’m not trying to pin that viewpoint on you!)
You mention St. Paul’s preference for celibacy (1 Cor.7) so that believers are not divided in their attention, but it’s clear in this section that he is talking about all believers. Yet in 1st Timothy 3, and Titus 1, where the qualifications for bishops/presbyters and deacons are specifically listed, there is no mention of celibacy, simply that clergy should be married only once. Scripture cannot decide this question, but the Churches of the one Catholic Church have made, and do make, the rules for ordination as they see proper and fit. That suits me.
You wrote: So conceivably, the same scenario could take place in the East, whereby a celibate priest could decide he wants to marry and walks away from his commitment to Holy Mother Church.
Absolutely. It is just as wrong. The priesthood is dependent neither upon celibacy, nor upon marriage, but upon Jesus Christ. When our priests gather together there is no distinction between celibate or married priests. You would not know the difference unless you looked for wedding rings. It is the priesthood of Christ that unites us, not whether we are married or not. The MSM does not get it. They put celibacy in the context of repression and struggle. But I think, hope and pray that WE always get it. I appreciated your comments.
People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single." Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: "There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others.... This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church." (CCC, par 2349).Presbyterorum ordinis, the Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, makes some comments on these matters worth mulling over a bit:
(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.The statement, "Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood...", is significant, and is closely related to Fr. Richard's remark, "The priesthood is dependent neither upon celibacy, nor upon marriage, but upon Jesus Christ."
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.Here are two significant points: first, the celibate priest is sign of the holiness of the Church, the Bride of Christ whose sole Spouse is Christ; and, secondly, he is a living, eschatological sign of the world to come and of the supernatural vocation of all men. In the words of the Catechism, "accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God" (par 1579). This, I believe, is the main reason celibacy is misunderstood or mocked outright by so many in the media and the dominant culture: it speaks to meaning and life transcending temporal goals and living, which can be either bewildering or angering for many.
For 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. (par 16)It seems fairly obvious, in light of Church teaching, that two extremes should be avoided: insisting that all Catholic priests be married (or have the option to marry), or insisting that all Catholic priests (that is, both Western and Eastern) should be celibate. In addition, Western Catholics should take care to not conclude the married priests of the East are somehow lesser, or somehow spiritually lax, in comparison to celibate priests in the West. ( Arguments over the practicality of celibacy are, I think, often overblown and can be something of a double-edged sword.) At the same time, the heart and essential meaning of celibacy should be accentuated, namely, a sign of the Kingdom established and to come, and a living reminder of the eschaton and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Finally, considering the (unfortunately) somewhat fractious nature of this topic, I want to emphasize that while I think my thoughts here are completely in line with formal Church teaching, they are my thoughts alone; they are not necessarily the position of Ignatius Press, nor do they necessarily reflect the opinions of others who work for Ignatius Press.