Saturday 22nd October 2016

Home » Our Catholic Faith » Currently Reading:

Priestly Celibacy: Unnatural? Or . . . Supernatural? The Faith Of The Early Christians

January 25, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 5

It is a very comfortable position for the defenders of sola Scriptura to wish to interpret it according to their own criteria. In so doing, they pick and choose verses here and there to justify their views. God’s first commandment to mankind, “Be fruitful and multiply,” seems to be the “dogma” against celibacy. But they fail to see the context, the hints in the Old Testament pointing to a future celibacy, the difference between commandment and counsel, the teachings of Jesus Himself and especially of St. Paul, who explicitly recommends celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
One could ask them this simple question: How did the early Christians understand the counsel of celibacy? It is easy for any Tom, Dick, and Harriet today to issue his or her own individual interpretation of this or that Bible verse, but what did the early Christians believe about it? They who laid down their lives for Jesus Christ? They were martyred right, left and center, crucified, burned alive, eaten by wild beasts, beheaded, flayed alive, starved to death, every kind of cruelty was done to them — and their faith was unshaken.
Their fidelity is to be both admired and imitated. Now, what did they believe about celibacy?
If anyone were to compare their beliefs with those of today’s denominations, safely preaching on television or behind pulpits, it would not take much soul-searching to prefer the faith of the early Christians!
I will quote only those writers who lived before the Council of Carthage (AD 397) when the Canon of the New Testament as we know it today was definitely accepted by the Catholic Church, and all the other books then in wide circulation were considered as apocryphal. That makes the New Testament a distinctively Roman Catholic collection of books. Poor Martin Luther came up with his “canon” way too late — well over 1,000 years too late.
St. Jerome, who translated the whole Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, wrote: “The virgin Christ and the virgin Mary have dedicated in themselves the principle of virginity for both sexes. The apostles were either virgins or remained continent after their marriages. Those persons chosen to be bishops, presbyters, or deacons are either virgins or widowers; or certainly, having once received the priesthood, they remain forever chaste” (Letter to Pammachius, AD 392-393).
The bond of absolute celibacy is regarded by the Fathers of the Church as a kind of spiritual marriage which weds the soul to Christ. Some of them consequently go so far as to place any violation of chastity by a consecrated soul on a par with adultery.
For instance, St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest Gospel preachers of all times, explaining that a priest who leaves the priesthood to get married commits adultery, wrote: “I do agree with you that marriage is legitimate. For it is written, ‘marriage is honorable, and the marriage-bed is undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge’ (Heb. 13:4). But it is no longer possible for you to preserve the legitimate conditions of marriage. For if a person who has been joined to the heavenly Bridegroom afterwards deserts Him and joins himself to a woman, the act is adultery even if you call it a myriad times over; or rather, it is much worse than adultery as God is better than man. Do not be deceived by anyone’s saying, ‘God has not forbidden marriage.’ I know that as well as you. He has not forbidden marriage; but he has forbidden adultery, which is what you are contemplating” (to the fallen Theodore, monk who wanted to become a lawyer and marry).
St. Epiphanius explains the Church teaching of celibacy for the priests who had been married:
“In point of fact a call to the holy priesthood of God, since the coming of Christ and because of the exceeding greatness of the honor of the priesthood, is not approved for those who, after a first marriage and their wife having died, enter upon a second marriage. And the holy Church of God has kept watch over this [discipline] unfailingly and strictly. But even one who is husband of one wife, if she is still living and still bearing children, is not approved; but after one marriage, if a husband keep continent or, if his wife has died, he remain a widower, he may be approved [for all degrees of the priesthood]” (Panacea Against All Heresies, AD 374-377).
Tertullian, in his The Demurrer Against the Heretics, written around the year AD 200, referring to the heresy of Mithraism, comments on the various forms of plagiarism of Catholic practices made by its adherents, and writes: “What must we say to limiting his high priest to a single marriage? He too has his virgins, he too has his celibates.” Celibacy was such a common practice among Christians that the heretics practiced it too, in order to appear to be like the Christians.
St. Justin Martyr lived in the second century and was the first great apologist, defender of the Christian faith against the paganism of Rome. He wrote: “Many men and women of sixty and seventy years of age have been inspired since childhood by the teaching of Christ to keep themselves intact” (Apologia I pro Christ, C.15; P.G. VI, 349).
St. Augustine, like St. Paul, was a great convert whose teachings inspired Christians for many centuries. He wrote: “Attend upon the Lamb, because the Lamb’s flesh, too, is virgin flesh. . . . You have good cause to attend upon Him wherever He goes, by virginity of mind and body. What is attendance but another name for imitation? For Christ suffered for our sakes, and left you His own example, as the Apostle Peter says, ‘You were to follow in His footsteps’” (St. Augustine, De Sancta virginitate, c. 22; P.L. XL, 407).
The priest is called to follow in Christ’s footsteps in every aspect he is able to. The height of the Imitatio Christi involves living a life of virginity or celibacy: “If priests and religious, and all who are in any way consecrated to the service of God, observe perfect chastity, they do so because their Divine Master remained a virgin for the duration of His life on earth” (Pius XII, encyclical Sacra Virginitas).

No Protests

Not only individual scholars wrote in defense of celibacy, but also the Church councils maintained the same salutary discipline inspired by St. Paul. As early as the year 300, still during persecution times, the discipline of clerical celibacy was proclaimed by the Council of Elvira:
Canon 33: “It is determined that bishops, presbyters, and deacons, or all clerics stationed in the ministry, are to restrain themselves completely and are to keep themselves away from their wives and are not to beget children. Anyone who does beget children is to be expelled from the honor of the clerical state.”
It should be noted that there are no historical records about any revolt, complaint, protest, petitions, sit-ins, or marches coming from marriage-minded clergy or laity against that council. Celibacy was already so common among the clergy that the Council of Elvira dealt with the remaining exceptions of married men being ordained to the priesthood.
Shortly thereafter, the Council of Neocaesarea, held between the years 314-325, determined that “if a presbyter has married a wife, let him be removed from the ranks. But if he has fornicated or committed adultery, let him be thrust out completely and let him subject himself to penance” (canon 1).
The discipline of priestly celibacy is part and parcel of the Christian understanding of the grandeur of the priestly state, as demonstrated by Sacred Scripture, the faith of the early Christians, and early councils. Among the Eastern Catholic Rites there are both celibate and married clergy, but bishops are never married, not even among the separated Orthodox churches. But they constitute a very small minority compared to the Latin Rite.

+    +    +

(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is:

Share Button

2016 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Live From New York Should a Catholic Vote for Hillary or Trump?

Almighty God has been very good  in giving us as the day’s Gospel passage that of Our Lord’s famous admonition to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to God what is God’s.” I say that in view of the…Continue Reading

Catholic university blasts ‘Unborn Lives Matter’ posters as ‘bigotry,’ bans them on campus

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – College Republicans at DePaul University were prohibited by the university president from displaying posters on campus advertising their group with the pro-life message, “Unborn Lives Matter.” Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider indicated to the…Continue Reading

For Archbishop Chaput, ‘Catholic Spring’ group did untold damage

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 14, 2016 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput did not enjoy his first and only encounter with two leaders of Catholics United. “It was an interesting experience,” Archbishop Chaput recounted in his Oct. 13 column…Continue Reading

The anti-Catholic Catholics (and the bishops who support them)

Yesterday Ross Douthat of the New York Times embarked on a lengthy Tweetstorm —21 tweets in all—questioning whether it’s accurate to refer to the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign as evidence of “anti-Catholic” bigotry. Douthat—who is no friend of…Continue Reading

The next ‘deplorables’? Clinton campaign rips ‘backwards’ Catholic beliefs in leaked e-mails

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – “Conservative Catholics” are the latest Americans to be smeared by members of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, leaked emails revealed on Tuesday show. Catholic beliefs are bashed as “backwards” and conservative Catholics…Continue Reading

German Bishop’s New Proposal: “There Exists More Than Man and Woman”

The Catholic Church in Germany seems to be becoming more and more unbounded in its proposals. In the recent past, for examples, the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference,, has reported about the idea to have women cardinals; about…Continue Reading

Cardinal Sarah presents counter-vision to Francis as he launches new book

After being reprimanded by Pope Francis over the summer for calling on priests to face east while saying Mass, Cardinal Robert Sarah is refusing to back down and is becoming a rallying point of opposition to this papacy.  The Vatican’s…Continue Reading

Massachusetts’ highest court grants full parental rights to unmarried gay woman

BOSTON – The Mass. court that paved the way for same-sex marriage in the United States ruled Tuesday that an unmarried gay woman whose former girlfriend gave birth to two children through artificial insemination has the same parental rights as…Continue Reading

Shunned for supporting natural marriage, former Mozilla CEO is back with new browser

SAN FRANCISCO, September 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The former CEO of Mozilla has released a new Internet browser called Brave. Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, continues to lead the technological revolution with Brave, an innovative concept in Internet browsers.…Continue Reading

Lay Catholic Group: Tim Kaine’s Radical Views Stem From Embrace of Liberation Theology

An organization of committed lay Catholics is challenging Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, who’s invoking his Catholic faith and the words of Pope Francis as a basis for his radical positions on abortion and marriage, as well as his…Continue Reading

Quebec cardinal won’t refuse funerals for those choosing assisted suicide

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec said he has no intention to follow in the steps of his fellow Canadian bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in refusing funerals for those who asked to be euthanized. “I don’t plan specific…Continue Reading

Shocking Report Reveals Scientists Have Created the Word’s First Baby With Three-Parents

A shocking new report claims the world’s first three-parent baby (pictured above) has been born. Children born through ‘three-person IVF’ would contain some genetic material from each of three different people. There are about 50 known mitochondrial diseases (MCDs), which…Continue Reading


Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput welcomes ‘smaller church’ of holier Catholics

(RNS) In a stark prognosis for contemporary Catholicism, a leader of the conservative wing of the U.S. hierarchy has said that “a smaller, lighter church” of fewer but holier believers is preferable to one that promotes inclusion at the expense of traditional orthodoxy. In a speech delivered Wednesday (Oct. 19) at the University of Notre Dame, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput also suggested that many prominent Catholics are so weak in their faith that they ought…Continue Reading

Kansas archbishop blasts Kaine: He’s an ‘orthodox’ Democrat but a ‘cafeteria Catholic’


KANSAS CITY, Kansas, October 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, has lambasted Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine for supporting abortion on demand while simultaneously touting his Catholic faith. Kaine is an “orthodox” Democrat but only a “cafeteria Catholic” who picks and chooses “the teachings of the Catholic Church that are politically convenient,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote in a devastating critique of the Virginia senator. “It was painful to listen…Continue Reading

U.S. Catholics Under Attack

WikiLeaks did it again with another e-mail release, 1,200 of them, and this time exposing the deliberate attempts by the Clinton campaign to disrupt, undermine and, yes, try to destroy the Catholic Church. Their intent was (is) to plant the “seeds of the revolution” within the institution. Among the e-mails are communications between Clinton operatives that are clearly filled with bigotry. If anyone had any doubt that Hillary Clinton and the people around her have…Continue Reading

Fake Catholic Groups and the “Catholic Spring” Emails


It is now impossible to deny that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United have worked for years to undermine and manipulate Catholic leadership Beginning in 2007, orthodox Catholic writers including myself wrote dozens of articles in an attempt to expose the funding and duplicitousness of two fake Catholic groups: the George Soros-funded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United. (For example, see here and here and here.) Now,…Continue Reading

Archbishop Chaput’s Weekly Column: About Those Unthinking, Backward Catholics

Back in 2008, in the weeks leading up to the Obama-McCain presidential election, two young men visited me in Denver.  They were from Catholics United, a group describing itself as committed to social justice issues.  They voiced great concern at the manipulative skill of Catholic agents for the Republican Party.  And they hoped my brother bishops and I would resist identifying the Church with single-issue and partisan (read: abortion) politics. It was an interesting experience.…Continue Reading

The March To Totalitarianism

By DONALD DeMARCO Hannah Arendt, best known for her denunciation of totalitarianism in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, has made the comment that “the aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.” Totalitarianism can appeal only to the unthinking masses. A true education, let it…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Advance Medical Directives: The Living Will”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, “Euthanasia,” e-mail him at + + + “Evil committed for a good cause remains evil.” “Even when it succeeds?” “Above all when…Continue Reading

The Joke’s On Us

By DONALD DeMARCO The definitive Jack Benny joke is well known. Originally aired in a March 28, 1948 episode, the legendary comedian is accosted by a mugger and given the option, “Your money or your life!” A long pause follows. The gunman reiterates, “Look, bud! I said your money or your life?” Benny replies, “I’m…Continue Reading

“Pope’s Day” . . … The Lost Tradition Of A November 5 Anti-Catholic Feast Day

By RAY CAVANAUGH In much of colonial America, November 5 was known as Pope’s Day. This was not a day of celebrating the Pontiff, however. In fact, violence would erupt over who got the privilege of burning the Pope’s effigy. Pope’s Day (also known as “Pope’s Night” or just “Pope Day”) was the colonial offshoot…Continue Reading

Restoring The Sacred . . . Words Of Timeless Faith And Truth From An Old Irish Hymnal

By JAMES MONTI Sacred music has been a fundamental component of the Church’s liturgy from Day One, as manifested by the hymn that the apostles sang when our Lord was about to leave the Cenacle for Gethsemane following the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Even earlier, music had been a key feature of Jewish worship for…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Confirmation In The Economy Of Salvation

By DON FIER Part 2 In the introductory paragraph of its section on the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Roman Catechism [RC], promulgated in 1566 by Pope St. Pius V soon after the Council of Trent, are the following words: “If there was ever a time when the Sacrament of Confirmation needed to be explained carefully, that time is now. All…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: J.H.T. of North Carolina, a deacon who has been a witness to the “liturgical wars” of the past half-century, has recommended an “extraordinary book” — Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church — that he says should be read by all Catholics, clergy and lay, who…Continue Reading

The Lover Of Souls

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Thirty-First Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12 2 Thess. 1:11-2:2 Luke 19:1-10 In the first reading today, we are given a good perspective on things: Before the Lord, the entire universe is less than a drop of morning dew on the Earth. When we consider one tiny drop of dew in comparison to…Continue Reading

The Clergy’s Silence, Ambiguity, And Dissent Are Destroying The Family

By FR. SHENAN BOQUET (Editor’s Note: Fr. Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International, and he travels around the world spreading the Gospel of Life in that role. He is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese in Louisiana where he served before joining HLI in August 2011. (Fr. Boquet’s commentary below on the silence of the shepherds first…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… We Are All Lepers, Marred By Sin

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK In the Rossellini film The Flowers of St. Francis, a series of black and white vignettes drawn from the saint’s life are strung together. In one of these St. Francis encounters a leper. He is repulsed by the man’s wounds, because he is human like the rest of us. Having come to love the Lord…Continue Reading

Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi

By CAROLE BRESLIN When a society is riddled with evil and corruption, the worst thing we can do is to remain quiet. If we truly believe in God, then it is our obligation to do all we can to save the souls in danger of being lost in such a society. The threats and dangers of this world are not…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Gerard Majella

By CAROLE BRESLIN God works many miracles through the weakest persons so that their lives read like a fairy tale. Old or young, sick or poor, powerful or destitute, all are touched deeply by their encounters with such men of God. Such was the life of St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers and young children. Domenica, a…Continue Reading