Thursday 2nd July 2015

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

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

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: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Untitled 3

Pope FrancisAn Open Letter To His Holiness Pope Francis      Given the controversy and confusion surrounding the 2014 Synod on the Family, the staff of The Wanderer and its supporters thought it appropriate to address Pope Francis with an open letter . . .

Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare subsidies

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld ObamaCare subsidies nationwide, in the second major court victory for President Obama on his signature health care law. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that subsidies are valid even in states that did…Continue Reading

Synod on the Family’s working document sets the stage for spirited discussion

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2015 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- That the discussion at October’s Synod on the Family is going to be a lively one is indicated by the fact that the most controversial paragraphs of the final report…Continue Reading

Abortion Drone Will Fly Dangerous Abortion Pills to Poland to Violate Its Pro-Life Laws

drone

The pro-abortion organization that formerly ran the abortion boat that distributed the dangerous abortion pill in international waters outside pro-life nations that protect unborn children has come up with a new marketing scheme to push abortion in pro-life nations: drones.…Continue Reading

St. Louis’ Catholic Archbishop Carlson discusses same-sex marriage, clergy sex abuse, racism, more

At their annual spring meeting held in St. Louis last week, U.S Catholic bishops discussed several issues currently facing the Catholic Church, including: the clergy sex abuse scandal, what the Church sees as challenges to marriage, and the pope’s upcoming…Continue Reading

Nienstedt resigns; New Jersey bishop named interim head of Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Archbishop John Nienstedt has resigned in the wake of criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” experienced by victims in priest sex-abuse cases. Nienstedt says…Continue Reading

Priests needed: As Church growth explodes worldwide, parishes can’t keep up

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2015 / 05:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The global Catholic population is growing – so quickly, in fact, that priest and parish numbers cannot keep up, says a new study on trends in the worldwide Church. And…Continue Reading

Cardinal Kasper hints at new ‘Vatican II’ strategy to gain approval of Communion proposal

June 11, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – In the face of increasing opposition to his plan to approve giving Holy Communion to people who are in adulterous remarriages, Cardinal Walter Kasper is hinting at a new “Vatican II” strategy for accomplishing his…Continue Reading

No Law Can Be Based on Injustice

In 2010, the United States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was designed by President Obama and Congressional leaders to expand access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage in the United States. After the law…Continue Reading

Cardinal: Divorced and remarried Catholics need support for conversion, not changes on communion

Catholics who have divorced and remarried need help for the “difficult climb” of conversion and spiritual growth, not a change in Church practice on the reception of Holy Communion, a prominent cardinal said. Cardinal Ennio Antonelli summarized the advice of…Continue Reading

Obama: Without Catholic Nun We Would Not Have Gotten Obamacare Done

(CNSNews.com) – While addressing the Catholic Health Association Conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday, President Barack Obama said that the Affordable Care Act—AKA Obamacare—would not have been enacted had it not been for Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic…Continue Reading

Cardinal Kasper Backpedals on Papal Endorsement of Controversial Proposal

Almost single-handedly one cleric has turned the Church’s teaching on Communion, marriage and divorce into an international debate. For decades, German Cardinal Walter Kasper has promoted a proposal to allow divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion after a period of…Continue Reading

The Body God Gave Us Doesn’t Lie

The latest tragic twist in the “Bruce Jenner saga” (more on that below) illustrates yet again one of the great errors of our day: the rejection of the truth that our bodies have something to tell us about who we are and…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

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

‘No Global’ author at Vatican event on climate and poverty reduction

(Vatican Radio) A Catholic climate scientist and a secular Jewish feminist formed an “unlikely alliance” in the Vatican press office on Wednesday to present a two day conference entitled ‘People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course’. The conference, which will take place at the Pontifical Augustinianum University in Rome, includes some 200 political, religious and civil society leaders from all continents who’ll be discussing Pope Francis’ new encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ in light of…Continue Reading

Cardinal Turkson on Laudato si’ and children

pope798

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on Tuesday addressed UNICEF House at the United Nations in New York. He spoke about the new Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’, and how it relates to children.   The full text of Cardinal Turkson’s remarks are blow   Remarks on Laudato si’ to Child-Focused Agencies UNICEF House, 30 June 2015 Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President, Pontifical Council for…Continue Reading

U.S. decision to legalize same-sex “marriages” godless, sinful – Russian Church

Moscow, June 29, Interfax – The Russian Orthodox Church has appealed to all Russian advocates of the American model of governance, asking them to think twice about the consequences of the United States’ decision to legalize same-sex “marriages”. “The people who are into ‘democracy the American way’ and trying to reconcile it with traditional values need to think hard after this decision,” the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod…Continue Reading

Fr. Z Blog . . . Congratulations To His Eminence Cardinal Burke . . .

Today is His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke’s 40th anniversary of ordination to the sacred priesthood.  He was, I believe, ordained by Paul VI. That was a good day for the Church. Card. Burke is one of the kindest men alive and a great scholar of Holy Church’s law. I am sure that all of you will stop, right now, and say a prayer for him.

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “The ‘Gay’ Case Against Abortion”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For electronic copies of previous articles on homosexual “marriage,” the special rights agenda, and the role of homosexuality in the Church crisis, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + “Feminists and political liberals have argued…Continue Reading

Protecting Hatred Preserves Freedom

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO The tragedy of a mass murder in Charleston, S.C., obviously motivated by racial hatred, has raised anew the issue of the lawfulness of the state expressing an opinion by flying a Confederate flag at the statehouse, and the constitutionality of the use of the First Amendment to protect hate speech and…Continue Reading

NATO-Russia Collision Ahead?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN “U.S. Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in East Europe: A Message to Russia,” ran the headline in The New York Times. “In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons for as many as…Continue Reading

The Myth Of Autonomy

By DONALD DeMARCO I Never Sang for My Father, a 1970 film based on Robert Anderson’s play by the same name, features a father who identifies himself as a “self-made man” who struggled hard for everything he achieved. Toward the end of the play, the father, now elderly and incapacitated, offers a desperate declaration of…Continue Reading

More On The Particular Judgment

By JAMES LIKOUDIS As pointed out in a previous article (The Wanderer, July 3, 2014, p. 8B), the “silence regarding this particular dogma from all too many pulpits together with funeral Masses that focus on celebrating the life of the deceased and are replete with eulogies (amounting to instant canonization) have tended to make the…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Chosen By God

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fifteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Amos 7:12-15 Eph. 1:3-14 Mark 6:7-13 In the first reading, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel (the place of the original Temple of the Lord), chastises the Prophet Amos for preaching against the goings on in the House of God. The priest tells the prophet to go and make…Continue Reading

National Mass Recalls Anniversary of St. Columbanus… “Why Are You So Frightened, You Men Of Little Faith?”

ARMAGH, Northern Ireland (ZENIT) — A national Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the 14th centenary of St. Columbanus was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on Sunday, June 21. Opening remarks were given by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, and the homily was given by Fr. Neil Collins. Following are the texts of both, provided by ZENIT News Agency.…Continue Reading

An Apologetics Course… Refuting Objections To The Spiritual Soul’s Existence

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 8 The reader will have noticed the progression of thinking in this new series of articles in The Wanderer: Instead of dealing with various topics rather randomly, the section consists of a series of articles in the format of lessons within a course. So, the first topic was the most basic one, that is,…Continue Reading

The Four Marks Of The Church — Holiness

By DON FIER For the past two weeks, we have been unpacking the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on the first of her four marks, that she is one. Our Lord left no room for uncertainty when He said, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16), nor did St. Paul when he proclaimed that…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Commenting on the Bruce Jenner fiasco in his usually perceptive way, Fr. George Rutler of the Church of St. Michael in New York City said in a recent bulletin: “Anyone who can remain awake listening to the conversations of sedentary former athletes on ESPN is perhaps unable to think clearly on any subject of significance, but the declaration…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Josemaria Escriva

By CAROLE BRESLIN Part 2 With the outbreak of civil war in Spain and the attack on the Catholic Church, many priests and religious were martyred. The existing government changed the constitution to legalize persecution of the Church by closing Catholic schools, ceasing reparation payments, and suppressing religious discussion. Among other things, this helped lead to the secularization of society…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Josemaria Escriva

By CAROLE BRESLIN Part 1 God, in His loving Providence and perfect timing, gives the Church holy men and women to guide the Mystical Body of Christ. During the chaos of the Protestant revolt, he provided St. Ignatius and St. Teresa of Avila. At the beginning of the 20th century, as the lay faithful were being called to participate in…Continue Reading