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The Authority Of Bishops… Celibacy In The Epistles Of St. Paul

December 30, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 6

St. Paul’s teachings on marriage are second to none, especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians. There he praises marriage to the heavens, comparing it to the union between Christ and the Church, calling it “a great sacrament,” and encouraging husbands and wives to live a holy life, imitating Christ and His Church. Fine. But then, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he said that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Of course, he could not contradict himself, by praising marriage and encouraging celibacy at the same time.
St. Paul understood very well the distinction between commandment and counsel, taking from Jesus’ exhortation to the rich young man to leave everything and follow Him. Jesus said, “if” you would be perfect. It was a counsel, not a commandment.
Some people in Corinth had asked him about various things, including on chastity and celibacy. St. Paul replied:
“Now concerning the things you wrote to me about: It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1). And he continued: “But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband….Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer. And return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency (periodic abstinence). But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment.”
Hence his teaching is clear: The commandment of “Be fruitful and multiplies” given in Genesis is for mankind as a whole, and celibacy is a state of perfection for some, not a commandment for all. And even within marriage St. Paul recommends periodic continence.
But he returns with his exhortation to celibacy: “For I would that all men were even as myself: but everyone has his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that.”
He insists on telling people to follow in his footsteps of celibacy. In 1 Cor. 11:1, he openly says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Christ was celibate, and St. Paul imitated Christ in celibacy. Now he invites some people to imitate him, Paul, and remain celibate. “But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I.”
In the end, however, he admits that they can marry if they so wish: “But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:1-9).
He goes on to emphasize the distinction between the commandment and the counsel: “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give counsel, as having obtained mercy from the Lord, to be faithful. I think therefore that it is good for the present necessity, that it is good for a man so to be. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you take a wife, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she has not sinned” (1 Cor. 7:24-27).
The Corinthians certainly received a great teaching from St. Paul on celibacy. He goes to describe the situation of a man who is unmarried and exclusively dedicated to the service of God, as a priest is expected to be, without any solicitude or concerns outside of his mission:
“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.”
Here we see how the discipline of celibacy is most suitable for the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He then refers to young women who are considering their vocation, either to be consecrated to God or to marry: “And the unmarried woman and the virgin think of the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinks of the things of the 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.”
He concludes his teaching by giving to widows a counsel, not a commandment, to remain unmarried:
“A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty: let her marry whom she will; only in the Lord. But more blessed shall she be, if she so remain, according to my counsel; and I think that I also have the spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:32-40).
This last sentence does suggest — and strongly so — that St. Paul’s very precise teachings on virginity, chastity, and celibacy are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the very Soul of the Mystical Body of Christ.
And if a married priest becomes a widower: Should he be allowed to marry again and still remain a priest?
St. Paul responds: “It behooves a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behavior, chaste, given to hospitality, a teacher, not given to wine, no striker, but modest, not quarrelsome, not covetous, but one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all chastity. But if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:1-5).
The same discipline applied to deacons: “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, who rule well their children, and their own houses” (1 Tim. 3:12).
Why did I write this article? Because rumors have gone around in the Church, according to which some people in the Vatican are considering a synod to modify the doctrine on celibacy, if not to effectively abolish it by making it optional. That is how some people try to solve today’s crisis of vocations: Instead of strengthening zeal for the salvation of souls, they give in to the culture of the world by Protestantizing one more aspect of the call to holiness in the clergy.
Next article: Celibacy among the early Christians.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www. RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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The deposit of faith has not been guarded, instead it has been fragmented & corrupted especially in the areas of marriage, family & sexuality. I pray that bishops & all Catholics will return anew to this font of revealed truth & pray for cleansing & renewal in God’s life & grace.

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