Sunday, 4 January 2015

From East to West: Clerical Celibacy

From East to West: Clerical Celibacy

An article by Dr. Anthony Dragani, arguing from an Eastern Catholic point of view that clerical celibacy is not of apostolic origin.


'In this final section of the book Cardinal Stickler moves beyond the historical arguments that he has utilized thus far. Now he attempts to explain the theological rationale behind clerical celibacy. He quotes a key passage of scripture upon which he builds a portion of his case. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, "Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer""[58] According to the Cardinal, "If continence was imposed on the laity in order that their prayers might be granted, how much greater the obligation on priests, who in a state of purity had to be ready at any moment to offer the sacrifice and administer baptism."[59]

Amazingly, when quoting this passage of sacred scripture the Cardinal omits the second half of the verse. In the latter half of the verse St. Paul warns married couples to "return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control."[60] Thus, St. Paul is actually cautioning against perpetual continence within marriage. In light of this statement it is nearly impossible to believe that the Apostle would demand such perfect continence from any married couple, even if the man was an ordained presbyter.

Cardinal Stickler believes that a prime reason for clerical celibacy is "the efficacy of mediatory prayer by the sacred minister." This is "centered on a total dedication to God, on the real possibility of praying constantly as well as being completely free for pastoral ministry and for the service of the Church."[61] But this begs an important question: why exactly is mediatory prayer rendered less effective by marital sex"[62] He does not provide an answer to this question.

He also argues for celibacy based on the example of Christ. The priest is configured to the person of Christ, and becomes another Christ. "Christ wants the soul, heart and body of his priests," writes the Cardinal. Christ "wants that purity and continence that are a sign that he lives no longer according to the flesh but according to the spirit."[63] While this is harmonious with the Latin theological tradition, in the Eastern tradition the persons most perfectly configured to the person of Christ are not the priests, but the monks. In the East the mutually exclusive dichotomy is not between marriage and priesthood, but between marriage and monasticism.[64]

As he concludes the book, Cardinal Stickler raises a fundamental question: ""we must ask ourselves if the basis of celibacy is to be actually found in its "suitability." Rather, is it not in fact really necessary and indispensable to the priesthood""[65] He undoubtedly desires for us to answer in the affirmative. But in light of the present teaching of the Catholic Church, is it even possible to do so"

Cardinal Stickler attempts to prove far too much. If he were to successfully demonstrate that mandatory clerical celibacy is indeed an apostolic tradition, would this mean that it is beyond the authority of the Church to change the discipline" The reality is that the Catholic Church has already modified this discipline significantly. Today the Roman Catholic Church routinely ordains married men to diaconate. These men are in no way required to abstain from marital relations, yet all of the fourth century texts that the Cardinal sights call for absolute marital continence by deacons and their wives. Moreover, these same texts claim that this is part of the apostolic tradition. Also, in recent decades the Roman Catholic Church has ordained hundreds of former Episcopal clerics as Catholic priests. And again, these men are not required to cease sexual relations with their wives.

Likewise, the Catholic Church has officially recognized the full legitimacy of the Eastern tradition of a married priesthood.[66] For evidence of this one needs to look no further than the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. Canon 373 authoritatively states that "the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor."[67] The legitimacy of the Eastern discipline is also affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph no. 1580.

Thus, clerical celibacy is clearly a discipline that the Church has the authority to regulate and govern. This fact bears witness against it being a tradition "demanded by the apostles."[68] So is clerical celibacy "really necessary and indispensable to the priesthood""[69] The answer is a resounding no.'



I accept the value of celibacy as tradition in Latin-rite Catholicism, but I am quite unconvinced that it is a tradition mandated by the apostles and have been troubled by the claim that it is. I can see very clearly that the New Testament encourages celibacy, but I do not see any demand or requirement of it for clergy in the Scriptures. I found this article to be a very helpful response.

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