16. The why of priestly celibacy (I)

Each time more and more voices are raised, both within and outside the Church, against the celibacy of the clergy. It seems that there would be no reason and that only an evil would follow one demanding to aspire to the priesthood. In this article, and in which it will follow in the coming months, we give practical reasons for the why of priestly celibacy that, without being the most important, that they can be easily understood by all.

One of the issues most of which is spoken in some parts of the church (and non-church), and toward which more than one Christian denomination focuses its criticism, is the present discipline of the Catholic Church, according to which, the one who is about to enter Holy Orders (Priesthood) must profess perpetual vows of chastity (celibacy).

Let’s say from the outset that this is an ecclesiastical discipline subject to change, which in fact have changed, and can, theoretically, continue to change. This is not a dogma of faith. The Orthodox Church, which ordains priests “validly” according to the judgment of the Catholic Church, admits married men to the priesthood. What is more, the Catholic Church in the countries where the Byzantine rite (for example in Ukraine) predominates, ordains priests from married men, who continue to live a married life after ordination.

But at the same time the Church believes that priestly celibacy is a gift from God, and that today it would be a mistake to change the current legislation. And the bimilenana Church has its good reasons.

We leave aside the many reasons of theological and pastoral order that are evidenced by the opportunity of this discipline (and they truly are large and small), and we see only the historical process of this decision. Those who want to delve into the theological reasons that have led to the Church in the way of priestly celibacy, you can read with profit the masterly encyclical of Paul VI Sacerdotalis Caelibatus”.

New Testament

To understand the reason of this church practice and to assess the scope of the same must be read and meditate on Matthew 19:10-12 and, above all, the Chapter 7 of the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. These texts give “the spirit” which beats after the law of priestly celibacy. Reading these passages, the faithful understand that it is a vocation from God, in view of the Kingdom of God, and that only without reasoning can someone quickly say that “it is an invention of the cures”; in fact, beyond the ecclesiastical discipline, that you can change and in fact was changing with the passage of time, however will always be on those clear words of the apostle: “the celibate deals with the affairs of the Lord…, while the married of the affairs of the world.., and it is divided” (1 Cor 7). If we lose sight of these biblical texts, we lose sight of the heart of the matter.

In the historical evolution of the celibataria legislation can be divided into three principal moments: From the beginning of the 4th century; from the 4th to 12th century to our days.

The apostolic community and the first three centuries of the Church.

There are some texts already in the writings of the New Testament that we illustrate on the situation of the Church in this area. St. Paul asks that the bishops and deacons are “married once,” or “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2.12; Titus 1:6). This, in a first time, how are quick to let us know some brothers evangelicals, would appear to exclude the idea of a priest or bishop “celibate”. However, we must not forget that Paul himself spoke of the desirability of “not be divided” (i.e., not being married), and added that he would like that “all would like him” (1 Cor 7:7-8), making it clear that women did not have the same, and that he preferred – certainly not imposed – that the servant of God nor the had (also includes the female virginity, as the ideal way of who wants to serve God with an undivided heart). That is to say, what St. Paul called “to be of one wife” was not necessarily they will marry and have at least one woman, which would be exactly the opposite of everything what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 7 – but that there are people who lead a dissolute, with several women, or that have been married more than once. This is a order that states a limit (no more than a woman), and not an obligation (at least one woman).

It is also obvious that in the beginning of the Christian preaching, when celibacy was not a state admitted to the society, the Apostles did not expect to find men celibate in sufficient number to govern the many Christian communities that were emerging, as it simply had not, and could not think that Paul’s desire that the server to be celibate was immediately accepted and practiced throughout the Church. There seminars: had to found the Christian communities with the preaching, and to do so we chose the most skilled men at that time. That is why Paul demands at least essential, namely, that are not profligate, or who have not already had several women. It is even wonder that, in that environment, of course, contrary to the sexual abstinence, Paul has had the clarity and the value of preaching that “it is better not to get married.” His words are without doubt a great prophetic caliber.

The same can be said of the texts where Paul said that “if the bishop is not able to sort his own house, how will be able to sort the church”. It is not saying that candidates must necessarily be married, and that a celibate cannot exercise this office, but that the candidate, which should be a person of a certain age and experience, and therefore well married, should give samples of good government of their own family before wanting to rule the Church of God.

This was the practice of the Church during the first centuries, married candidates admitted to holy orders, always and when testify to live marriage blameless; at the same time, and following the teachings of Jesus and Paul, always was estimated by all the churches the gift of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is logical to think that many were already living that particular state of life. In other words, had married ministers and ministers celibate, although we cannot determine the amount and the proportion with respect to the married, or crafts that were reserved for one or the other, etc. In addition, the customs of the various local churches were diverse in this sense, although the principles that I outlined were respected in all sides.

Let us remember that at the time of going to written documents, there is not much of that distant history we can be certain in the field that we are dealing with. Some scholars, for example, are inclined to think that, although it was not mandatory, most local churches, perhaps jealous of the words of the Apostle, kept the custom of admitting to holy orders preferably to the celibate.

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