The CAPG's Blog
Why Priests do not Marry
Those who understand the true nature of the Christian priesthood see the practical necessity of clerical continency. The very thought of a married clergy has something repugnant in it to the Catholic instinct, or as Brownson puts it vigorously: "There would be a sort of bigamy in it, for the priest is weeded to the Church, his true spouse and our spiritual Mother.: We do not claim an absolute necessity for clerical celibacy; but as the temporal power is ordinarily necessary to the Pope for the full and free exercise of his spiritual mission, so the celibate priest may be said alone to possess that complete freedom of self-sacrifice and devotion in the exercise of his sublime mission, by which he seeks to subject men to the dominion of Christ, teaching and sanctifying them, and thus leading them to seek the one thing necessary through which they are to attain eternal happiness. To be a priest means to replace Christ, to be guided by His spirit, and to live solely and directly for Him.
Priests do not marry, because it is the will (not the command) of our blessed Lord and the doctrine of His Apostles that they should lead single lives, unreservedly consecrated to the service of God. The Apostles, the first priests of Christ, abandoned home, and those among them who had been married previous to their being called to the apostolate left their wives to follow Him with undivided affection. And the divine Master was pleased with such a renunciation, and showed them as recompense for it their heavenly thrones near His own in His kingdom, making at the same time the like promise to all who would follow their example. (St. Luke XVIII, 29) St. Paul, that faithful exponent of Christ's doctrine, shows the preference of the celibate state to that of marriage: "It is good for them (the unmarried) if they so continue, even as I " (I. Cor. VII. 8) He would that all men to whom it has been given were even as himself, single. Why? In order to be free, to escape the troubles of family life, and to attend, without care for wife, to the service of Christ.
It is an unquestionable fact that clerical celibacy existed both in the East and West, every since days of the Apostles. If there was no written law for the priest, it was because it was deemed unnecessary. The idea of marrying would hardly suggest itself to the minds of those who gave up all and followed the example of Christ. Pope Gregory VIII did not introduce clerical celibacy. Before him more than two hundred councils and synods had upheld its obligation. He simply enforced the old rule with characteristic energy and perseverance.
There is not to be found a single instance in all history when the Church recommended marriage to any of her consecrated ministers. Yet she honors and reverences the Sacrament of Matrimony, and her priest is the guardian of its sanctity. But her mind is that priests should love Christ more than all the world. It is this love of Christ that inspires him to lead a chaste and continent life; and the Master gives the needed grace. Those who say it is impossible for man to lead a pure and single life are a lecherous crew, unworthy of attention; they would deliver man to the curse of a beastly necessity and bring human nature down to the level of the brute. Even pagans honored chastity and believed it possible for man to live continently. In nearly every sphere of life we find men devoting themselves to the carrying out of some great and noble design and foregoing the ties and the attractions of married life. The greatest theologians, philosophers, historians, and painters were men who led single lives. They had, so to speak, no time to marry; they lived in a clearer atmosphere than the ordinary mortals; they had higher ideals than " the female form divine." Thoughtful men, such as Leibnitz and Bohmer, considered single life the proper one for a man who devotes himself to the higher studies of philosophy and history.
No Candidate for Holy Orders is forced to pronounce the vow of chastity, and the Church never obliged any one to lead a single life. But none will deny that the Church has a perfect right to prescribe the conditions on which a man wishing to consecrate his life to God in the priesthood may find the realization of his desires. No one is compelled to become a priest; consequently no one is forced to take up the life of celibacy. The Church even warns the candidates for the priesthood against acting hastily; she tries them severely, puts them through a long and arduous course of studies and discipline, and when the final step is taken throws around her consecrated ministers a wall of protection in her canonical statutes. But in spite of all these precautions and safeguards a priest may and occasionally does take a low view of his sublime calling and defile the garb of sacerdotal holiness. Among the twelve Apostles of the Lord there was a traitor who thought more of money than of his exalted office. We do deny, however, that marriage is the best and only means to offset the concupiscence of the flesh. Does anybody dare maintain that there are less offenses against the marriage vow among the married ministers than there are against the vow of celibacy among Catholic priests? There are other means far more efficacious than marriage to neutralize and curb the evil inclinations of human nature, and these means are prayer, sacraments, mortification, and the avoidance of all dangerous occasions.
The man who consecrates himself to God in the priesthood and who devotes his whole life to works of religion, charity, and education, must be free from the trammels of family life, and from the engrossing cares of domestic obligation. "He that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided." (I. Cor. VII. 33)
A man who enters the Catholic priesthood does not take upon himself its obligations for money or money's worth. Those who flippantly assert that the priest makes money out of his profession, "like any other professional man," are "beating the air." He who would become a priest for money of a good living would be a fool. The priest's life is a trying one, full of care and privation. He is not "paid" for his labors, nor does he receive a salary in proportion to his talents and work. His education, his mental and bodily exertions, would demand a remuneration higher that that of any lawyer, physician, or surgeon in the land; he receives, generally speaking, a scanty support. The majority of the priests in America are poor, even penniless. A young man prepares himself for the priesthood because he feels a calling from God, and he desires to consecrate all his faculties of souls and body to Him. He has no intention "to make money like other men." He wishes to live poor like his Master. And as a priest he becomes the father of the orphans and widows. The bereaved and afflicted look up to him as their dearest and most generous friend. Look around you and count the number of orphan asylums, hospitals, and schools for the poor which Catholic priests have established and maintained within the last fifty years. (written in 1902) No earthly father is required to make such sacrifices as is the priest who devotes himself to the temporal and spiritual welfare of his flock. His purity and detachment are the secret of his priestly strength and influence. And those who refuse to love him are forced to respect and admire him as a man of God and of the people.