The CAPG's Blog

Wednesday February 12, 2020

Of the Celibacy of the Clergy.


Q. What is the reason why the Catholic clergy are not allowed to marry?

A. Because at their entering into Holy Orders, they make a solemn promise to God and the Church to live continently. Now the breach of such a promise as this would be a great sin; witness St. Paul (I Tim. v. II, 12), where speaking of widows that are for marrying, after having thus engaged themselves to God, he says: "They have damnation, because they have cast off their first faith"; that is their solemn engagement made to God.

Q. But why does the Church receive none to Holy Orders but such as are willing to make this solemn engagement ?


A. Because she does not think it proper that they, who by their office and function ought to be wholly devoted to the service of God, and the care of souls, should be diverted from these duties by the distractions of a married life. (I Cor. VII. 32, 33.) "He that is unmarried, careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord : but he that is married, careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife."

Q. But was it always the law of the Church that the clergy should abstain from marriage?


A. It was always a law in the Church that bishops, priests, and deacons shall not marry after having received Holy Orders; and we have not one example, in all antiquity, either in the Greek or Latin Church of any such marriage; but, it has been at some times, and in some places, as at present among the Greeks, permitted for priests and deacons, to continue with their wives which they had married before their ordination, though even this was disallowed by many ancient canons.

The 27th of the Apostolic canons allows none of the clergy to marry but those that are in the minor Orders, that is, lectors and cantors. The Council of Neo- caesarea, which was more ancient than that of Nice, in its first canon, orders that if a priest marries he would be deposed. The Council of Ancyra, which was held about the same time, orders the same thing with regard to deacons, except they protested at the time of their ordination that they could not live unmarried, and were therefore presumed to be dispensed with by the bishop. (Council Ancyra, Can. 10.)

The great Council of Nice, in the third canon forbids clergymen to have any women in their house, except it be mother, sister, or aunt, etc., a caution which would never have been thought of if they had been allowed to have wives.

In the West the Council of Illiberis, which was held about the close of the third century, canon 33 commands bishops, priests, deacons and sub-deacons to abstain from their wives, under pain of degradation. The second Council of Aries (can. 2) ordains that no married man be made priest, unless he promise conversion, that is to live continently. The second Council of Carthage (can. 2) ordains that bishops, priests and deacons should live continently, and abstain from their wives; and this because the Apostles so taught, and all antiquity observed. Ut quod Apostoli docuerunt, et ipsa servavit antiquitas, nos quoque custodiamus. And the fifth
Council of Carthage, anno 598, can. 2, ordains, in like manner, that all bishops, priests and deacons should abstain from their wives, or be deposed. There are many other ancient canons to the like effect, as well as decrees of the ancient Popes; as of Siricius, in his epistle to Himmerius, bishop of Tarragona, c. 7; of Innocent I in his epistle to Victricius, bishop of Roan c. 9; of St. Leo the Great, epist. 82, to Anastasius, c. 3 and 4.

Hence St. Epiphanius, who flourished in the East in the fourth century, in his great work against all heresies (Haer. 59), writes thus: "The Church does not admit him to be a deacon, priest, bishop, or sub-deacon, though he be a man of one wife, who makes use of conjugal embraces." He adds that this "is observed in those places chiefly in which canons of the Church are exactly kept which being directed by the Holy Ghost, aims always at that which is most perfect; that those who are employed in divine functions may have as little as can be of worldly distractions." And St. Jerome, Epist. 50. "Bishops," says he, "priests and deacons are chosen either virgins or widowers, or from the time of their priesthood perpetually chaste." He affirms the same in his book against Vigilantius, by the name of the Churches of the East, and of Egypt, and of the See Apostolic; and of all bishops, in his book against Jovinianus. See also Origen, Homily 13, upon Numbers; Eusebius, 1. I. Demonst Evang. c 9; and St. John Chrysostom, Homily de Patientia Job.

If you ask the reason why the Church has insisted so much in all ages upon this point of discipline, besides the reason alleged above out of St. Paul (1 Cor. VII 32, 33), "The reason of single life for the clergy," says Mr. Thorndyke, an eminent Protestant divine, in his letters at the end of Just Weights and Measures, p. 239, "is firmly grounded by the fathers and canons of the Church upon the precept of St. Paul, forbidding man and wife to part, unless for a time to attend unto prayer. (1 Cor. VII. 5.) For priests and deacons being continually to attend upon occasions of celebrating the Eucharist, which ought continually to be frequented; if others are to abstain from the use of marriage for a time, then they always." Thus far Mr. Thorndyke.

Q. But were not the Apostles married?

A. Some of them were before they were called to the apostleship; but we do not find that they had any commerce with their wives after they were called by Christ. St. Jerome expressly affirms that they had not. (Epist. 50.) And this seems to be dear from St. Matt, (XIX 27), where St. Peter says to our Lord, "Behold, we have forsaken all things, and followed thee"; for, that amongst the ALL which they had forsaken, wives also were comprehended, is gathered from the enumeration made by our Saviour in the 29th verse, where he expressly nameth wives.

Q. But does not St. Paul say (Cor. IX. 5), "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other Apostles, " etc.?

A. The Protestant translation has willfully corrupted the text in this place; it should have been translated a woman, a sister. The Apostle speaks not of his wife, for it is visible he had none, from 1 Cor. XII. 7, 3. But he speaks of such pious women, as, according to the custom of the Hebrew nation, waited upon the Apostles and other teachers, serving them in necessaries; as they had done also upon our Lord in the time of His mortal life. (See St. Luke VIII. 2, 3.) Though St. Paul, that he might be less burdensome to the faithful, chose rather to serve himself and live by the work of his own hands.

Q. Does not the Apostle (I Tim. III. 2 and 12), require that bishops and deacons should be "the husband of one wife?"


A. The meaning of the Apostle is not that every bishop, priest or deacon should have a wife, for he himself had none; and he declares (I Cor. VIII. 8): "I say to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I." But his meaning is, that none should be admitted to be a bishop, priest or deacon, that had been married more than once, which law has ever since been observed in the Catholic Church: for since it was not possible in those days of the first preaching of the Gospel (when there were few or no converts, either among the Jews or Gentiles, but such as were married), to have found a sufficient number of proper ministers, if they had not admitted married men, they were consequently obliged to admit such to the ministry; but still with this limitation provided they had not been twice married. But now the Church has a sufficient number of such as are trained up to a single life, and are willing to embrace perpetual continency ; and therefore prefers such to the ministry, and is authorized so to do by the Apostle (I Cor. VIII. 32, 33, 38). And if after having consecrated themselves to God in this kind of life, they should be for looking back, and engaged in a married life, they are expressly
condemned by the same Apostle. (I Tim. V. 12.)

Q. Is it not said (Heb. xm. 5), " Marriage is honorable in all?"


A. The Protestant translation has strained the text to make it say more than the original, which may as well be rendered in the imperative mood, thus: "Let marriage be honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; for whoremongers and adulterers God will judge;" as the next verse which is rendered in the Protestant translation by the imperative, "Let your conversation be without covetousness," etc. So that the true meaning of this text is, that married persons should not dishonor their holy state by any liberties contrary to the sanctity of it ; but not to allow marriage to those who have chosen the better part, and consecrated themselves by vow to God.

Q. But is not forbidding marriage called a doctrine of devils ? (I Tim. IV. 3.)

A. It certainly was so in those of whom the Apostle there speaks, viz., the Gnostics, the Marcionites, the Encratites, the Manicheans, and many other heretics, who absolutely condemned marriage as the work of the devil. For our part, nobody reverences marriage more than we do; for we hold it to be a Sacrament, and forbid it to none but to those that have voluntarily renounced it to consecrate themselves more wholly to the divine service: and in such as these St. Paul condemns it as much as we. (See I Tim. V. 12.) That these same heretics also condemned absolutely the use of all kinds of meat, not on fasting-days only (as was also practiced by the Church), but at any time whatsoever; because they looked upon all flesh to be from an evil principle. So that it is evident these were the men of whom the Apostle (I Tim. IV.) intended to speak.

Q. But do you think that a vow of continency so strictly obliges any person, that it would be a sin in such a person to marry?

A. Yes, most certainly; because the law of God and nature requires that we should keep our vows to God (Deut. XXIII. 21, 22, 23). "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform." (Psal. LXXVI. II.) "Vow and pay unto the Lord your God." (Eccles. V. 4.) " Pay that which thou hast vowed. Better it is that thou shouldst not vow, than that thou shouldst vow and not pay." For if it be a crime to break our faith with man, how much more with God ? If you say that the state of continency is not more acceptable to God than that of marriage, and therefore cannot be the proper matter of a vow, you contradict the doctrine of the Apostle: (Cor. VII. 38), "He that giveth his virgin in marriage, doth well; but he that giveth her not doth better."

Hence St. Augustine (L. de bono Viduiatis, c. II), affirms that the breach of such a vow of chastity is worse than adultery: and St. John Chrysostom (ad Theodorum Lapsum), "Though you call it marriage a thousand times, yet I maintain it is much worse than adultery." Hence the Council of Illiberis, can. 13; the fourth Council of Carthage, can. 104; and the great Council of Chalcedon, can. 15, excommunicate those who presume to marry after such a vow. What would the Church of those ages have thought of a religion introduced into the world by men that had notoriously broken through those most solemn engagements, and who raised the fabric of their pretended reformation upon thousands of broken vows ?

Q. But all have not the gift of continency ; why then should the first reformers be blamed, if, finding they had not the gift, they ventured upon marrying with nuns?


A. Continency is not required of all, but such as have by vow engaged to keep it: and therefore, before a person engages himself by vow, he ought certainly to examine whether he has a call from God, and whether he can to through with what he thinks of undertaking: but after he has once engaged himself by vow, he is not now at liberty to go back; but may assure himself, that the gift of continence will not be denied him, so that he uses proper means to obtain and preserve it, particularly prayer and mortification, which because Luther laid aside, by quitting his canonical hours of prayer and other religious exercises, to which he had been accustomed in his convent, no wonder if he lost the gift of continency, which he owns he enjoyed whilst he was a popish friar : " Whilst I was a religious (says he), I observed chastity, obedience and poverty: and, in short, being wholly disengaged from the cares of this present life, I wholly gave myself up to fasting, watching and prayer." (In Gal. 2, 15, t. 5, Wittemb. fol. 291. 2.) But as soon as he commenced reformer, to demonstrate that he was changed for the worse, he declares he had so far lost this gift that he could not possibly live without a woman. (Sermon de Matrim., L 5, fol. 119, 1.)

Q. But does not Christ say, concerning continency (St. Matt, XIX II), "All men cannot receive this saying:" and St. Paul (Cor. VII. 9), "If they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn?"


A. No; both these texts are willfully corrupted in the Protestant Testament. Where he speaks not of such as have vowed chastity, but of other Christians, whom he advises rather to marry than to burn with unlawful lust here, and for unlawful lust hereafter. And the same advice is most frequently inculcated by Catholic divines. But as for those that have vowed chastity, they must make use of other means to prevent this burning, particularly prayer and fasting. But what a wretched case must that of the adversaries of the celibacy of the clergy be when to maintain it they have in so many places willfully corrupted the Scripture! and what a melancholy case it must be, that so many thousands of well-meaning souls should be wretchedly deluded with the pretense of God's pure word, when instead of this, they have nothing put in their hands but corrupted translations, which present than with a mortal poison, instead of the food of life!

Source: Our Church Her Children And Institutions, Volume 1. 1908

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