Monday, 24 November 2008

Married Priests

The subject's come up a couple of times for me recently. The other day Lorenzo was talking about it (I'm not sure why it came up) and said, if I understood correctly, that Jesus never said that priests had to be celibate, that it was a decision of the Church.

Then, getting my weekly fix of religious news from Sunday, I heard an interview with a couple of priests both of whom had a fairly positive attitude towards the idea (one a married ex-Anglican), though they didn't claim that it would solve the priest shortage and on the whole seemed quite moderate and sensible. The ex-Anglican one said that it was a distortion to claim that familial love was incompatible with the vocation to priesthood.

So I just thought I'd give my thoughts on those two things. I suppose everyone already knows that a celibate priesthood is not an unalterable teaching, but a matter of discipline? If you don't you do now.

With regard to Jesus' lack of definitive teaching on the matter, the first thing to note is that St. Paul does clearly have an opinion on the matter. And though he is certainly not Jesus, it doesn't do to ignore the Apostle to the gentiles.
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. - 1 Cor 7:32-35
There are some very obvious things to say about this verse being less than dogmatic, so please don't.

And then there's the precedent set by the first priests of all, the Apostles.
Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. [...] And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." - Luke 22
Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! - Mt 19:27
Also, Jesus does have an explicit teaching which may be interpreted in different ways, but which is far from irrelevant.
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." - Mt 19:10-12

N.B. Having just written the following, I already want to change it, because I didn't say what I orginally intended to say, and I think I've probably mis-represented the priest in fact. So, if you could just bear that in mind in the meantime. I may update it later.

With regard to the priest who thought that it was a mistake to think that familial love was incompatible with the vocation of a priest, the simplest thing I think is just to say with St. Paul what he says above. But though I don't think that we should remove the celibacy requirement, I personally don't think for a moment that marriage is incompatiable with the priesthood. The priest, as I say, seemed like a nice guy, and it makes a nice change to hear someone express their opinion without resorting to polemics, but I do think it was a bit of a straw-man argument. If the Church really thought that marriage was incompatible with priesthood he wouldn't be a priest. I suppose there might be some schismatic types who would claim that he isn't really a priest, but I don't see how an orthodox Catholic who isn't sold on the whole married priests deal could think what he thinks they think - if you follow me. (that doesn't mean that I don't think he's an orthodox Catholic b.t.w.)

And that's what I think about that.


berenike said...

And the celibacy thing only applies these days in the Latin-rite church, doesn't it? It certainly doesn't apply in the Byzantine rite. I've no idea about the oriental rites. It wasn't compulsory in the Latin rite either for several centuries before the um I think 12th. There seems though to be a perfectly good case arguing that the apostolic discipline was that of priestly celibacy, that it was relaxed a bit, and only the Latins reinstated it fully.

The Cellarer said...

Can't put my finger on it, something seems appealing about the Byzantine system of option of married priests (many don't, e.g. Fr Thomas Loya of Light of the East fame) but that Bishops must be celibate.