Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Must Bishops Be Married?

I recently received the following question via email:
I wonder if I could ask a question about today's Mass reading, specifically, the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy (3:1-13). I was reading my Magnificat just now (it's late, I know...that's my funky retail schedule). Anyway, Saint Paul writes, "Beloved, this saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once... (insert sound of screeching brakes here!). Saint Paul makes the same comment for deacons.
The NAB translation of this passage is actually very good at showing the actual meaning of this passage. Were you to read it in the RSV I think you would be even more confused! I'll explain what I mean below.
At first, I thought, this must be something along the lines of the bridegroom analogy, where the bishop or deacon is married to the church. I am probably not explaining that correctly, so I hope you understand.
I understand what you mean. As he who stands in the person of Christ, the bishop or priest is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. We see this metaphor in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (cf. 5:21-33) and in other places.
Just a few sentences later, though, Saint Paul mentions how bishops/deacons must manage their children and their households well. Is "children" meant to represent the faithful, and "households" the various affiliated churches throughout the land?
While this metaphor is present in Paul's letters, I don't think the metaphor is intended here and I don't think that it is necessary to resort to metaphor in order to understand the passage or to resolve any apparent contradiction with Catholic teaching.
I'll be honest, I'm a bit confused. I realize that I have a lot still to learn. Maybe this is God's way of saying, "Well, Bill, if you just read the Bible more."
Don't worry bro, there's a very simple answer to this. First, here's the passage again, in context:

1 Tim 3:1-5 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?

Now, this passage is not saying that a bishop must be married. Instead, it is saying that if he is married, he must be married only once. In other words, he can't have multiple wives, or divorce his current wife and marry someone else.

In the RSV this is harder to see right off b/c it translates vs. 2 as "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher." That definitely does make it sound like he must be married. But, the NAB translates vs. 2 as "Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach," and that better captures the meaning of the verse.

We know that this is so b/c it simply would not make sense for Paul to say that all the bishops must be married. For one thing, Paul himself is a bishop and he was never married! He would be disqualifying himself if he said such a thing. Secondly, if "the husband of one wife" (vs. 2) means that he must be married, then by the same logic "keeping his children submissive and respectful" (vs. 4) would mean that he must have children. Are Protestants really willing to go so far as to exclude from the ministry men who don't have children yet or who had children that are now dead? What about men who only have one child (after all, Paul says "children")? The logic simply doesn't work.
Maybe so, but in addition to simply wanting to know more about this passage, I also work in a place where my Catholic faith regularly "takes it on the chin." I've lost track of how many different (Protestant) church services I've been asked to check out. There are several Jehovah's Witnesses at work too who politely remind me of my Scriptural ignorance. And while I'm not anticipating any one of my co-workers to pin me in a corner over this particular passage, I'd still like to be ready.
Yes, as St. Peter says, is it very good to be ready (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). All you can do is try your best, bro. Read and pray as much as you can. Actually, pray and then read. No, better still: pray, pray, pray and then read. The Holy Spirit can guide you to amazing heights of wisdom. You can't do it on your own.

Btw, don't forget that you can invite them to your church service too! Of course, that means you better know what's going on in the Mass b/c they're going to ask questions about it. If you don't have an answer, or at least a resource to direct them to (but preferrably an answer!), then you will miss out on an invaluable teaching opportunity.
I'll be honest, there are so many resources on your blog that I'm not sure I know where to start.
Yea, I'm sorry about that man. I realize that my sidebar is becoming too overwhelming and I'm considering different ways to fix that. Until then, if you go to the "Explanation of the Sidebar" then that might help you to get a better handle on what's in each section and how the sidebar as a whole can serve you.
If you could point me in the right direction, I'd be deeply grateful. Thanks again for your commitment to our beautiful Catholic faith. May God continue to richly bless you and your apostolate as you spread and defend the truth of God's Pilgrim Church on earth.
I hope that what I've said here is helpful. For more on the celibate priesthood, there are several articles you can read here. To beef up your understanding of the Mass, go here. Of course, this too may seem overwhelming at first, since there are a ton of articles in the Directory. Catholic Answers is usually a good place to start. You'll notice a list of categories on the left side of the page. Click on a category and you can read several medium-sized tracts that explain the faith in a comprehensible way. The "Sacraments" page has tracts both on the celibacy of the priesthood and on the Mass.

Good luck to you brother.

Pax Christi,

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