Thursday, November 08, 2007

Defending Priestly Celibacy: Part 1

The following debate began with a question by "fromdeathtolife" in the HCR forum. So, Part 1 will be my answer to his question. The remaining parts will constitute my response to "Devin," who also chimed in on this.

Pax Christi,
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What scripture suggests priests be celebate?
There are many passages that point to celibacy as the preferred state of a pastor:

Mt 19:11-12 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."

This passage shows that celibacy is a gift from God. It's important to note that the Church does not force men to be celibate, as if She were restraining men who were actually called to some other way of life. Instead, She is choosing as pastors those men who have been given the gift of celibacy by God Himself. The Church has determined, though years of experience, that these particular men are better suited for the multiplicity of responsibilities (and stressors) that come with being a priest.

In 1 Cor 7, Paul echoes this sentiment as well. The entire chapter is worth reading. I provide here the most relevant passages:

1 Cor 7:1,7-8,17,26-28,32-35,38 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. 17 Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Paul obviously sees celibacy as the most preferrable state, and if certain men have been given this gift, then they should live by it. It is only by way of concession to lustful passions that Paul recommends pastors to be married.

He also writes to Timothy:

2 Tim 2:3-4 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.

I think this analogy can be applied to the celibate priesthood.

From what I understand if someone has the gift of singleness it is better to be single than to be married. Paul was a single apostle, was he not?
That is correct....which is why I think it's odd when people say that Paul is requiring pastors to be married. If Paul was doing that, he would be discrediting the very life he lived. He would also be contradicting himself, since he wrote to the Corinthians, "I wish that all were as I myself am" (1 Cor 7:7).

Pax Christi,

PS: Also see Part 2.

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