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Anonymous wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Should priests be mandatorily celibate?

I ask this because of 1 Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:6-9, where clergymen had wives and children.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Titus 1:6-9

6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Anonymous

  { Based on 1 Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:6-9 should priests be celibate? }

John replied:

Dear Anonymous —

The issue of a married clergy is a practical and pastoral one. In fact, notice that the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus are known by all scholars as pastoral epistles. Paul is giving young bishops he left behind practical advice on how to run their respective Churches or what today we would call dioceses.

So let's back up to the Gospel of Matthew. In both chapters 16 and 18, Jesus give the Church the authority to bind and loose. This is a rabbinic expression which refers to:

  1. Discerning and applying Doctrine (Faith and Morals)
  2. Imposing disciplines and pastoral provisions, and
  3. Passing judgments and making decisions.

In fact in Matthew 16, Jesus paraphrases similar verbiage from Isaiah 22. In Isaiah, the Lord takes away the authority from one, Shebna, and gives it to another Eliakim (which in Hebrew means "God sets up") by the symbol of the Key. In the same manner, in Matthew 16, Jesus gives the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter.

So that establishes the Church's authority in all matters concerning doctrine, discipline, and practical administration of the "Eklesia," the Called Out People of God, or the Church.

If we move forward to Acts, chapter 15, we see this authority in action. The decision at hand was do non-Jews need to be circumcised and follow the ceremonial Jewish Law.

In this chapter, we see that Peter makes the doctrinal statement: No, gentiles need not be circumcised but then James, with agreement of the Council, adds a moral admonition to stay away from sexual impurity, and finally a pastoral provision about the meat of strangled animals. This would have included drinking any blood raw or cooked from animals, etc.

To this day, the doctrine and moral teaching have not, nor cannot, change but the pastoral provision about some foods was a compromise. They didn't force them to keep the whole dietary law so they wouldn't offend any Jewish believers. To break them of any pagan habits of drinking the blood of animals to get the "life force" of the animal, they forbid the eating of strangled animals. We no longer follow that provision in Church today. It no longer applies because it doesn't have any relevance.

I have said all this to lay the proper foundation to the answer you seek.

Against this background, we understand Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. At that time, the Church was growing mostly through conversions. Yes, infants were baptized but by and large, converts to the Church were new members. Therefore, most of the men seeking the priesthood were married men and the discipline became what it is today. You remained what you were when you were ordained. Married men were ordained, but if their wives died, they couldn't remarry.
If you were single when you were ordained, you remained single.

To this day, if you are married you can still be ordained under certain circumstances in the Western or Latin Rite of the Catholic Church but for the most part, for pastoral reasons, the Church in the West decided it would be better if She only ordained single men. In the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, virtually all their priests are selected from among married men, unless they want to be monks.

Celibacy became the norm or tradition in the Western Church early on because the persecution was much worse. The Church understood that a man who had a wife and kids had two loyalties.

Imagine having to choose whether to deny Christ and betray your flock, or watch you daughter raped, tortured, and murdered!

That's why to this day, even in the East, they only ordain celibate Bishops. That goes for Eastern Catholics and those in the Eastern Orthodox faith. Back in the days of persecution, they went after the church leaders so they definitely wanted to protect these men from such decisions.

Later in the West, it became apparent that it was just more practical, for a variety of reasons, for a man to serve his flock without having to also serve his wife and kids. And yes, there was also the matter of corruption. During the middle ages, priests were also political powers in their villages and hamlets. They sought to accumulate land for themselves and their families so the Church in the West really codified this discipline which we have to this day.

Nevertheless, their are exceptions. For instance Anglican Priests or Lutheran or Methodist Ministers coming into the Church who are already married, are quite often ordained into the Latin Rite.

We are seeing more and more of this every year.

So to sum up, the issue of a celibate clergy is simply a practical one, not a doctrinal one.
If tomorrow the Church were lead by the Holy Spirit to apply the same discipline across the board in both the West and the East, it could be so. I don't see it happening any time soon. I believe that there are other more pressing matters that Church faces. I certainly have no personal objection to having at least part of our clergy in the West married, but remember, a priest will never be allowed to marry after they are ordained. They must be married first and, to be honest, how many men can afford a family on what a priest makes? So there are practical considerations. If the Church does do it, they would probably look toward older men, whose kids are out of college and out of the house. Again, the role of the priest is the serve his flock so the Church needs to think in those terms. That is not to say married men don't bring a unique prospective to the priesthood. We have to trust the Holy Spirit to lead the Church in these matters.

I hope this helps,

Under His Mercy

John
P.S. please feel free to look through our database because we've answered this and similar questions before in detail.

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