Hi all, I have a question about some of the disciplines of the Catholic Church.

This question related to celibacy…now I understand that Paul was quite keen on celibacy and said he wished all could be celibate as he was. I also understand that the passage regarding overseers “husband to one wife” doesn’t infer a person HAS to be married…however this to me means that the Bible says a man can be married or single/celibate to be a Priest?

I understand disciplines are not doctrine and can be changed, but I cant understand why the church has this discipline when it is plain as day in the bible that priests can be married, yes they don’t have to be. I could understand if the Bible didn’t mention it with the focus on traditions etc, but it is in the Bible.

So why does the church have a rule (ie choose priests from those who are celibate) when it’s plain in the Bible that they can be married? :shrug:

Keep in mind that the discipline is primarily found in the Latin Church, with the Eastern Catholic Churches having a different discipline - with the East having only celibate Bishops, and also monastics who are, of course, celibate.

The discipline of celibacy is a fitting one prefigured in the practice of the priests in service at the Temple of Jerusalem. Because they were to offer sacrifice to God at the Temple they (in the rotation of their priestly duty) practiced sexual fasting during the time of their service. We see this at the beginning of St. Luke’s gospel when he presents us with the account of Zachary and Elizabeth and the conception of John. So it is quite biblical to practice sexual continence, the celibate priesthood living that out fully in witness to the celibacy of Christ Himself Who is both Priest and Victim - Christ’s own celibacy is what must be included in considering the discipline.

The Twelve were living celibate when they left their families to follow Our Lord and so were living with and like Him. Moreover, the Apostolic Offices of the Twelve was the highest office of the Church, which the Episcopal offices comes closest to but not equal to. The continence required of bishops followed the Twelve’s vocation to live totally for the Kingdom, as Our Lord says in Matthew 19 that some are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom.

At first this did not mean separation from one’s wife, but only separation from conjugal sex; this normally would not be a problem, since priests and bishops, and even deacons were chosen from the elders, i.e., those whose children were already raised.

The Church has always allowed couples who had no responsibilities towards offspring or others to mutually separate and enter religious life. In the first period of the Church when spirituality was higher than later (first 300 years) this was not so unusual and the Church following the practice of the Apostles as well as their example chose priests and deacons from among these spiritually mature elders, who though not separating from their wives who needed their financial and social support before such things as monasteries, lived like brothers and sisters with regard to sex. A great example of this in the West is St. Nicholas of Flue: after a prolific marriage, he and his wife spent the last 20 years in continence and he was blessed with prophecy and even living only on the Eucharist (15th century, I believe).

Further, while in the early Church there were many married bishops, even married Popes, we see that this was not always the case; in fact, if you look at the writing St. Ignatius you see that he names the first bishops of 4 major Episcopal sees: Rome, Antioch, Ephesus and Crete. In listing them, he says that the first men appointed to be bishops of the sees of Rome (Clement), Antioch (Evodius, then St. Ignatius of Antioch), Ephesus (St. Timothy, then John, the Beloved Disciple) and Crete (Titus) were all celibate men, and then Alexandria (St. Mark).*

If you want to study the issue at a deeper level, I recommend Cochini’s The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, Ignatius Press.

You’ve answered your own question to some degree, but let me expand on that.

Celibacy and the Catholic Priest

Many people believe that the Catholic Church violates the Word of God because it forbids people to marry (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3) or that it is wrong for priests to remain celibate. To get a clearer picture of this issue, let’s examine what the Bible has to say about the subject of celibacy.

Matthew 19:11-12
11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For 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.”

Jesus offers the celibate life as a gift and tells us that “The one who can accept this should accept it.”

1 Corinthians 7:1
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.

1 Corinthians 7:7
7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Paul reveals his own celibacy and offers an earnest wish that more people would follow his example.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9
8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Paul concedes that getting married is better than struggling with sexual temptation; for those that “cannot control themselves, they should marry.”

Is Paul completely opposed to marriage? Not at all. The book of Hebrews states:

Hebrews 13:4
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Why then does Paul recommend celibacy?

1 Corinthians 7:32-35
32I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34and 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. 35I 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.

From this passage, we can see Paul’s primary reason for advocating celibacy: he wants everyone to live in undivided devotion to the Lord, and in all of these verses, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus calls some men to the priesthood and offers them the gift of a celibate life to be lived in undivided devotion to God. Paul understands that not everyone is offered this gift and that not all to whom it is offered can or will accept it.

There are Latin Rite Catholic priests who are married; typically, these are men who were priests in the Anglican, Orthodox or other faith traditions and have converted to the Catholic faith after they were married in those churches. Under special circumstances, they may be ordained to serve as Catholic priests. Men who are already Catholic when they begin to discern their call to the priesthood must remain celibate. In other rites, Catholic priests may be married.

The Catholic Church forbids no man to marry. However, she does desire that those who will represent Christ, who will stand in persona Christi (in the place of Christ) when administering the sacraments as priests, be like their Lord as fully as possible. This means that like Jesus, they are celibate men prepared to sacrifice their own lives in the service of God and others.

The calling and the gift is offered by God; those who choose to accept it do so freely.

Thanks for the info :slight_smile:

So if I have understood this correctly and this is a huge simplification. The Catholic Church doesn’t ignore the one passage about being married, it acknowledges it, but understands the rest of the Bible to be in preference of celibacy?

Just one question…wasn’t Peter married?

Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll look it up!

Jesus wasn’t.

Peter isn’t Jesus :shrug:

As long as there are a sufficient number of men willing to be celibate, it makes sense to prefer celibate priests over married priests because, as St Paul says in 1 Cor 7:32-3, “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.”

Not only does a celibate priesthood give better witness to the world of the Christian hope of a world to come than a married priesthood gives, there are some practical reasons to prefer a celibate priesthood over a married priesthood. For instance, in theory, because he can devote more time to him ministry, a celibate priest is more productive than a married priest who must devote at least some time to his wife and children for those relationships to flourish.

A celibate priest is more cost-effective, cheaper to support, than a married priest and his wife and children. And, the less money the Church has to spend on the support of its priests, the more money it can give to charitable causes.

A celibate priest is more mobile, easier to relocate if necessary, than a married priest and his family; the lives of fewer people are disrupted by the relocation of a celibate priest than are disrupted by the relocation of a married priest and his wife and children.

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