Monday, August 27, 2007

Roundtable 24: The Marriage of Priests

By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, forced celibacy was the rule for all men who wanted to serve as priests [pastors] in the church, and in any position of ministry. Canon law requiring such was put into place in Germany some four hundred years previous to the Augsburg Confession. But much earlier, enforced celibacy was enacted. At a Roman council held by Pope Siricius in 386 an edict was passed forbidding priests and deacons to have conjugal intercourse with their wives (Jaffe-Löwenfeld, Regesta, I, 41), and the pope took steps to have the decree enforced in Spain and in other parts of Christendom (Migne, P.L., LVI, 558 and 728). Underlying the issue of forced priestly celibacy, as with the other abuses addressed at the end of the Augsburg Confession, is the question of the Church's authority to demand or forbid neither demanded, nor forbidden, by our Lord or His chosen Apostles in Sacred Scripture. Lutheranism maintains that there is no such authority in the Church to forbid what is free to all: marriage. The Scriptures clearly teach that St. Peter had a wife, the "first pope," as it is claimed by Rome, was himself a married man! His mother-in-law is referred to in Matthew 8:14 and Luke 4:38. Simon was thus married, and, according to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), had children. The same writer relates the tradition that Peter's wife suffered martyrdom (ibid., VII, xi ed. cit., III, 306). This example should have been enough to prove that forbidding priests and other clergy to marry is outside the faith. That there are men who are given the gift of celibacy is true (see Matthew 11:11 and 1 Corinthians 7:7), but that celibacy is a requirement of those who are given the churchly office is false. St. Paul assumes that there will be married me in the churchly offices of ministry when he comments on a man's marital status and his family situation in the Pastorals (see Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Tim. 3:1-7). The Augsburg Confession here rightly asserts that marriage is a gift from God to be received with thanksgiving by laypeople and clergy alike, and to teach otherwise is a teaching of the Evil One. When considering the problems among Roman Catholic clergy and child abuse one need ponder long and hard the extent to which insisting on celibacy among the clergy has not provided a supposed "haven" for homosexuals and others dealing with sexual problems, thinking that the "safety" of enforced celibacy will help them resist their particular sexual temptations. One can hear in the words of the AC the direct, personal experiences of those who were forced to live celibate lives, like Luther and Bugenhagen and others of the Lutherans who were at one time Roman clerics or monks. "For it is clear, as many have confessed, that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resultd from the attempt to lead a single life. Instead, a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end." (AC XXIII.6; Concordia, p. 46).


Paul T. McCain said...

Here is the Roman response to the Augsburg Confession's rejection of the forced vow of celibacy for clergy.

Their enumeration among abuses, in the second place, of the celibacy of the clergy, and the manner in which their priests marry and persuade others to marry, are verily matters worthy of astonishment, since they call sacerdotal celibacy an abuse, when that which is directly contrary, the violation of celibacy and the illicit transition to marriage, deserves to be called the worst abuse in priests. For that priests ought never to marry Aurelius testifys in the second Council of Carthage, where he says: "Because the apostles taught thus by example, and antiquity itself has preserved it, let us also maintain it." And a little before a canon to this effect is read: "Resolved, That the bishops, presbyters and deacons, or those who administer the sacraments, abstain, as guardians of chastity, from wives." From these words it is clear that this tradition has been received from the apostles, and not recently devised by the Church. Augustine, following Aurelius in the last question concerning the Old and New Testaments, writes upon these words, and asks: "If perhaps it be said, if it is lawful and good to marry, why are not priests permitted to have wives?" Pope Caliztus, a holy man and a martyr, decided thirteen hundred years ago that priests should not marry. The like is read also in the holy Councils of Caesarea, Neocaesarea, Africa, Agde, Gironne, Meaux, and Orleans. Thus the custom has been observed from the time of the Gospel and the apostles that one who has been put into the office of priests has never been permitted, according to law, to marry. It is indeed true that on account of lack of ministers of God in the primitive Church married men were admitted to the priesthood, as is clear from the Apostolic Canons and the reply of Paphnutius in the Council of Nice; nevertheless, those who wished to contract marriage were compelled to do so before receiving the subdiaconate, as we read in the canon Si quis corum Dist. 32. This custom of the primitive Church the Greek Church has preserved and retained to this day. But when, by the grace of God, the Church has increased so that there was no lack of ministers in the Church, Pope Siricius, eleven hundred and forty years ago, undoubtedly not without the Holy Ghost, enjoined absolute continence upon the priests, Canon Plurimus, Dist. 82 - an injunction which Popes Innocent I., Leo the Great and Gregory the Great approved and ratified, and which the Latin Church has everywhere observed to this day. From these facts it is regarded sufficiently clear that the celibacy of the clergy is not an abuse, and that it was approved by fathers so holy at such a remote time, and was received by the entire Latin Church. Besides, the priests of the old law, as in the case of Zacharias, were separated from their wives at times when they discharged their office and ministered in the temple. But since the priest of the new law ought always to be engaged in the ministry, it follows that he ought always to be continent. Furthermore, married persons should not defraud one the other of conjugal duties except for a time that they may give themselves to prayer. 1 Cor. 7:5. But since a priest ought always to pray, he ought always to be continent. Besides, St. Paul says: "But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, that he may please the Lord. But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife," 1 Cor. 7:32, 33. Therefore let the priest who should please God continually flee from anxiety for a wife, and not look back with Lot's wife, Gen. 19:26. Moreover, sacerdotal continence was foreshadowed also in the Old Testament, for Moses commanded those who were to receive the law not to approach their wives until the third day, Ex 19:15. Much less, therefore, should the priests, who are about to receive Christ as our Legislator, Lord and Savior, approach wives. Priests were commanded likewise to wear linen thigh-bandages, to cover the shame of the flesh (Ex. 28:42); which, says Beda, was a symbol of future continence among priests. Also, when Ahimelech was about to give the blessed bread to the servants of David he asked first if they had kept themselves from women and David replied that they had for three days. 1 Kings 21 (1 Sam. 21:4, 5). Therefore, they who take the living Bread which came down from heaven, John 6:32ff., should always be pure with respect to them. They who ate the Passover had their loins girded, Ex. 12:11. Wherefore the priests, who frequently eat Christ our Passover, ought to gird their loins by continence and cleanliness, as the Lord commands them: "Be ye clean," he says, "that bear the vessels of the Lord," Isa. 52:11. "Ye shall be holy, for I am holy," Lev. 19:2. Therefore let priests serve God "in holiness and righteousness all their days." Luke 1:75. Hence the holy martyr Cyprian testifies that it was revealed to him by the Lord, and he was most solemnly enjoined, to earnestly admonish the clergy not to occupy a domicile in common with women. Hence, since sacerdotal continence has been commanded by the pontiffs and revealed by God and promised to God, by the priest in a special vow, it must not be rejected. For this is required by the excellency of the sacrifice they offer, the frequency of prayer, and liberty and purity of spirit, that they care how to please God, according to the teaching of St. Paul. And because this is manifestly the ancient heresy of Jovinian, which the Roman Church condemned and Jerome refuted in his writings, and St. Augustine said that this heresy was immediately extinguished and did not attain to the corruption and abuse of priests, the princes ought not to tolerate it to the perpetual shame and disgrace of the Roman Empire, but should rather conform themselves to the Church universal, and not be influenced by those things which are suggested to them. For as to what Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:2: "To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife," Jerome replies that St. Paul is speaking of one who has not made a vow, as Athanasius and Vulgarius understand the declaration of St. Paul: "If a virgin marry, she hath not sinned." (1 Cor. 7:28), that here a virgin is meant who has not been consecrated to God. So in reference to : "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9), the pointed reply of Jerome against Jovinian is extant. For the same St. Paul says (1 Cor. 7:1): "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." For a priest has the intermediate position of neither marrying nor burning, but of restraining himself by the grace of God, which he obtains of God by devout prayer and chastising of the flesh, by fasting and vigils. Furthermore, when they say that Christ taught that all men are not fit for celibacy, it is indeed true, and on this account not all are fit for the priesthood; but let the priest pray, and he will be able to receive Christ's word concerning continence, as St. Paul says: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," Phil. 4:13. For continence is a gift of God, Wisd. 8:21. Besides, when they allege that this is God's ordinance and command, Gen. 1:28, Jerome replied concerning these words a thousand years ago: "It was necessary first to plant the forest, and that it grow, in order that that might be which could afterwards be cut down." Then the command was given concerning the procreation of offspring, that the earth should be replenished, but since it has been replenished so that there is a pressure of nations, the commandment does not pertain in like manner upon those able to be continent. In vain, too, do they boast of God's express order. Let them show, if they can, where God has enjoined priests to marry. Besides, we find in the divine law that vows once offered should be paid, Ps. 49 and 75; Eccles. 5, Ps. 50:14, 76:11; Eccles. 5:4. Why, therefore, do they not observe this express divine law? They also pervert St. Paul, as though he teaches that one who is to be chosen bishop should be married when he says: "Let a bishop be the husband of one wife;" which is not to be understood as though he ought to be married, for then Martin, Nicolaus, Titus, John the Evangelist, yea Christ, would not have been bishops. Hence Jerome explains the words of St. Paul, "that a bishop be the husband of one wife," as meaning that he be not a bigamist. The truth of this exposition is clear, not only from the authority of Jerome, which ought to be great with every Catholic, but also from St. Paul, who writes concerning the selection of widows: "Let not a widow be taken into the number under three score years, having been the wife of one man," 1 Tim. 5:9. Lastly, the citation of what was done among the Germans is the statement of a fact, but not of a law, for while there was a contention between the Emperor Henry IV, and the Roman Pontiff, and also between his son and the nobles of the Empire, both divine and human laws were equally confused, so that at the time the laity rashly attempted to administer sacred things, to use filth instead of holy oil, to baptize, and to do much else foreign to the Christian religion. The clergy likewise went beyond their sphere - a precedent which cannot be cited as law. Neither was it regarded unjust to dissolve sacrileges marriages which had been contracted to no effect in opposition to vows and the sanction of fathers and councils; as even today the marriages of priests with their so-called wives are not valid. In vain, therefore, do they complain that the world is growing old, and that as a remedy for infirmity rigor should be relaxed, for those who are consecrated to God have other remedies of infirmities; as, for instance, let them avoid the society of women, shun idleness, macerate the flesh by fasting and vigils, keep the outward senses, especially sight and hearing, from things forbidden, turn away their eyes from beholding vanity, and finally dash their little ones - i.e. their carnal thoughts - upon a rock (and Christ is the Rock), suppress their passions, and frequently and devoutly resort to God in prayer. These are undoubtedly the most effectual remedies for incontinence in ecclesiastics and servants of God. St. Paul said aright that the doctrine of those who forbid marriage is a doctrine of demons. Such was the doctrine of Tatian and Marcoin, whom Augustine and Jerome have mentioned. But the Church does not thus forbid marriage, as she even enumerates marriage among the seven sacraments; with which, however, it is consistent that on account of their superior ministry she should enjoin upon ecclesiastics superior purity. For it is false that there is an express charge concerning contracting marriage, for then John the Evangelist, St. James, Laurentius, Titus, Martin, Catharine, Barbara, etc., would have sinned. Nor is Cyprian influenced by these considerations to speak of a virgin who had made a solemn vow, but of one who had determined to live continently, as the beginning of Letter XI., Book I sufficiently shows. For the judgement of St. Augustine is very explicit: "It is damnable for Virgins who make a vow not only to marry, but even to wish to marry." Hence the abuse of marriage and the breaking of vows in the clergy are not to be tolerated.


Jeffery said...

Truly a fascintating subject that is both timely and rooted in tradition. I wonder if it would be fair to say, that among all of the areas that "early tradition" provides guidance for interpreting Holy Scripture, the "most suspect" is in the area of human sexuality. The aversion to all "pleasures of the flesh" held by many fathers, seems most manifest when it comes to the "joy of sex" between a husband and wife. This false emphasis has had a "ripple effect" on the Body of Christ not just in the teaching on marriage of priests, but also the doctrines concerning the blessed virgin Mary.

What do you think?

wm cwirla said...

On that long and happy note...

I recall being lunch companions with the secretary to the archbishop of St. Louis. We were talking about clergy celibacy. I asked him what he thought about the apostle Paul's requirement that that the clergy in Ephesus (bishops and deacons alike) be married men with children. He replied, "No doubt about it. You Lutherans have the Scriptures in your corner; we have a dozen or more centures of church tradition to deal with."

It's a lot simpler being Lutheran.

wm cwirla said...

Just talking to myself...

On the other side of things is the difficulty many unmarried Lutheran pastors have in their congregation's expectation that their pastor will be happily married and have enough kids to keep the Sunday School Christmas program afloat.

There is a delightful paradox in the Scriptures. St. Paul prefers the single state to the married (1 Cor. 7:32ff), yet he insists on married bishops and deacons in Ephesus (1 Tim 3:1ff), perhaps in polemic respons to the creaping "gnostic" tendencies he finds there (1 Tim 4:1-5).

It seems there are potential difficulties in both directions. The dangers inherent with enforced celibacy are all over the news today. And many good pastors have had their ministry compromised by marital and family difficulties. The old evil foe will always find a way.

William Weedon said...


Well, there is Revelation 14:4. And of course, it is the teaching of the Lutheran Symbols that virginity is a higher state than matrimony, though both can be and are pleasing to God when lived in chastely (and chaste here obviously means something different for the celibate than for the married) with confidence in the Mediator.

William Weedon said...


Great words from the bishop's assistant!

wm cwirla said...

The archbishop's assistant also acknowledged that it was easier to be Lutheran.

But, like Staupitz, he knew where his pension plan was.

wm cwirla said...

Speaking of bishops, from that marvelous pastoral theology, "How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious" (Charles Merrill Smith) - four reasons why a pastor should marry:

"First, a cergyman who remains unmarried for more than a year after graduation from seminary is suspected of being abnormal, immoral, or chicken.

Second, there will be those who will speculate that he has taken St. Paul on marriage too seriously and has made a secret vow of celibacy. So far as your parishioners are concerned, you may be as celibate as a Cistercian monk, but they will insist that you practice it within the married state.

Third, somewhat more than half your congregation will be women, and all women - single, married or widowed - resent a male eligible for marriage who chooses to remain unwed.

Fourth - and here is the overriding argument in the mind of the congregation - since the church owns a parsonaage and already has arrived at a salary figure below which it cannot go and maintain its conviction, however illusory, that it is a humane institution, it is only sensible to get two employees for the price of one. therefore, it boils down to a business proposition. It would be damaging and vulgar to admit to this, however, so the tradition and the folklore was manufactured to mask it." (pp 21-22 for those who want to consult their own copy)

Smith goes on to counsel that the pastor should select a wife who is 1) not overly stylish or sexy, 2) actually wants to marry a minister, and 3) has money.

T Jerabek said...

I appreciate the quotes from Smith, as the four reasons to the issue of married clergy. While maybe attempting to be humorous, there is much truth found in those line.

Now, to more serious issues. There is something to be said for both married and celibate clergy. Being married, I have my best "support group" at home... My best friend and my sons help me retain my sanity. The pastor's life is a lonely life. A built in social life (in his own home) are a great boon.

It is also true that a married man is divided in his loyalties. There are times my fulfilling of my ordination/installation vows run headlong into the Biblical mandates in regard marriage/fatherhood vow/obligations.

I jokingly refer to the festival season of the church year (Advent through Easter) as that time my wife becomes a church widow and my children church orphans.

I am blessed to have a great wife, someone pleased to be the husband of a pastor. I am doubly blessed to have children who are proud of their father being a pastor.

Yes, the challenges of the pastor who has his own home in order are many. Sometimes the obligations to both vows can be in conflict. But what a wonderful witness to the congregation of what marriage is, but I am not talking only of man and wife - but of Christ to his church.

wm cwirla said...

The last time I checked, only one of those vows has "until death parts us" and it isn't the ordination vow. I'm always more than a little nervous when marriage is used as an analogy for the relationship between a pastor and his congregation. Shepherd and flock works fine.

BTW, my grandfather hailed from the Ukraine where he was an Eastern Rite Catholic. Though under the papacy in Rome, their priests usually are married. So much for consistency.

Working definition for Tradition: "We make it up as we go along."

L P Cruz said...

Pr. Cwirla,

(LOL). You got humor.

How about this definition of tradition: Because we say so.


Paul T. McCain said...

On a more serious note, reading this particular article of the Augustana, one can't help but wonder to what extent the great tragedy of clergy sexual misconduct could have been prevented in the Roman Church if it had permitted priests to marry as a result of the Reformation's call for it. I just read the other day that yet another Roman Catholic Archdiocese is shelling out over $200 million dollars in damages to victims of sexual abuse and misconduct by Roman priests and other religious. Sad!

wm cwirla said...

I'd hesitate to posit a direct causal linkage here. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

On the other hand, one has to wonder if there isn't some correlative relationship that draws the sexually disordered to a life of enforced religious celibacy. I'm sure the relationship is complex, to say the least.