Christ's call to priestly celibacy

Christ's call to priestly celibacy

Fr Thaddeus Doyle

When I was ordained, I didn't believe that celibacy was God's will. I was aware that Peter was a married man, and that there were married priests in the early Church, and I believed that since Jesus selected married men that so too should the Church.

It is that, while married men were ordained in the early Church, as soon as they were ordained they were expected to renounce the use of their marriage and to live as brother and sister with their wives.

This clearly was the rule in the early Church. Around 217 Pope Callistus was bitterly opposed by St Hippolytus on the basis that he wasn't suspending those who broke this rule.

The Council of Elvira was held in Spain sometime between 300 and 309 AD. Canon 33 concerns clerics "who must live in abstinence with their wives." It lays down that clerics are forbidden to have relations with their wives or procreate children. Anyone who broke this rule was to be suspended.

In the early Church the rule was the same in Western Europe, in North Africa, in Rome, in Palestine and in the East. Married men could become priests, but once ordained, they were expected to abstain from marital relationships. A single person, once he was ordained a priest or even a deacon, could not marry; nor was a priest free to remarry if his wife died.

This rule could not have been introduced without major controversy, if it didn't come from the practice of the Apostles. There is no evidence of such a controversy. If it goes back to the Apostles, they must have derived it from their understanding of the teaching of Jesus Himself.

I firmly believe that several men left the priesthood who would not have left had they beeen told the full truth concerning the apostolic origins of priestly celibacy.

I believe that there has been a serious failure on the part of our Church leaders to ensure that all priests are given the full details concerning the apostolic origins of priestly celibacy.

First published in 'The Irish Catholic'.

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