Linggo, Marso 8, 2015



Adriel O. Meimban

CELIBACY among Catholic clergymen has been enforced as a doctrine since the fourth century.  As defined by theologians, celibacy means the prohibition to marry, implying the preservation of a bachelor’s life in order to devote one’s self to sacred vow as a priest.  Recently, however, the dogma on celibacy has come under heated inquiry by some quarters but especially among the priest themselves.  Even the incumbent pontiff, John Paul II has added fuel to the controversy by asserting ex cathedra that “celibacy is forever.”

Catholic defenders cite the Bible as their basis for upholding the sanctity of celibacy.  Verses 21, 23 of Deuteronomy 23 are used as biblical support.  It is well to quote:

“When you shall vow to a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not be slack to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you; and it would be a sin in you.  That which is gone out of your lips you shall keep and perform; just as you have vowed a freewill offering to the Lord your God, which you have promised with your mouth.” (Lamsa Version)

Celibacy: a Catholic Law
In using these scriptural passages, the Catholics argue that celibacy is merely a vow or discipline.  Is it true that it is really a mere vow or a simple discipline?  A Jesuit, John A. Hardon, in his book The Catholic Catechism:  A Contemporary of the Teachings of the Catholic Church (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.) sheds light on this matter on page 531:

“Inevitably then, the Council declared itself committed to a practice based on the mystery of Christ and his mission.  Admitting that celibacy was at first recommended to priests and only later ‘imposed on all who were to be promoted to sacred orders,’ it saw here an authentic development of the doctrine-become practice.  Hence, it concluded that this legislation, pertaining to those who are destined for the priesthood, this holy synod again approves and confirms.”

Clearly, the Jesuit writer affirms that celibacy is a doctrine, not merely discipline.  From whom did this doctrine on the celibate status originate?  Paulist Father Reverend Bertrand Conway in his book The Question Box (New York:  The Paulist Priest Press, 1929) replies, on page 317:

“Whether St. Peter was married or not is utterly irrelevant, for clerical celibacy is not a divine law, but a Church law dating only from the fourth century.

What is the vital implication of this statement?  Church law was merely legislated by man, not by God the Almighty.

Marriage, not Celibacy
Should we adhere to the laws and teachings of man?  In Titus 1:14, this is clarified by the Apostle Paul:  “And not give heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who hate the truth” (Ibid.).  Celibacy being a teaching of man, it should not be heeded.  What was God’s original command regarding marriage?  Did he conceive that man should live alone as a celibate?  Let us study this law on celibacy by tracing history through the first couple Adam and Eve through the passages written in Genesis 2:18, 21-24:

“Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper who is like him.  So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh in its stead.  And of the rib which the Lord God had taken from Adam he made a woman, and brought her to Adam.  And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh. (Ibid.)

God the Almighty instituted marriage.  Man and woman were designed to be one flesh.  Since Adam and Eve, God has not changed His command.

When did the Catholic Church enforce the vow that priests should not marry?  Reverend Conway testifies anew in his book:

“The earliest law enforcing celibacy was passed by the Council of Elvira (Canon 33) in Spain about the year 300.  Bishops, priests and deacons were to be deposed if they lived with their wives and begot children after their ordination… By the time of Leo the Great (440-461) the law of clerical celibacy was obligatory throughout the west…” (p. 313)

Did priests, by their own voluntary will and self-willed vow, practice celibacy?   No.  They were forced or coerced to accept the unmarried status.  It became obligatory for all clergymen to take a vow for the celibate status.  Evidently, then, the celibate practice is not a mere discipline.  It was , and is, forced upon the priests by their ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Dissent Against an Unnatural Law
What other proofs convince us that priestly celibacy is an enforced and not a voluntary act?  Historian Henry Elson in his well-researched volume Modern Times and The Living Past (Atlanta:  America Book Company, 1946) states on page 253:

“In 1073 Hildebrand ascented the papal chair and took the name Gregory VII.  One of the first changes he brought about was with reference to the married clergy.  An old rule of the Church was that priests should not marry, but many of them disregarded it.  Thousands of priests were living with their wives.  Gregory ordered them to put away their wives and forbade all others to marry.  There was wide and vehement protest against this ruling, but in the end the rule became universal in the Roman Catholic Church.”

If it is true that the priests themselves vowed to voluntary live the life of a single person, why, then, is there “wide and vehement” opposition to the papal ruling on celibacy?

Was the vehement protest among the priests voiced out only in the past?  Did not the priests of the modern era change their attitude towards the issue?  The testimony of current events through the newspaper Times Journal may be obtained (October 6, 1974 issue):

“For the second day in a row, prelates in the synod of bishops aired their dissent with the Vatican-imposed mandatory celibacy for priests.”

Dissent continued to be registered in the ranks of Catholic prelates.  Even during the Vatican I and II Councils in the 1960’s and 1970’s, celibacy was contested by thousands of dissenting priests.

The Example of Paul
That we can find solid examples of Apostles living a celibate life is an important argument brought forward by Catholic defenders and theologians to support the teaching on celibacy.  Apostle Paul’s writing (I Cor. 7:38) is used to buttress the argument.  Paul writes; thus:

“So the man who marries does well, but the one who doesn’t does even better” (TNTTEV).

The celibate, it is argued, does even better than the married man.  In verse 8 of the same chapter, defenders of the law have also found another basis to strengthen their reasoning.  Paul states in I Cor. 7:8:

“Now the unmarried and to the widows, I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do” (Ibid.).  In this verse, Paul clearly presents himself as a model for celibate existence.

What did the Apostle Paul actually mean by his statement “it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do”?  What was the context in which he made his statements — the context against which they should be correctly viewed?  Let us go back to I Corinthians, chapter 7, verses 6 to 9:

“I say this as a concession, not as a command, I wish all men were I am.  But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.  Now to the unmarried and the widows I say:  It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  (New International Version)

Apostle Paul’s statement had been interpreted to mean the reverse of his intent when he made it.  Not marrying, according to the Apostle was not a command but a concession.  He is counseling the unmarried, not commanding them, to stay single.  The exception, however, was spelled out:  If they are unable to control themselves from their passions, then it is better that they marry.

Exodus of the Clergy
How did the clergymen themselves prove that they are unable to maintain their self-control and discipline?  How did they show that it was impossible for them to restrain their natural passions?  A book entitled A Concise History of the Catholic Church by Thomas Bokenkotter (New York:  Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1977) documents on pages 402-403:

“But amid all the upheavals, no conciliar trend has been so disturbing to the bishops as the spectacular decline in vocations and the exodus of large numbers of priests, brothers, and nuns.  From 1962 to 1974 the total number of seminarians in the United States alone decreased by 31.4 percent, the number of religious brothers by 20 per cent, and the number of sisters by 18 per cent.  The number of American priests who left the public ministry between 1966 and 1972 stands at approximately 8,000 or 30 times what it was in any corresponding period before the council… No doubt the desire to get married has been a major influence on the decision of many to leave the priesthood, and polls taken worldwide indicate that a majority of priests favor changing the law of celibacy.”

With this documented reaction to the law, how can celibacy be forever?  The priesthood seems to be less of a motivation for the maintenance of celibate life than while human nature and its demands are evidently strong, as the recorded exodus signifies.

As of late 1980, how many more priests signified their intention to leave their priestly vocation due to inability to temper what might be called their “burning passions”?  The Times Journal (November 6, 1980) attests:  “Nearly 5,000 priests reportedly have asked to leave the priesthood, many of them to marry.”  At the Vatican, pending applications of a good number of priests have been reported.  The reason given by the priests is their desire to marry.  A case in point which clinches the truth that Apostle Paul’s advice for the unmarried to marry if they are unable to exercise self-restraint is illustrated in the following story reported in the June 3, 1973 issue of Bulletin Today:

“Anti-war priest Philip Berrigan and nun Elizabeth McAlister have been secretly married in their own eyes — since 1969 and made an “error in judgment by keeping it secret for so long.” 

This does not seem like an easy and simple case of giving up one’s religious vows.  From the newspaper account cited, the two religious named above are more concerned with keeping their secret than violating their vows!

Paulinian Counsel in Proper Context
In imitating Apostle Paul’s celibate life, the Catholic priests sometimes argue that the other Apostles, not only Paul, were banned from marriage.  What is the evidence that God did not prohibit the Apostles to take a spouse?  Apostle Paul himself declares in I Corinthians 9:5:  “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (New International Version))  God never countermanded his divine command that man and woman should marry.  Apostle Paul rhetorically asks about the Apostles’ right to take a believing wife just like the other Apostles.

According to the Apostle Paul, when can the decision not to marry be considered good and beneficial?  In I Cor. 7:37, Paul definitely clarifies:

“But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. (NEV)

When a man, after settling the issue in his mind, under no compulsion and with free control over his own will, finally decides not to marry, his decision is good, beneficial, and righteous, says Paul.  Think about the thousands of priests who have abandoned their vow in order to marry and about those whose pending applications at the Vatican continue to bother their conscience.

Rationale for Paul’s Counsel
If anyone, however, decides to ultimately be wed, does he commit any sin?  I Corinthians 7:28 explains:

“But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

Marriage according to Paul, does not make an individual a sinner.  But Paul forewarned that many troubles will confront those who marry.  Lest some quarters start believing that marriage is immoral or illegal.  Paul counsels further:

“Now for the matters you wrote about:  It is good for a man not to marry.  But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (I Cor. 7:1-2, NEV)

Priests admit that celibacy has afforded them the opportunity to devote more concentrated time and effort to their vocation.  Celibacy continues to be upheld today, especially under the conservative Pope John Paul II.  What is the real reason behind the prohibition to marry?  Will non-marriage result in a more efficient discharge of functions by the unmarried priests?  In a scholarly book written by three researchers, Lester Rogers, Fay Adams, and Walker Brown, entitled Story of Nations, page 188, this is documented:

“… Then Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) decreed that the clergy was no longer allowed to marry.  This change was intended to remove the temptation for a priest to use Church lands to support his family.”

By decreeing celibacy, the pope had subtly but effectively removed the temptation on priests to use Church finances for their wives and children.  Even Pope John Paul II affirms this further:

“In a homily at a mass which the pontiff celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica with the priests of the diocese of Rome, he said celibacy allows a priest to devote his time and his financial resources to the Church…” (Times Journal, November 11, 1980)

In the Final Analysis
Scripturally, therefore, the prohibition to marry is not sanctioned by God.  Celibacy as a law enforced in the Catholic Church was made by man.  Should we be surprised, however, if a sacred institution such as marriage would be banned by the Catholic clergy?  The truth is we shouldn’t be surprised at all.  Apostle Paul had prophesied the emergence of teachings such as that on celibacy:

“The spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons…

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods…” (I Tim. 4:1, 3, NEV)

The doctrine on celibacy is indeed a clear, unmistakable manifestation of demonic teaching.

The recent papal pronouncement that celibacy is forever, despite its seriousness and probable intent for the good of the Catholic Church, is devilish and scripturally unfounded.  — *


Bible Study Suggestion: If you have further questions, please feel free to visit the Iglesia ni Cristo congregation nearest you. A minister or an evangelical worker would be happy to answer any biblical question you have in mind.