They Write About Celibacy

By Ikenga Chronicles December 9, 2019

They Write About Celibacy

–Valentine Obienyem

I follow with interest the organized war against the Catholic Church on account of frailties of human nature. One sees among some of these critics uncanny aptitude for discussing and analyzing to its roots matters of a very difficult theological nature. Indeed, the news of clerical infidelity has been a subject of many analyses.

The controversy surrounding celibacy touch many sensitive nerves, because theological issues are one of the most impressive and touching phenomenon in the history of man. Going by the way and manner some people celebrate this controversy, one sees they represent factions that want a “Knock-out blow” – that is the utter destruction of Catholicism. Let us grudgingly rehearse the charges that critics level against Catholic priesthood. It essentially has to do with celibacy. First of all, some intelligently trace the route by which sacerdotal celibacy entered into the Catholic Church. They quote many Concilliar decisions, Papal enactments and bulls, synodal documents, and books written on the subject.

Beautiful! I personally do not see anything wrong with excursion into history. They seek to prove that “right from the apostolic times to the later part of the third century, celibate priesthood was optional and very rarely practiced by the Catholic clergy.” They need not worry themselves since Catholic Church had never said that celibacy was, ab initio, part of her practice nor has she ever refuted the fact that the development into full fledged celibacy was gradual. Much as appeal to history illuminates our understanding of the present, but in this case, these critics only unwittingly prove that the Catholic Church has a very rich history and dates back before 295 AD (Spanish Council of Elvira that has something to do with celibacy). This is for the information of those who shudder when Catholics affirm that their Church was the first Church. Tell me other Churches that date back beyond that year.

Celibacy is not among the Ten Commandments that are immutable nor is the injunction to man to “increase and multiply” a command. It is part of the decisions the Church took for the advancement of her apostolate. When priests married in the past, they consciously or not put their loyalty to wife and children above their devotion to the Church. For the sake of their children, they were tempted to accumulate money and property. The combined power of propertied priesthood was difficult for the Church to control. In her own wisdom, after many years of thought, the Church concluded that the priest should be totally devoted to God, the Church, and his fellow men; that his moral standard must be higher than that of the people and must confer upon him the prestige necessary for public confidence and reverence. Thus, when in 386, the Roman Synod advised celibacy, it had its reasons. When Pope Siricius ordered celibacy in 387, he was voicing the opinions of the Church. Pope Pius XII, writing in his Sacra Virginitas, (Holy Virginity.) Said: “Celibacy is the way of life precisely to devote oneself more freely to divine things, to attain heaven more readily and skilful efforts to lead others more readily to the Kingdom of heaven.”

It should be said, in fairness to these critics, that few priests temper their celibacy with promiscuity. But the Church did not in any way underestimate the power of sexual instinct repeatedly stirred by secular example and sight. This was part of the crisis that precipitated the debate on whether a priest not in the state of grace administered valid sacraments; this is beyond the scope of this work. The fact is that the Church is divine but is manned by human beings subject to all frailties of human nature. It is injudicious for critics to blow part of those frailties when they ought to temper their indictments by recording many other priests who keep to celibacy with rich, profound, magnetic, and powerful spirituality, which is immediately noticeable. A friend put it thus: “We hear too much – we ourselves speak too much of few priests who gain entrance into history by breaking celibate vows; we do not care to hear of those multitudes who cannot be made unchaste by any force.” These critics, like most of us, are guilty of this “selectivism.” To make clear their scorn for celibacy, they choose and quote books that are against celibacy. But we know now, more by hindsight, that nowhere are the prejudices of a critic likely to mislead him as when he seeks to determine the moral level of an institution or practice he does not like. In this case the dramatic exception, and what he thinks will interest his readers, will strike his eye. His vision will be further blurred if he approaches the problem with a thesis to prove for example, that celibacy should be stopped. And the records are ambivalent, capable, according to selective bias, of proving almost anything. This is celibacy critics in action; but this is one of the worse methods of appraising any issue to the benefit of the uniformed.

In their attempts to discredit celibacy, one of these critics referred to Martin Luther and his condemnation of celibacy. Let us re-echo him: “Martin Luther, a former Catholic priest abandoned the Church and led a group of protestants against a celibate priesthood which till this day remains the second largest single denomination in the history of Christendom.” Let it be stated for the record that celibacy was not the major point of disagreement between Martin Luther and the Church. Luther, contrary to what these critics would want us to believe, did not see anything wrong in celibacy; he merely was of the opinion, like Paul that whoever cannot keep to celibacy should get married. Hear Luther: “If a preacher of the Gospel cannot live chastely unmarried, let him take a wife, God has made that plaster for that sore.” Thus, Luther married a former Catholic Reverend Sister, a plaster for his sore.

Our critics talk about Protestants and their rejection of celibacy as if that was one of the major differences between them and Catholics. Not at all. As a Catholic, if I go to most Eastern European countries of the Orthodox faith, I can validly participate in their celebrations and receive their communion despite the fact that some of their priests marry. The fact is that they share apostolic succession with Catholics which other protestant Churches do not. The issue of celibacy is not dogmatic. Like our critics say, Protestantism is the second largest denomination in Christendom, but their doctrines often differ from one another as the virtues of war differ from those of peace. Catholic Church, sometimes, is even closer to some protestant churches as they are to one another. Protestantism is second in population after Catholicism, but Luther’s own Church-Lutheran Church exists substantially only in Germany and in pockets in some parts of the Scandinavia.

Celibacy critics go further to affirm that only Paul and Christ were examples of celibate that Catholics refer to, and that Paul maintained his celibacy because he “received direct spiritual anointing and strength from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” If these people are knowledgeable in Biblical history, they ought to know that the Bible is not explicit on the married status of all the apostles. Tradition has it that John was loved by Christ because he too was a celibate. If Christ himself was a celibate, what other good argument do they want about Catholic celibacy? Do they not know that priests are alter Christos (another Christ)? Christ is their model more than any other thing or person. This does not mean that they are infallible. Even one of Christ’s apostles, who received “direct anointing” from Christ still betrayed him. Besides, while Paul recommended celibacy for those who can keep it, he equally said that some are born eunuchs, some made eunuchs, and some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God.

“Incidentally there is no indication both in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to show that celibacy is a precondition for a priestly life;” thus argued our critics. These people ought to know the function of the Church’s magisterium, which is interpreting doctrines (not changing them) in line with developments, I do not know which Church these critics belong, but I know that no Church pays tax, even when Christ said that Caesar’s own should be given to him. Paying of taxes by the Church was stopped by Emperor Constantine, after his conversion to Catholicism, yet no Church has ever asked if non-payment of taxes by the Churches is in the Bible.

There is nothing wrong with celibacy except that there is renewed attack on the Catholic Church as the custodian of world morality. Reading all they write one will not know that such evils are many times magnified in other institutions. I am sure these people see the Church as a stumbling block against the misplacement of values which is becoming a norm in the world. If you are not the one to read situations critically, you would have started thinking whether evil deeds are now found only in Catholic Church. While they assault our ears with isolated cases of abuses that took place donkey years ago and will surely continue to take place in the society of men, nobody is telling us that these Catholic institutions under attack were also the bulwark of civilization over the years. This gale shall surely pass by.