What follows is a debate that took place on my Facebook page last October (2009). It really shouldn’t be allowed to slip down the wormhole of past FB posts. It’s worth reviewing. Perhaps my RC sparring partner, Bryan Cross, will want to add something to this.
It began with me posting a quotation from Martin Luther on enforced priestly celibacy:
. . . the pope has as little power to give this command as he has to forbid eating, drinking, the natural processes. . . No one, therefore, is duty bound to keep this commandment, and the pope is responsible for all the sins that are committed against this ordinance, for all the souls lost thereby, and for all the consciences thereby confused and tortured (Plass, What Luther Says, p. 888).
That was the catalyst for the following debate. (The reader should know that my FB rules forbid posting links to Roman Catholic propaganda sites in comments. That will explain a few lacunae in the flow of the argument.)
1. Kevin Branson: The Church has deemed it best that her ministers be single, and celibate, as Paul deemed it best. At present, the Church therefore requires a vow of celibacy from priests. Someday, that could change, and in certain situations exceptions are made even now, but ordinarily, them’s the rules. Nobody puts a gun to a priest’s head and forces them to take a vow of celibacy, nor did anyone force Luther to do so. It was his own choice, as it was his own choice to break his vow of celibacy.
2. Shawn Honey: Celibacy was chosen by Paul and he recommended it to others; it was not bound upon him from the outside, nor did he bind others to it. Peter chose to marry as did other Apostles and, presumably, countless elders (“husband of one wife…”). I think the point pertains to whether a church has the right to bind the consciences of its ministers in a way that Scripture seems to speak against.
3. Craig Lawrence Brann: True as Mr. Branson’s points are, it remains that the Apostle Paul had good reason for suggesting that men facing an apocolypse not be wed and likewise that women not become pregnant—this counsel was not at all timeless or abstract and it really is one of the roman church’s silliest Order’s to make apology for. Wasn’t it the same Apostle who called forbidding marriage a, ‘doctrine of demons.’ Hardly a class of teaching that ought only be obtained by the clergy!
4. Jeff Meyers: Good points, Sean. Remember, too, that the 1 Tim 3 passage (“husband of one wife”) is about the qualifications for “bishop” (episkopos).
5. Jeff Meyers: Craig, right on. Enforced celibacy for pastors is demonic, as Paul says.
6. Jeff Meyers: Kevin, get real. According to Rome, everyone that wants to be a pastor/priest must take a vow of celibacy. That is one big ecclesiastical gun at the head of every young man who desires to serve the church as a pastor. Also, “the Church” has not deemed it best for her ministers to be singe. Nope. ROME has arrogated to herself the make-believe position of sole authority over the entire church of Jesus Christ, East and West. Rome has no authority to make such a decree.
7. Jeff Meyers: BTW, you apologists for Roman tyranny, don’t bother to put links to RC web sites here in my FB comments. My FB page is not the place for you to seduce people to follow you to Rome. I’ll delete them.
8. Kevin Branson: Jeff, my comment was placed before your “warning”, or maybe they passed each other like ships in the night, or maybe I didn’t refresh soon enough to be “warned”. My point, without the link, is that celibacy is not required of all Catholic priests. The link would have explained the exceptions, but nevermind. Too much information can be bad. My other point which was deleted is that if one truly believes the Catholic Church is demonic, then that should be plainly stated, rather than merely offering relatively polite criticisms of the errors of the Catholic Church, and/or the Pope.
9. Jeffrey Steel: I am honestly trying to figure out why you even care about this Jeff… I think if you’re going to engage with the discipline of priestly celibacy as the norm, dispensations are given to some married men by the way, you need to understand the Catholic Church’s teaching on the theology of the body.
10. Jeff Meyers: Kevin I didn’t say the Catholic church was demonic. I only repeated Paul’s statement that for the church to forbid marriage is a demonic doctrine.
11. Jeff Meyers: Jeff: it’s the norm and ideal that is the problem. That dispensations are given to some men is lame. That doesn’t exonerate Rome from gross error in demanding celibacy of pastors and bishops. The prohibition is against the Scriptures’ explicit instructions and warnings. No “theology of body” can ever compensate for that.
12. Jeffrey Steel: Jeff, I understand your concerns but how much of your (and most of us in the West) view of sexuality been shaped by the Western culture? The Church doesn’t hold a gun to men’s head to be a priest; that is a gift given and men offer themselves to the vocation of celibate chastity. Pope Paul VI admitted exceptions but East and West are very similar here. In the East, for instance, only celibate men can be bishops. If a man has the sacrament of marriage prior to receiving the sacrament of ordination he maintains both until his wife dies which then he remains celibate and chaste for the remainder of his life. The Latin rite Church is the same with regards to exceptions. It’s not lame, it’s the charity of the Church recognising the prior valid ministry of men from outside her walls and discerning a call to vocational ministry and marriage. Celibacy is freely chosen.Celibacy is a charism. It is the total gift of self in and with Christ to his Bride and it expresses that relationship of the priest’s service to the Church and to Jesus. Theology of the Body does compensate lame shots at a theology of the chrism of priestly celibacy.
13. Tim Gallant: Celibacy is indeed a charism. And one which very few have, which is why the so-called celibate priesthood is one very long train wreck.
14. Kevin Branson: Not sure exactly what Tim Gallant is specifically referring to as regards the “very long train wreck” that is the celibate priesthood. Probably more than just the Catholic child sex abuse problem, but that is probably part of what he is referring to. In observance of the “rule” for Catholics who post in this thread, I have to be careful not to post a link here, so you will have to dig up the answer to this question for yourselves: What is the ranking of the relative incidence of sexual crimes against children amongst these four groups: a) Catholic priests, b) protestant ministers, c) school teachers, and d) family members? Hint: you are more likely to rank these in the correct order if you successfully ignore the media’s reporting regarding Group A). And yes, sexual abuse is very bad, no matter who commits the sin.
15. Tim Gallant: The one long train wreck is not simply the sexual abuse of children by clergy, which is simply part of the pattern, or should I say the tip of the iceberg. Those who want to know can dig deeply into the inconvenient pregnancies caused throughout history by monks and priests, to say nothing of those who remained technically celibate but who were anything but on any other level. What is sown is reaped. The Roman church has on the one hand exalted a particular sort of life as spiritual unlike “secular” life, and on the other tied it to celibacy. The result is the necessary conclusion that truly spiritual life requires celibacy, and that leads people who have no charism into an abyss.
Yes, it is indeed one long train wreck, and it is a train wreck that is built into the system.
16. C Frank Bernard: As much as I like Luther, I don’t think I like “[…]and the pope is responsible for all the sins that are committed against this ordinance[…]” Where’s this in the bible? I think I’d stick to demonic (antithesis) references for lies/false doctrine, that rulers will undergo stricter judgment, etc. As Luther realized, so do we (adults, assuredly those 20 and over) have a responsibility to realize that anyone who tries to bind the conscience of those called to a 1Tim3 or Titus1 office by prohibiting the subsequent entrance to the blessed covenant of marriage is plainly biblically wrong and should be counseled by the best elders (each most likely having a godly wife and godly children). We no longer have the high office of apostles (2nd only to Jesus) but even when we did, there were multiple apostles who could rebuke one another (e.g., to Peter’s face and god-breathed into scripture for all to take heed).
17. Jeff Meyers: Charles, Any pope at any given time is responsible for the Roman church’s well-being as the chief pastor of that flock. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes on judgment day. They are indeed responsible, just as Jesus told the Jewish leaders that they would answer for all the sins of their predecessors if they didn’t heed his warning (Mat. 23).
18. C Frank Bernard: That’s a good point, but skimming that chapter I wonder if the rulers alive in that generation were about to receive the very unique judgment in AD 70. The blood wrath of the saints was stored and poured on that particular gen of rulers.
19. Jeff Meyers: Charles, the AD 70 judgment was unique, but it was also an example. The connection between pastor and people is so strong that Paul can command Timothy: “Watch yourself and your doctrine closely; persevere in them: for in doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). The salvation of our people depends, in some sense, on our example and teaching as pastors. The pope has a very large church for which he is directly responsible.
20. Bryan R Cross: Before addressing Luther’s statement itself, we have to step back and consider the meta-level question of how to evaluate such a statement. If Luther’s statement were false, how would we know?
21. Jeff Meyers: If Rome’s law requiring celibacy for priests were false, how would we know?
22. Bryan R Cross: It would be contrary either to natural law or to the Church’s dogmas concerning morality.
23. Jeff Meyers: Rome’s law is contrary to both created nature and the Word of God’s explicit, clear teaching about marriage and ministry in the church. Church dogma can be wrong and is always answerable to the Scriptures. This is one of those unmistakably clear instances of Rome’s error.
24. Bryan R Cross: Jeff, celibacy itself is not contrary to created nature. Otherwise, anyone who did not marry would be acting contrary to nature. That would make Jesus a pervert. So the conditional requirement of celibacy is not a violation of natural law, because the priestly vocation is a supernatural calling, not a natural calling. Nor is the celibacy requirement contrary to any Church dogma (so it is irrelevant to this question whether the dogma is right or wrong). The Bible nowhere teaches that the presbyter must be married (or must have been married). The discipline in the NT time was not that marriage was a necessary condition for ordination, but that no one having more than one wife could be ordained. So the celibacy requirement does not contradict Scripture; it is fully compatible with Scripture.
25. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, what a tangled mess of an argument. I’ll let the readers of this tread decide if it’s sophistry or not. Of course, the Bible does not require marriage for a presbyter or bishop. I never said anything like that. What the Scriptures do indeed condemn is “forbidding people to marry,” and that is the real issue here. The Roman way is to forbid marriage in the priesthood (little dispensations to various groups here and there notwithstanding). That violates God’s Word with a vengeance. Adam had to learn that it was “not good to be alone.” Man and woman are made to marry. If there are those who chose NOT to marry for good reasons, they are free not to do so. But it is a special and dangerous calling, as Jesus makes clear. There are all sorts of possible licit reasons for remaining celibate, including the desire to serve Christ’s church as a pastor/bishop without distractions. A man is free to embrace celibacy if he wants. But he will be embracing something against his created nature. Not everyone can do so. Jesus chose to do so, but he only had three years of service. Not taking a wife was his wise choice. But the implications of the fact that he chose married apostles is pretty obvious, except to Roman churchmen blinded by their erroneous tradition.
26. C Frank Bernard: Bryan: celibacy requirement or option? Where’s the requirement?
27. Bryan R Cross: Charles, if your question is “Where in Scripture is the requirement of celibacy for the priesthood stated?” then we see that this disagreement (between Protestants and the Latin Rite discipline) is itself based on a deeper disagreement concerning whether or not any ecclesial discipline must be stated in Scripture.
28. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, in your note to Charles I see that you’re still not getting it. It’s not just that there’s no requirement for celibacy in Scripture. Rather, it’s that by explicit example (apostles, etc.) and direct command (1 Tim 3; 1 Cor. 9:5), marriage is commended to pastors and bishops. To decree clerical celibacy is in direct violation of explicit biblical teaching.
29. C Frank Bernard: So the requirement citation I’m inquiring about is first in the post-biblical Latin Rite? How exactly did we go from the apostolic requirement of having no more than 1 wife to having no more than 0?
30. Jeff Meyers: That’s exactly the way to put it, Charles. The Bible says that a presbyter/bishop “must be the husband of one wife.” The Roman church decrees that a presbyter/bishop is forbidden to have one wife. So how’s all that Aristotelean logic working for you?
31. Bryan R Cross: Jeff, Catholics agree that St. Paul condemns forbidding marriage. The context for that statement by St. Paul is proto-gnosticism, based on the notion that marriage is evil, and that bringing children into the world is evil, because matter is evil. But you are interpreting Paul’s statement to be without qualification, i.e. anyone, regardless of their vocation state, has the right to marry in that vocational state. Whereas the Catholic Church understands St. Paul’s statement with an implicit qualification: anyone, has the right to choose the vocation of marriage [which is good and holy], but that does not mean that St. Paul is saying that anyone in the priestly vocation has the right to marry, or that everyone has the right to both vocations simultaneously. So it is not enough to appeal to 1 Tim 4:3, because both sides interpret it differently. And it is not prima facie self-evident which interpretation is correct.
32. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, for the church to forbid pastors to marry is against explicit NT teaching (1 Tim. 3; 1 Cor. 9:5; etc.) and is violating Paul’s warning against “forbidding” people to marry. Proto-gnostic or not, the problem is when church authorities FORBID pastors from marrying. If individuals want to forgo marriage, that’s their choice. But to authoritatively decree that no one who is married may be a pastor is in DIRECT violation of Pauline teaching. Paul says that a pastor/bishop “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). Rome says that no man with one wife may be a pastor/bishop This is demonic.
33. Bryan R Cross: Jeff, I’m aware that many of the Apostles were married. But again, the question is whether their being married entails that all subsequent bishops and priests have a right to be ordained *and* be married. I don’t see how it does. The fact that some of the Apostles were married does not entail that the Church does not have the authority to require that those men who wish to be ordained as priests in the Church lay down their right to married, for the sake of Christ.
34. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, if the apostolic example is not normative, then where in the world is Rome getting the inspiration for her decree to DEMAND celibacy for pastors and bishops? Paul tells us: demons. Once again, the clear contradiction:
The Holy Spirit says through Paul that a pastor/bishop “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).
Demons speak through Rome saying that no man with one wife may be a pastor/bishop.
35. Bryan R Cross Jeff, the 1 Tim 3 passage can be ready either way, as I pointed out. It can be read as a requirement that every priest be married to one wife (or have been married only to one wife), OR it can be read as forbidding the ordination of someone with two or more wives. The Church has always understood it in the latter sense, never in the former sense. So it seems to me that the burden of proof is on those who claim that it means that every priest *must* be married. Either way, it does not teach that every man has a right to both vocations simultaneously.
Regarding 1 Cor 9:5, of course St. Paul had the right to take a wife. Catholics fully agree. That doesn’t show that the Church has no authority to require that those men who wish to be ordained as priests in the Church lay down their right to married. So I don’t see the Church’s celibacy discipline to be “in DIRECT violation” of any of St. Paul’s statements. Of course I can see how you read them that way, but I don’t think you see how a Catholic can see these verses as fully compatible with the Church’s discipline. Just pointing to verses doesn’t resolve the disagreement, because interpretation is involved.
36. C Frank Bernard: Regarding 1 Tim 3: “Either way, it does not teach that every man has a right to both vocations simultaneously.” But it does teach, either way and at a minimum, that ordained men could have both vocations simultaneously. But then somehow later the “Latin Rite” and/or “the Church” forbade marriage after ordination? Care to explain the birth of this celibate discontinuity?
37. Jeff Meyers Bryan, are you kidding me? The burden of proof is on Rome that says that every pastor/priest MUST be unmarried. Such a requirement flies in the face of the entire Bible, Old and NT, re: Levitical priests or Christian apostles and pastors.
Granted that 1 Tim. 3 forbids the ordination of anyone with more than one wife. It does. But what it does NOT do is FORBID a man who has one wife from being ordained. Rome does that. Not Paul. Titus 1:6 says that a presbyter “must be the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. . .” Children. Are you now going to present to me some sophistry that concludes that Paul’s instruction was not meant to lead us to believe that the men presented for ordination to presbyter were ordinarily married and had children?
38. Bryan R Cross: Jeff, if you are interpreting 1 Tim 3 to mean that a pastor/bishop “must be the husband of one wife”, then the instant his wife dies, he loses his ordination, and can’t be re-ordained until he remarries. But you don’t believe that. So St. Paul cannot mean there that every priest/bishop must be married. There are other, more charitable explanations besides “demons” for why Rome adopted the celibacy requirement. It is the same reason why the Orthodox require celibacy of their bishops; for the reasons St. Paul explains in 1 Cor 7. “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.”
39. Jeff Meyers: No, Bryan. Quote 1 Cor. 7 all you want. I referred to it obliquely earlier. Paul was talking about making responsibly choices. Yes, it applies to the pastorate. I grant that. But not even Paul will do what the Pope has arrogantly done: authoritatively decree that all men who enter the pastorate be celibate. Paul carefully avoids using his authority as an apostle to demand celibacy.
Let me be clear here. For a man to choose celibacy as a pastor based on 1 Cor. 7 considerations is not demonic. For the church or those in authority to counsel men on the benefits of celibacy for ministers is NOT demonic. But when the pope and leaders of the Roman church make celibacy ecclesiasetical LAW and FORBID marriage to men entering the ministry or serving as pastors, well, that is demonic. Talk to Paul about the charity of that judgment, not me.
40. Bryan R Cross: Charles, you wrote, “But it does teach, either way and at a minimum, that ordained men could have both vocations simultaneously. ” I agree. But everything lies in the term ‘could have’. Does the ‘could have’ mean “have an intrinsic right to”, or does it mean “are compatible”? The Church sees it in the latter sense. That is why married Anglican priests, who become Catholic, can then be ordained Catholic priests and remain married. The compatibility of the two vocations does not entail that the Church may not require as a discipline that those men seeking ordination in the Latin Rite remain celibant.
41. C Frank Bernard: If the Latin Rite is merely the name assigned to the celibate ordained, no big deal in many ways. But I suspect the Latin Rite is either the only ordination option presented in some churches and/or has privileges not offered to the married ordained.
42. Bryan R Cross: The Latin Rite is one among 23 Rites within the Catholic Church. And so far as I know (though I don’t know very much about the other Rites), the Latin Rite is the only one requiring celibacy of priests. So if someone wanted to be married and discerned a vocation to be a Catholic priest, he could pursue ordination in the other Rites.
43. Garrett Craw: Bryan that seems rather convenient to me. So, its okay to be married if you’re in some far-flung ethnic group but not in the heart of the vast majority of the RCC? That makes no sense. BTW speaking of anecdotal train wrecks. Everyday I have to wade through the train wreck while wearing my Protestant dog collar because people think I’m some weird unmarried creepo leering at their children. That’s just the real-world out here in Los Angeles where the pedophile priest scandal blew up like a hydrogen bomb.
44. Justin Donathan: Bryan, how is it that Apostolic counsel and practice is not normative for the church and can be abrogated in the case of celibacy for priests, while so much of the rest of RC teaching and practice is based precisely on Apostolic precedent?
45. Bryan R Cross: Garrett, the solution to abuse in the Church is not to start a sect, but to stay within and serve and reform, with charity and patience, even if that means white martyrdom or red martyrdom. Two wrongs don’t make a right; that’s why schism from the Church is never justified. Trying to reform the Church from the outside is a dead-end. How much longer would it take before that became evident? Another 500 years? We’ve got to realize that the outside strategy was mistaken. Any Protestant who is tempted to complain about the state of certain Catholics must first consider the responsibility he bears for that state by not being in the Catholic Church. I’m not saying this as a criticism of you or other people like you; on the contrary, it is because of the great deal of respect I have for PCA/CREC people like yourself (and all those solid men that I graduated with at CTS) that I believe that when Protestants finally bring their gifts back into the Church, the effect in the Church will be powerful. I wasn’t ignorant of the abuse scandal when I returned; I came to believe that that’s no excuse for remaining in schism.
Justin, discipline and dogma are not the same. For example, it is not a sin to eat meat from animals killed by strangulation (Acts 15). That’s a discipline that was based on the time/context. But Apostolic dogma can never be revoked.
46. Garrett Craw: “Trying to reform the church from the outside.” Gotta love that one. I think you’re trying to get the conversation away from the Bible back into philosophy so you can talk about tradition. The Church has been very powerful in the last 500 years. Its Protestants that are taking the Gospel to Africa and China not the RCC. This actually reminds me of debating Marxists. Rather than admit that some things really don’t work and never have (like enforced clerical celibacy and Utopian proletariat states). You still haven’t answered the biblical arguments put forth by Jeff and others and that is problematic.
47. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, this is pure arrogance: “when Protestants finally bring their gifts back into the Church.” I don’t need to return. I was baptized into the Church 52 years ago and have never left it. What you conveniently overlook is that men tried to reform the church from the inside in the 16th century. Rome refused. She exiled them and the declared herself to be the true Church at the council of Trent. Before the 16th century there was no Roman Catholic church. There was just the Church. Now there is this arrogant sect, ruled from Rome, that arrogates to itself the title of “the Church.”
48. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, you write: “But Apostolic dogma can never be revoked.” This is exactly what Rome has done by mandating celibacy – revoked Apostolic dogma.
The Apostle Paul says that a pastor/bishop “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).
Rome’s dogma says that no man with one wife may be a pastor/bishop.
And don’t give me some nuanced definition of “dogma” in an attempt to escape the issue.
49. Valerie Kyriosity: If I may add my two cents to the melee (sorry for the mixed metaphor, but I didn’t want to claim any more violent contribution), Jesus’ unmarried state has been mentioned a couple of times as a model of celibacy. Well, only of premarital celibacy. Jesus’ whole incarnation is about His marriage. All of creation is about His marriage. He is the ultimate example of marriage which all human marriages are to reflect. If a man — pastor or layman — would be like Jesus, let him lay down his life to seek and sanctify a bride. And note that it’s only one bride He came for…not a harem as sentimental or hypermystical folks on both sides of the Tiber would have it. He’s neither the husband of each nun who dons a wedding dress to take her vows in a perversion of a marriage ceremony nor of each girl of either sex who sways gently to the creepy, quasi-romantic music of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” tunes at the local evangellyfish church.
50. Bryan R Cross Jeff, regarding whether before the 16th century there was a Roman Catholic Church, here are Aquinas’ dying words, receiving Viaticum: “I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.”
51. Jeff Meyers: Bryan, that some, such as Thomas, obsequiously bowed to Rome, does not mean that all theologians and churches in Europe, let a lone the entire world, did so. You can find examples of theologians, bishops, and pastors from the 4th century on that sought to make Rome the center and authority for the entire church. Sure enough. You can also find just as many IN THE CHURCH who resisted Rome’s imperialistic attempts to centralize church authority, like Augustine.
52. Bryan R Cross: Jeff, my point wasn’t about bowing. My point was that if, as you put it, there was no such thing as the Roman Catholic Church until Trent, then Aquinas’ words make no sense. Aquinas clearly believed there was such a thing.
Regarding Augustine’s alleged “resistance” to “Roman imperialistic attempts to centralize church authority,” here’s what he said to the Donatists:
“You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not.”
53. Jeff Meyers: Oh there was a particular Roman church alright, and lot’s of pastors and bishops believed that local church in Rome, Italy, had primacy. But others did not. I affirm there was an arrogant, power-hungry local Roman church in Italy before the 16th century. But there was no monolithic “Roman Catholic Church” before Trent.