There is a really unhealthy argument for celibacy which has reared its head all through the custom and which is, even as we speak, defended by some. It runs one thing like this: married life is morally and spiritually suspect; clergymen, as non secular leaders, must be non secular athletes above reproach; subsequently, clergymen shouldn’t be married. I really like Augustine, however it’s arduous to disclaim that this sort of argumentation finds help in a few of Augustine’s extra unlucky reflections on sexuality (unique sin as a sexually transmitted illness; intercourse even inside marriage is venially sinful; the start of a child related to excretion, and many others.). I as soon as ran throughout a e book through which the writer offered a model of this justification, interesting to the purity codes within the e book of Leviticus. His implication was that any type of sexual contact, even inside marriage, would render a minister on the altar impure. This method to the query is, in my judgment, not simply foolish however harmful, for it rests on assumptions which might be repugnant to good Christian metaphysics.
The doctrine of creation ex nihilo essentially implies the important integrity of the world and all the things in it. Genesis tells us that God discovered every factor he had made good and that he discovered the ensemble of creatures superb. Expressing the identical concept with typical scholastic understatement, Thomas Aquinas commented that “being” and “good” are convertible phrases. Catholic theology, at its finest, has all the time been resolutely anti-Manichaean, anti-gnostic, anti-dualist—and which means that matter, the physique, and sexual exercise are by no means, in themselves, to be despised. In his e book A People Adrift, Peter Steinfels accurately means that the post-conciliar reaffirmation of this side of the custom successfully undermined the dualist justification for celibacy that I sketched above.
But there may be extra to the doctrine of creation than an affirmation of the goodness of the world. To say that the finite realm in its entirety is created is to indicate that nothing within the universe is God. All facets of created actuality mirror God, level to God, and bear traces of the divine goodness (simply as each element of a constructing provides proof of the thoughts of the architect), however no creature and no collectivity of creatures is divine (simply as no a part of a construction is the architect). This important distinction between God and the world is the bottom for the anti-idolatry precept that’s reiterated from starting to finish of the Bible: don’t flip one thing which is lower than God into God. Isaiah the prophet put it thus: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts and my ways above your ways, says the Lord.” And it’s on the coronary heart of the primary commandment: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods besides me.” The Bible thus holds off all types of pantheism, immanentism, and nature mysticism—all of the makes an attempt of human beings to divinize or render final some worldly actuality. The doctrine of creation, in a phrase, includes each an awesome “yes” and an awesome “no” to the universe.
Now there’s a behavioral concomitant to the anti-idolatry precept: it’s the detachment which is urged all through the Bible and by virtually each determine within the nice custom from Irenaeus and Chrysostom to Bernard, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux. Detachment is the refusal to make something lower than God the organizing precept or middle of 1’s life. Anthony de Mello checked out it from the opposite facet and mentioned that “an attachment is anything in this world—including your own life—that you are convinced you cannot live without.” Even as we reverence all the things that God has made, we should let go of all the things that God has made, exactly for the sake of God. Augustine noticed to the underside of this fact, commenting that creatures are beloved higher, extra authentically, exactly when they’re beloved in God. This is why, as G.Okay. Chesterton famous, there may be an odd, tensive, and bi-polar high quality to Christian life. In accord with its affirmation of the world, the Church loves shade, pagaentry, music, and wealthy ornament (as within the liturgy and papal ceremonials), at the same time as, in accord with its detachment from the world, it loves the poverty of St. Francis and the simplicity of Mother Teresa. The similar tensiveness governs its perspective towards intercourse and household. Again in Chesterton’s language, the Church is “fiercely for having children” (by way of marriage) even because it stays “fiercely against having them” (in non secular celibacy). Everything on this world—together with intercourse and intimate friendship—is nice, however impermanently so; all finite actuality is gorgeous, however its magnificence, if I can put it in explicitly Catholic phrases, is sacramental and never final.
According to the Biblical narratives, when God wished to make a sure fact vividly recognized to his folks, he would sometimes select a prophet and command him to behave out that fact, to embody it concretely. Hence, he advised Hosea to marry the untrue Gomer with a view to sacramentalize God’s constancy to wavering Israel. In Grammar of Assent, John Henry Newman reminded us that fact is introduced residence to the thoughts, changing into convincing and persuasive, when it’s represented, not by way of abstractions, however by way of one thing specific, colourful, and possible. We may be intrigued by the system of Chalcedon, however we’re moved to tears and to motion by the narrative of Christ’s look on the street to Emmaus. Thus, the reality of the non-ultimacy of intercourse, household, and worldly relationships can and must be proclaimed by way of phrases, however it is going to be believed solely when folks can see it. This is why, the Church is satisfied, God chooses sure folks to be celibate: with a view to witness to a transcendent type of love, the best way that we’ll love in heaven. In God’s realm, we’ll expertise a communion (bodily in addition to non secular) in comparison with which even the intensest types of communion right here beneath pale into insignificance, and celibates make this fact viscerally actual for us now. Just as perception in the actual presence within the Eucharist fades (as we have now seen) when unaccompanied by devotional apply, so the idea within the impermanence of created love turns into attenuated within the absence of residing embodiments of it. Though one can current sensible causes for it, I imagine that celibacy solely lastly is smart on this eschatological context.
I notice that my reader may be following the argument up to now and nonetheless really feel compelled to ask, “Yes, granted that celibacy is a good thing for the Church, but why must all priests be celibate?” The medievals distinguished between arguments from necessity and arguments from “fittingness.” I can provide solely the latter type of argument, for even its most ardent defenders admit that celibacy shouldn’t be important to the priesthood. After all, married clergymen have been, at varied instances and for varied causes, accepted from the start of the Church to the current day. The appropriateness of linking priesthood and celibacy comes, I feel, from the priest’s identification as a Eucharistic individual. All priest is radiates outward from his distinctive capability, appearing within the individual of Christ, to remodel the Eucharistic parts into the physique and blood of Jesus. As the middle of a rose window anchors and orders all the different parts within the design, so the Eucharistic act of the priest grounds and animates all the things else that he does, rendering qualitatively distinctive his approach of main, sanctifying, and instructing. But the Eucharist is the eschatological act par excellence, for as Paul says, “Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” To proclaim the Paschal Mystery by way of the Eucharist is to make current that occasion by which the brand new world is opened as much as us. It is to make vividly actual the transcendent dimension which successfully relativizes (with out denying) all the items of this passing world. And it’s subsequently becoming that the one who’s so intimately conditioned by and associated to the Eucharist must be in his type of life an eschatological individual.
For years, Andrew Greeley argued—fairly rightly in my opinion—that the priest is fascinating, and that a big a part of the fascination comes from celibacy. The compelling high quality of the priest shouldn’t be a matter of superficial superstar or allure; that will get us exactly nowhere. It is one thing a lot stranger, deeper, and extra mystical: the fascination for one other world, for that mysterious dimension of existence hinted at sacramentally by the universe right here beneath and revealed to us, nevertheless tantalyzingly, within the breaking of the bread. I for one am glad that such eschatologically fascinating individuals will not be merely in monasteries, cloistered convents, and hermits cells, however in parishes, on the streets, and within the pulpits, shifting visibly among the many folks of God.
There are, I notice, a few main issues with providing arguments for celibacy. First, it might probably make all the things appear so pat, rational, and resolved. I’ve been a priest now for over thirty years, and I can guarantee you that the residing of celibacy has been something however that. As I’ve gone by way of totally different seasons of my life as a priest, I’ve struggled mightily with celibacy, exactly as a result of the stress between the goodness and ephemerality of creation of which I spoke of earlier isn’t any abstraction, bur slightly runs proper by way of my physique. The second drawback is that cause solely goes to date. As Thomas More mentioned in that fantastic scene from A Man for All Seasons, as he was making an attempt to make his daughter perceive why he was being so cussed: “Finally, Meg, it’s not a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.” People in love do unusual issues: they pledge everlasting constancy; they write poetry and songs; they defy their households and alter their life plans; typically they go to their deaths. They are usually over-the-top, irrational, and confounding to the affordable folks round them. Though we will make a case for it—as I’ve tried to do—celibacy is lastly inexplicable, unnatural, and interesting, for it’s a type of life adopted by folks in love with Jesus Christ.
Editor’s Note: Bishop Barron’s article first appeared March 13, 2018 on the Word on Fire web site and is offered right here with the type permission of the writer.
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