Were St. Peter and the Other Apostles Celibate?

John Bridges, Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife (1839)
John Bridges, Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife (1839)

One of the common arguments against clerical celibacy is that St. Peter, the leader of the Apostles and the first pope, was married. After all, Scripture refers to his having a mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), and St. Paul (referring to Peter by his original Aramaic name, Cephas) defends his Apostolic authority in a verse usually translated “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5).

GotQuestions takes a pretty standard Protestant position in viewing these two sentences from the New Testament as proving that St. Peter was married during the Apostolic period, and that this invalidates the Catholic practice of celibacy:

From the fact that some of the disciples were married, we can conclude that it is right for ministers to marry and that the Roman Catholic doctrine of the celibacy of the clergy is contrary to apostolic example. Peter is claimed by the Roman Catholics to be the head of the church, and the Pope, according to their view, is the successor of this apostle. Yet they maintain that it is wrong for priests to marry. If that is true, why did not Christ at once reject Peter from being an apostle for having a wife? How remarkable that he should be set up as the head of the church and an example and a model to all who were to succeed him. But a celibate clergy is tradition and human law and is contrary to the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:2-5). [….] Finally, we can conclude that it is equally acceptable for missionaries to marry and to take their wives with them to the mission field. The apostles were missionaries and spent their lives in pagan nations as missionaries do now.

But let’s take a closer look at those passages, and find out what the New Testament really has to say.

Let’s start with Matthew 8:14-15: “And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him.” Two things jump out: first, while Peter’s mother-in-law is mentioned, no living wife is mentioned here, or anywhere else in the New Testament. In fact, we find no mention anywhere in the New Testament of any of the Apostles’ alleged wives. That’s a somewhat surprising omission. More surprising is the fact that Peter’s newly-recovered mother-in-law is the one who ends up serving Jesus in Peter’s house. If St. Peter has a living wife, where is she?

What about 1 Corinthians 9:5, then? Well, there are two important things to note. First, as Karl Keating and others have noted, the Greek is ambiguous. St. Paul refers to Peter and the others as having the authority to have an ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα (adelphēn gynaika). The first word there is “sister,” understood in the spiritual sense. The second word means either wife or woman (you might recognize the gyn- prefix from English). So Paul is either saying that Peter and the others travel with believing wives, or that they travel with believing women who minister to them.

Why is that important? Because this verse allegedly describing Peter’s marital status comes from a passage that’s about finances and material compensation. Read the whole passage, and you’ll see why many scholars think it’s not a reference to wives at all (1 Corinthians 9:3-12):

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife [woman?], as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

So St. Paul is defending his right, as an Apostle, to be materially compensated for his work, even though he points out that he doesn’t actually make use of this right (Acts 18:3 reveals that Paul worked as a tent-maker). In the midst of this, he does one of two things. One theory, which most Protestants assume, is that he then makes a side point (that Apostles are also allowed to have wives, even though he doesn’t). But the other possibility is that he is pointing out a specific kind of material comfort: that there were believing women who took care of the Apostles, just as we hear about in Luke 8:1-3,

Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag′dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Jo-an′na, the wife of Chu′za, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

These women apparently accompanied Jesus and the Apostles and “provided for them out of their means.” St. Paul points out that he has a right to such provision, but doesn’t make use of it, for fear that it would be an obstacle.

The strength of this second interpretation is that reading ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα as about “believing women” taking care of the Apostles is that it’s coherent in the broader context of Paul’s argument… whereas the “believing wife” interpretation makes it a strange aside in a passage that isn’t about marriage at all.

Okay, so neither of the two “married Peter” proof-texts are as strong as they first appear. But are there any good reasons to believe that Peter was celibate? Yes, in fact. In Luke 18, after the encounter with the rich young man, Jesus proclaims, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk. 18:24-25). That then leads to this revealing conversation (Lk. 18:26-30):

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

But he [Jesus] said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

And Peter said, “Lo, we have left our homes and followed you.”

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

That sure sounds like Jesus and Peter are talking about how Peter and the other Apostles have given up marriage and family to follow Christ. There are basically three interpretations of this passage: that Peter is referring only to leaving his home; that Peter means he has “put his wife away,” separating from his wife to leave home and follow Christ; or that Peter is a widower who has given up the possibility of remarriage.

Of these, the first one strikes me as the weakest since (like the standard Protestant interpretation of 1 Cor 9) it basically involves an unsignalled change-of-subject: Peter mentions to Jesus about how the Apostles have given up their “homes” to follow Him, and He responds by praising some other group of people for giving up house and family.

Admittedly, we’re not dealing with 100% clear evidence here in either direction. I think the balance of evidence suggests that Peter wasn’t living as a married man from his time as an Apostle forward, but had embraced celibacy along with the other Apostles; you might read the same evidence in the opposite direction. (Certainly, Peter was at least married at some point, since he had a mother-in-law).

It’s also important to point out that the Catholic Church doesn’t claim celibacy as a dogma. Whether the Apostles were married priests or not, there certainly have been (and are!) wonderful married priests in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church in the West chooses to ordain to the priesthood only unmarried men who promise to live lives of celibacy (although even here, she makes exceptions for certain converts). If Jesus and St. Paul are right that this is the highest state of life (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 32-34), the Church can hardly be begrudged for this preference. But while she has the right to do this, she doesn’t have the requirement to do so.

So we don’t want to exaggerate the evidence, or the importance of it. I’m not arguing that it’s 100% certain that the Apostles were celibates for the Kingdom (Mt. 19:12) or that this means that only celibates should be ordained. I’m just arguing that, surface appearances notwithstanding, the Biblical evidence points in the direction of Apostolic celibacy.

 

102 Comments

  1. Augustine and Clement of Alexandria interpreted 1st Corinthians 9:5 as being about believing wives not merely women but both maintained that the apostles did not have conjugal rights with these women

  2. I have actually written about the topic in some detail, but it has not found its way into an article. Perhaps it should:

    Orthodox priests are not Roman Rite Catholic priests. They are not forbidden to be married. It is true, however, that if one is ordained a priest as a single man, he subsequently cannot marry as long as he one. This is difficult for many of us Protestants to stomach, but this does not contradict the Scriptures, as we have no Scriptural example of someone ordained a priest/Elder and then getting married afterwards.

    It is true that Orthodox Bishops cannot be married. However, this is not a rule set in stone in Orthodoxy. It is considered more of a matter of discipline and not necessarily something that cannot be changed. After all, several Apostles were married (1 Cor 9:5) and as were some Bishops in the early Church.

    For example, Saint Gregory of Nanzianzus’ father, Gregory Senior, was a Bishop. We even had several married Popes. For example, Pope Hormisdas was the father of later Pope Silverius. However, following the Scriptural model, these men became Bishops after they were married, not before. Furthermore, once elevated to the Bishopric, they were no longer allowed to continue having sex with their wives.

    The preceding may seem strange to Protestants today, but we have to be open minded to the fact that the Christian religion was established during a time and period very different than ours today. We have historical examples of married Bishops throughout early Church history, but no examples of them maintaining conjugal rights with their wives. In fact, we have several early authorities that explicitly forbid a Bishop continued childbearing and conjugal rights (i.e. Ambrose, Letter 63, Paragraph 62; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 11; Augustine, The Work of Monks Chapter 2; Council of Trullo Canon 47.)

    Some may be tempted to say that the church fathers were “contradicting the Scriptures.” However, this cannot be proven in the least bit. The Scriptures that refer to married Bishops (1 Tim 3, Titus 1) do not speak of the Bishops being sexually active. Rather, they give the rule that Bishops should have one wife and be good heads of their households, with disciplined children. So, while many of us Protestants take this as evidence against the Orthodox practice, in reality these Scriptures say nothing of Bishops continuing their conjugal rights.

    Us Protestants may take exception to clerical celibacy when we read 1 Tim 4, but the early church practice was actually far more strange. For centuries, the Church had married Bishops without conjugal rights. The clerical celibacy we have today is in many ways much more sensible than the “you can stay married but don’t touch your wife” sort of arrangement which prevailed since the beginning. Though this arrangement was likely Apostolic, it is obviously very hard to maintain. In fact, it is miraculous that it was maintained at all. For this reason, even during the age of married Bishops, most Bishops never were married to begin with.

    For those in love with the idea of married Bishops making a comeback, it is worth saying that nothing doctrinally precludes Orthodoxy from reverting back to the original practice of the Church. And, perhaps they should. However, it is obvious why no one is knocking down the door to do so. It is more difficult to be married and deny oneself his wife than not to be married at all. In earlier times, amidst persecutions and a much more conservative society, it was perhaps less of a temptation for Bishops to live by the Apostolic tradition. Now, it would be almost unthinkable.

    While we Protestants may still find the Orthodox practice strange, we cannot assert that it is a “doctrine of demons” without both calling into question the entire Church since early times. Further, being that nothing forbids Orthodoxy’s take on clerical celibacy, to condemn it would be to bind onto the Orthodox believer’s conscience something that God does not even bind upon them in the Scriptures.

    1. It seems to me that the most explicit biblical contradiction is 1 Corinthians 7: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

      To be entirely frank on the subject, Paul’s normative decree is that husbands and wives should have sex with each other, whenever either partner wishes, with only temporary pauses by mutual consent. There’s no caveat anywhere for “unless the husband is an elder, in which case obviously not.”

      Given that – and given, as you note, that Paul seems entirely fine with married church leaders – I have a hard time seeing how this restriction isn’t contrary to his instruction. I’m not sure I would go quite to “doctrine of demons,” but it does seem like it lays a burden on these men (and their wives) that Scripture is pretty clear they shouldn’t have to carry.

      1. Hi Irked,

        Have you thought about this saying from the Book of Revelations on the virtues of celibacy/chastity? :

        “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” ( Rev.14:3)

        1. Al,

          Sure, I think celibacy is a great virtue – among the unmarried. And I think the 144,000 are held up as examples of those who have chosen to pursue Christ with their whole lives, and that’s praiseworthy.

          But as near as I can tell, there are three relevant things Paul has to say on the subject of marriage:

          1) It’s ideal if you can live your life without needing a wife and family, because you can devote all your time to God. If you can do that and not struggle with lust, great!

          2) If you can’t, you should get married and have sex with your spouse whenever either of you want.

          3) Being in category (2) rather than category (1) is not disqualifying from church leadership; indeed, the fruits of being in category (2) can be good evidence for church leadership.

          So I think “You can be married and an elder, but don’t sleep together,” is contrary to his command, because sleeping together is the reason Paul gives for marriage. I think “You can be an elder, but don’t be married,” is contrary to his command, because he’s explicitly fine with elders being married. It seems to me that the only position consistent with all three is “Church leaders should either be unmarried, if that’s viable for them, or they should be married and sexually active with their partners; both are good.”

          1. James,

            I read Paul in v. 6 to say that he does not command people to marry – but that if they must marry, here’s how to do it. That fits well with his continuing thought in v. 7 that he wishes people were all like him: given the gift of singleness, that they might be spared the suffering to come in these latter days (v. 28).

            So I think “suggestion” undersells his divinely-inspired “should” statements by a fair bit. Marriage may not be a command, but conduct within marriage is. And he’s pretty blatant about what the purpose of marriage is: throughout chapter 7, marriage is identified primarily as a (holy, and appropriate) response to sexual desire.

            But regardless, surely we would agree that the church should not require restrictions that make it impossible for our church leaders to live according to Paul says here – even if we didn’t take it for an outright command?

          2. Hi Irked,

            The current Catholic Church allows the same today for spouses who desire to enter monasteries or other types of religious vocations, as long as they have the consent of their partners. I presume this was the case with the married Apostles, and other early Christians…missionaries… bishops, etc…back then, as well.

            Jesus, Himself, teaches that this is not only acceptable, but worthy of eternal reward, when He taught:

            “Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or WIFE, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” (Luke 18:28)

            Note the reference to WIFE, above. So, your position above does not seem to correspond to that of Christ’s, where you state:

            “Church leaders should either be unmarried, if that’s viable for them, or they should be married and sexually active with their partners; both are good.”

            Jesus teaches that there are OTHER options, one of which is leaving wife…and children.

            Best to you.

          3. The first sentence in my comment, above, should read…”celibacy”.. in place of ” the same”. Sorry for the confusion…it was bad editing on my part.

          4. Al,

            The current Catholic Church allows [celibacy] today for spouses who desire to enter monasteries or other types of religious vocations, as long as they have the consent of their partners.

            Yes. I believe it errs in not teaching as Paul does.

            I presume this was the case with the married Apostles, and other early Christians…missionaries… bishops, etc…back then, as well.

            That’s a heck of a presumption, it seems to me.

            Jesus, Himself, teaches that this is not only acceptable, but worthy of eternal reward, when He taught:

            “Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or WIFE, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” (Luke 18:28)

            I do not think we can remotely extrapolate from “Some Christians are forced to abandon their families in order to follow Christ” to “The normative state for husbands in church leadership should be to abandon their wives.” The same Christ who said the words you quote also said that husband and wife had become one flesh – most purely and obviously in the sexual act – and that “what God had joined together, let no one separate.” The same bit of Paul I quoted above said that even in the case of an unbelieving spouse, we should remain with them if at all possible; how can separation from a believing spouse be the normative state of things?

            I mean, when we boil it down: I can give explicit, unambiguous, no-qualifications-attached texts where Paul says to not be celibate in marriage, and that marriage is perfectly fine for church leaders. Can you offer anything in Scripture providing a command to the contrary? Any positive reason in Scripture to believe that this is not the intent, against these passages?

      2. Irked, we so gotta do that hangout. I will email you soon, my projects are getting finished up with.

        That being said, I think if you read 1 Cor 7 you will realize it is not saying what you think.

        Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.

        Paul is being a spiritual father. He is saying, “Yo Corinthians, in light of your specific situation, I ask that you do this.”

        Therese of Liseaux’s parents were celibate for 9 months after their marriage until their priest told them to consummate the marriage. Ironically, being that all of their children became clerics and such, we can see that this was not by mistake. (Joe taught me this, LOL)

        The fact 1 Cor 7:6 specifically states that Paul is saying that the former teaching is a “concession” proves that the ideal is complete celibacy, but that sex in marriage is good and allowable.

        In light of this, we can see why those who strive to be Bishops were held to a higher standard– one that the proud Corinthians could not evidently uphold.

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. Hi Craig,

          You might have already come across the Life of St. Amon in your Orthodox studies(if you are still continuing in your catechesis). But, if you haven’t, it relates that Amon and his wife remained celibate for their entire lives, here haveing sex, and spending about 20 years together before the his wife suggested that Amon live as a hermit, wherein he chose to live near Mt. Nitria, Alexandria. But, he promised his wife to visit her every year, which promise his fulfilled faithfully. In only about 20-30 years he had about 5000 celibate monks and hermits living in multitudes of communities with him at in same local. If you haven’t already, you should look it up. Or, you can find it online, here, at:

          http://www.vitae-patrum.org.uk/page108.html

          Best to you,

          -Al

          1. Second sentence should read….’never having sex’ above.

            Must remember: EDIT BEFORE POSTING!!! 🙁

        2. Hey Craig,

          Hey, I’m game! My schedule’s a little tighter for a variety of reasons right now, but I’m sure we could find a time. (Matthewp and I had a fun exchange the other day.)

          So I absolutely agree that Paul’s ideal scenario is complete celibacy; I think that was my (1) above. But what I think is critical is that this ideal is outside marriage. Paul actually only identifies one reason to be married in the first place: better that than to burn with lust. That’s his concession: if you need to marry, because you’re filled with sexual desire for this person, do it!

          In Paul’s view, then, if you’re married, it’s because you needed to get married: because without that, sexual desire would be too great a temptation. That purpose shapes all his instructions on the subject. In light of that understanding, “Married, but not sexually active with each other” seems like – well, the worst of both worlds: all the distractions of marriage, but missing the most fundamental purpose (and benefit) of it, and coupled with a constant temptation to non-celibate marriage.

          So I think “celibate marriage” is contrary to Paul’s explicit instruction. (As I said to Al, I think it’s inconsistent with Christ’s vision of marriage as well: a marriage in which the two are not one flesh is very nearly a contradiction in terms.) For that reason, when Paul explicitly approves marriage (with children!) among the clergy, I think our default reading has to be that he assumes a normal, sexually active marriage. Is there any positive reason in the text to believe he intends something else?

          And in light of that, I think we have to be careful with viewing celibate marriage as a “higher standard”; when we require of people a different standard than God Himself commands – well, that’s pretty much legalism by definition, isn’t it?

          1. Hi Irked,

            “So I think “celibate marriage” is contrary to Paul’s explicit instruction. ”

            You think that the Scriptures clearly teach this, or is this your own eisegesis? In short, none of the Scriptures explicitly mandate that Bishops must have sex with their wives. Does the fact that the early Church interpreted this as otherwise universally mean absolutely nothing? Should the silence of the Scriptures make the universal teaching of the Church not worth arguing over?

            God bless,
            Craig

            PS Al, I am still being catechized, please pray.

          2. Hi Irked,

            I just don’t think you can dance around this saying of Jesus, which explicitly says it’s OK of a man to leave his wife and children if He thinks that the kingdom of God will greatly benefit by it: “…no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” (Luke 18:28)

            It is like warfare. Men will risk their lives, leave their families, and possibly come back either maimed for life, or come back in a coffin… just to defend their homeland… and sometimes to conquer someone else’s homeland.

            Moreover, when we think about missionary work in those early ages, we need to understand the incredible danger presented at every turn. We know by Church history, such as that of Eusebius, that St. James the apostle preached in Spain, and then in many other far away places of the Western Roman Empire. History also teaches that St. Thomas went to the far East, and founded the Church in India which still exists today. Such journeys were incredibly difficult, and was no place for a man to be toting around children, or wife’s, even. It was similar to the voyages of Columbus, men’s work.

            So, Christ’s teaching is very understandable, especially for those early days.

            Do we sell everything we have and place it at the feet of the Church leaders, like it is described they did in the Acts of the Apostles? Do we live such a communal, and dedicated ecclesiastical lifestyle today? No. But back then it was needed, as were also dedicated missionaries who would follow Christ’s personal example of suffering and toil for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

            So, putting philosophy aside, we must analyze both Christ’s word and personal example, and then read accounts of people who followed those words and examples, for instance, the examples found in the ‘Vitae-Patrum’ link ,above, wherein countless men and women left everything to live contemplative lives in the caves and deserts of the Roman Empire, and beyond.

            So, we have both the explicit word of Jesus Christ Himself, and a wealth of Church History also, to prove the great value of celibacy, and even of leaving of wife and children when necessary, or when God calls, to prove the Catholic position on the subject of celibacy practiced both before AND AFTER marriage. And you might further note that Jesus prophesied that a reward awaited those who made such sacrifices…not only in Heaven but here on Earth, also. That is, Christ says such generous souls who give all for the Kingdom…would be given ‘MUCH MORE’ in this present time, also.

            Best to you.

          3. Craig,

            You think that the Scriptures clearly teach this, or is this your own eisegesis? In short, none of the Scriptures explicitly mandate that Bishops must have sex with their wives.

            The former. The Scriptures explicitly mandate that husbands are to have sex with their wives; if there is no explicit exception for bishops, what conclusion are we to reach but that bishops who are also husbands are to have sex with their wives?

            So Paul doesn’t give any explicit marital commands for bishops, sure, but he also doesn’t give any explicit marital commands for cobblers or soldiers or anyone else. What reason do we have for reading in an exception where Paul provides none? That, to me, seems purely eisegetical.

            I mean, like – would we apply that same sort of logic to any other commands regarding husbands and wives? Is it unclear whether Ephesians 5 applies to bishops: whether their wives are to submit to them, or whether they are to love their wives as Christ loved the church? (I’d note in passing that Ephesians 5 again emphasizes “one flesh” as the core of marriage.)

            Does the fact that the early Church interpreted this as otherwise universally mean absolutely nothing?

            I think it is regrettable, but not entirely surprising, that a church surrounded by a culture in which sex was offered as worship to idols would rapidly develop a poisonously sex-negative view – and indeed a lot of the fathers have views of sexuality that I’m not sure either of us would agree with.

            But Scripture does not contain this view. We can speculate at alternative readings of 1 Corinthians 9:5, but the fact remains that every major Bible translation I can find – the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, NRSV, etc. – all render the passage as some variation on “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” That seems to me a pretty persuasive case for frequent marriage in the earliest church leaders – and Scripture is repeatedly explicit that the singular defining attribute of marriage, going all the way back to Genesis 2, is that it is sexual in nature: that husband and wife are to be joined as intimately as Adam and Eve were. When marriage is nigh-universally identified in such terms; when the texts describing qualifications for church leadership clearly assume a sexual marriage relationship as normative (since those children had to come from somewhere!); when there is not any – any – instruction for church leaders to do otherwise… I don’t see that we have any choice as to what to believe here.

            Should the silence of the Scriptures make the universal teaching of the Church not worth arguing over?

            The Scriptures aren’t silent on this subject; they’re explicit and unequivocal. That they provide no exceptions – that they do not even address the possibility of some different category – cannot be taken as an argument for exceptions.

          4. Al,

            I just don’t think you can dance around this saying of Jesus, which explicitly says it’s OK of a man to leave his wife and children if He thinks that the kingdom of God will greatly benefit by it:

            And I think it’s appalling to apply a Scripture on the subject of people forced to abandon families and make it normative for church leaders.

            For Peter to travel with his Lord, he had to leave his family behind; how could he care for them on the road, even setting aside the potential for scandalous rumors? For some missionaries to reach out to the places to which they’re called, it’s similarly necessary to separate: perhaps because there exist no funds for another person, or because the journey is too dangerous, or because the physical rigors would be too great. Even then, these things fit within the context of Paul’s instruction: for a time, and by mutual consent.

            But to say that Christ’s intent is that the typical experience of Christian leadership is to set their families aside, as an inherent component of their status… I don’t see that anywhere here. Again, every major translation seems to agree, speculation to the side, that Peter and the other early leaders did eventually travel with their wives – and Paul’s words on the conditions for church leadership are even clearer that having a wife is normal. Certainly there’s no suggestion there that “An elder must be a husband of but one wife, whom he must put aside!” Again, Paul says not to leave even the unbelieving spouse, if it can be avoided!

            Such journeys were incredibly difficult, and was no place for a man to be toting around children, or wife’s, even. It was similar to the voyages of Columbus, men’s work.

            Again, I agree: journeys where it was impossible to travel with a spouse fit the category of the exception Paul lays out, and are the tragic necessity of which Christ speaks. But serving as a church elder does not fit this category, for the overwhelming majority of leaders.

            to prove the Catholic position on the subject of celibacy practiced both before AND AFTER marriage.

            You say I’m dancing around a passage, but I don’t see that you’ve addressed any of the texts I’ve brought up. What does Paul say about celibacy and marriage?

          5. I think Craig, above, put it pretty succinctly when he wrote:

            “The Scriptures that refer to married Bishops (1 Tim 3, Titus 1) do not speak of the Bishops being sexually active. Rather, they give the rule that Bishops should have one wife and be good heads of their households, with disciplined children. So, while many of us Protestants take this as evidence against the Orthodox practice, in reality these Scriptures say nothing of Bishops continuing their conjugal rights.

            Us Protestants may take exception to clerical celibacy when we read 1 Tim 4, but the early church practice was actually far more strange. For centuries, the Church had married Bishops without conjugal rights.”

            I also believe that rules regarding celibacy are diciplinary in nature, and not doctrinal. And the Church can adapt such rules as they see fit for different places and different times. I was just pointing out the clear teaching of Christ who said that some of these who leave wives or children will receive rewards, including eternal life.

            Like it or not, we shouldn’t take words ‘out of the mouth of the Lord’ on this subject as meaning very little, or nothing. Nor should we value the words of other teachers, even apostles, over the words of Jesus Christ Himself. Of this, Christ said:

            “…be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are brethren. ….Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, Christ.”

            Best to you.

          6. Al,

            I think Craig, above, put it pretty succinctly when he wrote:

            Okay. Do you have a response to any of the arguments I made in answer to Craig? Because it seems like we’re just regressing back to where I entered the conversation, and ignoring all the passages I’ve offered in reply to it – such as the fact that Scripture gives explicit commands to all married men to be sexually active, with no exceptions for bishops.

            Paul has an obvious window for exceptions here. He certainly could have said, “A bishop must be unmarried, or he must put aside his wife.” He doesn’t, nor is he silent. He gives only one set of orders for married men: they are to have sex with their wives.

            Is our position really that we should disregard Paul’s instructions to married men, unless he specifically adds, “And these also apply to bishops?” Again, does that sort of hermeneutic apply to Ephesians 5?

            I also believe that rules regarding celibacy are diciplinary in nature, and not doctrinal.

            When a man is not permitted to serve as elder without observing your rule – when you judge it sin for him to act against it, sin for him to become one flesh with his lawful wife – this distinction becomes impossible to maintain. Would the endless legalism of the Pharisees have been any more acceptable if they had said, “Oh, these are only disciplinary rules?”

            Like it or not, we shouldn’t take words ‘out of the mouth of the Lord’ on this subject as meaning very little, or nothing.

            I fundamentally object to this characterization of my reading of Christ’s words. That some Christians are forced to abandon their families, and that Christ promises to reward them beyond the value of their tragic loss, in no way implies that the loss of family is required for church leadership. It simply doesn’t; y’can’t get there from here.

            Nor should we value the words of other teachers, even apostles, over the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

            Certainly. But neither should we ignore those words, and you’ve offered me no way to integrate Paul into this position.

          7. Irked,

            I think your whole argument hinges upon your interpretation of “I say this by concession and not by command.” The whole allowance for marriage is a “concession,” not a command. Being that this concession includes frequent conjugal rights, this is not a **command** that all couples should get married, or that married couple should ahve frequent conjugal rights. Rather, the concession is the allowance for both marriage and frequent marital writes.

            Hence, I think your misunderstanding of what Paul says by concession results in you impugning the entire early Church.

            God bless,
            Craig

          8. Hi Craig,

            I don’t think that’s sustainable as an interpretation. Let me try to unpack why; maybe numbering will help us find where we disagree.

            1) Paul offers no reason for marriage except conjugal rights in this passage; it is his sole motivating factor. If you don’t need to have sex with someone, in Paul’s view, you shouldn’t be married in the first place.

            2) Paul repeatedly identifies sex as a right: as something the spouse is entitled to. Your husband or wife, he says, owns your body; if they want to have sex with you, they get to do that.

            3) Paul’s most emphatic statement here – “Do not do this!” – regards abstinence in marriage: he calls it “depriving” each other, again echoing the language of rights.

            4) I see no way to read (2) and (3) as “concessions” that are not binding on married couples. Marriage clearly is a concession – we agree on that point. But to say that, once you are married, these further instructions are also just concessions and not commands… what would that even mean? How do we make sense of, “Do not deprive your spouse of his/her rights – but that’s not a command”? Do our spouses have those rights, or not? Do we deprive our spouses by not sleeping with them when they wish, or not? If not, then what is Paul talking about – and yet if we are, how can not depriving of what we owe them be merely a concession?

            5) Again, in light of (2) and (3), I see no way to grant an indefinitely sexless marriage. Suppose the wife of a married bishop (or monk) subsequently wants to have sex with him; has she no recourse to this passage? Surely not!

            ***

            But let me go a step further here. I would assert that Scripture, from beginning to end, presents sex as the unique distinguishing feature of marriage. Genesis 2 identifies it in the same breath as defining marriage. Christ says in Matthew 10 that the supernatural joining of sex as the reason divorce is unacceptable. Paul encourages marriage only in the context of “so you can sleep with each other” in this passage. Hebrews 13 again speaks of the marriage bed as central to the relationship. Ephesians 5 says to care for your wife as your own body, and then grounds that on, “Because she is your own body, because you’ve become one flesh.”

            I mean, let’s just look at that last one: Paul’s argument collapses in a sexless marriage. If you haven’t become one flesh, then your wife’s body isn’t your body; why then would you love and care for her as for your own body?

            Where, anywhere here, would we get the idea of a celibate marriage? Where in Scripture would we find that recommended, to set against passages that sure sound like they teach the opposite?

          9. Irked,

            First, a lot of your interpretations are premises derived from reading 1 Cor 7 without the word “concession,” and then setting that reading against the idea of “concession.”

            Second, your interpretations of the Scriptures do not take into account how contemporaries would have understood the words and concepts in those same Scriptures.

            Hence, I read the silence of the Scripture on celibate marriage as otherwise an endorsement in light of non-celibate marriage being a concession AND the unanimous interpretation of the early Church. If the early Church could unanimously get something wrong, then we might as well all become mormons.

            God bless,
            Craig

          10. Hi Craig,

            First, a lot of your interpretations are premises derived from reading 1 Cor 7 without the word “concession,” and then setting that reading against the idea of “concession.”

            I don’t think that’s true. I’m explicitly applying “concession” – I just disagree with you as to its object.

            But it doesn’t seem to me that this addresses my challenge. If Paul’s instructions within marriage are not commands, what are we to make of them? Do spouses have marital rights, or do they not? Is refraining from sexual activity, when your spouse would prefer it – is that depriving your spouse, or isn’t it?

            It seems to me that your reading would make Paul say, in effect, “I say this as a concession: do not deprive your spouse” – or “I say this as a concession: give your spouse that to which they have a right.” What would that even mean? Concession or not, shouldn’t we desire to give our spouses what they have a right to? Shouldn’t we by very nature rightly desire not to deprive them?

            Or if that’s not your reading, I don’t understand what is. Again, I’d welcome an unpacking of this passage from you.

    2. Craig, perhaps one can remember that Oriental Catholic churches share orthodox practice. So, even in the Catholic Church, it is a matter of discipline, after all — even if it’s not manifest for many Catholics in the West. All those exegetical discussions would be balanced by a clear historical-ecclesiastical analysis which Joe doesn’t take up at all (I’m not saying he should have). Unfortunately, the Latin Church, for many reasons, does not want to disclose that fact (it is a mere discipline), and disparages, ignores and/or belittles other (Catholic and Orthodox) churches for following apostolic practice.

  3. Ecclesiastical celibacy should not be a wonder at all, especially for bishops, as we have the example of Christ Himself who teaches it by His personal example. If Christ clearly says “come follow me”, and is also called the “Good Shepherd”, is it any wonder at all that some devout people would actually imitate Him in their lives, and in Christ’s life of celibacy, also? Moreover, that it is the Catholic/Orthodox Churches that highlight this disciplinary point… wherein their leaders/bishops follow celibacy requirements… is actually a proof of the truth found in these Churches. And contrary wise, that the Protestant Churches don’t promote celibacy on an institutional level, is a sign that they don’t understand the significance of this virtue and its usefulness in the Life of Christ… not to mention in the lives of His holy Mother, St. Joseph,St. John the Baptist, St. Mary Magdelen, and many other early saints. So, it is no wonder that leaders of the Church would be called to a celibate life, since Jesus Himself is the lead model/shepherd that these leaders are following.

    And all of this makes a lot of sense. It is well known that Jesus taught His Apostles to “go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me”. Herein, He is detailed the great focus that was needed to be a chosen Apostle of Christ. And the same is true for the successors of the Apostles who were called to spread the faith over the entire world, and to also be rejected and persecuted even as Christ was. So, for leaders/bishops, especially back then, celibacy was very suitable. If anything, it saved their wives and children from a similar persecution, even as it is the male soldiers who go to war, and the women and children who are largely spared from the pains and death associated with all such battle. So, celibacy makes very much sense in this regards, too.

    Moreover, we have the example of Uriah and King David. Uriah, returning from the battle against the Philistines declined David’s offer to ‘enjoy his wife’. And he did this because he knew that he was on a military campaign that demanded all of his attention, even at a great distance from the actual battle. He didn’t even want to have a bad example provided to his beloved troops, should they hear that he is partying it up in Jerusalem. And he was very wise, mindful and diligent in his responsibilities to do so. And we note that his mind was laser focused on his only goal: victory for the nation of Israel the chosen people of God.

    Now, is it a wonder that there are multitudes of ‘other Uriah’s’ out their who follow Christ in His great battle against the armies of satan? That is, soldiers of Christ that need to focus ALL of their skill and energy with the sole purpose of victory for Christ’s Kingdom in mind?

    And why might celibacy help in winning this war? It is only common sense: A lack of celibacy, back then, inevitably led to the birth of children. These dedicated soldiers/apostles of Christ chose to relieve themselves of this paternal care (even as St. Paul talks about)… so as to focus their whole attention on the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world. And, that some people would not understand this virtue and benefit of celibacy, even Jesus noted in His gospel (and Joe also quoted), when He said, : ” ..and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.” [Matt.19:12]

    So, I see the virtue of celibacy as only one more mark of the true Church of Christ. And, on the contrary, Martin Luther, the father and founder of Protestantism, wrote and spoke very strongly AGAINST the virtue and practice of celibacy in the Christian religion. This, also, is just another of very many proofs of the fallacy of Protestantism as compared to the one true faith: Catholicism.

    Thanks be to God ancient Christianity got it right. And, the Catholic Church continues today teaching the truth regarding the benefits of ecclesiastical celibacy, regardless of the great opposition offered to it by our modern, sexually perverted, porn addicted, and miserably sinful, society. Today we need the beautiful witness of priestly celibacy more than ever!

  4. Irked –

    1). When do believe a majority of Christians in history started understanding scripture correctly? 1,500-1,600?

    2). What Christian theologian after the death of Paul best exemplifies your beliefs? Mine is either Augustine or Aquinas (hard to pick).

    I ask these questions to better understand your hermenutics.

    1. CW,

      I’ll offer a short answer to these, since you’ve asked, but I’m not going to follow up on them further; my hands are pretty full as-is. I’m trying to answer in the spirit of better mutual understanding; I would take it as a courtesy it if this is not taken as an opportunity to come after these short answers with a pitchfork.

      1) It depends what we mean. I think the core salvific doctrines are grasped pretty well out of the gate, though even there we see tremendous deviation in the space of a couple of years (cf. Galatians and the Judaizer movement in general). If you mean a full and completely accurate interpretation of Scripture – man, I doubt the majority of Christians have that today; I doubt I do, for that matter. If you mean something in between “the absolute bare-minimum essentials to not go to hell” and “a perfect understanding” – well, answers vary depending on where you set the slider bar.

      I’ve tried to be clear throughout my posts that I see the Reformation as a Reformation, though: that I think “Protestant” ideas are much more common in the early church than the Catholic reading of history would suggest. From that view, the question of “When do they start understanding” is framed wrongly out of the gate – perhaps the best answer is “Around the time Scripture was written, though some doctrines took a while to piece together, and some of that understanding was subsequently lost.”

      Or to sum all of that up, “understanding the Scriptures” is not a binary issue.

      2) Off the top of my head, Charles Spurgeon and John Piper are aces in my book.

  5. Irked –

    Our theological differences come down to interpreting history. You believe early Christians were more Protestant in their thinking or else a mix of Catholic/Protestant thinking (not sure how they mix that well or what that would look like). I don’t and rejected my Protestant beliefs because of, among other things, a lack of historical support. Even Carl Truemann believes early Christian history is overwhelmingly Catholic in nature and belief and he’s a Protestant theologian who teaches early Christian history at Westminster Theological Seminary.

    I’ve never encountered a Protestant, until you, who truly believes Protestantism is grounded in early Church history that actually played out on planet earth from 70 AD-400 AD. I wish you well.

  6. Here are some quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Councils and Synods detailing some of the reasons and regulations for celibate living in the first 4 centuries of Christianity. It seems that many of the reasons relate to priests and bishops being capable of always offering the sacrifice of the Mass in a holy state of prayer and mind. Comments in parenthesis are from the unam sanctam catholicam.com site:

    Tertullian, Exhortation to Chastity, 10

    “For continence will be a mean whereby you will traffic in a mighty substance of sanctity; by parsimony of the flesh you will gain the Spirit. For let us ponder over our conscience itself, to see how different a man feels himself when he chances to be deprived of his wife. He savours spiritually. If he is making prayer to the Lord, he is near heaven. If he is bending over the Scriptures, he is wholly in them. If he is singing a psalm, he satisfies himself. If he is adjuring a demon, he is confident in himself. Accordingly, the apostle added the recommendation of a temporary abstinence for the sake of adding an efficacy to prayers, that we might know that what is profitable for a time should be always practiced by us, that it may be always profitable. Daily, every moment, prayer is necessary to men; of course continence is so too, since prayer is necessary. Prayer proceeds from conscience. If the conscience blush, prayer blushes. It is the spirit which conducts prayer to God. If the spirit be self-accused of a blushing conscience, how will it have the hardihood to conduct prayer to the altar; seeing that, if prayer blush, the holy minister (of prayer) itself is suffused too?”

    Origen, 23rd Homily on Numbers (185-253)

    “I will express what the words of the Apostle mean, but I am afraid that some will be saddened. Do not refuse yourselves to each other, unless through a mutual agreement for a given occasion, so as to free yourselves for prayer, and then come together again; it is therefore certain that perpetual sacrifice is impossible for those who are subject to the obligations of marriage…I therefore conclude that only the one vowed to perpetual chastity can offer the perpetual sacrifice.”

    (Origen follows Tertullian in his connection of continence to Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7:5. Paul states that married lay people should abstain from sexual relations when they need to pray. For those who are ordained, who must offer “perpetual sacrifice”, it is impossible to discharge the “obligations of marriage”, infers Origen. Offering the sacrifice and conjugal intercourse are mutually exclusive in Origen’s thought, and thus his conclusion that “only the one vowed to perpetual chastity can offer the perpetual sacrifice.” Notice the matter-of-fact way in which he states this, as if he presumes his audience already knows what he is referring to and understands it.)

    Origen, 6th Homily on Leviticus (c. 250)

    “There was yet another task for Moses. He did not go to the battlefield and did not fight [personally] with the enemy. What did he do? He prayed, and while he prayed, his people won the victory. When he let go his hands fell down, his people was vanquished and put to flight…Therefore, let the priests of the Church also pray without cease, so that the people he leads can win the victory over these invisible Amalekites, the demons hot in pursuit of those who want to live piously in Christ.”

    (In the previous excerpt, Origen has stated that those who must pray and sacrifice continually ought to be perpetually chaste. In this letter, he identifies the priests of the New Covenant as those who “pray without cease.” Therefore, the priests of the New Covenant ought to be perpetually chaste. He makes no distinction between priests who are married and priests who are bachelors.)

    Ecclesiastical Canons of the Holy Apostles (c. 300)

    Peter said: It would be better for the bishop not to be married; or else let him be the husband of one wife…
    John said: There must therefore…be priests, who would have lived a long time in the world and would abstain in a certain way from relations with their wives.

    Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira (305)

    “It has seemed good to absolutely forbid the bishops, the priests, and the deacons, i.e., all the clerics in the service of the sacred ministry, to have relations with their wives and procreate children; should anyone do so, let him be excluded from the honor of the clergy.”

    (The Spanish Synod of Elvira, occurring eight years before the Edict of Milan and twenty-years before Nicaea, represents the first time we see the law of continence specifically spelled out canonically. Continence is mandated for all Major Orders – deacon, priest, bishop – and it is made explicitly clear that this applies to married clerics in a particular way. Neither this synod nor any subsequent councils suggest they are promulgating novelty. Elvira and succeeding synods state that they are simply reaffirming existing tradition.)

    Canon 29 of the First Council of Arles (314)

    “Moreover, concerned with what is worthy, pure, and honest, we exhort our brothers in the episcopate to make sure that priests and deacons have no [sexual] relations with their wives, since they are serving the ministry everyday. Whoever will act against this decision will be deposed from the honor of the clergy.”

    (Notice how continence is linked to the permanent ministerial activity of the cleric, as we saw with Tertullian and Origen.)

    Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelicam I,9 (c. 320)

    “It is fitting, according to the Scripture, that a bishop be the husband of an only wife. But this being understood, it behooves consecrated men, and those who are at the service of God’s cult, to abstain thereafter from conjugal intercourse with their wives. As to those who were not judged worthy of such a holy ministry, Scripture grants them [conjugal intercourse] while saying quite clearly to all that marriage is honorable and the nuptial bed is without stain, and that God judges profligates and adulterers.”

    (Eusebius here makes it clear that just because Scripture allows a bishop or cleric to have a wife, it does not follow that he is free to exercise his conjugal rights. Notice that Eusebius is an Eastern Father and that presumably this was the discipline in the East in the early 4th century.)

    Canon 3 of the Council of Nicaea (325)

    “The great Council has absolutely forbidden bishops, priests, and deacons – in other words, all members of the clergy – to have with them a sister-companion with the exception of a mother, a sister, an aunt, or, lastly, only those persons who are beyond any suspicion.”

    (This canon concerning “outsider women” would be repeated and cited in many subsequent councils. The question is whether a cleric’s wife, since she is not mentioned in the list of acceptable companions, would be considered “beyond suspicion” or not. Fr. Cochini has a fascinating digression on this question, but it is irrelevant to our discussion. The fact is the Council did not want to facilitate any situation where the faithful might be led to think that a cleric was having sexual intercourse. This is why all women in the company of a cleric must be “beyond suspicion”; i.e., it must be evident that there is no possibility of sexual relations with them. If a wife is one of those “beyond suspicion”, it is because it is presumed she is not having sexual relations with her husband; if she is not included in the class of those “beyond suspicion”, it means that wives at this time were not permitted to live with their husbands. We find the former explanation more likely and more consonant with other texts, but either way the result is the same: clerics are not permitted to have conjugal relations with their wives.)

    For more on the subject….here is the link:

    http://www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com/history/79-history/465-celibacy-in-the-early-church.html

    1. Awlms –

      If the Mass were nothing more than a symbol then these arguments make no sense. But if the Mass is more than a symbol and an actual mystical sacrifice then these arguments make perfect sense. Catholicism makes Christianity bigger and most heresies try to make it smaller and remove the mysticism because modern man is steeped in scientism and pride.

      Good work.

      1. Hi cwdlaw,

        I was meditating on the exact same point early this morning. Celibacy is one of the most important indicators that the Catholic understanding on the Eucharist/True Presence is the correct one.

        And, that Fathers such as Origin was a proponent of celibacy is of no little significance, because he was instrumental in the collection care taking of early Church manuscripts and literature(ie..Christian Library). He, therefore, certainly would have been very familiar with the thought and practice of the Church from ancient times on the matter. And, Eusebius also, who followed after Origin in collecting and caring for ancient Christian manuscripts and texts.

        Moreover, that in no place do we see a revolt, or a a major writing AGAINST the canons of Nicaea I, Synod of Alvira, and writings of the fathers on the subject, etc.. shows that the early Church was comfortable with the various canons regarding celibacy. It seems that if there was ANYTHING that would raise controversy, it would be this topic! But, all we find is acceptance of it. And, this silence speaks volumes to the great faith of our early Fathers regarding the dignity inherent in the sacrifice of the Mass.

        Best to you.

  7. The subject of “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom” in Matthew 19:10-12 has been mentioned above by the OP and “awlms”.  I think we all have to take a closer look at it:

    10) The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.”
    11) But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given.
    12) For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

    While their discussion revolved around marriage and divorce, I think the verses, especially the last statement, tell us a great deal about celibacy.  Jesus drives home two important points:

    1. “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”  It is a matter of fact that some have voluntarily chosen to forego sexual relations for the sake of the Kingdom.  Therefore, being celibate is an option available within the Kingdom for those who want to choose it.

    2.  “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given… He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”  Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a special gift since it is “given.”  By whom?  By God of course.  Therefore, like every spiritual gift from above, it should be received by those whom God calls to live that life.

    Now, in Protestantism, do we find such concepts?  Is this something taught in their churches?  Just reading the statements by non-Catholics here, I can’t find a single response that treats celibacy as a spiritual gift that should be warmly received. 

    (Well, Craig Truglia might be an exception in that he has discovered that priestly celibacy is not after all a “doctrine of devils.”  But after 500 years of Protestant anti-Catholic propaganda, what else did his fellow Protestants get wrong?)

    Is this surprising?  Not really.  Whether one reads Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or even Karl Barth, I doubt one would find a major Protestant theologian that truly understood what Jesus said about being celibate.  As awlms pointed out, the first Protestants were vehement opposers of celibacy.  And they still are today.

    Contrary then to what Jesus directed his disciples, instead of letting those “who can receive this” accept God’s gift and calling, what Luther et al did was to close the door to that option, and prevent its acceptance among Protestants. 

    How did they fall into such error? The answer can be summed up in two words:  “cherry picking.”

    What they did was to cherry-pick the writings of Paul and ignore whatever Jesus had said until those could fit their preconceived notions.  In so doing, they failed to see the totality of what the Bible has to say on the subject.
     
    And what was the ultimate reason for their cherry-picking the scriptures?  DESPAIR.

    Remember, Luther rejected the Epistle of James and other NT books when he found them to be not Lutheran enough.  If these Protestant forerunners could see nothing wrong with rejecting entire books of scriptures, why would they not ignore Jesus himself in Matthew 19:10-12?  That’s just three verses.

    As St. Edmund Campion, a Catholic martyr who converted from Anglicanism, said about the masterminds of Protestantism: what brought them to ultimately reject scriptures was DESPAIR.

    When people despair, they do stupid things that would not do had they not despaired. Luther et al were intelligent men, but their foolishness was openly showed when they started rejecting scriptures they didn’t like.  By rejecting God’s words, they unwittingly admitted that something was truly wrong and defective in their so-called “reformation.”

    1. Now, in Protestantism, do we find such concepts? Is this something taught in their churches? Just reading the statements by non-Catholics here, I can’t find a single response that treats celibacy as a spiritual gift that should be warmly received.

      Er. Quoting myself:

      “Sure, I think celibacy is a great virtue – among the unmarried. And I think the 144,000 are held up as examples of those who have chosen to pursue Christ with their whole lives, and that’s praiseworthy.

      “1) It’s ideal if you can live your life without needing a wife and family, because you can devote all your time to God. If you can do that and not struggle with lust, great!

      “So I absolutely agree that Paul’s ideal scenario is complete celibacy.”

      Was I not explicit enough? If not, let me be clearer: if celibacy is given to you as a gift, that’s a great gift, and it should be warmly received. If you’re married, celibacy has not been given to you as a gift, except for a time and by mutual consent with your spouse.

      1. Hi Irked,
        Mary and Joseph were married. The Messiah was prophesied to be born of a Virgin. Mary replies to Archangel Gabriel that she knows not man so how can it be that she will conceive. Mary and Joseph exemplify a marriage in which both partners were celibate. Sexual consummation is neither necessary nor sufficient to a marriage. It does not define or equate marriage. Adam and Eve were essentially joined prior to Eve’s independent existence; indeed, they were one flesh. Being “one flesh” does not define marriage.

        1. Hi Margo,

          Mary and Joseph exemplify a marriage in which both partners were celibate.

          For a season, and by mutual consent; the clearest testimony of Scripture seems to be that they subsequently started popping out kids, including the non-Zebedee apostle James.

          Consummation is certainly not sufficient to a marriage. Per Paul, however, it is the reason for marriage.

          Adam and Eve were essentially joined prior to Eve’s independent existence; indeed, they were one flesh.

          Right. And the beauty of sex in marriage, as Genesis 2 tells us, is that it captures some part of that essential unity: that it echoes the oneness they experienced in their original creation. Husband and wife become again one flesh.

          I think 1 Corinthians 6 leaves no doubt that this is primarily a sexual descriptor, as Paul says that even extramarital adultery creates such a union: “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.'” Again, in Ephesians 5, this is the grounding Paul gives for husbands to love their wives as themselves; in Matthew 19, it’s the reason Jesus gives for denying divorce.

          1. Hi Irked,
            The brothers and sisters of Christ were close relatives, or cousins, as the word was inclusive of more than simply blood brothers or siblings. Also, Joseph may have been a widower and had children from a prior marriage. Finally, if Jesus truly had other siblings, why did Jesus give care of Mary to John rather than to another of her children? Reason: Mary remained a perpetual virgin and Jesus was her only child.

            Paul is not the only word in scripture. I don’t understand why one or another of his passages is repeatedly quoted as a definitive and conclusive answer to so many questions. Is his the only definitive sense of Scripture which makes sense? This interpretation seems to me very restrictive, confining, and does not allow an openness to the fullness of Scriptural truth.

            Finally, Paul was speaking to the CORINTHIANS. The culture, virtue, and self-control of the inhabitants of that port city were classically lacking: Wikipedia: “Corinth had a temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, employing some thousand hetairas (temple prostitutes) (see also Temple prostitution in Corinth). The city was renowned for these temple prostitutes, who served the wealthy merchants and the powerful officials who frequented the city. Lais, the most famous hetaira, was said to charge tremendous fees for her extraordinary favours. Referring to the city’s exorbitant luxuries, Horace is quoted as saying: “non licet omnibus adire Corinthum” (“Not everyone is able to go to Corinth”).

          2. Hi Margo,

            The brothers and sisters of Christ were close relatives, or cousins, as the word was inclusive of more than simply blood brothers or siblings.

            That’s a possible reading, though one that Tertullian (among others) rejected. But to appeal to Joseph and Mary as a sexless marriage, I think you have to first give biblical evidence for the existence of such – and the most natural reading of the Greek in these passages would make that impossible. Or, put differently: to say “Here’s a couple that was perpetually abstinent,” it’s not enough for it to be merely not impossible they were perpetually abstinent – there has to be positive reason to believe they were. This is particularly true when, lacking a reason to believe either way, we have verses that suggest a healthy sex life after Christ’s birth.

            Paul is not the only word in scripture. I don’t understand why one or another of his passages is repeatedly quoted as a definitive and conclusive answer to so many questions. Is his the only definitive sense of Scripture which makes sense? This interpretation seems to me very restrictive, confining, and does not allow an openness to the fullness of Scriptural truth.

            All Scripture is definitive. Passages have to be viewed in harmony with each other – as you say, Paul is not the only word in Scripture – but any command, anywhere, rightly understood, is definitive. I return to Paul so often because he’s the most prolific author in the New Testament, and because he’s free to expand out the foundation Christ has laid into the actual emergent problems of the early church.

            And I’ve appealed to the words of Christ on the core sexuality of marriage in this very thread; it isn’t as though I’m restricting myself to Paul. But surely we would agree that, whatever the correct teaching is on this subject, it’s something that harmonizes with Paul! That’s been my challenge here, and especially in my post down at the bottom: what is the harmonization with Paul’s description of marital rights?

            Finally, Paul was speaking to the CORINTHIANS.

            So that’s certainly true; what implication would you draw from it? When Paul says that spouses have the rights to each others bodies, for instance – I would read that as a general truth; would you read it as something only true of those in Corinth? Likewise, I see in his description of burning with passion exactly the sort of thing that’s been experienced by young unmarried people throughout human history – do you read this as a less universal phenomenon? What of his point does not generalize?

          3. The idea of ‘rights’ to one another implies more of a claim of priority rather than something which one must fulfill on demand! In other words, a spouse has a right to the spouse’s body versus another un/spouse body. That is the definition of ‘right’ in a Christian monogamous marriage.

            The culture of Corinth was awash in endulging lust, while other cultures were not so degraded, without a temple to Aphrodite, without temple prostitutes. For those new Christians living in such a pagan culture, Paul issued strong teaching while acknowledging the “temptation” of the culture. So yes, Paul essentially seems to say, ‘Spouses! Claim one another so that you may not be tempted to go to another.’

            A Christian would ideally never claim a ‘right’ for oneself without honoring the ‘right’ of the other. A mutual compromise of sacrificial love ought to ensue, and thus ensure salvific love of both parties. Thus, material love ought give way to spiritual love. Celibacy is in the spiritual category. It is a higher form of love and is more difficult. It thus speaks to salvation.

          4. Hi Margo,

            The idea of ‘rights’ to one another implies more of a claim of priority rather than something which one must fulfill on demand! In other words, a spouse has a right to the spouse’s body versus another un/spouse body. That is the definition of ‘right’ in a Christian monogamous marriage.

            Hm. Where do you see that in 1 Corinthians 7? Verse 3 says that both spouses have “conjugal rights”; verse 4 says each spouse “has authority” over the other’s body. Verse 5 outright says that to abstain when your spouse without your spouse’s consent is to “deprive” him or her.

            Can you expand on how you read these passages – maybe step me through what you see Paul saying verse-by-verse?

            So yes, Paul essentially seems to say, ‘Spouses! Claim one another so that you may not be tempted to go to another.’

            I agree! Would you describe our culture today in similar terms?

            A Christian would ideally never claim a ‘right’ for oneself without honoring the ‘right’ of the other. A mutual compromise of sacrificial love ought to ensue, and thus ensure salvific love of both parties.

            I agree! So suppose we have a young man and his wife, who struggles with an unsatisfied physical desire for him. Set aside her pressing her rights towards him; shouldn’t his love for her lead him to spontaneously satisfy that desire, without forcing her to demand it? Isn’t that what Paul urges here?

            Why is this situation any different if the young man is a bishop?

            Thus, material love ought give way to spiritual love.

            I am not sure I understand your meaning here. I would say that happily, willingly meeting the sexual need of a spouse is a mode of spiritual love.

          5. Hi Irked,

            Irked says:
            If you could please expound on Scripture which supports that “Mary and Joseph…were celibate….[F]or a season, and by mutual consent; the clearest testimony of Scripture seems to be that they subsequently started popping out kids, including the non-Zebedee apostle James.”

            Jesus spoke of his brothers, sisters, mothers, as those who do the will of His Father.

            The idea of SACRIFICE (akin to God the Father’s will for God the Son) applied to disciples who are brothers, sisters, mothers, and spouses. It is a logical extension of scripture wherein Jesus asks us to follow Him, to take up our yoke and learn from Him, to offer a pure sacrifice of our living bodies (rather than burnt offerings of dead animals) to Him, to be perfect as He is perfect, to allow Him to conform us in His image.

            Just as one foregoes any sexual outlet outside of one’s spouse, one may go further and forego any (material, substantive, physical) act of sexual pleasure with one’s spouse. Why? to achieve a spiritual plane or ascetical sacrifice which may be difficult for our (and by extension, our spouse’s) physical material sense, but which may be salvific for eternity. It is that time set aside for prayer of which Paul speaks. But the “time” set aside is extended for a lifetime.

            God bless.

          6. Hi Margo,

            If you could please expound on Scripture which supports that “Mary and Joseph…were celibate….[F]or a season, and by mutual consent; the clearest testimony of Scripture seems to be that they subsequently started popping out kids, including the non-Zebedee apostle James.”

            So I imagine you know the passages I’m going to bring up: Matthew 1:25, and “He knew her not until she had brought forth a son.” Mark 6:3: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Galatians 1:19: “I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.” 1 Corinthians 9:5: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”

            It is possible to construct readings of these verses that explain away their statements – that explain why the Greek word for “cousin” is never used of these men, for instance. But again, I don’t think I carry the burden of proof here; to introduce Mary and Joseph as proof of a persistently celibate couple, you have to demonstrate that these passages must be read in that way.

            Just as one foregoes any sexual outlet outside of one’s spouse, one may go further and forego any (material, substantive, physical) act of sexual pleasure with one’s spouse. Why? to achieve a spiritual plane or ascetical sacrifice which may be difficult for our (and by extension, our spouse’s) physical material sense, but which may be salvific for eternity. It is that time set aside for prayer of which Paul speaks. But the “time” set aside is extended for a lifetime.

            So, three things:

            1) Does Paul permit such an endless time, or does Paul say that any such time must end in coming together again?

            2) What does Paul say should happen if one spouse or the other would prefer to have sex at some point?

            3) It’s hard to escape the sense that this argument exactly mirrors Matthew 15:

            “He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.”

            The parallel is a little too exact! God said, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights,” and “Do not defraud one another.” But you say that whoever tells his spouse, “Whatever satisfaction you might have had from me is given to God,” then that person need not sleep with his wife.

          7. Hi Irked,
            In all your quotes, I see that you take a literal interpretation only of brother, sister, mother, spouse. The claims of his city folk are simply that they do not see him as anyone beyond the neighbor, and this in fact was a beam in the eye of their belief in him as the Christ.

            You do not see that Jesus spoke of “brother, sister, mother” as spiritual entities rather than biological blood ties? He himself said his mother and brother were those who did the will of God. Do you not see here the meaning of the word of the Christ? Do you choose to see Jesus only as the physical son of Mary and of Joseph? Do you see Him as a spiritual entity?

            Ergo, the coming together of which Paul spoke may be a spiritual meeting. Paul does not explicitly say it is becoming one in flesh, so why must I interpret it that way? He may have intended that they meet each other mentally. Or they meet each other spiritually.

            I do not understand your last paragraph. I don’t see how honoring one’s parents applies to honoring a spouse’s desire for sex. Is that what you say? And I don’t know where God said what you say he says. Can you please give me a reference? I do understand that by defrauding, the meaning is not to cheat the other which implies that we need to be monogamous and not commit adultery. That seems to be the meaning of defraud. Simply denying one’s spouse their wish for sex is not a defrauding as I understand ‘defraud.’

            Irked: The parallel is a little too exact! God said, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights,” and “Do not defraud one another.” But you say that whoever tells his spouse, “Whatever satisfaction you might have had from me is given to God,” then that person need not sleep with his wife.

          8. Irked,
            Sorry I’m rushed. Re Joseph not knowing Mary until…

            This is often interpreted as Joseph having an “incomplete understanding.” He did not understand. He was not at peace. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. Sexual consummation is not an essential component to knowing one another.

          9. Hi Margo,

            I’m sorry for the slow response – busy days here.

            In all your quotes, I see that you take a literal interpretation only of brother, sister, mother, spouse. The claims of his city folk are simply that they do not see him as anyone beyond the neighbor, and this in fact was a beam in the eye of their belief in him as the Christ.

            As I said, I will grant that it is theoretically possible that it’s only coincidence that the word for “brother” is used universally for these people, and that in none of the instances I’ve cited is it intended to convey “brother.” But again, if you’d like to use M&J as an example of a perpetually celibate couple, you have to demonstrate that they are one – that it’s not reasonable to read “brother” as “brother.”

            I do not understand your questions in the subsequent paragraph; if you can reword, I can try again.

            Ergo, the coming together of which Paul spoke may be a spiritual meeting. Paul does not explicitly say it is becoming one in flesh, so why must I interpret it that way?

            So I don’t think we can meaningfully argue that Paul – who has been talking about sex for half a chapter now, and resumes doing so a verse or two later – pauses here to completely change subjects without a word of clarity. But let’s say you’re right. Let’s say this verse is entirely non-sexual. Then there are no exceptions to sexual activity in this passage: we have only the statement that the wife and husband should give each other their conjugal rights – no ifs, no breaks, the end. That doesn’t seem any better for your position.

            Can we kind of back up a step here, though, Margo?

            I’m struggling a little bit with how to word this, so I’ll ask your forbearance in advance. It’s starting to feel a little bit here like we’re devil’s advocate-ing this thing – that we’re not trying to establish the most likely reading of Paul’s words, but just looking for any possible reading that wouldn’t fit with my argument.

            Like, maybe that’s completely unfair. If there’s any way I can present it as a question instead of an accusation, please hear this as me doing so: what are we trying to do here?

            Because starting in 1 Cor 6:15, Paul is talking about sex. 7:2 is explicitly about sex. 7:3 is explicitly sex. 7:4 justifies what 7:3 said about sex. 7:8 and 9 are, again, explicitly about sex. And then 7:5 is… about coming together in a purely intellectual sense?

            In sincerity, do you think that’s the likeliest reading of this passage?

            I do not understand your last paragraph. I don’t see how honoring one’s parents applies to honoring a spouse’s desire for sex. Is that what you say?

            My point is that the exact same logic applies in both cases. We have a place where God (via Moses) said, “Here is what you owe to your parents,” and where the Pharisees said, effectively, “Actually, it would be even holier to take the energy and resources you could have used to honor father and mother, and instead to use them to honor God, as is our tradition.”

            Now God (via Paul, to answer your follow-up question) says, pretty unambiguously, “You owe sex to your spouse.” It seems to me that your argument is, effectively, “Actually, it would be holier to dedicate that energy to God, and to be celibate, as is our tradition.”

            And Jesus condemns this logic – he says, “No, that’s not holier; it’s making the word of God void. Do the thing God told you to do with those resources.”

            I do understand that by defrauding, the meaning is not to cheat the other which implies that we need to be monogamous and not commit adultery.

            Okay. So the original sentence is “Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (“Defraud,” which I used earlier, shows up in the KJV; I can do that one as well if you’d like, but it’s a clunkier wording overall.)

            So in your reading, depriving/defrauding is committing adultery. Let’s sub that into Paul’s sentence: “Do not commit adultery, except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer.” I think we have to reject that as the right interpretation!

            This is often interpreted as Joseph having an “incomplete understanding.” He did not understand.

            Okay. Again, I don’t think that’s a sustainable reading – Scripture uses “know” in a conjugal sense all the way back to Genesis. But again, let’s say you’re right: Matthew 1 is the only passage I can think of offhand that indicates they abstained from sex in their marriage at all. Drop that, and you lose any justification whatsoever for the claim of perpetual celibacy.

        2. Irked,
          I apologize that I’m not able to respond to your posts in detail with clarity at this time. I recommend this site to counter your claim that Mary and Joseph popped out siblings of the Christ. (I also don’t know any women who could claim the labor of childbirth was akin to popping their wee ones out like a hot kernel of corn!) .Hope you find time for it.

          https://www.catholic.com/tract/brethren-of-the-lord

    2. Hi Rico,

      Another neglect of Protestantism is the recognition of the role that monasticism played in early Church history. It is not a minor phenomena that happened back in the 3rd – 6th centuries regarding the Desert Father movement. And, of course, the pillar of monasticism is celibacy.

      It is very possible that as so many Christians were becoming monks/ascetics/hermits back then, the entire Church was very well familiar with it’s benefits to the Church. People across the Roman Empire were reading Athanasius’, Palladius’ and Cassian’s accounts of the lives of the Desert Fathers, and so were well accustomed to ideas of celibacy. I also read in a history called “Christians and Pagans”, that there was even competition between the authority of the Bishops and the authority of the Desert Fathers in many cases. They were seen as sort of ‘super Christians’ in the eyes of the early Church populations, and many of these common folk would consider the bishops of the Church as rather worldly, or spiritually weak, by comparison. It was said that the bishops needed to actively participate in the monastic movement to control their influence and the content of their doctrine.

      What is very interesting, though, is the intense liturgical life that the desert Fathers practiced. In some places, even the most remotely located hermits (i.e…like those living at a location called “Cellia”, near Mt. Nitria) would walk to a central location in the desert each week for the Liturgy of the Mass. In other places, such as Oxirinchus (Egypt), there was a whole walled city, full of monks and nuns and the liturgies took place both by day and night, as they had only about 20 Churches for 20,000+ such monastics living in the same city. And, a similar thing is related of Pachomius. He had about 1500 monks following his rule of life (the first written rule in Christian history), and the liturgies took place by day and night to accommodate so many monks and hermits.

      Personally, I find all of this extremely fascinating. It provides a great witness to the early Christian faith and culture back then. But Protestants largely ignore this history, or, don’t find anything useful or interesting in it. It seems that they prefer to philosophize on ‘justification’ and ‘sola scripture’, and to ignore the ‘real, living, Church’ as God allowed it to grow and advance in those early centuries. It’s like relegating the entirety of Christianity to a philosophy, or a concept, or doctrine…as if it is not actually a living body…the true and living ‘mystical body of Christ’ in this world.

      Best to you….and…your comments are indeed… rico!

      1. Celibacy is actually older than the Catholic Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary was a consecrated virgin, and remained a virgin even after Jesus was born. This is why Jesus can say as a matter of fact that “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.” He was most likely talking of his own virgin mother, as well as others who vowed holy vows to remain celibate.

        What should be interesting is that while marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church, celibacy is not. It is but a matter of discipline required from those who voluntarily enter the holy orders and other apostolates. As you have correctly pointed out, the value of this discipline has been sorely ignored and underestimated by Protestants.

        During the era of European colonialism, Catholic missionaries were able to penetrate deep into pagan territories because they were not burdened by the problems of sustaining a wife and children. Logistics-wise, Catholic missions were more efficient and economical to operate than Protestant ones. Catholic priests, once they established a mission in a far away island or mountain, pretty much expected never to see their homeland again, and die alone among the natives.

        What’s more… the pagan natives who were oftentimes polygamous saw the celibate Catholic priest as a “sign of contradiction”. There is something about a virile man who has disciplined himself in celibacy that even the most primitive pagan can appreciate. They sense his holiness. They can rest assured a Catholic priest will never touch their women. Not so with the married Protestant minister.

        Just think of Luther. This was a man who freely chose to become a monk and made a holy vow before God to live in chastity by practicing celibacy. Yet he broke his sacred vow, and encouraged others to break their own sacred vows. He himself raided a nun’s convent and married a nun. Yet isn’t the vow of chastity just as sacred as the vow of marriage? By breaking those vows, he is really no different from Mormons like Joseph Smith who promoted serial adultery via polygamy, thus encouraging others to break their marriage vows.

        Luther and the first Protestants were not reforming the Church. They were waging a revolution against the Church and the social order it established in the Middle Ages. And that’s the fundamental problem with Protestantism. The first Protestants were bad Catholics.

  8. Thinking further, it seems like maybe my long replies are overkill here. Maybe the heart of the issue is how we answer a couple of questions:

    A) Does Scripture teach that a wife has a moral right to her husband’s body – to sexually treat it as her own, and to sleep with her husband when she wishes?

    B) Does anything in Scripture say that a bishop’s wife does not have this same right?

    C) Does anything in Scripture say that she should be obliged to refrain from claiming that right?

    D) If no such Scriptures appear, why do we put obligations on her not to claim her rights? To what end do we require that she continue “burning” – struggling with temptation – instead of finding satisfaction with her spouse?

    It sure seems like the answer to (A) has to be, “Yes, she does” – Paul literally says as much in 1 Cor 7. I do not see where anyone has proposed a verse that would satisfy (B) or (C) – in which case, surely even material sufficiency would say that this doctrine is not found in Scripture, and that (D) is an extrabiblical rule.

    1. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus explicitly taught:

      “Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or WIFE, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” (Luke 18:28)

      So, A) above does NOT teach that a man MUST STAY with his wife. On the contrary, he is given both a reward in this world and a reward in Heaven for leaving them…as long as it is in response to God’s authentic call to do so. This might be something like God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. One might say, this is murder. But God indeed called him to do such. And Jesus says that it is possible to do this, to leave wife and family, and lands also for God’s sake.

      Needless to say, question A) is answered.

      B) is pretty much the same, as the same right that you mention is NOT a ‘right’ in this case, that is, in the case of God’s call to leave family and lands for the Kingdom. And we have a good example of this in the call of the 12 apostles, all of whom were Bishops. Peter says to Jesus:

      “… Behold we have left ALL THINGS, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have? [28] And Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [29] And EVERY ONE that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, OR WIFE, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an HUNDREDFOLD, and shall possess life everlasting.”

      Note that he says ‘ALL THINGS” meaning exactly that. This includes his wife if she was indeed still alive. All means all. This is just another version of the same story quoted above. But jesus adds “A HUNDRED FOLD”, will be given to them as a REWARD for such a great sacrifice of ones life by following Him.

      Aren’t these scriptures important for this very discussion? They explicitly answer your questions…and out of the very mouth of Jesus Christ, Himself.

      C) and D) indicate that you don’t care much about the Lord’s teaching above, because D) says “if no scriptures appear”. You presume that this teaching of Christ, above, is worth nothing, and providing nothing worthy of evidence for celibate living, even though I provided the same quote for you two times, earlier, in this same conversation. I guess only St. Paul’s quotes are only considered biblical evidence, even as Margo noted?

      1. Needless to say, question A) is answered.

        That didn’t actually answer the question, Al. Does a wife have a right to her husband’s body, or no?

        If your answer is “Yes, though this right is trumped if God calls the husband to something incompatible with that” – in the same way that God’s command could trump Isaac’s right to life – fine! Say so explicitly!

        But if fathers used Isaac as grounds to murder their sons, we’d ask, “Where did God command you to do that?” I’m asking the same for husbands leaving their wives: where is that a general command for church leadership? Again, in the natural reading shared by every major translation I can find, even the apostles seem not to have set aside their wives, except for a temporary period of necessity. If someone came to you and said, “I’m called to lead the church, but not to put away my wife”… on what biblical grounds do we say anything other than “Great”?

        That’s the question I asked… days ago now, I guess, and I can’t see that you’ve answered it anywhere. No one’s arguing whether God can require things – dangerous travel, mission work, etc. – that would force two spouses to separate for a time; I’ve said that already upthread. (A) asks, “By default, does the Christian wife have a right to her husband’s body?” – and if the answer is yes, (B) and (C) ask, “On what grounds do we say that no Christian leader meets that default?”

        So when you say…

        B) is pretty much the same, as the same right that you mention is NOT a ‘right’ in this case, that is, in the case of God’s call to leave family and lands for the Kingdom.

        … again, that doesn’t answer the question at all. To say “This right is not operative on bishops, because they leave their family and lands,” requires you to demonstrate that every bishop is called to leave family and lands. On what grounds do you do so? (Are bishops forbidden from owning property?)

        I guess only St. Paul’s quotes are only considered biblical evidence, even as Margo noted?

        Have I only quoted Paul in this conversation, or have I explicitly addressed and worked through (and indeed introduced to the conversation) the words of Christ? Have you likewise exegeted the passages I’ve brought up?

    2. Irked,
      1 Cor 7 is actually one of the best supporting verses for clergy celibacy as a superior discipline. If a married individual doesn’t have complete authority over his/her body, how are they able to fully use it to further God’s kingdom? In other words, in Cor 7 Paul is indirectly promoting celibacy as the optimal way to answer God’s call by making his/her body entirely available.
      Furthermore, point C does not automatically follow from points A, B. Having a right does not automatically make claiming it acceptable or useful (1 Cor 6:12; 1 Cor 10:23).
      Finally, in point D you sound dangerously like O. G. Wilde: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”.

      1. Hi LLC,

        1 Cor 7 is actually one of the best supporting verses for clergy celibacy as a superior discipline. If a married individual doesn’t have complete authority over his/her body, how are they able to fully use it to further God’s kingdom? In other words, in Cor 7 Paul is indirectly promoting celibacy as the optimal way to answer God’s call by making his/her body entirely available.

        And yet, Paul does not disqualify the married from leading churches; indeed, the standard elder he describes is married (and apparently non-celibate).

        I have no argument with the fact that Paul sees singleness as ideal – “I wish all men were as I am!” But I think we have to equally acknowledge that he doesn’t see it as necessary for church leadership.

        Having a right does not automatically make claiming it acceptable or useful.

        I agree! But my thesis isn’t that it’s always acceptable for a bishop or his wife to press their marital rights; my thesis is that it isn’t axiomatically impossible for it to be acceptable. Paul certainly doesn’t think it’s unacceptable for Christian spouses to press these rights in general – on the contrary, he clearly thinks they should! On what grounds do we say that this can never be the most excellent way for a bishop and his spouse?

        Finally, in point D you sound dangerously like O. G. Wilde: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”.

        Respectfully, it seems like the more important question is how much what I’m saying sounds like Paul – a dangerous man himself, I suppose. How does Paul suggest that a couple who burn with passion should resolve this situation?

        1. Irked,
          “indeed, the standard elder he describes is married (and apparently non-celibate)” = not quite. The “standard” elder is not married; the “standard” elder, IF married, “…must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way”. In other words, your comment makes the “standard” appear “being married”; Paul says that the “standard” is “being a good steward of his household”.
          “I have no argument with the fact that Paul sees singleness as ideal – “I wish all men were as I am!” But I think we have to equally acknowledge that he doesn’t see it as necessary for church leadership” = maybe Paul stops short of saying it explicitly, but it is evident from 1 Cor that he thinks it; the Church, in Her God given authority, has decided so, the same way your church may decide that only married women can be preschool teachers.
          “On what grounds do we say that this can never be the most excellent way for a bishop and his spouse?” = See 1 Cor 7:29: “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none…”. Paul continuously praises celibacy and abstinence, and he regards sex in marriage to regulate passions only as a last resort, sort of plan D (plan A being celibacy, B marriage without marital rights, C marriage with marital rights with abstinence).
          “Respectfully, it seems like the more important question is how much what I’m saying sounds like Paul” = again, also respectfully, not quite. 1 Cor was written as a specific response to a specific problem (marriage and immorality issues among the Corinthians). Paul is very much concerned with working for the Kingdom, and everything else is seen as a possible obstacle. Even acquiring freedom for a slave (1 Cor 7:21) is not as important as making “…use of your present condition now more than ever”. Your posts emphasize only the sections where Paul, after many caveat, concedes that a marry life can be acceptable, and still, “This I say by way of concession, not of command” (1 Cor 7:6).
          In conclusion: the Catholic Church has correctly adopted Paul’s main point that married life = distraction as a standard for clergy, and his concession to marry as the exception; the Protestant Universe took the opposite position.

          1. LLC,

            In other words, your comment makes the “standard” appear “being married”; Paul says that the “standard” is “being a good steward of his household”.

            He says “must be the husband of but one wife;” that seems like a pretty clear default to me. But I don’t think this is a hair worth splitting overmuch: it suffices that Paul thought it perfectly appropriate that the elder should be married.

            maybe Paul stops short of saying it explicitly, but it is evident from 1 Cor that he thinks it

            That’s absurd. Paul doesn’t “stop short of” saying anything; he explicitly says, in two different books, that married men can be elders. His own clear testimony is that he doesn’t think singleness is mandatory.

            See 1 Cor 7:29: “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none…”.

            1 Cor 7:29 is given in the context of what he’s already said at the start of the chapter. How can we possibly read this to contradict the words he’s just said?

            More, there’s nothing in 7:29 about bishops, which was my question; unless you’re willing to argue this verse says no one should ever have sex with their spouse, there’s no ground here for saying elders should not.

            Paul continuously praises celibacy and abstinence, and he regards sex in marriage to regulate passions only as a last resort,… B marriage without marital rights,

            Paul literally says that sex is the reason to be married, that to not have sex with your spouse is fraud, and that any temporary period of separation needs to end with “coming together again” sexually. Show me anywhere – anywhere – that he advocates for marriage without marital rights.

            “Respectfully, it seems like the more important question is how much what I’m saying sounds like Paul” = again, also respectfully, not quite.

            Er- so it’s not more important how much what I’m saying sounds like Paul?

            1 Cor was written as a specific response to a specific problem (marriage and immorality issues among the Corinthians).

            Sure. One might argue there are still marriage and immorality issues in modern culture.

            Your posts emphasize only the sections where Paul, after many caveat, concedes that a marry life can be acceptable

            Yes. We say that something Paul says can be acceptable, can in fact be accepted. I think that’s a better standard than, “We say something Paul says can be acceptable cannot be accepted.”

          2. Reflecting, that came out more forcefully than it should have; I apologize. But I do not believe there’s any need to guess, or to try to read between the lines, as to whether Paul thought married people could be in church leadership. Twice, he says outright that they can, and indeed that a man’s children can be a good indicator as to whether he is leadership material.

            If the Catholic Church says otherwise, I think we have to be straightforward about the fact that this is in no sense a biblical imperative.

    3. My answers:

      A) Yes. Even Jesus recognized that once a man and woman are married, they are ONE FLESH.
      B) No.
      C) No.
      D) No comment. If someone had said that a bishop’s wife must suffer this way, I am not sure that that is Catholic teaching. The early Church saw that the priesthood involved offering sacrifices (the Mass) in the appointed places and times set by the rules of the Church. You’ll have to read the First Epistle of Clement to Corinthians to see this concept.

      Ritual purification rites involving abstinence from sex were observed in the Old Law. Since the Early Christians saw the Mass as a Sacrifice, it is not difficult to see why the priesthood of the Church would require something similar from its priests, ie, purifying themselves through sexual abstinence in preparation for their priestly function. The spouse of the bishop who must abstain from sex will not see this as a suffering, but as integral part of her duty as someone married to a priest who offers sacrifices.

      Moreover, in Paul’s admonition about choosing bishops, ie, “a bishop must be the husband of one wife”, the early Church counted differently. When a bishop’s wife died, then the deceased wife was counted as one wife. The bishop was therefore discouraged from marrying again. Over time, this eventually led to a celibate priesthood. Celibacy and the idea of the Mass as a Sacrifice are closely interconnected. Thus, to deny one doctrine is to deny the other.

      This is why in reading the scriptures, it is not enough to just read them as you understand them. The scriptures were born from the womb of the Church. The scriptures did not give birth to the Church. Therefore, in reading them, one must always consider the mind and experience of the Church that produced these scriptures.

      Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a mustard seed that grew up to be a big tree. The Kingdom of Heaven is not meant to remain as a young budding sprout here on earth. But that is the picture of the Church as portrayed in the NT. It is a young Church at the threshold of growth. To try and recapture the youthful glow of that Church by going back to the NT is what we call the problem of primitivism. Joe Hersch published an excellent article on this problem:

      The Catholic Church Doesn’t Look Like the Early Church? Good.
      http://shamelesspopery.com/mustard-tree/

      To quote him:

      “I’m reminded of Apple Computers. Depending on who you believe, Apple was started in either Steve Wozniak’s bedroom or Steve Jobs’ garage. But either way, it started tiny. But they didn’t start that small for the sake of staying in the garage forever. They started that small for the sake of revolutionizing the industry and changing the world. Faithfulness to that mission meant that their company would dramatically grow and change: how could it not? Nobody would seriously suggest that Apple ought to still be run entirely out of a bedroom or a garage.

      So it is with the Church: Jesus founded an extremely-tiny Church, but He sends that Church to go out and transform the world, promising that the Church will dramatically expand (like a rapidly-growing plant or leaven in bread) into the largest religion on Earth. The Apostles weren’t told to stand in one place and stare at the sky until Christ’s return (Acts 1:10-11). They were told to get busy. And they did. That’s why the Church looks different today than she did yesterday.”

      1. Rico,

        A) Yes. Even Jesus recognized that once a man and woman are married, they are ONE FLESH.
        B) No.
        C) No.
        D) No comment. If someone had said that a bishop’s wife must suffer this way, I am not sure that that is Catholic teaching.

        I appreciate (and agree with) the clear answers to (A)-(C). I’m not sure I’m following what you’re saying on (D). Say we have a Catholic bishop’s wife who found herself struggling with unfulfilled sexual desire for her husband; is it possible that she could in good conscience approach her husband for the fulfillment of this need? Is it possible this could be a frequent occurrence for the health of their marriage and their mutual holiness in life? Would the Catholic Church permit that – or are you saying you’re not sure?

        it is not difficult to see why the priesthood of the Church would require something similar from its priests

        Details aside, I agree; I think it’s easy to see where it comes from. But I think we have to say it steps beyond – and in some cases contrary to – Scripture in doing so. So very many of these men seem to have seen sex as something inherently sinful – and that’s not a teaching that comes from God.

        1. Recall that Question D was: If no such Scriptures appear, why do we put obligations on her not to claim her rights? To what end do we require that she continue “burning” – struggling with temptation – instead of finding satisfaction with her spouse?

          As I see it, I am not sure who is the “we” who puts obligations on the wife. Is that the people discussing here, or is that the Church? But if it is the Church, it must be the Church of the past since the present one has resolved that problem with celibacy. There is no longer a wife in the equation. So my best answer is no comment.

          But now you have modified the question, so let me change my answer too.

          In the present Church, bishops are not married. So the question hardly applies to their case. But the Church accepts certain married priests who convert to the Catholic faith, ie, Anglicans. They retain their priestly vocation without giving up their marriage. So in the case of the married Anglican-to-Catholic priest, the answer is YES. Nothing stops the priest’s wife from asking his husband to fulfill his conjugal obligations to her.

          In short, the general answer for both Catholic bishop and priest in the present Church is NO, with some unusual exceptions in the case of married priests.

          Does the Catholic Church view the sexual act as inherently sinful? No. The sexual act is not in the same category as lying, theft, or murder which are intrinsically evil acts no matter the circumstance. The morality of sexual act is determined by its objective and context, ie, to procreate within the marriage bond.

          Sex outside marriage is sin, even if the goal is to have children. And sex within marriage is sin if it is not open to procreation.

          Celibacy may be compared with fasting. Fasting is abstinence from food not because food is evil. Likewise celibacy is abstinence from sex not because sex is evil. Both fasting and celibacy are forms of discipline that produce strong spiritual muscles by subduing the lusts of the flesh. The idea that “Catholics view sex as inherently evil that is why they have celibacy” is really nothing but cheap, anti-Catholic propaganda.

          Celibacy is deeply rooted in scripture. Remember what Jesus said when his disciples said “It is not good to marry”. He did not refute them. This is why you can now accept that celibacy is a spiritual gift. This sets you apart from the best Protestant theologians of the last 500 years from Luther to Barth who saw nothing good in it.

          1. Hi Rico,

            Recall that Question D was:

            Ah, okay, that clarifies. When I wrote the questions, I was mostly thinking about my conversations with Craig and Al, both of whom I understand to be talking more about the “married, but persistently celibate afterwards” position. For a “not married at all” position, the question doesn’t quite fit – so it sounds like you would agree with me (contra the Orthodox church) on the question of “priests who, for whatever reason, do have wives (though most of them shouldn’t)”?

            Thanks for clearing that up! Follow-up to your position: do you see anything in Scripture that says that bishops should not be married, or do you see this as grounded basically in tradition?

            Does the Catholic Church view the sexual act as inherently sinful? No… The idea that “Catholics view sex as inherently evil that is why they have celibacy” is really nothing but cheap, anti-Catholic propaganda

            So I want to be clear that that’s not what I said. I didn’t say that the RCC today holds this view – rather, I said that a number of the church fathers who speak so highly of celibacy do hold pretty warped views of sexuality. (For just one or two examples, Jerome certainly seems to have a, uh, less than fully healthy view: in the context of marriage, he says, “If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness,” and elsewhere “If we abstain from intercourse, we give honour to our wives: if we do not abstain, it is clear that insult is the opposite of honour.” Likewise, Augustine makes the argument that sexual desire is a result of the fall, and that “In Paradise, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul sexual passion.”)

            I would, with perhaps somewhat of a biased view, argue that the Reformation is ultimately one of the impulses that spurs the Catholic Church to clean house on some of the more unhealthy views among its members.

            This is why you can now accept that celibacy is a spiritual gift. This sets you apart from the best Protestant theologians of the last 500 years from Luther to Barth who saw nothing good in it.

            So, respectfully, it seems like you misrepresent (or just are not aware of) the Protestant position on this matter. Earlier you said that no Protestant in this thread had defended celibacy as a gift. That was untrue; so too is this.

            Here are quite literally the first three Protestant theologians I searched, with perhaps five minutes of Googling:

            Charles Spurgeon, Exposition to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19: “Abstinence from marriage is to a few a choice gift, answering high purposes; but to the many, marriage is as necessary as it is honorable.”

            John Piper, “Satan Uses Sexual Desire”: “God has called many of you to a life of celibacy. The teaching of this passage for you is that this is a gift to be celebrated. You should be dreaming—as many of you are—how your freedom can be maximized for the cause of Christ here and around the world. You have some advantage that the married do not have.”

            John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, chapter 7: “Paul here expressly declares, that every one has not a free choice in this matter, because virginity is a special gift, that is not conferred upon all indiscriminately… Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift… in that we promise nothing but what God requires from all his people, but that continency is a special gift, which God has withheld from many,” and many other remarks beside. (In context, Calvin here uses “virginity” in the sense of “continuing virginity.”)

            All three of these men see celibacy as a valuable gift. While this view is perhaps not universal among Protestant theologians, it’s nonetheless quite common; your claim is simply false.

          2. Response to Irked (August 31, 2017 at 9:30 am)

            Question: do you see anything in Scripture that says that bishops should not be married, or do you see this as grounded basically in tradition?

            Me: In the scriptures, nothing says that bishops should not be married. In fact, the opposite is what we find in Paul. “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife…etc.” But blameless comes first, then marriage. And in the lived experience of the Catholic Church, it has seen that a married bishop has so many disadvantages that exposes him to blame. So the Church must ask itself: Which is more important, that a bishop be blameless or be married?

            After 2,000 years, the Catholic Church sees nothing advantageous in having married bishops and priests. Most especially now where clerical shortage is the most pressing issue. Having married clerics has not solved the shortage in Protestant churches either. Why change the discipline?

            Irked: rather, I said that a number of the church fathers who speak so highly of celibacy do hold pretty warped views of sexuality. (For just one or two examples, Jerome certainly seems to have a, uh, less than fully healthy view: in the context of marriage, he says…etc.

            Reading your single verse citations from Sts. Jerome and Augustine do not show warpness in their views of sexuality. In fact, when you read what St. Jerome was actually saying in the context of that verse, it is us moderns who have a warped view of sexuality. Because it is too lengthy to cut and paste here, I would suggest you read that verse in its context so you see what he was driving at.

            St. Paul said, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor 7:1). Is this a warped view of sexuality? If not, then why accuse St.Jerome of warpness when he says “It is bad for a man to touch a woman”? The two statements mean exactly the same thing. You cannot accuse one without accusing the other. If not touching a woman is good, then the converse is true: touching a woman is bad.

            So is Paul’s view warped? I’d like to hear you explain that.

            Irked: All three of these men see celibacy as a valuable gift. While this view is perhaps not universal among Protestant theologians, it’s nonetheless quite common; your claim is simply false.

            Me: One of the chief targets of the Protestant revolution in the 16th century was the abolition of clerical celibacy. The first Protestants blamed it for a host of maladies that plagued the Church that time. As you admitted, only a few theologians in that movement saw celibacy as a gift. But they are like stopped clocks. They are only correct twice a day.

            In the Council of Trent, the best Catholic theologians at that time studied all the arguments hurled against celibacy by their Protestant detractors, and this is their pronouncement:

            “CANON IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is nothing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be ANATHEMA: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.”

            The Council read and understood well what the Protestant position was. So if you see a Protestant who sees celibacy as a gift, he is a broken clock. His being correct is just an accident. His view is not integral to his being Protestant.

            If Protestants had truly seen celibacy a spiritual gift, what have they done to cultivate this gift? Among the Pentecostals who believe in the gift of tongues you see a lot of them speaking in tongues. Where are the Protestants who have the gift of celibacy? Have they cultivated this gift and shown us its fruits?

            You want to talk of John Calvin? Calvin was married. So was Spurgeon and Piper. None of these men are examples of the gift of celibacy. You don’t see its fruits in their lives. Celibacy for them is just a sterile academic discourse. It is not a lived, Christian experience. Protestantism has totally slammed the door on celibacy, so those men don’t really understand what they’re talking about. Where Jesus said “those who can receive this, let them receive it” the whole Protestant movement was mostly deaf.

          3. Hi Rico,

            In the scriptures, nothing says that bishops should not be married. In fact, the opposite is what we find in Paul.

            Cool. That was the position I was originally trying to argue, with Craig.

            But blameless comes first, then marriage.

            Sure, I would agree. A bishop has to be blameless; he doesn’t have to be married. But Paul clearly doesn’t think the two are inconsistent; my argument basically boils down to, “I think it’s rather presumptuous to say, ‘Our list of criteria contradicts and is better than Paul’s.'”

            (For whatever it’s worth, I think the same about some Baptist churches’ “An elder must not drink, ever, at all.”)

            Why change the discipline?

            I mean, broadly, because it denies the possibility of eldership to men God may call to that role.

            I would suggest you read that verse in its context so you see what he was driving at.

            I have.

            St. Paul said, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor 7:1). Is this a warped view of sexuality? If not, then why accuse St.Jerome of warpness when he says “It is bad for a man to touch a woman”? The two statements mean exactly the same thing.

            They do not, no. It’s good to go for a jog every morning after a bowl of bran flakes. It’s not bad not to do so. It’s good to not touch a woman – but if a man feels he ought to marry, “let him do as he wishes; he does not sin.”

            One of the chief targets of the Protestant revolution in the 16th century was the abolition of clerical celibacy. The first Protestants blamed it for a host of maladies that plagued the Church that time. As you admitted, only a few theologians in that movement saw celibacy as a gift.

            So, three things:

            1) There is a goalpost shift here from “their view of celibacy” to “their view of clerical celibacy.” The two are not the same.

            2) I did not “admit” any such thing, and I don’t appreciate the claim. I said not every Protestant theologian has valued celibacy; that’s an entirely different sentiment.

            3) You’ve made two claims of fact so far in this thread regarding Protestant views of celibacy: that no Protestant in the thread had supported it, and that none of the better Protestant theologians had defended it in 500 years.

            Both claims were false. Trivially, obviously, provably, both were false. So when you say this:

            His view is not integral to his being Protestant.

            or this:

            Celibacy for them is just a sterile academic discourse.

            … I don’t feel like you have a lot of credibility to declare what Protestants actually believe. Why should I believe you understand the secret heart of these men, when a moment ago you were wrong about what they publicly taught?

  9. Irked said:

    “That didn’t actually answer the question, Al. Does a wife have a right to her husband’s body, or no?

    If your answer is “Yes, though this right is trumped if God calls the husband to something incompatible with that” – in the same way that God’s command could trump Isaac’s right to life – fine! Say so explicitly!

    —-awlms: OK. yes I say so explicitly. God’s call trumps a women right to her body. And moreover, a secular government such as the USA could trump a ‘wife right to her husbands body’ by drafting him into the army during wartime, or by throwing him into prison for any reason whatsoever. Mind you, no one ever discusses ‘wife’s rights’ during these events. And I would think an authentic vocation by God is more authoritative than the US government.

    Irked: “But if fathers used Isaac as grounds to murder their sons, we’d ask, “Where did God command you to do that?” I’m asking the same for husbands leaving their wives: where is that a general command for church leadership?”

    —-awlms: You already know that a call from God is a highly personal thing. In the case of St. Paul he was struck blind. In the case of others, Jesus just said “come follow me”, and they did. So. it is the particular soul that knows the will of God, and no other, not even the wife. And I’ve already cited Jesus’ promise of a reward of ‘a hundred fold’, to those who leave wives and children in the same way from an authentic call from God in this way. To say that it doesn’t happen is to say that Jesus shouldn’t have uttered this statement. And we need to remember, that we are not the teachers or lawmakers here….Christ is. We learn from Him, and so by his including ‘wives and children’ into his teaching….it must be instructive for us, and not something to ignore.

    Irked: “Again, in the natural reading shared by every major translation I can find, even the apostles seem not to have set aside their wives, except for a temporary period of necessity. If someone came to you and said, “I’m called to lead the church, but not to put away my wife”… on what biblical grounds do we say anything other than “Great”?”

    —awlms: As cited above, St. Peter said “… Behold we have left ALL THINGS, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?

    Irked, are you trying to say that Peter should have responded…”Behold we have left ALL THINGS ….for a period of time to be determined by us, ….and have followed thee…”?

    Irked: “That’s the question I asked… days ago now, I guess, and I can’t see that you’ve answered it anywhere. No one’s arguing whether God can require things – dangerous travel, mission work, etc. – that would force two spouses to separate for a time”

    Irked, you cannot compare a modern Protestant missionary in the 21st century to a missionary sent to barbarian nations in the 1-5th centuries AD.
    Better not even to make the comparison, just use your imagination and read a little history of such ancient missionary accounts to barbarian peoples. St. Bede is a good place to start with, detailing the conversion of the Anglo Saxons. Also, in the first centuries the main target for persecution were bishops. Chapter 8 of Eusebius’ history will prove that. Bishops were prime targets for martyrdom back then. So, it’s easy how celibacy could be demanded of them, even for the sake of saving their wives and children from torture also. Bishops were often exiled also, even as St. John the Apostle was. Catholics have trust in the early Church regarding Church leadership. We believe that each generation of Church leadership solves it’s own problems/difficulties with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

    ***********

    One last item. It is not only the individual who is called by God, but it is the Church that ratifies, approves, blesses and ordains that particular vocation. A person must be ‘sent’, or must be chosen by the Church for a mission or ecclesiastical office in the Church. So, it is a process, even as St. Paul needed to be healed of his blindness by the Church. So, all of the issues regarding wives ‘rights’ would be considered and settled by the Church also, and likewise…the making of the decision to send, or not to send a person on a mission to a foreign nation. This also applies to ordaining, or not to ordaining, a person an ecclesiastical office, i.e…. bishop, priest or deacon. So, the Church has always been in control of the qualifications needed to become a bishop, or missionary, in the Church. And Catholics respect this right of the Church to choose her leaders. Moreover we respect the decisions of synods and councils as they have taken place in Church history regarding these issues. Even as the Church invented the deaconate as an institution, they also can modify their regulations regarding such offices as they deem right for the places and times. So, when Church synods make a regulation regarding celibacy, Catholics believe and follow their decisions. On the contrary, regarding celibacy…you and other Protestants are contradicting and campaigning against all of the councils, synods and Church Fathers detailed in my lengthy quote that I provided above. Catholics have no problems with these Church canons of the various councils. We believe in their authority. So, at least Catholics believe in united decisions of the world wide (Catholic) Church back in the early centuries, as is proved by the decisions of these same synods and ecumenical councils. We also believe in the words of Christ to Peter, in the Gospel, that I’ve cited about 8 times now. So, if there is a problem between what Jesus says, and what Paul says…it’s probably better to listen to the ancient Church on the matter. And clearly the ancient Church supports ecclesiastical celibacy as noted abundantly in this conversation.

    Best to you.

    1. Al,

      OK. yes I say so explicitly. God’s call trumps a women right to her body. And moreover, a secular government such as the USA could trump a ‘wife right to her husbands body’ by drafting him into the army during wartime, or by throwing him into prison for any reason whatsoever.

      Okay. But you agree that she does have such a right, as a baseline, right? So if God has not given the husband a calling that would prevent the exercise of this right, they ought to sleep together – true?

      Irked, are you trying to say that Peter should have responded…”Behold we have left ALL THINGS ….for a period of time to be determined by us, ….and have followed thee…”?

      I don’t think Peter had any idea what the future held; for all he knew when he spoke those words, they would die in Christ’s service the next day. They had left family behind; if God later graciously gave that family back… can that not be part of a fulfillment of Christ’s words: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life”? Must everyone who leaves family and home never receive them back? Surely not – that would fly against the example of the traveling missionary you’ve used yourself.

      Irked, you cannot compare a modern Protestant missionary in the 21st century to a missionary sent to barbarian nations in the 1-5th centuries AD.

      So (a), I didn’t make that comparison, and (b), it seems like that avoids my question in favor of debating something I didn’t say.

      I would still like an answer! You say:

      You already know that a call from God is a highly personal thing… So. it is the particular soul that knows the will of God, and no other, not even the wife.

      Great! A married man comes to you and says, “I am called to church leadership; I’m not called to leave my wife.” You say yourself, that call is a personal thing – no one else can know for sure the nature of it.

      Now, we both agree that if God called this man to subsequent celibacy, or to actions that necessitated subsequent celibacy – well, God has every right to do so. We have no argument on that front. But the man says, “No, that’s not my calling; mercifully, God has not asked that of me.” Do we have any biblical grounds for saying, “God would never call a man to church leadership unless he also called him to leave his spouse?”

      That’s it! That’s all I’m asking. Matthew 19, no matter how it praises those who are so called, will never grow a clause that says, “Every elder is called to leave his wife.” Does anything in Scripture say this, or do you agree that the Catholic Church bans men from church leadership on extrabiblical grounds – men who exactly satisfy Paul’s criteria for eldership? Your last paragraph sure sounds that way, but if that’s what you’re saying, let’s be straight about it.

      1. “Do we have any biblical grounds for saying, “God would never call a man to church leadership unless he also called him to leave his spouse?”

        Everyone knows that Church Leadership, i.e…becoming a bishop or priest, cannot be achieved through self ordaination. That’s to say, a person cannot make himself a priest or bishop, it is the Church who decides both who, and how, a person is ordained to such a position in the Church. But, before a person arrives at a stage wherein he might be considered acceptable to the Church, he has already been catechized by others and been found to be of orthodox belief and suitable for such a position.

        Moreover, the bishops in the locality of the candidate examines every aspect of such a persons life in great detail, even as they examine the lives and beliefs of catechumenal candidates. It’s called ‘scrutinization’, and it is a very serious affair. So, since leadership positions are derived by the authority of the Church, it is the Church who will examine what the characters of the spouses are, and if it is suitable both for the married partner, or not, for the husband to be accepted for an ecclesiastical position. So, in this sense, the call to such a position in the Church might be a personal desire, but only the Church can examine and approve such a candidate. A person can understand if it is truly is a call from God, or not, by the same judgement of the Church.

        So, obviously a person needs to personally feel called to ecclesiastical life, and this is just the first step. It’s the same as a person who ‘feels called to become a Christian’. That same person still needs to undergo catechesis…even as our friend Craig Truglia is currently doing. He can feel called to join the Church, but does he actually believe what the Church teaches in this catechesis? Does the Church accept him? If so, he can then be baptized INTO the Church and then receive the Eucharist and other sacraments. If he do not believe everything that is taught, he will be rejected and he can do whatever he wants and maybe try to join some heretical group that follows his own particular beliefs. These would probably be some of the early Protestants that you frequently allude to as having existed in ancient Christian history. That is, folks that could not believe in the catechesis taught to them by the Church in their particular city/diocese in the Roman Empire. And, if Craig likewise doesn’t agree to what he is taught, he too will be rejected by the Church that is catechizing him.

        We see, then, that to be ordained to the clerical life is not such an easy thing, either now…or back then. First comes faithful catechesis. Then comes acceptance into the Church. Then, follows desire for the ordained clerical life. Next comes new scrutinization by the bishops and priests of the locality where a candidate lives. Then, after such scrutiny, decisions are made by all parties involved, including wives, bishops, priests, family members, etc….After this the church makes a decision on whether to ordain/consecrate, or not to ordain. Lastly, and on top of all this , the Church has had different policies regarding marriage/ordinations and celibacy throughout the centuries, and has adapted it’s canon laws to clarify it’s teachings for all those who desire to live the clerical life in the Church.

        There is not time here to explain how authority was given to the Church to make all of these ecclesiastical decisions regarding consecrations and ordinations. Suffice it to say, Christ taught his Apostles: “Those who hear you, hear me”.

          1. Yes, Craig. Yet, I still wish that you were Roman Catholic. But, of course, Orthodox… to a Catholic, is second best. At least we have about 95% the same theology, and in the most essential points! …and it is always right to follow your conscience.

            Best to you always in the Lord.

          2. I might add, that even if you did become Catholic, you would have to shop for a very orthodox parish to practice in. Something like the one Joe belongs to, that appreciates serious theology. Some of the modern Catholic liturgies and music found here on the West Coast drive the more orthodox members of parishes to ‘bite the bullet’ and suffer through themas an act of patience and penance. They often violate so many liturgical instructions given in both Vatican II, as well as encyclicals, as to make one wonder why they are even Catholic.

            However, when we read the first chapters of the Book of Revelation, we see that even in Apostolic times, particular parishes did some pretty crazy stuff! And, it hasn’t really changed much since. However, there are still great parishes also, like mine here in Benicia which is buzzing with Dominican Friars. For the most part they’re very intelligent, joyful, pius, young and orthodox. It’s great to see so many brothers/Friars/priests of such intelligence and and true Christian spirit together in one place. If you were here you probably would drive them crazy with your excellent questions and analysis! But Dominicans brag(in a comical way) about the theological arguments they have with each other, in their free time, and so this wouldn’t be anything new to them. Just like those who comment here…we all like a good theological slug fest now and then! And it usually benefits all parties in one way to the other.

            Again, best to you… and still praying. Please do the same for me.

        1. Al,

          A person can understand if it is truly is a call from God, or not, by the same judgement of the Church.

          A point of clarification, here: are you arguing that the Catholic Church has never approved as an elder anyone who, in hindsight, was not so called by God? That they have never rejected as an elder anyone who, in hindsight, they might have approved?

          Because if there is a possibility of error here, I don’t see how this statement is to be maintained.

          1. Hi Irked,

            The judgements of God are highly mysterious, to say the least. Why people do what they do, and why they make the decisions they do, are so spiritually complex as to often defy understanding. So, I don’t think we can say absolutely why some person would be rejected from the priesthood, or even from baptism, or also accepted by the Church to such sacraments. I think that only God knows the motives, or reasons, people in power make important decisions in the way they do, be they Apostles, bishops or kings. But the Divine Providence of God works by these same people also. So, even if a person was rejected for baptism, due to some strange beliefs they might have, they might adapt over time, or even try a different diocese whereby they might receive catechesis and the sacraments. Likewise, a person seeking priesthood can often try a different diocese, at least in our modern times. And I think even in the early ages people could travel to different cities in the Roman Empire and find Catholic Churches that might accept them. So, vocations are actually very complex. Some good people are often rejected, and some evil doers might also be accepted, and vice versa.

            I, myself, tried to join the Franciscans in the past and they rejected me. I tried to join another order, that of Mother Theresa and in my postulancy, my life was threatened three times by gang members in a barrio in Los Angeles and this caused me to stop my postulancy in that order. In the end, I got married and am now very happy with my vocation. So, such ocations like mine were complicated, but since I am very happy now, I can see that it was a blessing that I was rejected and even persecuted, wherein I felt God was sending me a message that those vocations were not right for me.

            So, I believe that bishops, vocations directors, priests, etc…can make mistakes. But those mistakes might have been the will of God for a particular person.

            So, if a person is rejected by a Church, monastery, bishop, etc…and feels that God is truly calling him, he can try again later, or find another community that will be more accepting. It’s kind of like dating, even though a person thinks he found the right mate, he still needs to wait for the acceptance of the person he is in love with. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. But, who really can understand the reasons except God? Men just need to live with the consequences, and hope to accept the will of God in their lives.

            An ecclesiastical position is the same. And if a person is honest and is accepted, it is probably the will of God (just like marriage). It he is rejected, it might be because of a deficiency that he doesn’t recognize in himself, be it mental or physical…or just that he seems to be a poor leader, naturally. But, it is the Church authorities that make the decisions regarding these qualities. And, this is also why the Church in early times required 3 bishops to ratify a decision of another bishop who desired to consecrate a priest in his diocese to a bishop’s rank. The reason for this requirement was to have more than one person who decides on such an important matter. So, this disciplinary norm was created by the Church to confirm that the candidate for bishop was well vetted in his orthodoxy, health, mental state, marital status, education level, etc… before consecration.

            This is also to say that even if a person considers himself suitable, it might just be a case of egoism and ambition, two qualities that might make for a disastrous ecclesiastical vocation. But, in any case, it is the Church who makes (and has made decisions throughout history), in these ecclesiastical affairs. So, if a person indeed WAS accepted for such a position of Church office, it was probably the will and divine providence of God, as the Church made the decision in a solemn way and after much consideration. And if he is rejected, it is also probably the will and providence of God, also. In any case, it’s the Church the makes the final decision, and not the individual, whatever he thinks his qualities are. This is also to say that God works in a persons life in different aspects, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Such was the case of the patriarch Job in the OT. And such is the case in every age since him. And the Bible is full of other such cases as examples.

            Best to you in the Lord.

          2. Al,
            Thank you for the personal answer. It is a reply with some nuance but is completely clear. Attacks on the Church are attacks against its founder who is totally blameless. Individuals within the Church (Luther is clearly a case in point) sin, will sin, have sinned. God will judge.

          3. Hi Irked,

            If you read the Gospels, Jesus Himself rarely speaks in absolutes, as you might desire. Most of what he taught wasn’t logical at all, and was far removed from anything resembling philosophy. Most of what He taught was metaphorical or symbolic in naturel. Teaching in parables is a far different style than teaching using scholastic or dogmatic philosophy ( not to say the Church doesn’t utilize it… but it is not part of the sacred liturgy every Sunday). The teaching of the Gospel is what is used in liturgy, and filled with all of their highly symbolic revelations and meanings.

            And so, why do you think that Jesus chose to teach in this way, through so many symbols, and very few explicitly clear teachings? And, if He wanted to teach in the way that philosophers would want, why didn’t He just write it all down Himself and explicitly say in black and white exactly what a person needs to do to be ‘saved’. This way, there would be no mystery about ‘sola scriptura’. ( …even Islam does this regarding the Koran)

            But, Jesus never wrote anything, and also never told anyone to write anything. He left those minor details to his disciples, to either write or not to write. And actually, it took them quite a while to actually do the writing(…and especially St. John the Apostle)!

            But, what Christ did do, is build a Church, a living Church. And this Church was operative in the decades after His death. Moreover, their Jewish society was very accustomed to oral tradition, and to memorizing teachings from the Rabbi’s/priests back then. So, really, the TRADITION of the Church was the main focus until the apostles started to be martyred, and when the Church though ‘memoirs of the apostles’ would be beneficial for the Church.

            This is all to say, that if Christ wanted a Church built on philosophy, He would have made it known in the Gospel that He taught. But, it seems the opposite. He didn’t want everything perfectly clear or explicit. He wanted people to train their imaginations and spirits, by using symbols to describe the Kingdom of God, and also so that they can imitate the way of life that He taught them both by His own words and non-verbal examples.

            So, to demand too much explicit analysis, and to ignore the mystical element, is to be more of a Greek philosopher, than a Christian disciple. The way that a disciple learns his faith is by practicing what Jesus told us to do. Something that even fishermen and children might be able to understand. If he says ‘Eat My body’, a disciple does it. If He says feed the hungry, he does that also. So, first is to do what Jesus says. And, if a person does all of this, that is, he LIVES OUT the word of Christ in his life, then this man needs not worry about justification at all. By his very practice of doing what Chirst told him to do, he is being justified, and his faithful actions reveal this. He lives by the power of the holy Trinity abiding in his soul, even as Jesus taught.

            And the Church as a whole also lives and operates in the same way. It is a ‘living body’ , mainly built upon divine Charity and wisdom….and not a mere philosophy relegated to the use, or abuse, of logic, reason and argumentation. It is built more upon true prayer to God, than reason and philosophy. So, everything is not only ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And, there are still mysteries that only great friends of God, here on Earth, will ever understand.

            Best to you in the Lord.

          4. Hi Al,

            So, everything is not only ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

            Perhaps! But “Is there an exact identity between ‘those called to lead the church’ and ‘those recognized as such by the Roman Catholic Church'” is a question that can only be answered “yes” or “no.” Either there are mismatches, or there are not – no matter how “Greek” it may be of me to point that out.

          5. A method for identifying choice of leadership is given by example when Christ chose 12 apostles as leaders, each with varying personalities. And we might note that He spent time in prayer in the mountains beforehand. So, prayer to God is probably the best aid for Church leadership when choosing future leaders, as shown by the example of Christ Himself.

            But, then we note, that even Jesus chose a traitor, a lover of money as a leader, which again is not logical in any way. Moreover, the apostles themselves could not distinguish who was who, who were the most faithful, and who it would be who would betray Christ. In their honesty, they sorrowfully asked: “Is it I Lord?” So, even they didn’t know what qualities ( moral of intellectual) were acceptable to Christ to be leaders of His Church. They all probably thought that Judas was one the MOST qualified as he was given the responsibility of managing the finances of the group. Moreover, The mother of St. James and St. John tried to discover who were the most qualified leaders, or, who should sit at Jesus’ right and left, in His Kingdom ( which she thought should be her own son’s). But Jesus said:

            “to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. And the ten hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many. ”

            So, again, positions of leadership in the Church is provided by God the Father but through the particular means of the decisions of whatever Church leadership was available to make decisions regarding new leadership back then. But this doesn’t mean that a person who desires to be such aChurch leader should not try to become one.

            We also have an example of apostolic leadership decisions with the history of St. Matthias. When Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, it seems that they elected a number of men from amongst them who seemed to have good qualities and a knowledge of Christ ‘from the beginning’ as guiding prerequisites to such leadership. But, we read that then they left the ultimate decision regarding the ‘runners up’ to God, by means of a ‘lotto’.

            So, at least we know that they examined their qualities. And it was the body of Apostles who made the decision.

            It seems that the Church continued to make such decisions of selecting successor leaders in the same manner, primarily examining the history of life of the candidates, pray about it deeply and then making a decision on who should be ordained/consecrated or not. And their decision is the same as it was with Matthias. Those are the ones who would be the future leaders of the Church.

            And, again, this process is not very philosophical… but rather it’s highly ‘spiritual’. The Holy Spirit in all wisdom must be the guide in all such important matters. It does help if the candidates have some knowledge of philosophy though, but it’s just not the most essential element. If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have chosen fishermen as His first leaders, but would probably have traveled to Athens and found some good Platonists, Aristotelians, or maybe, 12 Pythagoreans.

            Best to you in the Lord.

          6. Al,

            I’m not saying it’s a bad method in general! I’m just saying that, if you want to say we know whether or not God has called us to leadership based on the Catholic Church’s response, it seems like we have to say the RCC never makes mistakes on that point. I’m asking you whether you do, in fact, say that.

            Now, my sense is that this has you over the barrel a bit either way. If you say yes, the two groups are identical, then you have to defend that every single bishop, however monstrous, was genuinely called by God to that position. In the case of, let’s say, the Borgias, that seems a difficult position to maintain.

            But if you say no, then a man might legitimately have a call from God, and the Catholic Church might fail to recognize it – and, in fact, the rule we’ve been debating might block men who are legitimately called by God to serve as elders.

            In light of that, I can see the appeal of saying, “Well, it’s all a mystery, and not a yes-or-no question.” I can see the appeal – but it is a yes-or-no question, however inconvenient either answer might be; either you believe the two groups are identical, or you don’t. If your final recourse is to mystery – well, unless that mystery forbids the possibility of error, I don’t think your original claim holds up.

          7. Hi Irked,

            I included the example of Judas into the conversation as an example of how difficult of thing you are trying to ask. Did Jesus make a mistake with Judas? Moreover, can a leader of a Church NOT be tempted after his election and fall away, even as Judas did? These are mysteries that only God knows. So, even as Judas can be called to be an apostle, and can then turn away, so too this can happen with any Christian person/priest or bishop.

            But what we do have is the history of the Early Church to enlighten us on these things by their very practices and liturgical rites. So, I think we need to understand the nature of ecclesiastical consecrations/rites etc… by the very history of the Church as it was practiced in the first 4 centuries, at least. Just as Matthias’ election was included into the Acts of the Apostles, so too are other items relating to the elections of bishops in the early Church. the “Apostolic Constitutions” detail some of these rituals and requirements, such as the requirement that 3 bishops be used for the consecration of a new bishop.

            What I am trying to get across is that tradition teaches us on the topic of ordinations, as well as that different requirements were developed and practiced as each century advanced…even up to our present day. And,to believe in ordinations, presupposes that you believe in the authority of the bishops to make such decisions in the first place. But, once you agree that the bishops can validly consecrate other bishops then this means that it was the will of God that that person was elevated to his dignity. And again, if some of these end up as heretics…as many did…it still doesn’t affect the validity of their election. And this is similar to the re-aptism disputes by the Novatians and Donatists, and the validity of the ordinations and baptisms of schismatics and heretics.

            If it wasn’t complicated there would not have been so much controversy in the 3rd century regarding these things. So…what you are asking is not easy to answer. The fathers themselves debated ad nauseam over these very same ideas.

            But what we DO have are the conclusions of the Fathers. And these were reinforced by the various synods and councils, such as the ones at ‘Alvira’ and Nicaea I. But if you have no faith in these councils you will never get the answers to the validity of Church ordinations/consecrations and orders.

            Catholics believe in the early Church, and the teaching that when a person receives ordination it leaves an eternal mark on his soul (through the sacrament)signifying that he is a ‘priest forever’. So, I guess this is where this conversation would lead to,…whether priestly ordinations are indeed sacramental, or not.

            But, that is a conversation for the future, I think. For Catholics, it’s a no brainer. We believe in the validity of ordinations to the priesthood. Maybe Joe can do a post on this, if he hasn’t already? It would be a better place to discuss it?

            Best to you in the Lord,

            -Al

          8. Al,

            But I’m not asking whether God has in some sense planned for the evil that an ordained bishop might do – I’m asking about his personal urging in their lives as Christians towards church leadership. Nor am I asking you to convince me that your answer to this question is correct; I’m just asking what your personal belief is.

            It sounds like you’re saying, “I don’t know whether the Catholic Church can err in this matter or not.” That’s fine – but if that’s accurate, you can’t assert (as you did earlier) that a man knows whether he’s called to leadership based on the RCC’s judgment, because that judgment might be in error: God might call people whom the RCC wrongly rejects. In which case, again, we can’t rule out the possibility of God calling someone to church leadership who is blocked by your rules on celibacy.

            I think my argument rests there.

          9. “But I’m not asking whether God has in some sense planned for the evil that an ordained bishop might do – I’m asking about his personal urging in their lives as Christians towards church leadership. ”

            Hi Irked, I personally know two priests, one of which I see frequently at my parish, who were ordained and then decided to get married. They asked for a dispensation of their vows and received them from the Church, but they are still priests, and can perform some sacraments in emergency circumstances. However, they cannot perform their former offices of running a parish and saying public Masses. So, again, the Church understands that maybe some of those who are ordained, might not have been prepared well, or informed well, concerning their vocations. One of these was about 18 yrs. old when he joined the seminary. So, the possibility of error certainly exists, and the Church acknowledges this and often grants dispensations from the requirement of celibacy to some of these. But my friend still remains a priest forever.

            In general, I believe what the catechism states on the subject. Some situations, such as those of my two friends, required a canon lawyer to figure out all of the moral implications with the changes in vocation, and their consequent marriages. Anyway, I’m not a canon lawyer, and don’t know the details and requirements in such circumstances, I only know that the Church has canonical ways of dealing with vocations that might not work out for certain people. How God views these…I also don’t know. I trust in the judgement of the Church on the matter.

  10. Irked,
    Again, sorry for continuing our discussion here.
    •First of all, “Reflecting, that came out more forcefully than it should have; I apologize” = no need. You present your points with the correct amount of conviction and faith in your beliefs. Hopefully you perceive my posts the same way.
    •“He says “must be the husband of but one wife;” that seems like a pretty clear default to me” = I disagree, as the “must” applies to “one”, not “be the husband”; in other words, remarrying is not allowed, but marriage is not the default.
    •“it suffices that Paul thought it perfectly appropriate that the elder should be married” = again, I disagree. Paul’s point is not that the elder SHOULD BE married; IF the elder is married, he MUST NOT have remarried, and MUST manage his own household well.
    •“married men can be elders” = correct, “can” being the operative word. Not “should be”, but “can be”.
    •“His own clear testimony is that he doesn’t think singleness is mandatory” = Misleading, in my opinion. Paul’s direct testimony (“I wish that all were as I myself am”) clearly shows that he sees singleness as the best option, and only “…if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry”. But who wants church leaders who cannot practice self-control?
    •“1 Cor 7:29 is given in the context of what he’s already said at the start of the chapter. How can we possibly read this to contradict the words he’s just said?” = Assuming that for “start of the chapter” you mean “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote…”, I disagree. Paul is addressing here the unmarried ones, and he is stressing to them that “it is well for you to remain as you are”. He goes to the length of saying that even if “marriage is not a sin”, “those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that”.
    •“More, there’s nothing in 7:29 about bishops, which was my question; unless you’re willing to argue this verse says no one should ever have sex with their spouse, there’s no ground here for saying elders should not” = 1 Cor 7:29, “even those who have wives”, applies to married men, therefore also to elders who, eventually, are married. Note Paul’s wording: “even those”, meaning that having a wife is clearly the exception, which is in line with Paul addressing here a group of individuals for which marriage is not the norm.
    •“Show me anywhere – anywhere – that he advocates for marriage without marital rights” = just did, 1 Cor 7:29. Just not for everyone.
    •“Er- so it’s not more important how much what I’m saying sounds like Paul?” = it does not (sound like Paul, I mean). From your own subsequent post: “But I do not believe there’s any need to guess, or to try to read between the lines, as to whether Paul thought married people could be in church leadership” = this is much more in line with Paul’s teaching, and yet still forceful to the position that marriage is on the same level as celibacy, when it comes to clergy. Which is, ultimately, the only bone I have to pick with your posts. Paul clearly indicates that marriage is a burden: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided”. Apply this same principle to the clergy, and its underlying message is this (paraphrasing): marriage is ok, but IF you are called to be clergy, absolutely better not to marry (which includes not to remarry). IF you are already married, do not leave your wife, but “be as though you had none”. And, by the way, be above reproach in everything you do.
    •“Yes. We say that something Paul says can be acceptable, can in fact be accepted. I think that’s a better standard than, “We say something Paul says can be acceptable cannot be accepted.” = this is not the Church’s position, nor is Joe’s: “It’s also important to point out that the Catholic Church doesn’t claim celibacy as a dogma. Whether the Apostles were married priests or not, there certainly have been (and are!) wonderful married priests in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church in the West chooses to ordain to the priesthood only unmarried men who promise to live lives of celibacy (although even here, she makes exceptions for certain converts)”.
    Sorry for the long post. Not good. Must learn to be more effective.

    1. Hey LLC,

      You present your points with the correct amount of conviction and faith in your beliefs. Hopefully you perceive my posts the same way.

      Much obliged, and yes, I do.

      remarrying is not allowed, but marriage is not the default.

      So I think we’re using the word “default” in different senses here; I’m not sure we actually disagree. Let me move away from that word; I think it’s adding more confusion than help.

      •“it suffices that Paul thought it perfectly appropriate that the elder should be married” = again, I disagree. Paul’s point is not that the elder SHOULD BE married; IF the elder is married, he MUST NOT have remarried, and MUST manage his own household well.

      Again, we’re miscommunicating here; I’m not using “appropriate that [he] should be married” in the sense you’re reading it, and I entirely agree with your sentence here. Let me try a rewording: It suffices that Paul thought it was perfectly appropriate for an elder to be married.

      But who wants church leaders who cannot practice self-control?

      Well, so two answers:

      1) Paul, apparently!

      2) But more helpfully, Paul says that these are men who would struggle with sexual desire if they were not married. There’s nothing so odd there; we all might say, “I would struggle far more with [some sin] if I didn’t [take some preventative behavior].” (As one example: “I would struggle with alcoholism, so I moved to a dry city,” or “I would struggle with pornography, so I got rid of my internet connection.”) I don’t think that would preclude someone from service as an elder; part of responsible Christian living is living so as to avoid our worst temptations. Paul identifies marriage as a means by which some can do so.

      So I don’t think this is quite a fair characterization; these men would struggle with self-control if they had done other than they did. Which kind of takes us back to (1): Paul clearly does not see the absence of the gift of celibacy as a disqualifying factor.

      Paul is addressing here the unmarried ones, and he is stressing to them that “it is well for you to remain as you are”. He goes to the length of saying that even if “marriage is not a sin”, “those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that”.

      Surely Paul is not only addressing the unmarried at the start of the chapter. I agree that v. 1 is directed to them – but those subsequent verses are clearly giving instruction to married couples as well.

      But let’s unwind the stack here. I asked, “On what grounds can we say that marital sex can never be the most excellent way for a bishop and his wife?” You answered, “1 Cor 7:29,” noting that Paul praises abstinence. He does! He would rather folks not marry. But 7:29 cannot be read to deny what he has literally just said, right?

      And what did he just say? Don’t stop having sex, except for a fixed, mutually-agreed on time of prayer, ending with having more sex; to do otherwise is to deprive your spouse of what you owe them by right. We have to read 7:29 as not denying that instruction.

      just did, 1 Cor 7:29. Just not for everyone.

      Then again, why can marital sex never – never – be the most excellent way for a bishop and his wife?

      IF you are already married, do not leave your wife, but “be as though you had none”. And, by the way, be above reproach in everything you do.

      How can any married may who fails to obey verses 2-5 be above reproach?

      1. Irked,
        I will respond to your post in details next week. Meanwhile, its last phrase is the sum of your incorrect interpretation of Paul’s position on marriage and sex: “How can any married may who fails to obey verses 2-5 be above reproach?” = see 1 Cor 7:6. Verses 2 to 5 are not to be “obeyed”; they are “concessions, not commands”.

        1. LLC,

          I think I’ve already addressed that interpretation with Craig, above – though the conversation trailed off before I got an answer to it. I think it’s plausible to read “marriage” as a concession. I think it’s plausible to read “pause for a time” as a concession. I do not see any sensible way to read Paul’s instructions within marriage as a concession. As I said upthread:

          “But to say that, once you are married, these further instructions are also just concessions and not commands… what would that even mean? How do we make sense of, “Do not deprive your spouse of his/her rights – but that’s not a command”? Do our spouses have those rights, or not? Do we deprive our spouses by not sleeping with them when they wish, or not? If not, then what is Paul talking about – and yet if we are, how can not depriving of what we owe them be merely a concession?”

          I stand by those remarks, and I’ve yet to see a real rebuttal to them. I do not think there is any meaningful reading of this passage that says, “Yes, Paul thinks your spouse has a right to your body, sexually; yes, Paul thinks that to not sexually satisfy your spouse is to deprive or defraud them; but Paul doesn’t actually think these facts morally oblige you in any way.”

          1. Irked,
            – “I do not see any sensible way to read Paul’s instructions within marriage as a concession” = we keep going over this point over and over. The verbiage used indicates your view unambiguously. You continuously employ words to imply that Paul sees sex in marriage as a right, the norm, the default, and that he directs the readers to submit to it. You see Paul’s writings about the right to sex as instructions. Paul does not say anything of the sort. He puts value in sex, even within a lawful marriage, only “since sexual immorality is occurring…”, and “…so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control”, therefore having an active sexual life, even in the contest of a lawful marriage, is a concession, not a command. Concession: an allowing. Instruction: a direction, an order.
            – “but Paul doesn’t actually think these facts morally oblige you in any way” = correct. Paul sees no contradiction between having the right to sex and not exercising it. After all, he concedes it only because.
            I would direct you to continue reading 1 Cor 7 as a proof of this (verses 36-40 are especially indicative). But this is concession, not a command, as well…

          2. Hi LLC,

            The verbiage used indicates your view unambiguously.

            Well, yes. It’s Paul’s verbiage – you’re darned right that I’m going to keep coming back to that.

            You continuously employ words to imply that Paul sees sex in marriage as a right, the norm, the default, and that he directs the readers to submit to it

            I don’t have to imply these things; Paul says them explicitly. “Conjugal rights” are his words, not mine! “Defraud” is his description, not mine!

            Paul sees no contradiction between having the right to sex and not exercising it.

            See, this is the frustrating thing for me, because you invert both my words and Paul’s here. We aren’t talking about what the desirous spouse should or shouldn’t do – whether they should insist forcefully on a thing or not. “You aren’t morally obliged to press your right for sex” answers a question I’m not asking.

            We’re talking about what the other spouse should do: the husband who sees that his wife is struggling with desire, the wife who understands that her husband needs the closeness of a sexual union. We’re talking about the one who doesn’t need to press their rights; that’s consistently been my question, and it’s to this spouse that Paul primarily directs his instructions in these verses.

            And it’s regarding this spouse that I’m still waiting for an answer. Suppose Bob is aware that his wife is struggling with desire. My question is not what Bob’s wife is morally obliged to do. My question is what Bob is obliged to do: not the spouse who has the right, but the one who has the power to voluntarily grant his spouse her rights.

            Is it moral to deny your spouse his or her rights, when you are the only one who can grant those rights? Is it moral to “deprive” them? To “defraud” them, as the KJV puts it? These are Paul’s words, not mine – if you think Bob has no command here, then give me a clear yes!

          3. So, follow-up: I want to make sure this doesn’t drown out my last post, but in fairness let me try to address the latter part of the chapter. You’ve raised them a couple of times, and I haven’t explicitly exegeted them – let me fix that.

            So, context: in Chapter 6, Paul reads the Corinthians the riot act for their sexual impropriety; reading between the lines, it seems like they’re
            visiting prostitutes and excusing that behavior as kind of a gnostic libertinism: “Well, it’s just my body; I can do anything I want with my body.”

            Paul shuts that down hard, and then in chapter 7 segues into other sexual concerns they’ve raised. He urges them not to marry (v. 1), but then allows that there’s one good reason for marriage: to satisfy sexual desire (v.2). His language here is strong, loaded with words like “duty,” “rights,” and “deprive” – and then he pauses again to say (v. 7) that he’s not compelling anyone to live in marriage: that he wishes everyone had his gift of celibacy and could live as he does. Not everyone does, though, and for those who don’t, marriage is the solution – indeed, sexual fulfillment is the only reason he offers for marriage (v. 8-9).

            Verses 10-16 continue in the theme of “how to be married,” addressing divorce among Christians and mixed families. Then Paul goes more general: “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them” (v. 17). Here, for the first time in about a chapter, he broadens his topic from sex and marriage, to address living as a Greek, as a Jew, as a slave. His point, broadly, is that your circumstances don’t matter, compared to the necessity of living holy lives: circumcision isn’t commanded, so worry about the things that are commanded (v. 19). He doesn’t pretend that all circumstances are equal – being free is better than being a slave, for instance (v. 21), and he’s obviously just given instructions for when people should change their state of marriage (v. 9) – but he’s stressing priority: obedience and focus on Christ over trying to advance in this world.

            Paul finally clarifies why he urges singleness: because marriage will lead to many troubles (v. 28), and because it can distract from the concerns of the Lord he’s just urged everyone towards (v. 32). Note, in passing, that this is Paul’s argument against marriage, and not his argument against sex in marriage: everything he’s just said is true whether a married couple abstain or not. And, again, he’s clear that this is a matter of “the most excellent way,” and not of sin: marriage isn’t a moral fault (v. 28), and if you’re already committed to marriage, live the life you’re in: marry the girl (v. 27).

            Then he offers a helpful clarifying note as to his purpose throughout this section:

            “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

            Again, here’s Paul’s clear priority: this world doesn’t matter, and it should not steal your attention. If your concern is all the terrible things that have happened to you, or all the money that passes through your hands, or your spouse – if these are what “engross” you, then you’re neglecting what really matters. (I have to wince as I write that.)

            Now. Clearly – clearly – Paul does not mean here that we have no obligations in these various spheres of life, or that all these things are of literally no account. Paul gives commands for managing your possessions, for “mourning with those who mourn,” for living with your spouse; we can’t read him here to say, “Well, these things don’t actually matter; just ignore them,” without making him self-contradictory. He’s making a statement of priority, in the same sense as Christ’s “hate your family” line: do not let these lesser things distract you from obedience to Christ.

            Can a man who does not give to the church point to this passage and say, “I am simply not engrossed in my wealth; it’s passing away”? Certainly not. Can a husband say, “I do not lay my life down for my wife; rather, I live as if I was unmarried, dedicating my life to Christ”? By no means; part of living his life for Christ is obeying Christ’s commands for how to treat his wife. And in that same way, this does not overthrow the first part of the chapter: part of this obedient living is providing our spouse with that to which they are entitled, whether that be love, or respect, or sex.

            But these do not become our purpose.

            32-35, as I said above, address Paul’s motivation here: to suggest a way where focusing on the Lord is easier, and freer of troubles. And again, we see that he’s careful to keep his language on marrying/not marrying gentle, couched in concession rather than command: his urging towards singleness is not a restriction (v. 35). The man who marries – which, again, is justified only in terms of sexual satisfaction! – “should do as he wants” (v. 36) Paul thinks those who do not marry will be happier (v. 40), but both the married and the unmarried man “does right” in his action (v. 38).

            (Tangentially, this sinks Jerome’s argument that the alternative to “It is good…” must be “It is bad…” pretty solidly; Paul’s contrast is, “It is ideal…” versus “It is still good.”)

            And that takes us through the end of the chapter. Absent from this passage – absent from even the categories Paul uses here – is the idea of a sexless marriage. Sex is the only reason Paul gives for marriage here, and he gives it repeatedly. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he would see a sexless union as both contradictory and pointless: all the troubles, none of the relief.

          4. Hi Irked,

            So I won’t respond in detail to this or other posts. I’ve already suggested that we may interpret Paul to say that foregoing sex is possible and a GOOD thing for the sake of the shortness of time and the sake of the kingdom. If you interpret it another way, that’s your choice. Your words do not convince, convict, or influence me in any way to see what you say as God’s truth. But if you do, best to you.

          5. Hi Margo,

            I’ve already suggested that we may interpret Paul to say that foregoing sex is possible and a GOOD thing for the sake of the shortness of time and the sake of the kingdom.

            Okay. I don’t understand how your interpretation works on this point. I tried to ask some questions in that direction when you suggested this interpretation upthread. I’d be glad to look at the topic further, but I don’t think I can do better as a start than point to those same questions.

          6. In all of this discussion, above, I see no consideration of CHILDREN when talking about the Church, sex and the celibacy issues in the early Christianity. Everything discussed, above, seems to resolve only around satisfying one another’s uncontrollable sexy urges.

            Just because Paul talks about such urges, does not mean that this is all that marriage is good for (Even though this is currently a modern understanding for some). This would be ridiculous and a contradiction of one of the first commandments of God, in Genesis, to Adam and Eve, which did not say: “Go out and satisfy each others uncontrollable sexual urges,”…But: “Go our and multiply”. That is… ‘Go out and raise families for God and populate the face of Earth’.

            So, children are an absolute consideration in this entire discussion, as it is the MAIN reason for the difference in vocational callings in the Church both in the early ages, as well as today. Everyone knows that children demand a lot of care, and multitudes of children demand even more care. A large family in the early centuries (and even today), demanded enormous sacrifice for both the father and the mother to provide for the necessities of their numerous children.

            So, when the early Church created canons and regulations for their early priests, bishops, and deacons, it was mainly for the same reason that they created the deaconate in the first place: To free those same priests, bishops and missionaries from the great burden of managing a family so that they could focus all of their attention, and talents, into managing and growing the Kingdom of God .

            All of this is just basic common sense.

          7. Al,

            Just because Paul talks about such urges, does not mean that this is all that marriage is good for (Even though this is currently a modern understanding for some).

            Sure. I’m particularly aware of other functions of marriage at the moment; my son is four weeks old today. My argument, though, has been that sexual satisfaction is the only motivation Paul gives for marriage in this passage – because it is!

            But Paul seems to have thought it perfectly appropriate that a bishop should have children in his care; indeed, he suggests looking to his management of those children as a way to judge his ability to manage the church. My argument, broadly, has been that if Scripture permits a man to become a bishop while siring children, we should do likewise.

  11. So Christ commands his believes to eat his flesh and drink his blood and that’s symbolic but when it comes to Paul there’s no symbolism?

    This all gets back to how one interprets scripture. If you ignore history and/or reject that Christ created a physical Church on this planet that still lasts today then scripture really won’t fit with the historical reality of what actually happened on earth as opposed to what people want to happen in accordance with their interpretations.

        1. Yes, cwd, sacrifice has been around since at least Cain and Able. It is seen with Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, etc… and then Jesus says ‘this is my body’, and ‘this is the new covenant in my blood’, while holding wine in His hand. He is also shown in ‘Revelation’ in the figure of a slaughtered lamb in Heaven, and such a lamb is obviously symbolic of something sacrificed to God. Then we add to the sacrifice the saying regarding the omnipresence of Christ: … “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” This clearly shows that Christ can be in the presence of Christians even without the Eucharist being present. How much easier is it for Him to be present at the consecration of the Eucharist during Mass, if this same saying is true? Why should we doubt his true presence? He is there anyway, with the Eucharist ..or without it, by the very presence of the gathered Christians who are gathered in His name and adoring God.

          My own opinion is that the Eucharist is like the Sabbath. It is ‘made for man, not man for the Eucharist/Sabbath’. Jesus knows that we are ‘carnal’ people, filled with distractions and wandering hearts and minds. And so, He provides us with a focus for our own sakes, and so that the sheep will always gather together after His ascension into Heaven. This is also why, I think , He said ….’when two or three are gathered’. Because he wants Christians to form a body, instead of leading individualistic lives which does not us to follow and conform ourselves to the image of God as ‘Trinity’. So, when two are gathered, Jesus makes it three. When 100 are gathered He makes it 101. There is some mystery in this, but we know that He is teaching us the importance of unity amongst each other, even as Heaven will be a place of similar unity. That is, many united in God even as the three persons of the Holy Trinity are united.

          So, as some people are not accustomed to thinking of the omni-presence of God, Jesus establishes the Eucharist to help train people in this: the realization of the True Presence of God in this world. Moreover, the ‘true presence’ is one of eternal Love, both for God the Father and God the Son, and through the Holy Spirit. It is the presence of the LOVE of the Trinity, and is proven by the saying of Christ: “Greater LOVE has no man, than he lay down his life for his friends”. So, the cross signifies Christ’s love for the Father for doing His will on Earth, and not His own. And, it shows the love of the Father for all humanity for giving us such a loving friend, teacher, Lord and savior. Moreover the love of God is shown in the gift of the Holy Spirit to us, so that we are given the ability to understand all of these things and how the love of the Holy Trinity exists through all eternity…as..’love loving love’…and we are also given the opportunity to participate in this love of the Trinity… if only we exert our free will to do so.

          So, all of this is wrapped up and presented to us in the mystery of the Eucharist, which we were commanded by Christ to celebrate. Therein, we are to feast on the ‘pascal Lamb’ of God, for our own spiritual nourishment, even as the Israelites did before their arduous journey through the desert, and also as Elijah also did when fed by the angel …so that he would survive the 40 day journey to Mt. Carmel. So, if Jesus says to eat….it is good to have the faith enough to obey this simple command of His.

          To sum up, yes, cwd…the sacrifice of the Mass is central to the understanding of true Christianity.

          Best to you in the Lord.

  12. The God of Abraham demands a sacrifice.

    I think modern man rejects the real sacrifice of the Mass because it allows him to reject the RCC and anything mystical. Modern man also wants answers to every question possible and doesn’t believe in the metaphysical. His individualism/modernism/consumerism has transformed the world economically so such thinking must work in theological matters. Nope.

    History was never confused about the Mass nor was it some symbolic gesture.

    1. “His individualism/modernism/consumerism has transformed the world economically so such thinking must work in theological matters”

      …Nebuchadnezzar syndrome: ‘Just look what HE, of himself, had done!!’…he thought.

      Yet within days, he was eating the grass of the fields as if he were goat.

      Good lesson for all of us to remember.

  13. Great Podcast, Margo.

    To offer our bodies as a ‘living sacrifice to God’ is a noble goal. It’s all encompassing, not only regarding chastity. But, Christ certainly shows us the way.

    I can only add one word of advice for people who want to do this, become ‘living sacrifices’ to God, per the teaching of St. Paul. And, that is to first rejoice in Christ’s presence amongst us as often as possible. For instance, if we are praying the rosary, try to pray it with someone else, such as your wife, children or husband, and then to realize that Christ is absolutely there in your midst, because He stated clearly that that indeed was the case. And, if He is there, the whole Kingdom of Heaven is present also, because of His saying “…that where I am you may be also”, so others, are also ‘with Christ…close to His presence… in Heaven. So, when we pray the rosary, both Jesus and Mary are present according to this saying, because ‘where He is she will be also…according to His word. Moreover, when we pray the ‘Our Father’, we know Our God is truly good and loving. And we know this ABSOLUTELY because He gave us Jesus. And this is a great reason for trust in God, as opposed to fear and terror. Only a supremely loving God would give to us such a ‘Good Shepherd, Lord and Friend’ as Jesus is. This is proof of God’s goodness, because we know Jesus is so good. A good gift reveals the true charity and personal virtues of the giver. So, when we pray the ‘Our Father’ it is easier to pray it when we trust Him due to His great gift that He has given us by sending Jesus to us for our spiritual health, guidance and salvation. So, the realization of Christ’s ‘true presence’ amongst us during prayer, Rosary, Mass, etc… makes all other sacrifices, whatever they be, easier.

    This meditation on Christ’s presence is the ‘balm’ of any sacrifice. But it might be a sacrifice to train ourselves to remember this when we’re praying.

    Just a few reflections.

    1. Good reflection, Al. Yes, practicing the presence of God is a noble goal and helps achieve many good thoughts, words, actions. It truly is the practice of love for our Lord and Savior, if Love is thinking and willing and doing the good of the beloved.

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