Saturday, May 19, 2012

Article 32: Of Married Priests

Today's article is on the ever-fixated upon teaching of the Catholic church on the issue of celibacy in the clergy.

XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

This, and Marriage in general, was a major issue for the Reformers, Luther in particular. Luther, though, had all sorts of baggage on the issue. He was a former Augustinian priest who ended up marrying a former Catholic nun. As such, he, like most other Protestants after him, began to understand marriage as nothing more than a civil contract for two people to live together. The Church would simply "add some God stuff" to it and out of the oven can a Christian marriage. As such, Protestants seldom understand or agreed with mandatory celibacy for clergy. 

Regardless of whatever one thinks of the Catholic doctrine, one would be hard pressed to argue that the Catholic teaching here is not "Bible based." With other Articles bemoaning this or that Catholic doctrine as being "Repugnant to Scripture," this article is oddly silent on this Catholic doctrine not being the same, and I think for good reason. St. Paul was quite clear that he thought singleness for ministers was a higher estate which allowed ministers to be freer from the cares of married life so that they could all the more be full time ministers of the Gospel any time and any place. Jesus himself was single, as were most of the Disciples, at least at the time of Jesus' ministry. One could, if one was so inclined to making "Devil's advocate" style arguments, that this article itself is "Repugnant to Scripture" because the New Testament is largely clear that celibacy of ministers is at least a good thing, if not a higher estate entirely. But, I won't go there...

Our culture is obsessed with sex. Perhaps other cultures in other times were as well, but I won't go there either. My point is that I think there is some wisdom in Paul's celibacy. We like to label him as "repressed" or as having an "unhealthy view of human sexual nature," but Paul does make a couple of good points. Single people are freer to be ministers in a myriad of ways than are married clergy. I think there can be room for both kinds of clergy, married and single.

My other point is that in their rush to defend married clergy, the fall out in many Protestant circles was that adult singleness became viewed as something unnatural in itself. Marriage became the norm, to the point that in many Protestant traditions, single ministers  need not even apply. Unless a minister has a wife and kids, they are viewed as morally suspect or, frankly, perverts who are going to have affairs (or worse). I have a Baptist friend of mine who is now married, but for years was ordained and single (and happily so), and he had a very hard time finding a job in any church.  In fact, it was not until he finally got married that ministerial doors began opening for him. He even told me once that he applied for an interim job at some church, and he was the only candidate that applied, but they turned him down without even an interview, basically because he was single.

Despite our obsession, celibacy is a gift that God gives some people. I think we are remiss if we dismiss their ministries and spiritual gifts and their leadership simply because they are single. Protestants should always be mindful of that because, hey, "it's in the Bible."

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