More on celibacy: the difference between monk/Jesuit and parish priest

The discussion of priestly celibacy by Aaron Pidel has been an insightful contribution to the discussion.   I was also struck recently while reading comments on a letter that a group of Italian priest mistresses wrote to Benedict XVI.   Several comments are made by Deacon Daniel which I think are interesting, including a speech written by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos IV which Paul VI did not allow him to give at the Second Vatican Council. Here are some excerpts of the speech:

I will also share with you the remarkable speech of Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos IV that he was not permitted to give because Pope Paul VI refused to allow the question of the celibacy discipline to be discussed by the Council Fathers. So the good Patriarch simply sent it as a letter to His Holiness.

“1. Neither Scripture nor Tradition, especially the Tradition of the first centuries, considers celibacy as an indispensable condition for the priesthood, a condition sine qua non. The early text of the schema affirmed that “even among the first Apostles, a few were married.” The new text preferred to omit this mention, as if by omitting it we could change the truth of history. It is unnecessary to recall that Saint Peter and most of the Apostles and the first disciples were married. Those who today in the Eastern Church are likewise married deserve all our support.

2. The East clearly distinguishes between priesthood and monasticism. A man can be called to the one without being called to the other. This distinction opens up new perspectives. Celibacy is the specific vocation of the monk-religious, but it is not necessarily the specific vocation of the priest, in his capacity as a minister of the Church. The priesthood is a function before being a state of life. It is linked not to a personal striving toward perfection such as celibacy for the sake of God, but to the usefulness to the Church. Therefore celibacy can disappear if the usefulness for the ministry of the Church requires it. The mystery of the redemption, perpetuated in the priesthood, is not subject by obligation to any accidental form. In case of need, it is not the priesthood that must be sacrificed to celibacy, but celibacy to the priesthood.

6. Finally, I shall add that there is no need to fear that the freedom provided by Eastern discipline to choose between celibacy and marriage may gradually cause ecclesiastical celibacy to disappear. There are now and there always will be in the Church many souls called in a special way, to whom flesh and blood are foreign, and who, while they are free to marry, will remain virgins in order to give themselves more totally to God. We have proofs of this in the Eastern Churches, whether Catholic or Orthodox, in which the two categories of priests have rubbed elbows for centuries, each developing fully according to his state and in his own special perfection. With this freedom of choice and of consecration, we have on the contrary fewer downfalls to deplore and more virtues to admire.

Number 2 makes the important distinction between the Religious calling and the Priestly calling.  Priestly celibacy should and never will go away completely. But it could go away as a mandatory requirement.  But for a Jesuit, for example, celibacy is a specific vocation.  For me, celibacy defines my relationship with God and with the people I serve.  By it, I can be a sign that the love of God is enough, that man as a communal being does not require that this community be of a sexual nature, and that the supernatural truly does pervade every facet of “natural” life.

But for a diocesan priest, celibacy is not a vocation in the same sense.  It does not ontologically define his relationship with God in the same way that it does for a monk, a Jesuit, a religious.  It is a discipline that practically, rather than vocationally — the language is strained here — defines these relationships.  And it can be a great aid.  But there is a difference, which is what this speech brings out.  Just some thoughts I had while reading.


3 Responses to More on celibacy: the difference between monk/Jesuit and parish priest

  1. Donato Infante III says:

    Last fall St. John’s Seminary in Boston had an international conference on the celibacy of the diocesan priest. Priesthood as it exists in the Eastern Churches does not function the same way it does in the West. When the book with all the talks comes out this winter/next spring, it would be worth a read.

  2. Fred says:

    There’s also a theological ideal for the priesthood which is rooted in celibacy.

  3. crystal says:

    Maximos was an interesting guy. All his material for Vatican II can be read at The Melkite Church at the Council.

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