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San Francisco Bay Catholic Special Report:

A Short History Of Celibacy

This article was submitted by an Australian Bishop who wishes to remain anonymous at this time.

A celibate person forgoes sexual relationships with others, and thus is not able to live together with another in a close intimate relationship. To me the celibate state is not normal.

The celibacy law within the Catholic Church is man made. It is not a law proclaimed by God, our Father. It is not a law based on the Scriptures. It is a law made by  the hierarchy of the Church. A law proclaimed by men.

In 1074, only the intervention of the local nobility saved the Archbishop of Passau from being literally torn to pieces by his clergy when he tried to enforce Pope  Gregory V11's decree that they must give up their wives and live celibate lives. Until that time clerical celibacy had been a contentious issue, but it had never been made compulsory. The rule of celibacy was binding only on monks,  while the secular priesthood was at liberty to marry, as even the author of the Letter to Timothy assumed that Bishop's could marry but only once.

But as the Christian Church developed a doctrine that saw the  Priesthood as a body of people remote from and some how superior to the rest of the world, above mere human passion and frailties, so the idea developed that sex was unclean and unholy, and ritual purity was demanded of Priests who  celebrated the Holy Mysteries.

This obsession with sexuality did not come from Judaism, which never put celibacy forward as an ideal, but instead idealized marriage love as a gift of God. There were periods when members of the Priestly caste were called on to abstain from sexual intercourse and some Jews like Jeremiah were celibate. And in the time of Jesus there was at least one ascetic sect, the Essenes, who eschewed sexual relationships. But on the whole, the married state was seen to be the natural one, and the Torah of the 13th century was only stating a long-held belief when it maintained that ` The Divine presence rests only upon a married man, because an unmarried man is but half a man.'

For hundreds of years it has been axiomatic in the Christian Church that Jesus was celibate, and that priests [who in the Catholic Tradition are seen as the representatives  of Christ on earth] should therefore follow his example.

Certainly there is no direct evidence in any of the Gospels to suggest that Jesus was married, but neither is there any evidence to suggest that he was not, and if we look at him not as a theological construct, but as a historical character who lived in a particular social and historical context, perhaps a different point of view might emerge.

Jesus of Nazareth was never a  Christian. He was a devout son of the Covenant, and claimed that he did not come to destroy the Jewish Law. Where he did break it in minor ways he always had a convincing theological reason.

But the Church through the ages has found it convenient to forget that Jesus was a loyal Jew, and has placed him formally in the Platonic/Docetist and Gnostic/Manichaen syndrome, which insists that all things carnal are unspiritual, and that sex is equivalent to death.

The Jewish Talmud lists five principal responsibilities of a father to his son. ` He must circumcise him; Redeem him; Teach him Torah; Teach him a trade; And find him a wife.'

We know  that, as an orthodox Jew, Joseph carried out four of these responsibilities towards his reputed son, so it is not necessarily fanciful to assume that he would also have found him a wife.

In fact, so unusual was it for a young Jewish man not to marry that a celibate Jesus would have been the object of much comment and very little of it favorable.

The Talmud also states clearly that `an unmarried man may not be a teacher.' Although the Talmud was not written down until after Jesus' life time, the information and injunctions they contain were not new or radical, but embodied what had been common belief and practice for many years. Jesus was often called Rabbi [Teacher] by his followers, and although the term may have been used in a broad sense, at no time did even his religious opponents, who were always quick to pick up any anomaly in his behavior, object to this use of the title.

So, if Jesus was an orthodox Jew, and there is no evidence to suggest that he departed in any radical way from the religious and liturgical behavior expected of a Rabbi, then it is more likely that he was married than that he was not.

Christianity, at least from the time when it became interested in Jesus as a human Being with an identifiable biography, has always had problems with admitting that Jesus had any sexual nature at all. But in an age when emphasis is being placed on the humanity of Jesus, perhaps it is time at least to entertain the possibility that Jesus was not remote from all human passion, but deeply involved in all aspects of Humanity.

One cannot conclusively argue from silence, but there is no evidence one way or the other that Jesus was not married. It is the Church, speaking through a celibate male Hierarchical Priesthood, that has created the  doctrine. If people are willing to admit that a different point of view is at least arguable, then perhaps they will also be able to look at the issue of a celibate Priesthood in a new light, and the Roman Catholic Church might  eventually be able to regain the hundreds of dedicated and talented Priests it has lost because of its implacable opposition to married Clergy.

We are Social Beings. That is, each one of us is a social Being. We need others. It is only through communications and relationships with others that we can be a full Human Being.

God created us that way. God made us in His image. He made each and everyone of us with a great desire, a great  need, to love and be loved. I believe this is what being a genuine Human Person is. That is, to experience loving and to experience being loved.

A Human Being will find a satisfying life in proportion to his esteem for  and belief in himself. We cannot make it alone. I need your love and you need mine. I need to see my worth and beauty in the reflection of your eyes, in the sound of your voice, in the touch of your hand. And you need to see your  worth mirrored back to you by me in the same way. We can succeed or fail together, but separate and alone we can only fail.

To be a genuine Christian Human Person is to experience loving another person and to  experience being loved by another, together with Christ.

Through true and lasting love, we can recover acceptance of self, a realization of our worth. When these are present, everything else will somehow move in the  direction of growth on the paths of peace. When love and worth are missing, there is left only a partial existence. We can achieve only a fraction of what might have been. We will die without having really lived. The Glory of God -  A Man fully alive - will forever be diminished.

Even though I believe that celibacy is not normal, I am not saying that there is no place for celibacy in Society.

The majority of people within a Society  accept and follow the general norms of that Society. But in all Societies there are a number of people who will deviate from the general norms. These people, or groups, may be dysfunctional or functional in Society. I believe that  both groups have a place in Society, especially for the stability of Society.

What I am saying is that the general norm for Human Beings is to experience love. That is to love another and to be loved by another, and  that when this love matures, physical sexual pleasure becomes a very important part of this mature love.

Now when a person accepts a life style of celibacy, that person also rejects any physical sexual pleasure in the  context of love of another person. In that regard I believe that celibacy is an unnatural life style for Human Beings.

I do not deny that a celibate life style has it place in Society. There are a number of subgroups  in Society that deviate from the general norms of Society.

As I mentioned earlier some may be dysfunctional and some may be functional within Society, but they all have their place in Society for the stability of Society and, more importantly, these subgroups can show Society where the boundaries are for acceptable and non-acceptable norms.

Concerning celibacy within the Roman Catholic Church I believe there is a valid reason  for the celibate person in the Church. But it should be on a voluntary basis.

If a person is given the gift of Ministering; a vocation to the Priesthood; by the Spirit, and if that person feels that the best way  for him/her to be most effective in performing this vocation is to live a celibate life-style, then I believe that the person should embrace the celibate life-style and to give thanks to God for the gift of Ministering.

 On the other hand, if a person is given the gift of Ministering by the Spirit, and if that person feels that the best way for him/her to be most effective in performing this vocation is to live a married life-style, then I believe  that the person should embrace married life and to give thanks to God for the gift of Ministering.

To sum up. I believe that a celibate life-style is a valid life-style for those who wish to embrace that type of life-style. But it should be up to the individual person to freely choose. It should not be forced on any individual. It definitely should not be one of the criteria for a vocation to the Priesthood. The Priesthood should be given to whomsoever the Spirit of Truth deems to give the gift of Ministering to. Male or Female, married or single. ..

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