Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Brief History of Priestly Celibacy

From Aleteia:
By the 300s, monasticism had become the preferred method of those who pursued Christian perfection. When Christians asked themselves, “How do I become perfect as Christ called us to be?” (Mt 5:48), they found in Him the exemplar of that perfection. Christ was totally obedient to the will of the Father, he was poor in worldly possessions, and he was unmarried. These three qualities together became known as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are not commandments, for marriage, material wealth, and free choice are themselves good things, and gifts of God. Rather the monk or nun chose to forego these goods in favor of a pursuit of holiness.

For 1,000 years the monks and nuns provided the reforming evangelical energy of the Church. It did not take long for Christians to view them as paragons of holiness and to pattern wider Christian practices after theirs. As early as the first decade of the 300s, bishops of the Western Latin Church began to codify the practice already well established in many areas and prescribed celibacy for their non-monastic priests. It must be emphasized that all vows in Christianity, whether those of marriage or the religious life, are voluntary. No one is to be forced into a vow, therefore every vow of celibacy is — of its very nature — free.

It took many centuries for the practice of clerical celibacy to prevail in some corners of the Western Church. In the 11th century, there was a serious crisis that mirrors our present one. Rampant corruption manifested itself in widespread clerical immorality and homosexual practices. Pope Gregory VII and his collaborators, coming from a monastic tradition, purified the Church thoroughly, stringently enforcing the apostolic practice of clerical celibacy and creating the morally purified Church of the high medieval period. (Read more.)

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