Saturday, 8 June 2013

A traditional Catholic theologian on clerical celibacy

The following extract is taken from Adolphe Tanquerey's Synopsis Theologiae Moralis et Pastoralis (1922).

Tanquerey's starting point is that clerical celibacy is justified both in principle and in practice.  It is validated by the examples of Christ and St Paul in the Bible, and it enables clerics to leave aside worldly cares and more effectively attend to their religious duties and look after their parishioners.  He repeatedly uses the term munditia (cleanliness) and its cognates to describe the celibate life.

Significantly, Tanquerey recognises that maintaining celibacy is difficult.  Indeed, he expressly says that it requires divine assistance.  On a practical level, he recommends that clerics practice prayer and asceticism, exercise self-control, avoid situations which present temptations and refocus themselves onto devotion to Christ.



§ I. On Ecclesiastical Celibacy

1050. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy is in force to this day in the Latin Church. In consists in this: clerics in major orders - i.e. subdeacons, deacons, priests and bishops - are unable to enter in marriage either lawfully or validly, but must maintain perpetual continence; and, by virtue of a special religious obligations, they are bound to abstain from every act, internal or external, against chastity....

The law which prescribes celibacy for clerics is not divine but ecclesiastical. However, it has its foundations in Scripture, and it was gradually introduced in the Latin Church by custom, particular laws, and eventually a universal decree. In the Eastern Church, continence is not imposed on all sacred ministers, but only on some....

1051. 1. Continence is recommended in Sacred Scripture

(A) Christ himself recommended, by his example, perfect virginity: he was conceived virginally from the beginning of time in his Father's bosom, at his incarnation he willed only to have a virgin mother, he observed virginity through the whole of his life, and when he was dying on the cross he commended his virgin mother to a virgin disciple [i.e. St John]. — Moreover, he laid the foundations of continence in teaching about purity of heart and perfect self-denial and in his counsel to give up everything, even one's parents, children and wife. Moreover, he explicitly taught it when he said to his disciples: "There are some who were born eunuchs from their mother's womb, there are some who have been made eunuchs by men, and they are some who have made themselves eunuchs (i.e. through continence) for the sake of the kingdom of heaven".

(B) Paul, following in Christ's footsteps, himself maintained continence and advised his disciples not to marry in order to serve God more fervently....

II. The reasons for the law of ecclesiastical celibacy

1059. A law of this kind is ecclesiastical in character, but it is in no way contrary to the natural law and it can be shown to be consistent with faith and reason.

The fundamental reason for it is that a Christian priest stands in the place of Christ on earth, takes on his power, and therefore ought to imitate his virtues and approach the High Priest as closely as possible in his conduct. Now, as noted, Christ maintained perfect virginity and clearly recommended this practice. — This will become still more clear if the duties of a priest are examined more closely from the power of view of God, the faithful and society itself.

1060. 1. If a priest is considered in his relations to God, he is bound to offer prayers and sacrifices, not only in his own name but in that of the whole Christian people.... Virginity is desirable in order that each of these duties be performed fully.

(A) First, as to prayer. Although married men are able to offer prayers, the Apostle [Paul] nevertheless urges them to be continent for a period in order that they have the opportunity to pray more easily and fervently.... Indeed, men who are married and have children to bring up are heavily burdened with worldly cares and are held back from the duty of praying by domestic concerns. By contrast, those who are pure in heart more easily ascend to God and converse with him. Moreover, priests are required to pray several times a day for themselves and the whole Christian people, at length and with persistence, and should therefore be immune from worldly cares. Otherwise, they will not pray at length or fervently due to the contigencies of daily life; but, with distracted minds, they will scarcely say any prayers.

1061. (B) The most important prayers are clearly those which are offered to God at Mass; the sacrifice of the Mass is the paramount work of religion. Is not perfect chastity to be wished for in order that Mass is offered fervently?... In the sacrifice, everything - the principal celebrant, Christ, the victim, the rites and the prayers - is redolent of perfect purity and self-denial, is it not wholly fitting that the secondary celebrant - the priest - imitates the virginity and perfect self-denial of Christ?...

1062. 2. In his relations to the people entrusted to him, the priest is greatly helped by the practice of continence. (A) Since he is chosen by God and the Church in order to devote himself entirely to the salvation of souls, putting aside worldly cares, he must constantly weigh everything for the welfare of his flock. A married priest is not able to fulfil this duty as readily, easily or generously: he is bound to devote a considerable part of his concerns, work and money to his wife and children and can therefore only dedicate a smaller part of his attention to the salvation of souls....

(B) Unmarried priests stand as the fathers of the poor. Because they have no need to save up money for their children, they can generously give their surplus wealth to the poor....

1063. 3. From the point of view of society itself, it is very desirable that priests remain celibate. (A) By virtue of a certain divine instinct, nations characteristically have greater reverence and loyalty to people who are continent....

(B) Furthermore, it is very much in the interests of society that men are set forth who draw others by their example to practise the virtues, even the difficult ones, and especially the virtue of chastity....

1064. Answers to objections. (A) Some doctors and physiologists readily claim that permanent celibacy is contrary to nature and to physical health, and that it entails numerous sicknesses, including hysteria and insanity. — This is denied by highly eminent doctors, based on substantial evidence. Publicly available figures show that, in general, Catholic priests live longer than married men, and many more illnesses, and more severe ones, arise out of incontinence than out of faithfully maintained virginity. — Hysteria, which is talked about by critics, arises out of a disturbance of the nerves, and is much more common among dissolute women than among virgins. Insanity, likewise, can scarcely be attributed to celibacy, but rather arises out of many different causes, and is more often found among married people than celibates....

1065. (B) Others - include many Protestants, as well as rationalists and other non-Catholics - attack continence on the ground that it is morally impossible, so that many of those who swear themselves to virginity soon fall into the snares of the devil and secretly indulge their lusts. — We do not deny that permanent virginity is a difficult virtue, or indeed morally impossible for those who reject the means of achieving it which Christ has provided. The case, however, is different for those who flee dangerous situations, apply themselves to mortification of the flesh, study and work, and also assiduously set aside time for prayer and frequently receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. By these means, desire can be effectively restrained.... It is true that some priests neglect these means and break their voews of virginity, either secretly or publicly, it is clear that they are few in number, since the most hateful enemies of the priesthood, who freely and eagerly collect all scandals of this kind, have been able to find only very few....

III.  Means by which the law of celibacy should be kept

1066.  The Church has wisely laid down certain means by which continence may more easily be kepy by her sacred ministers....

First, sacred ministers ought to be often in church - that is, they must flee the world and its vanities and pleasures, and they must frequent the sacred tabernacles, in which the creator of purity himself lives night and day.  Only those who love Christ sacramentally present in the Eucharist with their whole heart can easily maintain their virginity.  The heart of a man, which is made for love, cannot remain long without love; therefore, unless he loves Christ with an affection which is at the same time tender and devout, he will soon become attached to creatures, with a great danger to his chastity.  But if he frequently visits Christ in the form of the sacred elements, he will find a faithful friend there - a strength and a solace which can overcome all the enticements of creatures.

1067.  2.  They should also be vigilant and pray not to fall into temptation.
(a)  ....A priest should avoid recitations, shows and entertainments which may excite him to lust....  He should govern his internal and external senses, particularly his eyes and his imagination, so that he intentionally repels not only what is impure, but even what has the appearance of evil.  Nor should he ever forget that sensual pleasure is related to lust....  Experience bears witness that he who mortifies himself in relation to lawful things will much more easily abstain from unlawful things.  — Not only should he carefully avoid drunkenness, he should also avoid all excess in eating and drinking, which of its nature tends to be a stimulus to lust.

(b) Since no-one indeed can maintain virginity for long without divine assistance, he should beg for the necessary graces with frequent and fervent prayer.  He should remember that he is bound to recite the divine office as a most effective means of guarding his chastity.  He should therefore recite it with dignity, attention and devotion....  He should commit himself to tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, whose very name savours of chastity, and whose powerful help can more easily help him to preserve his modesty.

1068.  3.  The principal means enjoined by the Church is to avoid cohabiting with women....

(A)  Today, by common law, it is lawful for a cleric to live with women who are related to him in the primary or primary-secondary degree, such as his mother, his grandmother, his daughter, his aunt and his niece.  Moreover, as confirmed by custom, he can also live with his relatives in law of the primary degree and those relatives in law of the primary-secondary degree to which a cleric is bound by the canons to show reverence, such as his stepmother, his daughter in law, the widow of his brother and the widow of his uncle - but not the wife of his nephew. - The reason is that there is a lawful and natural bond which exists between a cleric and these people, and this is sufficient to remove all suspicion....

1069.  (B)  A cleric who is permitted to live with these people can also live with their female servants, and also with the wife of a male servant....

(C)  He can also live with unrelated women if they are his servants, but only if they are of advanced age (i.e. at least 40 years, according to the common view) and of good reputation.

However, in the foregoing cases, occasions of prudent suspicion or scandal are always excluded.  Consequently, it is absolutely forbidden for a cleric to live even with closely related women if any suspicion rests on them.  This is clear from the very purpose of the law.

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