Article XXIII: Of the Marriage of Priests

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Confession Confutation Apology [Defense]

1 Their enumeration among abuses, in the second place, of the celibacy of the clergy, and the manner in which their priests marry and persuade others to marry, are verily matters worthy of astonishment, since they call sacerdotal celibacy an abuse, when that which is directly contrary, the violation of celibacy and the illicit transition to marriage, deserves to be called the worst abuse in priests. For that priests ought never to marry Aurelius testifys in the second Council of Carthage, where he says: “Because the apostles taught thus by example, and antiquity itself has preserved it, let us also maintain it.” And a little before a canon to this effect is read: “Resolved, That the bishops, presbyters and deacons, or those who administer the sacraments, abstain, as guardians of chastity, from wives.” From these words it is clear that this tradition has been received from the apostles, and not recently devised by the Church. Augustine, following Aurelius in the last question concerning the Old and New Testaments, writes upon these words, and asks: “If perhaps it be said, if it is lawful and good to marry, why are not priests permitted to have wives?” Pope Caliztus, a holy man and a martyr, decided thirteen hundred years ago that priests should not marry. The like is read also in the holy Councils of Caesarea, Neocaesarea, Africa, Agde, Gironne, Meaux, and Orleans. Thus the custom has been observed from the time of the Gospel and the apostles that one who has been put into the office of priests has never been permitted, according to law, to marry.

2 It is indeed true that on account of lack of ministers of God in the primitive Church married men were admitted to the priesthood, as is clear from the Apostolic Canons and the reply of Paphnutius in the Council of Nice; nevertheless, those who wished to contract marriage were compelled to do so before receiving the subdiaconate, as we read in the canon Si quis corum Dist. 32. This custom of the primitive Church the Greek Church has preserved and retained to this day. But when, by the grace of God, the Church has increased so that there was no lack of ministers in the Church, Pope Siricius, eleven hundred and forty years ago, undoubtedly not without the Holy Ghost, enjoined absolute continence upon the priests, Canon Plurimus, Dist. 82 – an injunction which Popes Innocent I., Leo the Great and Gregory the Great approved and ratified, and which the Latin Church has everywhere observed to this day. From these facts it is regarded sufficiently clear that the celibacy of the clergy is not an abuse, and that it was approved by fathers so holy at such a remote time, and was received by the entire Latin Church. Besides, the priests of the old law, as in the case of Zacharias, were separated from their wives at times when they discharged their office and ministered in the temple. But since the priest of the new law ought always to be engaged in the ministry, it follows that he ought always to be continent. Furthermore, married persons should not defraud one the other of conjugal duties except for a time that they may give themselves to prayer. 1 Cor. 7:5. But since a priest ought always to pray, he ought always to be continent. Besides, St. Paul says: “But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, that he may please the Lord. But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife,” 1 Cor. 7:32, 33.

3 Therefore let the priest who should please God continually flee from anxiety for a wife, and not look back with Lot’s wife, Gen. 19:26. Moreover, sacerdotal continence was foreshadowed also in the Old Testament, for Moses commanded those who were to receive the law not to approach their wives until the third day, Ex 19:15. Much less, therefore, should the priests, who are about to receive Christ as our Legislator, Lord and Savior, approach wives. Priests were commanded likewise to wear linen thigh-bandages, to cover the shame of the flesh (Ex. 28:42); which, says Beda, was a symbol of future continence among priests. Also, when Ahimelech was about to give the blessed bread to the servants of David he asked first if they had kept themselves from women and David replied that they had for three days. 1 Kings 21 (1 Sam. 21:4, 5). Therefore, they who take the living Bread which came down from heaven, John 6:32ff., should always be pure with respect to them. They who ate the Passover had their loins girded, Ex. 12:11. Wherefore the priests, who frequently eat Christ our Passover, ought to gird their loins by continence and cleanliness, as the Lord commands them: “Be ye clean,” he says, “that bear the vessels of the Lord,” Isa. 52:11. “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy,” Lev. 19:2. Therefore let priests serve God “in holiness and righteousness all their days.” Luke 1:75. Hence the holy martyr Cyprian testifies that it was revealed to him by the Lord, and he was most solemnly enjoined, to earnestly admonish the clergy not to occupy a domicile in common with women. Hence, since sacerdotal continence has been commanded by the pontiffs and revealed by God and promised to God, by the priest in a special vow, it must not be rejected. For this is required by the excellency of the sacrifice they offer, the frequency of prayer, and liberty and purity of spirit, that they care how to please God, according to the teaching of St. Paul. And because this is manifestly the ancient heresy of Jovinian, which the Roman Church condemned and Jerome refuted in his writings, and St. Augustine said that this heresy was immediately extinguished and did not attain to the corruption and abuse of priests, the princes ought not to tolerate it to the perpetual shame and disgrace of the Roman Empire, but should rather conform themselves to the Church universal, and not be influenced by those things which are suggested to them. For as to what Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:2: “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife,” Jerome replies that St. Paul is speaking of one who has not made a vow, as Athanasius and Vulgarius understand the declaration of St. Paul: “If a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” (1 Cor. 7:28), that here a virgin is meant who has not been consecrated to God. So in reference to : “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9), the pointed reply of Jerome against Jovinian is extant. For the same St. Paul says (1 Cor. 7:1): “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” For a priest has the intermediate position of neither marrying nor burning, but of restraining himself by the grace of God, which he obtains of God by devout prayer and chastising of the flesh, by fasting and vigils. Furthermore, when they say that Christ taught that all men are not fit for celibacy, it is indeed true, and on this account not all are fit for the priesthood; but let the priest pray, and he will be able to receive Christ’s word concerning continence, as St. Paul says: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” Phil. 4:13. For continence is a gift of God, Wisd. 8:21. Besides, when they allege that this is God’s ordinance and command, Gen. 1:28, Jerome replied concerning these words a thousand years ago: “It was necessary first to plant the forest, and that it grow, in order that that might be which could afterwards be cut down.” Then the command was given concerning the procreation of offspring, that the earth should be replenished, but since it has been replenished so that there is a pressure of nations, the commandment does not pertain in like manner upon those able to be continent.

4 In vain, too, do they boast of God’s express order. Let them show, if they can, where God has enjoined priests to marry. Besides, we find in the divine law that vows once offered should be paid, Ps. 49 and 75; Eccles. 5, Ps. 50:14, 76:11; Eccles. 5:4. Why, therefore, do they not observe this express divine law? They also pervert St. Paul, as though he teaches that one who is to be chosen bishop should be married when he says: “Let a bishop be the husband of one wife;” which is not to be understood as though he ought to be married, for then Martin, Nicolaus, Titus, John the Evangelist, yea Christ, would not have been bishops. Hence Jerome explains the words of St. Paul, “that a bishop be the husband of one wife,” as meaning that he be not a bigamist. The truth of this exposition is clear, not only from the authority of Jerome, which ought to be great with every Catholic, but also from St. Paul, who writes concerning the selection of widows: “Let not a widow be taken into the number under three score years, having been the wife of one man,” 1 Tim. 5:9. Lastly, the citation of what was done among the Germans is the statement of a fact, but not of a law, for while there was a contention between the Emperor Henry IV, and the Roman Pontiff, and also between his son and the nobles of the Empire, both divine and human laws were equally confused, so that at the time the laity rashly attempted to administer sacred things, to use filth instead of holy oil, to baptize, and to do much else foreign to the Christian religion. The clergy likewise went beyond their sphere – a precedent which cannot be cited as law. Neither was it regarded unjust to dissolve sacrileges marriages which had been contracted to no effect in opposition to vows and the sanction of fathers and councils; as even today the marriages of priests with their so-called wives are not valid.

5 In vain, therefore, do they complain that the world is growing old, and that as a remedy for infirmity rigor should be relaxed, for those who are consecrated to God have other remedies of infirmities; as, for instance, let them avoid the society of women, shun idleness, macerate the flesh by fasting and vigils, keep the outward senses, especially sight and hearing, from things forbidden, turn away their eyes from beholding vanity, and finally dash their little ones – i.e. their carnal thoughts – upon a rock (and Christ is the Rock), suppress their passions, and frequently and devoutly resort to God in prayer. These are undoubtedly the most effectual remedies for incontinence in ecclesiastics and servants of God. St. Paul said aright that the doctrine of those who forbid marriage is a doctrine of demons. Such was the doctrine of Tatian and Marcoin, whom Augustine and Jerome have mentioned. But the Church does not thus forbid marriage, as she even enumerates marriage among the seven sacraments; with which, however, it is consistent that on account of their superior ministry she should enjoin upon ecclesiastics superior purity. For it is false that there is an express charge concerning contracting marriage, for then John the Evangelist, St. James, Laurentius, Titus, Martin, Catharine, Barbara, etc., would have sinned. Nor is Cyprian influenced by these considerations to speak of a virgin who had made a solemn vow, but of one who had determined to live continently, as the beginning of Letter XI., Book I sufficiently shows. For the judgement of St. Augustine is very explicit: “It is damnable for Virgins who make a vow not only to marry, but even to wish to marry.” Hence the abuse of marriage and the breaking of vows in the clergy are not to be tolerated.

Confession Confutation Apology [Defense]