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Theology for the common man

Celibacy… A challenge for the world

The celibacy of the Catholic Clergy, that is their unmarried state, is an issue for discussion in the Church, posed not only by its enemies, but also by Catholics themselves. One reason this problem re-emerged is the disclosure of sexual abuse by certain clergy relative to minors, which was brought to light in 2002. The media, which is hostile to the Church, presents this problem as being exclusive to priests in the Catholic Church, as though it does not exist elsewhere, and regards celibacy as the source of crises for priests, and presents it in this way to the general public. What’s more, even some priests, are questioning their own integrity, and see in celibacy the probable cause of their own personal frustrations and failures, openly calling it an invention of the Church and an unnatural claim on human character more properly reserved for the saints. So what exactly is celibacy? Is it only for the holy ones who soar the heavenly heights with Jesus? Did the Church make a mistake at some point placing so heavy a burden on the shoulders of its priests? Is it natural, at all, measured against man’s tendency toward family life?

Celibacy and Human Nature

One argument brought up against celibacy today is the general belief that it goes against nature, for what is more normal for a man than to marry and have children? Additional support of this argument cites man’s biological and emotional make-up, the fact that man has reproductive organs, and the question of why have they been given to him? Additionally, certain psychologists and psychiatrists teach that seminal ejaculation promotes physical and mental health to such a degree that its absence may bring about definite character deviations.

We see here the distinct restricting of humanity to the physical realm, supposedly the very physicality that is its being. Meanwhile human nature expresses its own personality, or a way of being more human, by use of awareness and freedom. Conflicts with the flesh enrich personality both physically and mentally, resulting in more realistic choices. The whole problem of human physicality depends on its appropriate integration, or assignment, into the spiritual realm for the purpose of full personality development. From here also emerges the dignity and uniqueness of man. Celibacy, spilling out from integrated human individuality, points to a higher spiritual value for which it is worth sacrificing everything, even life itself, for a person is infinitely more valuable than physical pleasure. Against this background even the sacrifice of married life can be understood relative to higher principles. In the context of marriage, this type of celibacy is referred to as spiritual fertility (fecundity). Its fruit is selfless love expressing itself in the service of others.

Celibacy and the Kingdom of God
In the natural plan, man enters into God’s grace, which shows the supernatural dimensions, those beyond all that is of humanity, that which is called the Kingdom of God. With this perspective in mind it could appear that family life and raising children is the only way to realize parenting! Thus, celibacy becomes a sign and testimony to a supernatural life, expressing itself in self-sacrifice and giving for the things of God’s Kingdom in imitation of Jesus Christ. This is even indicated in the stem of the Latin word cealibatus, from which the name cealum (heaven), is derived, indicating that this is a heavenly phenomenon. Christ was unmarried, the first to give testimony to the order that prevails in God’s Kingdom, as He himself said: “The children of this world marry and are given in marriage. But those who shall be accounted worthy of that world and of the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor take wives.” (Lk 20:34-35). Celibacy so perceived is a foretaste of life hereafter, a sign of the new creation. Celibates, therefore, are bearers of the new world, heaven’s unmarried. From the beginning, the Church valued this life style, considering it particularly effective in building the Kingdom of God. This is in imitation of the Master, who while remaining unmarried chose apostles who had wives. For this reason, the early Church recommended and praised celibacy, while viewing marriage as subservient to it, yet, whatever the choice, always strongly encouraging sexual abstinence. From the eighth century, celibacy slowly became mandated in the Western Church, was disseminated by the Popes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and found a place in the legislation of the Council of Trent (16th century) as well as in Canon Law in 1917 and 1983.

Celibacy and the Modern World

Clearly keep in mind that we live in a culture unsympathetic to celibacy due to the sexual revolution that is bringing down contemporary Western civilization. And here we see an even greater importance for celibacy, that it is seen not only as a reminder of the things of heaven but as a certain style of life already here on earth attesting to the heavenly worth of human strength which it represents and defends. Above all, it fights the subsequent absurd dogmas generally glorifying the flesh and remains especially provocative to the world.

Contemporary marriage is showing signs of joyful wedded chastity, a deep intimacy in a shared life of love that is transformed by sacrifice, sensitivity and concern for the other, the final derivation being a responsible parenthood and strict upbringing of children that guarantees a secure future for the family, the country and the world. Society’s unmarried person exhibits the value of spiritual fecundity, finding fulfillment in doing good for all mankind, from start to end. For the entire Church, celibacy is seen as a sign of a pure marriage to God in love through Christ, in whom all may find the source of sanctity, the strength of spiritual fecundity and the means of salvation.