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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Celibacy, Vatican II, and Maximos IV

There's a recent post at dotCommonweal about celibacy - Ugandan priests leave over celibacy. One wonders about the worth of bringing up the subject again because as one commentator to the post noted, we can talk about it amongst ourselves til we turn blue, but those with decision making authority won’t talk nor will they listen. Still I thought it might be interesting to see what John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II had to say about the subject. Here are some bits ....


On October 13 [1965], François Marty, archbishop of Rheims, presented the text On the Ministry and Life of Presbyters .... Two days earlier, however, celibacy, the most explosive issue related to the subject, was authoritatively removed from the agenda by Paul VI.

The matter had come up in an oblique way in 1962 under Pope John XXIII. On June 16 the Central Preparatory Commission discussed a short schema On Lapsed Priests ... not about celibacy as such but about measures to be taken to address a situation every bishop had to face: priests walking out the door .... Should a post-factum dispensation from celibacy be granted to such men? If so, how and on what grounds was that to be done?

The overwhelming consensus in the commission was that the council should not address the issue .... The matter should be left to the discretion of the Holy See .... But three years later, in 1965, the situation had changed somewhat. Bishops, still a small minority, were talking about the advisability of a modification of the discipline, at least for some regions. When in October the discussion On the Ministry and Life of Priests drew near, some Brazilian bishops hoped to introduce the matter on the floor .... This is the situation that prompted Paul VI to intervene to withhold celibacy from the agenda .....

The clergy of the Eastern churches in communion with the Holy See lived under a different discipline, and their bishops tended to take a dim view of the Latin practice. Well before October 11 it became known that Maximos IV intended to deliver a speech on the matter, and he would surely do so in his usual forthright and forceful style. Because of the pope's order, Maximos did not deliver his speech, but along with a covering letter he sent a copy of it to Paul on October 13 ..... (pp. 270-272)


Me here again ... So, really, celibacy never got discussed at any length at Vatican II as the Pope had taken it off the table. You can, though, read what Maximos had to say, both the talk he wanted to give to the council but couldn't, and the letter he sent to the pope about the subject, in chapter 8 of The Melkite Church at the Council, Discourses and Memoranda of Patriarch Maximos IV and of the Hierarchs of His Church at the Second Vatican Council: Introduction by Archimandrite Robert F. Taft ( link).

Here below is just part of the speech Maximos had planned to give at Vatican II. I think he makes some good points about the worth of married clergy ......


1. Neither Scripture nor Tradition, especially the Tradition of the first centuries, considers celibacy as an indispensable condition for the priesthood, a condition sine qua non. The early text of the schema affirmed that “even among the first Apostles, a few were married.” The new text preferred to omit this mention, as if by omitting it we could change the truth of history. It is unnecessary to recall that Saint Peter and most of the Apostles and the first disciples were married. Those who today in the Eastern Church are likewise married deserve all our support.

2. The East clearly distinguishes between priesthood and monasticism. A man can be called to the one without being called to the other. This distinction opens up new perspectives. Celibacy is the specific vocation of the monk-religious, but it is not necessarily the specific vocation of the priest, in his capacity as a minister of the Church. The priesthood is a function before being a state of life. It is linked not to a personal striving toward perfection such as celibacy for the sake of God, but to the usefulness to the Church. Therefore celibacy can disappear if the usefulness for the ministry of the Church requires it. The mystery of the redemption, perpetuated in the priesthood, is not subject by obligation to any accidental form. In case of need, it is not the priesthood that must be sacrificed to celibacy, but celibacy to the priesthood.

3. This distinction between the priestly vocation and the monastic or religious vocation was from the earliest centuries of Christianity subjected to the influences of an idealistic rigorism. At the First Council of Nicea in ad 325 we see certain Fathers seeking to impose perfect continence on the married clergy. According to Socrates (Hist. Eccl., Book I, Chapter 2, P. G. Vol. 67, Col. 103), Saint Paphnutius, Bishop of upper Thebaid, a confessor of the faith and a miracle worker, universally renowned for his chastity and his austerities, defended with much common sense and with a realistic spirit the traditional discipline of the married priesthood. And, the historian tells, all the Fathers of the Council were won over to his view. Since then, the Church of the East has remained faithful to this tradition that favors celibacy of priests but does not impose it. The Western Church has followed a different tradition which gradually brought it to impose, definitively and universally, ecclesiastical celibacy at the First Lateran Council of ad 1123. This is a tradition that, after all, was established at a more recent date.

4. Be this as it may, it is certain that the Eastern tradition maintains and favors more numerous priestly vocations, which the Church needs so much, especially today. In fact, the lack of priests, felt in our modern times in an agonizing way especially in certain countries, cannot be resolved by palliatives that are not sufficiently effective even if excellent, such as the lending of priests by the more favored dioceses, because the urgent needs are disproportionate to the help offered. The Church is in danger of being submerged by this rising human tide, and the danger is growing with each passing day. In this state of urgency, the Christian East counsels that more should not be imposed on priests than Christ himself has imposed.

5. In addition, there are many individuals who experience an immense desire to serve the Church and souls, but who are incapable of maintaining perfect chastity. This is particularly true in certain areas where physical and moral isolation constitutes a serious danger for an average celibate priest.

6. Finally, I shall add that there is no need to fear that the freedom provided by Eastern discipline to choose between celibacy and marriage may gradually cause ecclesiastical celibacy to disappear. There are now and there always will be in the Church many souls called in a special way, to whom flesh and blood are foreign, and who, while they are free to marry, will remain virgins in order to give themselves more totally to God. We have proofs of this in the Eastern Churches, whether Catholic or Orthodox, in which the two categories of priests have rubbed elbows for centuries, each developing fully according to his state and in his own special perfection. With this freedom of choice and of consecration, we have on the contrary fewer downfalls to deplore and more virtues to admire ......



Blogger Liam said...

Yeah, like with many other issues, we can talk, talk, talk about it... meanwhile, parishes are being left without priests, people don't have the chance to take the Eucharist, and there are capable married men and women who would make excellent priests who are not even allowed to discuss the possibility of their having a vocation.

Sometimes I think the Church hierarchy is like a three-year-old with his fingers in his ears shouting "blah blah blah I won't listen!"

6:37 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

I don't see dropping celibacy as being the answer to the lack of priests, although I think it might help. At the same time I think it will cause other problems. In talking to Eastern rite priests, they tell me that they are also having a problem with a lack of vocations.

Also, note that in the Eastern rite while married men are allowed to be ordained, ordained men can not get married. If this tradition was followed, I think it would cause great distress in the Church.

Liam, I think your description of the Church hierarchy is excellent :).

8:15 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yes, you'd think the availability of the Eucharist would be an issue the hierarchy would care about.

blah, blah, blah, I won't listen! :)

9:54 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I was just reading elsewhere that the Eastern rite has a concept of "epikaia" which means I guess that exceptions can be made to certain rules, and that the Patriarchate of Antioch has allowed one of its American priests to remarry after the death of his wife. So maybe that rule could change.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Even here in the Latin rite the rule can be changed. I was talking to our deacon and I find that while in general once ordained if their wife dies they cannot remarry. However, in the case where there are young children to be raised, the rule has been relaxed and a few have been allowed to remarry.

It always astounds me that even in the Church that if you know the right person, and under the right circumstance, that rule which is said to be absolute suddenly has an exception :).

2:14 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


That's interesting. Maybe that's a good sing - they say only machines can't make exceptions :)

4:13 PM  
Blogger Fran said...

Oh how I wish I had more time and no need to get to bed - there is so much to say here, but I will simply say this for now... I do not think that celibacy is the end all and I do not think that the end of it will be the answer.

What is unfortunate is the lack of discussion of it- along with the lack of discussion about women's ordination and LGBT issues.

Thanks for posting this and using the link the O'Malley's book. I have not yet read it, but I long to do so. It is supposed to be excellent.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crystal, the real issue is sex, not celibacy. Acting like this is a celibacy issue is to give the church leaders a break. The Church clearly believes that sex is an impediment to 'knowing' God.

7:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Fran,

Yes, lots to talk about. O'Malley's book is good. I have another book by him - The First Jesuits - which is alos good :)

2:30 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Sex us always a hot button issue, I guess.

2:31 AM  

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