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Saturday, May 19, 2012

History of celibacy

There's an article at the Association of Catholic Priests site on the history of church celibacy by Thomas O’Loughlin, a professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham. It's pretty interesting - here's just a bit of it ....

A history of Celibacy in the Catholic Church — Prof. Thomas O’Loughlin

[...] Luther marks the next stage in the story. He argued that something one does, for instance making a vow or being celibate, could not add to one’s holiness (1522). Later, he condemned celibacy as the creation of canon law, itself the work of the devil (1530) and held that for fallen men, burning with passion, marriage was a necessity if they were to avoid sin (his understanding of 1 Cor 7:9). Luther himself married in June 1525 and died the father of a large family. His position on celibacy was, in broad outline, that of the other reformers as well. For example, Calvin held that some are called by God to celibacy, but that it should not be prescribed by law nor be considered a more spiritual, higher, vocation than marriage. Significantly, his is the best historical scholarship of the period. Commenting on references to marriage in Scripture, he recognised that Jerome’s position could not be sustained with its extremely corrupt view of sexuality, and indeed was not one shared by the New Testament. He further recognised that it was Jerome’s hang-ups about sex and virginity, rather than Scripture, that influenced law and ordinary theology text-books. Jerome was to be used with caution, and this comes from Calvin who on other matters of interpretation and linguistics had Jerome as his hero.

The opposition of the Reformers sealed the fate of celibacy for the Roman Church. The Council of Trent declared that celibacy was possible, founded on Scripture, and that it was heresy to say that virginity / celibacy were not objectively superior to marriage (1563). If the Protestant ministers were married, the new men of the Counter-reformation would be celibates, trained and organised with a precision and uniformity unimaginable to medieval clerics. Moreover, the continuing Protestant / Catholic divide gave Trent an impetus to enforce its law unlike any previous council. Celibacy was to be a badge of the priesthood, and every priest trained in a special way and in a special place, the seminary. The distinction between the priest in the parish and the priest-member of a religious order further disappeared. A good priest was a member of a spiritual elite formed on a pattern designed for monks and friars ....


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