As a freshman, I attended Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, which was a Catholic, all-boys affair. Although I don’t really remember much of that time, one teacher still haunts my memory. He taught American History, and although I can’t recall his name – which is probably some defensive mechanism – I can still see him in my mind. He was about 6′ 4″, intimidating, and towered like a lumberjack, but with a priest’s collar.
In fact, wood was a common denominator as he continuously strolled up and down the aisles slapping a ruler in his hand. Childhood memories are not the most reliable, but it seemed like it was the size of a yardstick, yet thicker. Now, fortunately, I never got hit with it; but others certainly did.
Why I’m not quite sure. Clearly, anyone with even primal awareness should have been sitting at attention with their focus riveted on this guy. Perhaps they answered a question wrong or laughed when they shouldn’t have. In any event, it was not uncommon to hear him command a student to place his hands on the desk, palms up and…wack. Nuns were much more sociable; they would just smack you on the back of your head with their hand. I’ve often wondered if his obvious pent-up angst was due to his celibacy.
Priestly abstinence has a storied history; reportedly, marriage and polygamy were not uncommon with Priests around the ninth and tenth centuries. Eventually, Rome even sanctioned priests to take a second wife should their first one become sick. However, these positions led to problems of inheritances going to the priest’s family and not to the church.
Pelagius the First required all priests to agree not to allow any of their children to inherit church property. Pope Benedict VIII, in 1022, officially declared that priests were banned from marrying to protect church property, although he allowed for prior marriages. Finally, in 1139, Pope Innocent II declared all priest marriages annulled and proclaimed celibacy the absolute rule.
The Bible does address marriage and being single. For example, it is clear that Peter was married. Matthew 8:14-15 relates a story, “When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and began waiting on Him.”
In Matthew 19:9, Christ, while teaching on divorce, states, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” In verse 10, the disciples ask, “if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Christ proceeds to explain that marriage is good, yet for those physically unable to marry and those who find pragmatic reasons to stay single for the growth of the kingdom, being single is okay.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 goes on to explain that “I wish that all were as I myself am (single). But each has his own gift from God…to the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry…” Understand that Paul was speaking to both men and women, and as a historical backdrop, the beginning Christian church was being harshly persecuted. As such, remaining single due to potential martyrdom held significant pragmatic justification.
The Bible never claims that celibacy is superior to marriage. Concerning the family, Genesis 1:28 commands us to “Be fruitful and multiply.” Additionally, required celibacy could even be from an evil source as 1 Timothy 4:1-5 warns, “…in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…”
God has established three institutions: family, church, and government, and has commanded us to multiply through marriage. Although the Bible acknowledges singleness for specific, pragmatic reasons, it warns about some who “prohibit marriage.”
Undeniably, every time man goes against God’s original design; the results are catastrophic. On the one hand, you must admire someone who restricts their freedoms in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, and a vow of celibacy could fall into that category. Conversely, required celibacy has undoubtedly contributed to the massive sexual abuses the Catholic church continues to deal with. This problem exists in or outside the church whenever man tries to push God away and go against His original will and design.
Many fail to recognize, however, that God also pushes back, and His response is recorded in Romans 1:18-28 which, as abridged, states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth…because that which is known about God is evident…[and] they are without excuse…for even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God…and their foolish heart was darkened…Professing to be wise, they became fools…therefore God gave them over..to impurity…[and] they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…[and] God gave them over to dishonorable passions…and in the same way, the males abandoned the natural function of the female…[and] God gave them over to an unfit mind…”
We currently find ourselves in a nation of “unfit minds.” Fortunately, God also offers forgiveness as Romans 10:9-10, from the New Catholic Bible, declares, “If you confess with your lips, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes in the heart, and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth, and so is saved.”