Monday, August 29, 2011

East vs West: Celibate or Married Priesthood?

I am currently engaging in an exchange with the blogging Preoteasa, or "Priest's Wife", who runs the popular blog, "Fear Not Little Flock". It was in response to a post entitled, "You Know You're a Priest's Wife When ...".

I basically take the position that the Western practice of a celibate priesthood as enshrined in its theology is incompatible with the Eastern practice of a married priesthood.

I believe that this is merely the logical extension of the argument made by Dr. Peters with regards to Canon 277 (for which he was unjustly criticized by many with a number of fallacious rebuttals, reductio ad absurdiams that did not address the issues, and arguments from ignorance by those who had not read his article and those who were too uneducated in the pertinent issues to really form a proper opinion). Dr. Peters seems to imply (in the above link) that this is pretty much where his research has led him to as well. Dr. Peters and I kind of "partnered" in debating Deacon Bill Ditewig and other deacons and lay people on Deacon Bill's blog.

Here is my argument in a nutshell (although it has covered a lot of other side-issues):

""I say it is illogical because of Paul VI's encyclical, "Sacerdotalis Caelibatus". He begins by saying that many want the Church to make celibacy optional (as they do in the East), but then goes on to give 12 reasons why it is better to have a celibate priesthood than a priesthood which is generally married (as in the East). Now, if he were to have said, "both Eastern and Western traditions are good, we have each done them this way for centuries, and each works for their respective rites", then I would not say it is illogical. But as it is, Paul VI went on to state why it is better, for 12 different reasons, to have a celibate clergy than a married clergy. Realizing how this reflects on the Eastern practice, Paul VI makes the attempt to synthesize in paragraphs 38-40, but does so unsuccessfully. It remains a contradiction. If I were to press the Holy Pontiff or those who defend his position further, this would become clear.""

I have posted this paragraph twice, and I have yet to receive a rebuttal.


As per Priest's Wife's suggestion ("I doubt that jen will come back to comment because she doesn't like to 'take over' someone's blo- maybe if you click over to her blog and question her, she will answer"), I went to the blog of one of the people arguing against me - Jen - and posted further comments on her blog. Her response was to deny me access to her blog henceforth and to post the following on my blog, in the combox of the post in which I announced my return to blogging: "please use your own blog as a bully pulpit and stay off of mine".

Priest's Wife also ended the conversation, saying "I believe that it is time for you to publish your thoughts on your blog. I wish you well- but I do not agree with your conclusions." In other words, she said I was wrong, but did not say or show why I was wrong nor respond to my points.



  1. Can you clarify something, please? Are you saying that you think the practice of married clergy should end, or only that you wish for others to acknowledge that celibacy/continence is the superior practice?

  2. Do you think that the practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood and diaconate should end in both the East and the West?

    I suspect it would be easy to get most Eastern Catholics/Orthodox to concede that the celibate priesthood is superior. There is, after all, a reason why their bishops are always taken from the ranks of the priest-monks. But I think it would not be easy, maybe even impossible, to convince them that no clergy should be married. I confess I am a little puzzled as to why you even brought this up on Priest's Wife's blog. Did you think you'd be able to convince her?

  3. I answer your question in the affirmative.

    I do not know if we would be able to get most Eastern Catholics/Orthodox to concede the superiority of a celibate priesthood. I couldn't get Priest's Wife to do it - and in fact, one of the articles she links to (the last one) states that although monasticism has a superiority, celibacy among the secular clergy is seen as somewhat of an anomaly, and not as respected as you might think.

    As I pointed out on her blog as well, the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox defense of a married clergy, and its corresponding criticism of mandatory celibacy, when taken to its logical conclusion, actually make the case for why a married priesthood is a "better" model than the celibate priesthood, at least as far as the secular clergy is concerned. In fact, you will notice in Priest's Wife's answers and in some of her posts that very fact, and I called her on it. Notice that she never once agreed with me (and in fact said in the end she disagreed with my conclusions) that a celibate priesthood had a superiority.

    Did I think I would be able to convince Priest's Wife? I thought it was a possibility. I was certain she would not be able to respond to the substance of my arguments - and indeed she did not. I suppose I thought she might take that as an indication I was right and she was wrong. But as I know from my days in engaging Protestants in apologetics, there are certain psychological reactions and defense mechanisms, such as denial and distortion, that prevent the argument from convincing them of the case for the Catholic Church (and the case against Protestantism). I suspect much the same happened here. I say that because she could not respond to my cogent arguments, but remained steadfast in her initial position nonetheless.

  4. It is possible that she does not find your arguments to be cogent or convincing, and that is why she chooses to remain steadfast. I read both of the threads you linked to, and Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, and I disagree with your analysis. I do agree with you that the document could be better written, and Paul VI's synthesis is unclear. His purpose is obviously to defend the Western tradition against its detractors, but also to be politic about his defense and not detract from the legitimate tradition of the East. I disagree with what you see as the logical extension of his point, that only celibate priesthood is desirable in the Church as a whole.

    I also think you misunderstand the Eastern view of married and celibate clergy, and that this misunderstanding significantly weakens your stance.

  5. But why does Paul VI defend mandatory celibacy, Jane?

    List the reasons given by Paul VI ... and then ask yourself, "how is it possible for a generally married clergy to be on a par with an all-celibate clergy if all of this is true?" The fact is, it cannot be. If it is, please provide the synthesis - even if Paul VI didn't (couldn't?). If no one can synthesize it, then this probably means it "cannot" be synthesized.

    I have a lot of people disagree with me on this. That's fine. But they can never specifically spell out "why" I am wrong. And until they do, I cannot accept your position, nor that of Priest's Wife.

  6. And what is the "Eastern view of married and celibate clergy?" And specifically in what way do I misunderstand that?

  7. I don't believe that a generally married clergy is on par with an all-celibate clergy. I believe, as you do, as the Church does, that celibacy is a superior state of life to marriage. After all, most of the points Paul VI makes are in favor of celibacy generally, not only for priests. However, does this mean that ALL priests should be celibate? No, it doesn't, not any more than it means that all lay people should be celibate.

    You said, regarding the last article linked to by Priest's Wife, that celibacy among the Eastern secular clergy is "not as respected as you might think." It is respected, greatly, but as pointed out in the article, it is also regarded as being an almost superhumanly difficult way of life. To Easterners, all celibate priests are priest-monks, and monks should live in monastic communities. For a priest-monk to be permanently cut off from that communal life because he must serve a parish is a sad thing--it means he lacks the support system he ought to have for his life as an ascetic.

    I do not think that the East has the same theology of a vocation to the single life that we have in the West. For them, everyone ought to live in a community. For ascetics, their community is the monastery, and for everyone else their community is the family. For a man to live without a monastic community or a family is an oddity, like a hermit. They revere hermits, too, but I do not think anyone would dispute that to be a hermit is to embrace a truly radical vocation. And Easterners do not want all their parish priests to be forced to embrace such a radical way of life.

    And they were forced to it, in this country, for a century, which makes American Easterners particularly defensive on this point. If you could debate a priest in the Ukraine about this, you might find a different style of explanation.

    I still think it is unfair--possibly even uncharitable--of you to challenge Priest's Wife on this issue. If you were able to convince her that you were right and priests should not be married, what could she do? What action would you expect her to take? Continue to live as she already does but believing that her lifestyle is wrong? Separate herself from her husband? Before you challenge another married clergyman or his wife, please consider this point. Even if you think you preach the truth, truth must be spoken in charity.

  8. Jane, I appreciate your thoughts and contributions here on this blog.

    To respond to a few things:

    1. "Most of the points Paul VI makes are in favor of celibacy generally, not only for priests. However, does this mean that ALL priests should be celibate? No, it doesn't."

    Okay, but that begs the question - why should all priests not be celibate?

    2. "Celibacy among the Eastern secular clergy ... is also regarded as being an almost superhumanly difficult way of life. To Easterners, all celibate priests are priest-monks, and monks should live in monastic communities."

    Celibacy among the Western clergy is also considered to be a superhumanly difficult way of life - as Paul VI pointed out. But as Paul VI also pointed out, celibate priests are given "supernatural" grace to fulfill that call.

    3. "I do not think that the East has the same theology of a vocation to the single life that we have in the West. For them, everyone ought to live in a community."

    That is not true. It was in the East that the great hermits, the Desert Fathers, lived, and as you pointed out. Now, you say, "I do not think anyone would dispute that to be a hermit is to embrace a truly radical vocation. And Easterners do not want all their parish priests to be forced to embrace such a radical way of life."

    First, the celibate secular priesthood is not as radical a way of life as the eremetical life. The parish provides the priest with a community (nay, a family), even though they are not in the same living quarters.

    Second, your last sentence begs the question: why not? The West has no problem with their secular priests embracing this "radical way of life".

    Third - and now I think I am getting back to my initial argument - both of these theologies cannot be correct.

    a. Either the celibate secular priesthood is "a sad thing" because they are "cut off from the communal life" (in the East), OR

    b. "his solitude is not meaningless emptiness because it is filled with God and the brimming riches of His kingdom. Moreover, he has prepared himself for this solitude — which should be an internal and external plenitude of charity" (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 58)

    In fact, if you read Paragraphs 50-59, it basically objects to your second and third paragraphs and responds to that Eastern argument.

    4. If Priest's Wife is going to argue for a married priesthood, then she should not object to someone who disagrees and argues for a celibate priesthood. She can't have it both ways.

    If I was to convince her? Well, let me ask you this: what did you think of Dr. Peters' paper on Canon 277? What if he was to convince some deacons that they should be continent (and I read many blogs on this - he DID convince one deacon and it was a crisis of conscience for him). Was he being uncharitable? And what action did he expect them to take? His answer to that would be my answer to your question.

    And I disagree that it would be uncharitable to convince a clergyman and his wife that priests should be celibate, anymore than it would be uncharitable to convince a couple in RCIA who both had previous marriages that they might be invalidly married.

  9. Forgive me if I respond to your points out of order. First, #4: What you're doing and what Priest's Wife is doing are not quite the same. She is defending her own tradition and not (as far as I know) suggesting that her tradition has much bearing on what happens in the West. You are arguing that the East should abandon a thousand-year practice, and a large portion of your argument seems to be based on a document that doesn't actually take issue with the Eastern practice and is, in fact, directed at the West.

    Paul VI is, on the other hand, doing the same as Priest's Wife--defending a longstanding practice in the face of those who think it should be changed.

    Maybe I am too Eastern in my mindset. Ever hear the joke about how many Byzantines it takes to change a lightbulb? "What is this lightbulb? We have candles." Traditional practices are very important and not to be abandoned with any haste. If the theologies are as incompatible as you say they are, then why has Rome not forbidden married priests? Far from forbidding Easterners to ordain married men, they have recently permitted them to ordain married men in the United States after a century of forbidding it--encouraging Easterners to embrace their traditional practices. And now Rome occasionally ordains married men for the Western Church. Both long-standing and more recent practice disagrees with your interpretation of the theology.

    Regarding Dr. Peters and the deacon, I have not read that story, so I do not know what Dr. Peters' answer was. Can you provide a link?

    1. "Why should all priests not be celibate?" Because, for some Churches, it is traditional that not all priests are celibate.

    2. I can't dispute that.

    3. "The parish provides the priest with a community, nay, a family." When have you observed this in a Western parish? I never have. Do you know any parish priests very well, especially priests who live alone in their rectories and serve either large parishes or several small parishes? In the experience of the three or four priests I know very well, the parish is not much of a family. It is an extremely lonely existence. In fact, my current parish has staff who are openly hostile to the priests, especially the parochial vicars. Our last two PV's arrived healthy and happy and left on prescription depression medication, and the current one has already requested a transfer although he's only been here a month. Some "families" are better than others, I guess.

    "The West has no problem with their secular priests embracing 'this radical way of life'." The West is not the East. Why should our practices be the same?

    As for the theologies not being compatible, maybe they are not as incompatible as you think. Do you know about the differences between the Eastern and Western views on Original Sin? The "Filioque"? The Immaculate Conception? Those appeared, on the surface, to be incompatible. But we worked them out.

  10. Sorry, I'm having trouble posting on my own blog!! So I am posting as "Anonymous".

    I think I see what the problem is: I am taking the "logical implications" of what the Pope has taught and have identified the theological problems with it, while You and Priest's Wife are remaining on the surface. The Pope said, "this is addressed to the West and is by no means to be a reflection on the Eastern practice". What I am saying, in response, is that the Pope is contradicting himself, perhaps even unwittingly, and that the way he argues for the Western practice actually does contradict the Eastern practice.

    The East is very entrenched in tradition - moreso than the West. However, the East tries to have it both ways, and they are inconsistent with it. They will argue that the first priests were married. Peter, they say, was married. But Peter was not just a priest - he was a "Bishop". So the first bishops were "married". Well, if that was the apostolic practice, why not have married bishops? They say this developed in the early church. But I could argue, "so did the idea of a celibate clergy"! In fact, a sexually-active, married clergy is a "later" development than a continent, married clergy, which was more of a long-standing "tradition". But the East uses the year 800 as the benchmark - however the Church was then is what it should be now. I was just in a conversation with my roommate about this, and talked to him about how the East believes doctrinal development just "ends" at 800 and thus doctrine no longer develops as it does in the West.

    You ask, "If the theologies are as incompatible as you say they are, then why has Rome not forbidden married priests?"

    Because we are trying to reunite, and if we were to forbid married priests (like we tried to do in the past - i.e. pre-schism), we can forget about corporate reunion. I would argue that just as the Church "tolerates" many things which are not ideal, so does the Church "tolerate" a married clergy and grants an "exception" for the greater good (i.e. reunion). Even if the Vatican stated, as did Paul VI, that the Eastern practice was good and should continue, their own theology stands in contrast to it, and they unwittingly hold two positions which are in contradiction, just like most lay people do who make the same argument, and so does Priest's Wife, as I pointed out on her blog when I told her the way she argued for a married priesthood contradicts and argues against what Paul VI argued.

    So I disagree that "both longstanding and recent practice" disagree with my argument.

  11. A quick summary of Dr. Peters' argument can be found by clicking on the link I posted on this blog entry.

    You speak about how in practice, Western parishes do not function like a family or community. Considering the sad state of the Church today, it would not surprise me. Regardless, Paul VI in paragraphs 50-59 disagrees with the Eastern argument in this regard.

    You respond to my statement that "The West has no problem with their secular priests embracing 'this radical way of life'" with the following, "The West is not the East. Why should our practices be the same?" Okay, but once again, what I am saying is this: the East is saying, "objectively" (i.e. universally), that "for a man to live without a monastic community or a family is an oddity" and is a "sad thing". Just because we are in the West, does that mean there is something in our Western water that enables a man to live well without a monastic community or a family and be happy with it? You see what I am saying? The East "has to" say that it is just as problematic in the East as in the West, and therefore, they must disagree with our practice (and many Orthodox apologists DO). (See this link: http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/celibacy.htm). I think the attempt to say "both traditions are equally good and they are entirely compatible" is an ecumenically obvious one but a theologically contradictory one, and the only way we can hold this position is if we don't think too deeply about the theology (which the Vatican has unfortunately fostered - "just don't think about it - they're both good, leave it at that"). The link I just gave you is a case of someone being honest about his own tradition and how it bears upon the tradition of the other.

    Notice in speaking about how we have worked out issues you didn't mention the Papacy or divorce. We have not worked "everything" out.

    Let me refer you to an article in which a Western priest-theologian argues what I am arguing, just so you don't think I'm coming out of left field with all this stuff:


    I found this link on Eric Sammons' blog, who commented on it and who I responded to:


    - Wade St. Onge

  12. One more very important question:

    Where do Eastern bishops live? Within a monastic community? Or in a bishop's residence or rectory - similar to how Western preists live?

  13. "Notice in speaking about how we have worked out issues you didn't mention the Papacy or divorce." That's because I was talking mainly about Eastern Catholics, not the Orthodox.

    I don't know where Eastern bishops live or who they live with. I have probably already overstepped my mark in speaking for Eastern Catholics. Although I have attended Eastern Catholic parishes at various points in my life, I am a Latin Catholic, and not an expert on Eastern Christianity.

    I still think that you (and the others also arguing for this) are wrong, and that pursuing this line of thinking has the potential to do a lot of harm. But I've reached the limit of my own knowledge and I have too much other work to do any extensive reading on the subject. So I have to stop here. I wish you all the best.

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  15. I think if you did end up digging a little deeper, you would no longer be so sure I was wrong. And to be honest, I think a lot of people who say I am wrong generally do so not because they have refuted my points (no one yet has - including you) but because of "inertia" - they have come to believe both traditions are just different but equal, simply taking it for granted and assuming it just must be so because only me and a few other no name theologians are actually saying anything about it (or, for that matter, actually thoroughly thinking through the issue).

    As for doing harm - that is the same reasoning used for those who say we should not proclaim the fifth Marian dogma (and as many bishops argued at the First Vatican Council should not be done with papal infallibility). But I'm with Dr. Miravalle on this one, who says it only harms ecumenism rather than help ecumenism to avoid further defining the truths of our faith, as though we must "settle" for compromise instead.

    By the way, did you ever get around to proofreading the music section on my manuscript, "An Acceptable Sacrifice", that I sent you? I am about ready to self-publish it (have to finish "The New and The Old" then publish them together).

  16. You're right in pointing out tensions, if not contradictions in Paul VI's letter on celibacy, and the difficulty of synthesizing Western and Eastern traditions, a difficulty that is even greater at the level of practice. Unfortunately, the response to these tensions in recent Latin theology has been to exacerbate them through absurd notions of the priesthood "ontologically" requiring celibacy, a notion that Basilio PetrĂ  has recently refuted, as I note here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/not-clerical-celibacy-again.html

  17. Dr. DeVille, thank you for your comments and for pointing me towards your article.

    I would say that the "insecurity" goes both ways: Easterners "insist on repeatedly bring up this topic and repeatedly try to prove the ... historicity or 'apostolicity' of a married priesthood". The reason it keeps being brought up in the Latin church is because we have a poorly-catechized laity that continues to press for a change in the practice.

    Personally, I do not believe the ontological argument. I think it actually weakens our case for clerical celibacy because it is a tenuous argument that opponents of our position focus on in their argument against us.

    If the fact that Cholij retracted his views after he left the priesthood to get married proves he was wrong, then the fact that Luther retracted his belief that one can validly take a vow of celibacy after he left the priesthood to get married proves he was wrong as well. In other words, Cholij would be wrong only if the merits of his current argument for a married clergy outweigh the merits of his former argument for a celibate clergy. That was not the case with Luther - the Catholic apologetics of the pre-Reformation Luther was a superior and more valid position than the Protestant apologetics of the post-Reformation Luther.

    Is celibacy/continence more apostolic or is a married, sexually-active clergy? I don't think either side can prove their case in this regard - the evidence is fuzzy. Personally, it matters not to me which was more apostolic - house churches are more "apostolic", but I'm in favour of Gothic masterpieces. In fact, the more apostolic tradition as it regards bishops is to have "married bishops" - something that undercuts the Eastern argument.

  18. As for "making a complete pig's breakfast of contemporary Latin theology of marriage and the family", I am of the belief that the current theology that the Latin Church has been giving us in this regard is not in harmony with the broader Tradition, and is tainted by Modernism and heresy. Practically speaking, most of today's Latin theology contradicts the dogma of the superiority of celibacy over marriage.

    As for trying to explain to Westerners "the complexities of a married priesthood, that is, trying to dissuade them from the highly misleading idea that a married priesthood will be an easy or simple change to the life of the Latin Church today, or that it will somehow magically solve the so-called vocations crisis, much of which I think is artificial, that is, tendentiously manufactured".

    This is the typical argument used by ecumenists to try to resolve the "unresolved contradiction". It goes like this: "The West is used to a celibate priesthood and it has developed around that and works for them, while the East is used to a married priesthood and it has developed around that and it works for them. Therefore neither should change". And yet, look at the arguments the East uses in favour of a married clergy: if it was correct for the reasons they gave, then it would be beneficial to have a married clergy in the West too. Let us find out if this is true: why, Dr. DeVille, should we ordain married priests, why is a celibate secular clergy so rare in the East, and why would it not be a good idea for the West to accept married priests (which we have already done anyway, as you know). Could you point me to an article where you discuss this? If you have explained it many times (or tried to) over the years, you should be able to refer me to something, or you can email me.

    As for "Widowed Priest", the example of the priest who remarried and retained his clerical state is a case in point for why I believe the Western belief that the reason the East in the earliest centuries did not allow marriage after ordination was because continence was required after ordination. I do not think the Eastern practice (nor the current Western practice of the permanent diaconate) can be harmonized with this passage from Holy Scripture: "No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty ... As for [these] younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge". (1 Timothy 5:9-12). How can the Eastern practice of requiring priests who become widowers at 25, 35, or 45, to remain celibate, be anything but a contradiction to this passage? Then again, the Eastern practice already contradicts the passage that states that bishops must be the "husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2).

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  20. Dr. Deville, I refer you back to my second response to you, paragraph 3.

    I would like to amend this sentence:

    "why, Dr. DeVille, should we ordain married priests, why is a celibate secular clergy so rare in the East, and why would it not be a good idea for the West to accept married priests"

    to read:

    "why, Dr. Deville, should the East continue to ordain married men, why should celibate secular clergy continue to remain rare in the East, and why was it a good idea for the East to continue to ordain married men centuries ago unlike the West which stopped doing it?"