Scripture tells us that some of the first priests, the apostles, were married. But for centuries it has been a Church discipline that priests in the West take a vow of celibacy. This can be a source of confusion for many. Marriage is good – a sign of Christ and the Church and the life of the Trinity. So why can’t priests be married?
A listener named Rod called in to The Patrick Madrid Show and asked, “In the 12th century, the Church said that priests couldn’t be married. It seems that goes against what the Bible teaches, seeing that it was not good for man to be alone.”
Patrick responded saying, “I don’t hold that view, and I take a different view with regard to what the Bible says. I mean, those passages certainly are present, no doubt about it. But Jesus Himself talked about this in Matthew 19:11:
In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus specifically says that celibacy is not for everybody, but for those whom it is appropriate to accept it.
“My point here is that Jesus is identifying the need for, or the ideal maybe, for those to renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” he said. “There’s a place for that.”
Patrick noted that what Rod said about it not being good for man to be alone is correct, but it does not contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 19:11.
“I think the two states in life are mutually complementary,” Patrick said. “But they both exist.”
Patrick also noted that Rod mentioned priestly celibacy beginning in the 12th century, and corrected that statement, saying, “Priestly celibacy, although it wasn’t practiced immediately in the Early Church … over time it began to change. And in the Early Church we see it in the monastic orders, in the emphasis to pursue prayer and orders in a single-minded way. So the Church gradually began to see that priestly celibacy was a very beneficial thing for the life of the Church. Eventually, it became more codified in the West. They have married clergy in the East, as you know.”
A book that Patrick suggested for Rod and anyone who wants to learn more about priestly celibacy is Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Fr. Christian Cochini, SJ.
“It’s not only a historical survey, but it’s a theological reflection on the meaning and importance of priestly celibacy,” Patrick explained. “So that can help you go a little bit deeper into the details.”