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Married Priests? Yes, But in Perfect Continence. The Lesson of the Church’s First Centuries

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Fr. Thomas Michelet

Thomas Michelet, a Dominican, teaches theology in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Angelicum.” He did not take part in the synod for the Amazon, but he followed its discussions, in particular on the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

He does not declare himself either for or against. But he has noted a glaring absence of historical memory among almost all the churchmen who get worked up over the question.

Almost all of them forget – or have never known – that over the many years in which married men were ordained as priests and bishops, sacred ordination was always connected to the commitment of perfect continence between the spouses. And this “consequent” celibacy was not seen as a purely disciplinary requirement, which the Church could drop at will. It was traced back to the apostolic era, and therefore to a norm not at the Church’s disposal. Because if it were to do with this as it pleased, “it would no longer be the Church of the apostles.”

Fr. Michelet therefore took pen and paper and and explained the way things are in a commentary published on October 29 on the French version of the online Catholic daily “Aleteia”.

*    *    *

For starters, Michelet recalls that the Latin Catholic Church continued to ordain married men of mature age “at least until the 12th century.” But on one condition: that at the time of ordination they commit themselves, “in the presence of their spouse, to live from then on as brother and sister, in perfect continence.”

It was the firm and general conviction that this commitment to sexual continence went back to the Church’s origins. It already applied to Peter – who was married – and to the other apostles, and could in no way be revoked.

Not everyone, however, faithfully respected this way of life, and there is news of bishops being removed from their offices because they had gone back to living together “more uxorio.” It was precisely in order to protect this norm from its too frequent violations that in the 12th century the Church decided to ordain as priests, from then on, only celibates.

So there were two types of celibacy. With the first, “consequent” type of the married ultimately being surpassed and covered over by the second, “antecedent” type of the unmarried.

And since this second regime was of delayed ecclesial institution, the celibacy of the clergy ended up being reduced to “a mere question of discipline,” which the Church could change how and when it wishes.

But in this way “what the Church decided in the 12th century to protect celibacy and strengthen it has instead ended up making it more fragile, with a sort of memory loss.”

So if so many today want to return to the regime of the ordination of “viri probati,” Michelet concludes, it is obligatory that they also return to the perfect continence that since the origins of the Church was indissolubly associated with this ordination.

And in closing he cites some memorable lines of the speech that Benedict XVI dedicated precisely to celibacy, in the pre-Christmas meeting with the Roman curia on December 22, 2006.

 

Source: Settimo Cielo

 

Positions and concepts emitted in signed articles are the sole responsibility of their authors.

© Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.

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