5For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:6If any be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly.”
Titus 1 5-7
Since the earliest days of the Church, there have been those given in Marriage, who likewise, were made Priests, the original word being used, Presbyter, With Bishops being the fullness of that priesthood, and having received authority from other Bishops, can trace that governing authority back to Christ himself, who ordained the first Bishops.
Those twelve went out, and made other bishops, who made other bishops, who made other bishops, right up to the Bishops (Both “Catholic” and “Orthodox” that we see today). Consequently, those Bishops authorized, or Ordain others to help with their work. Those are the Parish Priests, and other priests that are assigned to do work in the vineyard. Those priests technically, carry as little or as much authority as their Bishop gives them (Though most can confer 6 of the seven Sacraments, I digress)
Somewhere in antiquity, Bishops eventually did not keep wives, probably because of the demand and danger of the work. After all in the early days of the church, it wasn’t uncommon for a bishop to have to travels hundreds of miles in a month, in order to visit and preach to his flock. This is why often, there were village priests and local churches. The faithful still had a need to be taken care of, so those Priests would Baptize, Confirm, Marry, Hear Confession, Say Mass (liturgy, which ultimately gave us Eucharist) and Anoint/Administer Unction.
Until about the 7th century in the west and east, Priests were Married, and then ordained. Its crucial to understand that “order” , as it keeps with Paul’s ordinance. Priests should be married once, and their house should essentially, be in order. Somewhere around this time, out of necessity, in the west, a discipline was exacted requiring those Ordained to the priesthood, to likewise not marry and to take a vow of celibacy. Celibacy here being, no longer knowing a woman. So , since then, it has been administratively (not doctrinally) impossible for a priest to marry in the West. This had already been the case with monastic priests(and is still the case with eastern monk priests, called “HieroMonks” ). More then likely as the “Parish” structure developed in feudal Europe, and often Bishops were very missionary in nature till the middle ages, this developed in tandem, as often those Bishops and Priests would live in community (if they were incardinated, and not already associated with a monastery, which was more the norm, especially in Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland)
Lately this has come back up, this discussion of so called “Married Priests”. Often our protestant brethren will use that as a main critique of the Roman Catholic Priesthood, and they will often cite Paul’s Epistle. Paul says priests yes indeed, should only be married once – However, he doesn’t insist that they should be married. Certainly the job is ridiculously demanding. Respectfully, a protestant community wont completely get that demand, as often their communities function in a more corporate manner, where quite often the traditional Pastoral duties have been split up among a pastoral “Team”, and the Pastor functioning as more of a CEO, working for the parish, as opposed to a true shepherd. Its not uncommon for many to find themselves ran out of town the minute they touch on something their bosses don’t want to hear.
Likewise, Our Orthodox brethren, (who like to presume they have kept it as is for 2000 years..alas there are holes in that argument) will argue that their priests are more in touch with the people, because they are of the people. A Married man of good character (read:AXIOS!), will first start as a Reader, then Cantor, Subdeacon, Deacon and then as a Priest(presbyter). Often they even have children after that point as well.
Still further we have the added curveball of the provisions allowed for the returning Anglican and Lutheran Pastors, as we recognize the formula for their Ordination. Still Further, we have Eastern Rite Priests who in some countries and Sui Juris churches, can accept ordination after marriage. All of this certainly makes a dynamic point to start at to understanding first and foremost, the concept of Celibacy.
Celibacy is a discipline, NOT a Doctrine – But it grew up from doctrine, namely Paul’s letter above. A Priest by nature, is married to the Bride, the Church, mystically, as he holds the place of Christ, by virtue of the Sacrifice he offers on our behalf (and in the Person of Christ, Persona Christi). As such, he needs to be able to give his whole attention to it.
Sadly the very nature of western “Parish” churches doesn’t allow this – We have to remember Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern churches are often a lot smaller number wise. In a lot of ways, they were able to keep to the small cell church format (so greatly lauded, and missed in the end by evangelicals) – So for them, the Priest being married is a doable thing, because the demand on their person just isn’t as great with a 100 Family community as it would be with a 400-1000 family community. Frankly Roman Catholic Parishes are too complex to allow that balance, and short of a complete administrative overhaul, could not sustain it.
Likewise, saying that a married priesthood would fix any infidelity issues the Priest might have, is preposterous, as everyday in the news you hear about some sick person abusing their own children. Even now if you pay attention, every day there are Pastors, Rabbis, Imans alike who are caught in precarious situations. There is no historical guarantee this would solve the issue – In Fact, history has proven just the opposite. In the middle ages we had Borgia, Medici alike, who had complete dynasties on the Papal throne! Its for reasons like this, let alone property issues, that the discipline was started in the West.
That brings me to the Crux of this (and an effort to prevent myself from droning on) . This week, the Pope Emeritus and His Eminence Cardinal Sarah, co-authored a book in defense of Priestly Celibacy. Both Conservatives and Liberals alike have attempted to use that as a sword against the other. However there is one great issue – The Holy Father himself, has also stated a defense of Celibacy (despite the Synodal discussions as of late)
My take on the Benedict/Sarah Book – Both care deeply for Holy Mother church. Benedict dealt with the crisis that he inherited, and knows first hand the shape the Church Militant is in. Couple that with Cardinal Sarah’s personal experience, having been in Africa, and knowing people like the once Bishop Milingo, as well as seeing first hand the problems they have. Both know that the Western Church couldn’t possibly sustain a married priesthood, and fight the battle focused that we are now in
Both know that the Western church has real issue and battle to fight. Both love their church deeply, and most importantly , at least for now, both are in union with Peter himself. Both have firsthand experience and wisdom and have seen what a distracted priesthood amounts to – Imagine leverage wife, children, estate against an already lonely thankless vocation – None of that would end up well for the church, and we would be alot worse then where we started.
Would a married priesthood be neat and trendy? Sure. Would it work? Possibly not, given the demands the average parish priest has. I personally know a few married Latin rite priests – Their schedule barely allows them piece of mind. Couple that with needing to still be fathers and husbands. Both have wonderful wives and stable families. These days that’s less and less the case – The most pious man/or woman in the world could have a family of lapsed heterodox, and through no fault of his own.
Its reasons like this that the Holy Father and Bishops over the centuries have maintained this requirement – Ultimately for the good of the church as it NEEDS to function for the west.