Edgar Davie is NOT a theologian. He's a retired civil engineer and realist portrait artist based in Tennessee. He's also a committed and actually rather conservative lay Catholic who takes his faith very seriously. He has recently published a book examining, through the very logical thinking an engineer might bring to the subject, where the Church teaching on Mandatory Celibacy for the priesthood came from, and whether it might be mandatory celicacy that is a major contributor to the present clergy sex crisis? Mr Davie's conclusion, after a long study, is that Mandatory Celibacy actually conflicts with what Jesus Christ thought and taught and is an ancient Gnostic heresy that has never been corrected in the Western Catholic Church.
The Coming Catholic Reformation
The Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation and the loss of Catholic supremacy over the Christian world began with an agreement by Pope Leo X and Prince Albert of Germany to sell Indulgences — spiritual gifts from God, a practice also known as Simony. Pope Leo was nearly bankrupt and Albert in deep arrears on his financial obligations to Rome; agreeing to split the money 50-50 solved their financial needs but such a scandalous abuse of papal power was too much for the Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther. Shocked and appalled by Rome's wrongful use of Church teaching for financial gain, he posted his 95 theses on the Church door, ultimately bringing about the Reformation. The Church today faces a similar papal scandal — priestly sex abuse — the roots of which lie in the long history of mandatory celibacy of the priesthood. This article argues that the law of mandatory celibacy is equally an example of the abuse of papal authority as was Simony — a law that nullifies fundamental teachings of Christ and deeply threatens papal authority.
The similarities between Pope Leo's sin and the current law of mandatory celibacy are striking. Leo's act of selling spiritual gifts contradicts Catholic doctrine established when the magician, Simon Magus, sought to buy what he believed was St. Peter's secret power to administer spiritual gifts from God. Incensed, St Peter replied, "May your silver be lost forever, and you with it, for thinking money can buy what God has given for nothing." (Act 8:18) Defined in the Catechism CC2121, Simony is described as "the buying and selling of spiritual things". Equally, Jesus was particularly clear on marriage — it is a sacrament, Holy Matrimony — which imprints a sanctifying grace on the soul of Christians who marry, including priests. Therefore, the law of mandatory celibacy, established in Rome at the end of the first millennium, denies this Sacrament to priests, something granted by Christ in the Deposit of Faith.
Catholics are often unfamiliar with the term, Deposit of Faith, although its meaning is remarkably simple. The Deposit of Faith is the full and complete teaching of Jesus and the apostles recorded in scripture and tradition during their lifetime; it is untouchable Revelation not subject to alteration. Describing the importance of this truth, the authorative Catholic Answers website states:
"The doctrines of the Catholic Church are the deposit of faith revealed by Jesus Christ, taught by the apostles, and handed down in their entirety by the apostles to their successors, they must be believed under authority of God."
More importantly Pope John Paul II declared during Vatican Council II: "Guarding the Deposit of Faith is the mission which the Lord has entrusted to the Church and which she fulfills inevery age." As we proceed, we will find the law of mandatory celibacy has no place in the Deposit of Faith.
Though few Catholics are aware of it, the Deposit of Faith provides important limitations on papal infallibility. Teaching from the New Testament and Holy Tradition is acknowledged by all theologians to be infallible Dogmatic Doctrine that may not be altered by papal teaching. How "some new doctrine" was introduced regarding mandatory celibacy that contradicts the Deposit of Faith will be the major focus of this article. First, we will examine how issues of marriage, celibacy, and priestly vocation stood in Jesus' lifetime and contributed to the Deposit of Faith.
Jesus and His Apostles on Marriage
Christianity began as a Jewish sect at a time when Jewish marriage laws ultimately derived from God's Biblical commandment that all men and women must "Be fruitful, increase in numbers, and fill the earth". (Genesis 1:28) It is instructive to know that God in the Old Testament Book of Exodus called only married men to be priests. (Ex 28:1) Following God's marriage commandment, by age 20 the apostles were married when called by Jesus and throughout their lives continued to obey all Jewish law, excepting only the few that Jesus "completed." No statement in scripture more cogently expresses Jesus' instructions to his Jewish followers regarding their Jewish faith than is found in the Gospel of Matthew,
"Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish, but to complete them." (Matthew 5:17-19)
Jesus is best described by the epitaph on His cross, "King of the Jews". So, before there was a Gentile convert, before there was a Christian in Rome, there were only Jewish-Christians who followed their Jewish Messiah and Jewish Law. But, while the pagan philosophy of celibacy was a deep anathema to Orthodox Judaism, at the time of Christ mandatory celibacy controlled all belief systems of the Mediterranean world other than the Jews — Gnostics, Stoics, Cicero, Diogenes, Pythagoras, the Vestal Virgins and priests of Isis, Cybele, and Mithras.
In this Jewish tribal culture, similar to Muslims today, increasing the family, and thus the tribal lineage, was imperative; Jesus Himself was one of seven children. For this reason the first Jew, Abraham, fathered Ishmael with a concubine provided by his sterile wife Sarah, and at that time men whose brothers died childless could be required to impregnate the widow, in order to perpetuate his brother's lineage. (Gen 38:8) As a Jew, Jesus sanctioned marriage for all disciples, man or woman. Were the Gospel not silent on a requirement of priestly celibacy, it would read quite differently.
But, Jewish law requiring marriage was among the few that Jesus altered. When questioned by a follower on celibacy, He answered, "It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted…let anyone accept who can." (Matthew 19:11) This change merely allowed all Christians, even today, the freedom to remain unmarried. However, celibacy apologists have attempted to cloud His Jewish nature and argue that Jesus here indicated future priests must remain celibate in imitation of His unmarried state. Catholic scriptural scholars however agree that no passage in the New Testament suggests any follower of Christ must practice celibacy. The Church acknowledges, moreover, that "No law of celibacy as we know it today existed during the life of Jesus and His apostles."
While Jesus gave all Christians permission to remain celibate, the concept of mandatory celibacy was certainly foreign and unimagined by the Jews, Jesus, or His Apostles. In the face of scripture from St. Paul during the Deposit of Faith it is truly remarkable that celibacy should ever have been imposed; Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy, "During the last times deceitful spirits and doctrines will come saying marriage is forbidden and will lay down rules about abstaining from food which God has created to be accepted by all who know and believe the truth." (1Tim 4:1) And later we find him giving specific instructions that a "married man who manages his family well" (1 Tim 3:1) should be selected as bishop. These writings clearly describe Church teachings handed on by Jesus and His apostles.
A Century of Darkness
Following the death of Jesus around 30AD Christianity remained a Jewish sect centered in Jerusalem under the leadership of His older brother, St. James, a devout Jew who diligently guarded against intrusion of pagan influence. It was 20 years before gentiles were admitted into Christianity without first becoming Jews who followed Jewish Law, including circumcision. So momentous was this change that St. James called the Council of Jerusalem, which hotly debated the dangers of pagan belief before finally accepting gentiles, over the objection of many Christian-Jews. (Acts of the Apostles 15)
Tragically, Jews and Christians were destined to separate. With the death of Peter and Paul in Rome c.67AD, and the death of St. James in Jerusalem, followed by the destruction of the great Jewish Temple in 70AD, the Christian movement entered a century of darkness — a period of persecution, confusion, and separation with no central leadership until the second century. By late in the first century all apostles were dead and most leaders whom they had instructed were also gone. House-Churches had been established across the Empire as recorded by Paul (1Cor 16:19) where husband and wives each ministered and taught as they spread the Gospel, but within a few years they had been replaced by non-Jewish converts who knew little of apostolic teaching and wives who prepared the Eucharistic table have never regained their former position. History records this period of separation as a time of historical silence and change in Christianity, a time little known by Christians today.
By the beginning of the second century, the pagan view of celibacy's superiority for priests had become one of the issues that confronted Christianity. Condemning this pagan belief, Apostolic Father Bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch c.106AD, a student of Apostle St. John who understood apostolic teaching addressed this problem in a letter to a fellow bishop, Polycarp:
"If anyone is able to remain celibate in honor of Christ let him remain so without boasting. If he boasts about it he is undone, and if he seeks to be more esteemed than the bishop he is corrupted."
This letter speaks volumes. As a student of St. John he informs us that priests continued to marry in conformance with Jesus' teachings from The Deposit of Faith, and that celibacy for priests was not considered superior to the married state as we are taught today. But problems would increase with the death of men such as Ignatius when Jewish-Christians were replaced by pagan converts who knew little of Christianities Jewish roots.
In the century after the Apostles passed from the scene, the Mediterranean world was awash with pagan religions hostile to and in competition with emerging Christianity. Forced to flea into the pagan world, Jewish-Christians quickly dispersed as a virus spread across the Roman Empire, from Spain and Egypt to Babylon and Europe, bringing new languages, beliefs, and cultures into conflict with their Christian-Jewish heritage, causing near insurmountable problems. Christianity was formed around and based upon the Jewish Old Testament that forecast the coming of a Jewish Messiah, the Christ, and exacerbating the problem, the New Testament was not yet gathered together and recognized as the only legitimate source of Christian scripture. Only in the Fourth Century would the New Testament Canon be recognized. In the meantime new and spurious gospels appeared in the Second Century when Christianity was quickly becoming a religion composed primarily of pagan converts.
A New Generation of Teachers
Peter and Paul first ministered in the Church at Rome, and its bishops of the second century were highly esteemed among bishops; but during the Second Century a new generation of bishops spread across the Empire. Independently elected by their followers, all bishops exercises autonomous teaching authority over their far-flung dioceses, and over which writings were apostolic and therefore permitted to be read in Churches. Rome, Corinth, Athens, and all major dioceses listed their approved books, and all lists differed from one another. Gnostic gospels were often accepted while apostolic writings were often rejected; as late as 363AD the New Testament Book of Hebrews was not accepted as apostolic in Caesarea, Jesus' home area. By 160AD more than 114 such writings confused and mislead many Christians, and after Ignatius and Polycarp most new bishops were pagan converts who began to envision the Christ as a deity divorced from Old Testament Judaism, no longer as the Jewish Messiah.
During this phase of early Christianity the Jewish Law that Jesus came to complete was confronted with the prevailing pagan practice of Gnosticism. Most Catholics today are familiar with gnostic writings through the popularity of the Da Vinci Code that alleges Jesus married Mary Magdalene. It was through Gnosticism that the practice of celibacy as a spiritually beneficial discipline was introduced into the young Church. A brief examination of a few of its essential differences from the strict tradition of Jewish-Christian monotheism, however, is useful.
Continued in Part 2>>>
What are your thoughts on this commentary?