Wednesday, January 17, 2007

God's Word or Human Wisdom?

In 1079 the Medieval Latin Church officially made it unlawful for the clergy to marry. We know from the Scriptures that the Apostles, except for Paul, were all married. St. Paul was a single man. He tells us that he wished others also had his gift of celibacy, but he never tries to impose a single lifestyle on the clergy, which he played a part in establishing across the Roman Empire.

It is clear from Paul’s writings that a single man can be a minister, but in his first epistle to Timothy and in his epistle to Titus he gives specific requirements for ministers of the Gospel. In his letter to Timothy, Paul says “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife...” (! Tim 3:2) and then to Titus he gives these instructions, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife…”

So it is clear from the example of the Apostles, most of them were married, and from the letters of St. Paul, that a married clergy was the normal ordering of things. Men have a tendency to believe their own human wisdom is better than the Wisdom of God expressed in the Scriptures. This is what the Western Church did in 1079; it exchanged God’s wise council on the subject of the clergy and marriage for the wisdom of men.

There had been attempts in the Church long before 1079 to do this. There was a similar attempt at the Council of Nicea (325 AD). The early church historian, Socrates Scholasticus, give us an account, in his Ecclesiastical History, the story about account of this much earlier attempt to replace the wisdom of God with that of men.

He writes, “It seemed fit to the bishops to introduce a new law into the Church, that those who were in holy orders, I speak of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, should have no conjugal intercourse with the wives whom they had married while still laymen.” This suggestion met with general approval at Nicea, but Paphnutius, a bishop from Egypt, stood in opposition to the measure. Here is some of the account, “Paphnutius having arisen in the midst of the assembly of bishops, earnestly entreated them not to impose so heavy a yoke on the ministers of religion: asserting that ‘marriage itself is honorable, and the bed undefiled’; urging before God that they ought not to injure the Church by too stringent restrictions. ‘For all men,’ said he, ‘cannot bear the practice of rigid continence; neither perhaps would the chastity of the wife of each be preserved’: and he termed the intercourse of a man with his lawful wife chastity… And these sentiments he expressed, although himself without experience of marriage, and, to speak plainly, without ever having known a woman: for from a boy he had been brought up in a monastery, and was specially renowned above all men for his chastity.”

It was the custom then that unmarried men, receiving Holy Orders, were expected to remain single and celibate, but married men too were also admitted to the clergy. Socrates tells us that “The whole assembly of the clergy assented to the reasoning of Paphnutius: wherefore they silenced all further debate on this point, leaving it to the discretion of those who were husbands to exercise abstinence if they so wished in reference to their wives.”

In 325 the Wisdom of God, which was reflected in the words of Bishop Paphnutius, carried the day. In 1079 The Western Church rejected the Wisdom of this good bishop, St. Paul and God and imposed celibacy on the Clergy. The price paid for this folly since that day has been very high.

Coram Deo,


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