Is Celibacy in the Bible?
This has been one of the major challenges that every average Catholic faces before Protestants and the likes.
Basing their argument on the biblical injunction: “Go into the world and multiply, bear fruits and fill the earth…” (Gen 1:28), and other related passages in the scriptures, the Protestants claim that Catholic priests disobey God’s command by not having wives for the purpose of procreation. And unfortunately, many young Catholics are ignorant of the major reasons why catholic priest are not allowed to marry, and they are not aware of the biblical provisions for celibacy too.
Firstly, we must understand that in as much as marriage is a matter of choice, celibacy too is a matter of choice.
That is, the biblical provision for celibacy is very clear, not by force but by choice. In his first letter to the Church in Corinth St. Paul writes concerning celibacy: “I approve of this abstention, but I do not order it. I would like everyone to be like me (unmarried), but each has his own gift from God, one this kind, another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it would be good for them to remain unmarried as I am, but if they cannot control themselves, let them marry than to burn with passion” (7:6-9).
Pope Francis (Current leader of the Catholic Church)
On that note, we see that:
1. St. Paul approves celibacy for a total dedication for the service of God, that which an unmarried person has more advantage and less distractions to perform than the married.
2. Paul himself was not a married apostle even though he had the right.
3. Marriage is by choice and not by force: Paul appeals that those who cannot resist the burning passion of sexual urges should do well to marry. His reason is that God has ordained each person with a particular gift, and the other person with another gift.
This is where the Catholic Church invites those who have the gift of selfless service, like St. Paul himself, into priesthood. No one is forced to be a Catholic Priest. In short, the Church does not force anyone to become a Catholic priest because both marriage and priesthood are, for the Church, two different vocations in either which a person, with relative gift, is called to serve God in truth and in spirit.
Thus, neither marriage nor priesthood is a matter of coercion or compulsion. If as a Catholic priest, a man desires to get married as a result of not being able to control his sexual passion, such a person can be laicized and he will go and get himself a family and continue his vocation, not as a priest but, in a conjugal dimension.
4. Both marriage and celibacy are gifts from God. That is, it is not sinful to marry, neither is it sinful to be celibate (unmarried).
Secondly in the church’s history, Catholic priests were once allowed to marry and have their children and still serve as priests. But at a time, this system gradually introduced corruption and carnality in the Church. It became more and unbearable during the period of Predominant Feudalism.
It was between 9th and 15th century that the feudal system was predominantly practiced in Europe.
The Church, at this period suffered many injuries; both socio-political and vocational injuries, which was introduced by the Feudal System. During this period, parish priests were chosen from among the peasants and educated by a local clergyman, then appointed with the approval of the local liege lord. It was not unusual for this priest to remain in the same place for his entire life.
The priest would get married and have small plots allocated to him to support himself and his family.
Unfortunately, the major threat came from the system of the Church serving as a local government, owning lands and providing security for the people. It was actually a willful system in the sense that the fall of Roman Empire left the people with no other choice than handing over their economic policy to the Church. This made the bishops and the monasteries and monks to be held in high esteem since they had almost same ranks with the noblemen.
It was at this period that the Church had prince bishops most of whom were more political than religious, and whose aims and objectives were not in line with the mission and life of the Church.
However, in other to have or obtain the noble positions and control the economy of the state, many politicians began exporting their children into seminary schools to become priests and eventually bishops, not to serve God but to become religious politicians controlling the economy of the state.
These political priests and bishops were only conscious of the economy of the states and had no time for the church’s activities and never cared for the people.
Thus this brought grave politics and weakened the church’s salvific mission and life; because the married priests and bishops were only after their political positions and their families.
During the Middle ages, the problem came to a point where the children of the parish priests and the bishops began the struggle of inheriting their cleric-fathers’ parishes and church lands.
Fortunately it was this period that the pious Cardinal Hidebrand was elected Pope as Gregory VII. It was Pope Gregory VII who eventually abolished concubinage and cleric marriage in the Church. To achieve this, “in the Lenten Synod of 1074, he enacted the following decrees:
1. Priests who had obtained any position in the church by simony were automatically suspended from exercising their duties.
2. All those who purched any Church property were to loose the ownership immediately.
3. In future, under automatic excommunication no one could practice simony.
4. All priests who lived in concubinage were deprived of their priesthood…”.
Nevertheless, many married priests and even bishops opposed these rules especially that celibacy, but the pious Pope stood to his decrees and many priests and bishops were excommunicated to go and live their married lives, while those who were devoted to the service of God remained and never married. It was from this period that the practice of celibacy was introduced in the Church for selfless and committed services and avoidance of side distraction.
Therefore priesthood is not for everybody, just like marital vocation is not for everyone too, but for those who are called into it. So it is neither sinful to marry nor is it sinful not to marry –But whoever is firmly established in his heart [strong in mind and purpose], not being forced by necessity but having control over his own will and desire, and has resolved this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he is doing well (1Cor 7:37).
Peace be with you!!
Source : francismary.org