To answer this question I am posting a discussion I had in the comments section of Priesthood of all Believers.
Peter’s style in the comments section was casual/IM…thus, without punctuation or capitalizations. This is normal in those venues and does NOT mean he doesn’t know how to punctuate or capitalize. I didn’t make all of the corrections needed to make his comments and questions formally correct b/c it would have been a lot of work. I thought he had very good and honest questions, representative of the questions many people have so I decided to put them in a post. So, here is our discussion:
Peter: i think you are dead right about presbyters (being the word translated “priest” in English). that is why some are placed into positions of leadership (like james the just or peter and paul, etc). however, these leadership positions are extensively talked about by paul in timothy and other places. in timothy, paul says that presbyters are to be husbands of but one wife and their kids are to be respectful because if they cant control their family they cant control the church.
so now tell me, how can a claim be made that presbyters are supposed to be celibate? there is no mandate that presbyters are celibate. in fact, the exact opposite. paul says that they should marry if they cant control their passions.
You are absolutely correct. There is no Biblical mandate that Priests are to be celibate. In fact, we know since Peter had a mother-in-law that he must have been married, at some point. The normal discipline of priestly celibacy could be changed to allow priests to marry. Celibacy is a discipline in the Latin Rite Catholic Church it is not an unchangeable doctrine or dogma. Eating fish on Fridays, similarly, was a discipline in the Church but it was changed and priestly celibacy might be changed, could be changed, theoretically. But it probably will not be changed any time soon. So disciplines can change but dogma does not change.
There are many good reasons to keep celibacy but the best is because the celibate Priest most closely models Jesus Christ, who was celibate. He also, stands in Persona Christi in most of the sacraments and since in Heaven there will be no marriage, the priest also models life in the age to come. In the Eastern Orthodox churches and even some non Latin rite Catholic Churches married men are ordained to the priesthood. But the married ones cannot become Bishops. And people in these churches prefer the unmarried priests to the married ones for the obvious reason that an unmarried priest can be married to the Church as he is called to be, and a more available father. But they must marry before ordination; they cannot afterwards marry. And in the Latin Rite Catholic Church Deacons can be married but if their wife dies they may not remarry. These are the disciplines of ordination.
Peter: so why should we discount the ministry of a man simply because he has chosen marriage?
BFHU: The ministry of a man who marries is not discounted by the Church. It is his vocation just like priesthood is a vocation. The married man is purified through his marriage and models the loving union of the Trinity-Man/Woman/child. The fruitfulness of their love brings new life. And he fulfills his priesthood of believers by being:
a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
And the priest, also, is purified through the difficulties of his vocation. The fruitfulness of of the Priest’s love of the bride of Christ brings new life, born for eternity in Heaven.
Peter: dont we learn many otherwise impossible lessons through oneness with our wives? isnt that why JB, JC, and paul all spoke of the relationship between man and wife as an allegory for Christ and the church?
BFHU: Absolutely accurate there! Thank you for your polite and excellent questions.
Peter: thanks for the response. i agree with you about your points, minus one problematic thing i have always disagreed with the church on. why if the word presbyter is the only word for “priest” do we think that now a priest SHOULD NOT be married.
BFHU: It is not a matter of “should not” but it is a matter of discipline for those who wish to shepherd the church of God, to give up marriage and family in order to devote all attention to the Bride of Christ. The Church does not forbid marriage to any one. All who feel called to the vocation of marriage are free to marry. Part of the discernment for the priesthood is, Am I willing? Am I able to give up marriage? Most are not called to the priesthood. It is a gift.
I Cor 7:1 It is good for a man not to marry…An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided.”
Peter: i understand there are some whom God calls to live celebate lives, but most of us burn with passion if we arent married.
And as St. Paul said, ” it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
BFHU:Very true and then they should marry but as Jesus said….
Matthew 19:12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
besides that we are supposed to follow Tradition as it is passed down to us. the very earliest traditions (not only in the New Testament, but also in church history) there were many priests and bishops who were married.
BFHU: Please read I Cor 7 and realize that the Catholic Church takes Paul’s advice much more literally than most Protestants. The New Testament is the earliest Tradition. And we follow it. The Catholic Church still has married priests and celibate priests. The unmarried more closely follow the example of Christ in this matter.
Peter: so what do you do with the fact that peter (and others seemed to be married)? peter, according to the catholic church, is the first pope. what a precedent to set for popes who have the “discipline” of celebacy. we are to go by tradition, the church just seems to pick and choose which traditions it likes.
BFHU: Have you done any research to understand how and why the Church has made the decisions she has? I have experienced over and over thinking, “OK, now there can’t be a good explanation for this! But, once I looked into it, the explanation was beautiful and absolutely sublime. For instance, when a Jewish Levitcal Priest was chosen to go into the Holy of Holies,as Zecharia father of John the Baptist was, they had to remain celibate for a month. Celibacy was a discipline for entering into the presence of God just one time on one day. But our priests are in the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist every day. Therefore, perpetual celibacy is a fitting fulfillment of the OT law. For more information, you might be interested in this article about the History of Celibacy. Additionally, Tradition with a capital “T” refers to the unwritten teaching of the apostles. And the Catholic Church is as bound to follow that teaching as sacred scripture. Tradition with a lower case “t” would apply to the traditions of men, family traditions, ethnic traditions etc. Celibacy is a Church discipline, as it was passed down from the disciples and is what you WILL find today in the Catholic Church to this day.