Why Catholic Priest Stopped Marrying: A Historical Perspective. Vol. 5 No. 7

Before we delve into the issue of the origin of priestly celibacy, I wish to inform us that in the arena of faith, the Church suffered controversy especially in its chief dogma, belief in divinity of Jesus Christ. It was later defined in the council of Nicaea in 325. This council was called to settle a controversy over Christ’s divinity, which erupted with violent intensity during the reign of Constantine when the presbyter Arius of Alexandrian challenged his bishop, Alexander, on the question of God the son’s relation to God the father. For the priest, Arius, Christ is not God, but the Church maintained that Christ is one in substance with God. Now let’s discuss how priest stopped having wives according to the Church history.

In the ministry of the Church, until the end of the third century, the deacons were next to the bishop and more important than the priests. But the deacon lost his prominence as the Church spread into the countryside and it was necessary to multiply outlying churches now called parishes. This later development enabled the priests to assume functions that were previously often monopolized by the bishop like presiding at the Eucharist, preaching, and absolving penitents. The deacons then became just a ritual step leading to the priesthood.

The clergy at first were not sharply differentiated from the laity in their lifestyle: The clergy married, raised families, and earned their livelihood at some trade or profession. But, as the practice grew of paying them for their clerical work, they withdrew more and more from secular pursuits, until by the fourth century, such withdrawal was deemed obligatory especially due to the increasing stress laid on the cultic and ritualistic aspect of the ministry.

Meanwhile, the requirement of celibacy for the clergy was adopted in the Western Church on the ground that sexual intercourse was incompatible with the sacred character of the clerical state. Legislation to this effect was first passed at the local synod of Elvira, Spain, and taken up by the Popes beginning with Siricius (d. 399), who enforced clerical celibacy in their decretals.

Even before it became a necessity for the Western Clergy, virginity and celibacy were held in high esteem. The monks completely renounced sex, while the general Christian attitude toward sex was suspicious and even hostile. So hostile that husbands go to confession for having pleasure with their wives.

But Christians were not alone in this regard. Dualism, a philosophy that saw the world as a place of exile and the flesh as a prison of the soul, was widespread in late antiquity. Neo-Platonism and the innumerable mystery religions were dualistic. And for many pagans as well as for many Christians, the body became the chief focus of all the frustrating powers of the world. The Christians were simply more emphatic in the abuse they heaped on the flesh. Justin and Clement together with other church fathers reflect the common teaching of the church in their view that sex and marriage were justified only by the intention to procreate. But the first church legislation against contraception apparently was not passed until the council of Bragain in 512AD.

Other issues that standardized the administration of the Church include the following :
Then, Roman Law allowed abortion, imposed no criminal penalty for abandonment of a child, and even permitted infanticide. It was only through Christian influence that these crimes were eventually outlawed. Divorce was consistently condemned by the church, in keeping with its absolute prohibition by Jesus.
There was a strong body of opinion in the church before the time of Constantine against Christians becoming soldiers. But this view never won predominance. Many Christians, it seems, served in the Roman Legions, and in 314, the synod of Arles condemned Christians who deserted from the army. A half century later, Athanasius taught that it was lawful and even meritorious to kill enemies in time of war. Augustine finally formulated the theory of the just war which as repeated by Aquinas in the Middle Ages, remained the standard Christian approach down to our times.

Coming back to the crux of the matter which is priestly celibacy, to what extent has it been beneficial to the Church? Or should they be encouraged to the old lifestyle of having wives?

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