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marriage and ordination

Does the order matter?

In the Roman Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church you can only get married before ordination. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox can not get married after ordination. If the wife of a married Roman Catholic deacon dies, he cannot marry again. If the wife of an Anglican priest, re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, dies – he cannot marry again.

I have been involved in some discussions about this. The contention is that there is no evidence in the Tradition of marriage after ordination. None! There is, according to that position, not a single example of marriage after ordination until the Reformation. I find this an astonishing and fascinating claim. I would be fascinated if any reader could come up with a refutation. Or, of course, references to this being correct.

When I ask – what is the theology around this? What reflection do you have about this? What is the point of this? Why is it any different to be married before or after ordination? I get little more than, “Do they require post hoc justification? Is Sacred Tradition not enough?” Well I cannot quickly think of anything within Sacred Tradition that is not followed by some reflection, interpretation, theology, or explanation. Does anyone have such a reflection in this case – what is the difference between marriage before and marriage after ordination?

For reference I have been pointed to Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West and Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy and am grateful to have been pointed to the Google preview. But (other than the preview section) I do not yet have these two books and would take some time to obtain them and then absorb them. Meanwhile – please share your wisdom.

Please also tell me if there is an ongoing tradition of abstaining from sexual relations 24 hours prior to presiding at the Eucharist. (And one has also mentioned a tradition of abstaining after presiding – but no indication for how long).

And don’t tell me that as in the case of baptism, confirmation, eucharist – marriage and ordination are in that order because they are so alphabetically LOL

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18 Responses to marriage and ordination

  1. Biblically – “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, EACH man should have his own wife” I Corinthians 7:2

    “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?” I Corinthians 9:5-6

    “A bishop then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…he must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” I Timothy 3:1-4

    In these situations, as well as the very words of Christ on the matter, if priests were exempt, Scripture would say instead that men who were set apart should remain celibate if they were when they were ordained. Instead, Paul says that while he does not, he has a right to take a wife.

    As a Lutheran, I then went to the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, both written by Phillip Melancthon, as a defense of the Lutheran evangelical faith before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles. While there is nothing specific in there as far as when this started, it did state that the Pope inflicted celibacy upon the German priests 400 years ago, so there might be some council somewhere in the early to mid 1100s where the Church position changed. Article XXIII is on Marriage of Priests.

    It does state in the Apology “The ancient canons do not ban marriage. Neither do they dissolve marriages that have been contracted, even though they remove from clerical office those who contracted marriage during their ministry. At those times, this dismissal was an act of kindness.”

    “They claim that they require celibacy because it is purity, as though marriage were impure and a sin, or as though celibacy merited justification more than marriage! Tho this end they(those who wrote the Augsburg Confutation) cite the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, because under the Law at the time of ministering, the priests were separated from their wives (me: maybe where the tradition of no sex before celbrating mass?) The priest in the New Testament because he should always pray, should always practice chastity. …It is one thing to pray, it is another to minister. The saints prayed even when they did not exercise the public ministry. Conjugal intercourse did not hinder them from praying.”

    While it didn’t provide me with enough specifics to help you…it did present a very coherent argument as to why it should not be the case, and is not Biblical. “The love of one sex is truly a divine ordinance. But since this ordinance of God cannot be removed without an extraordinary work of God, it makes sense that statues or vows cannot remove the right to contract marriage.”

    I did not find any specifics, but it seems to me, at least early on, looking at to proscriptions in I Timothy, that a man was often married or at least older when he was given the position of overseer over a congregation, because how he managed his wife and children was part of the demonstration that he was a good candidate for the call.

    The celibacy of many of the Church Fathers seemed to be their willful desire to devote all their energies to service to God and not be distracted from it, not that they were required to remain celibate. Marriage was often so much a part of the right of man and a part of the nature of life, that it was often not mentioned.

  2. I see no reason why the order of receiving any two of the sacraments (other than that Baptism is first) should have any significance at all.

    And baptism needn’t be prior to Matrimony. Or even Unction (though few would seek it, prior to Baptism). And Baptism prior to Communion, while not legal, is becoming common, and not always to bad effect, in the long run.

    So why Matrimony and Orders? No reason I can see.

  3. Hi. Logically, it seems to me that since the historic Church did not allow divorce, if they were going to allow a married man to be a priest, they wouldn’t make him divorce in order to be celibate.

    On the other hand, they could outright exclude married men from the priesthood. So to me, either you totally demand celibacy–or you totally allow marriage, would be the sensible thing. But then I’m one of those pesky American Episcopalians who was attracted to that church because I love the high church liturgy and praying the office–but I’m pretty progressive in terms of social liberalism. 😉 And personally I like the idea better of priests being above-board and allowed to marry rather than doing the clandestine thing and being out of integrity with their vows of celibacy–or leaving the church because they had a natural inclination to marry and have a family.

    A woman I know of Armenian heritage recently married and her new surname is Der ___. She told me that the two part “Der” surname indicates that her husband’s family is descended from bishops. Their church is the Armenian Apostolic Church. So maybe you can investigate the Armenian church’s policies as part of your search.

    My heritage is Japanese. Celibacy (at least in terms of proscribed male-female relations) was the practice of Buddhist priests as well, until the time of Shinran Shonen, the founder of Shin (Jodo Shinshu) Pure Land Buddhism which allows married priests. Other sects (but not all) followed suit. It seems that once there is a precedent, others follow suit so I personally think the Catholics allowing already married Episcopal and Anglican priests to convert and stay married will ultimately trickle into their overall practices. How many decades that takes, is anyone’s guess. But somehow I think we will see married RC priests sooner than women as an overall trend, which is unfortunate. Both the priest and deacon at my church, who are excellent, are women and you rule out a lot of great ministry by exclusion from the discernment process…

    Good luck on your search.

  4. An intriguing question, this. Lora is quite right: celibacy did not become compulsory for priests until the 11th or 12th century – but there was increasing expectation and pressure for celibacy bfore that. Certainly the tradition of celibacy does not go back right to the very beginning.

    But that doesn’t answer the question: was there a distinction in the earliest church between ordination after marriage or before it? I have no hard answers, but I will share two observations from my reading.

    First, although I have often come across the observation of the rule applying to the Eastern Church, I have never seen even a mention of it for the West. This would seem to suggest that there was no such rule.

    Second,in the very earliest church, there cannot have been a ban on marriage after ordination, for the simple reason that there was no practice of formal ordination. The institution of the priesthood as a distinct class within the church did not evolve until some time after deacons, bishops and finally presbyters – who became the priests, I think in about the 4th C.
    On the other hand, I have never seen any reference to when the distinction of the order began in the Eastern Church – and in the very earliest years, there was not the sharp contrast between East and West that emerged after the division of the Empire.

    The question intrigues me. I have a strong interest in the whole question of compulsory celibacy. If I learn anything in my further reading, I will let you know.,

  5. In Sweden Mandatory Celibacy as per Lateran III 1139 was never on. The Cardinal of Sabina tried in 1248, but the Archbishop requested and obtined a “dispensation” for Uppsala Arch-Diocese in 1258 and for the whole Province (Sweden and Finland) in 1259.

    Our ancient laws (14th century) stipulate about the inheritance of Bishops…

    In the 1430es there was even a Bishop divorced and remarried (severally). In Åbo Diocese, however, continental mores seem to have manifested themselves in that various Bishops (all nephews and Uncles) required monies to “dispensate” Priests’ marriages…

    In 1537 (?) the first Lutheran Arch-Bishop Laurentius Petri Nericius ordered Priests to make Spouses of their Wives…

  6. Celibacy for Catholic priests after ordination was a rule placed upon the clergy by an early pope and his council but cannot off hand remember which. I believe it was done so because Saint Paul says that although the married state is good, the single one is better. A lot of Catholic Priests welcome this freedom- that is of not being “hen pecked”. Sorry for being flippant, but I’ve heard it so often, to me it has become a reality.

    There was never any word as far as I know in the Catholic Church of not having sex before partaking of sacraments, which would have been considered probably quite ridiculous as it’s in the bible to “go and multiply”. There was a time that we could not eat anything for 24 hours before receiving Communion but that became 1 hour and nowadays, not sure if anyone really remembers. Well, there you have it, my thoughts on the matter, for what they are worth.

  7. Great topic!

    In the Orthodox Church there is a tradition of obstaining from sex before the celebration of liturgy. We often joke that is why we do not have daily liturgy. I am sure this is found in some liturgical book but I cannot lay my hands on it right now.

    There is some evidence that in the Oriental Church one can marry after ordination to deacon but before priest and in some cases priests have been allowed to remarry if their wife dies and he has small children.

  8. In my Protestant tradition the order does not matter.

    There are a few cases in which a presbyter in my tradition lost his wife, either through death or divorce, and then married a member of the church he was serving.

    I think this was in bad taste. I’m not sure how faithfully you can serve a community pastorally while “on the prowl.” Not to mention the strange dynamics with the new pastor’s wife. Perhaps this could be a reason for the rule?

  9. The Bible is very clear on any topic of importance for the conduct of our lives and the Church. That which is not important is not clear. I believe it to be wrong to create rules and regulations based upon little more than what was done by past generations of sinners and the fact that there is nothing to directly contradict such a rule in the Bible.

  10. I’m sorry I can’t cite another source, but I seem to recall reading that the driving force for mandatory celibacy in the Western Church was to break the back of the common inheritance laws so as to stymie any potential dynasty plans of bishops handing on their diocese as an “inheritance” to their son(s). If celibacy is demanded in church law, then any children sired by a priest are by definition “bastard” and thus unable to inherit anything at all.

    Quite heavy handed, but it seems to have worked after a fashion. However, it doesn’t explain the 500 year success of the Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed traditions who have not had dynasty problems with their married priests and bishops. So, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea in the first place?

  11. My reflection upon liturgically praying the Psalms is that all of creation, that means all of creation, is eligible for full sanctification.

    There is an old, confluence of Gnostic, Manichean and patriarchal bias in the Catholic tradition against women and sex. If the tradition is in error in some things, then it is our responsibility to correct it, to act in charity, and serve justice, rather than serve rules.

    This is a matter of discernment, not simply a legalistic, juridical matter of stare decisis among canon lawyers.

    Sorry I can’t add to the academic, canon law discussion. There is something to be said for the Orthodox adage that theology is best done on one’s knees.

  12. I think that Lora has a hint that such a rule existed anciently forbidding marriage after ordination in her reference to Phillip Melancthon, the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession;
    “The ancient canons do not ban marriage. Neither do they dissolve marriages that have been contracted, even though they remove from clerical office those who contracted marriage during their ministry. At those times, this dismissal was an act of kindness.” (emphasis mine)
    That is pretty clear language that clerics were removed from ministry if they entered into marriage during their ministry. If they were a cleric in ministry they were ordained. If they were removed because they contracted a marriage after ordination it strongly implies a rule prohibiting such conduct.

    Separately, there appears to be confusion regarding Latin Rite Roman priests and celibacy. There are two types of Latin Rite Roman priests; diocesan and religious. Only priests in religious orders make a vow of celibacy. The rules by which diocesan priests live require celibacy, but they do not make a vow of celibacy.

  13. As I mentioned above it was Lateran II in 1139 which proclaimed Mandatory Celibacy, which doesn’t actually mean Abstinence, but was part of an Ideology of Abstinces in Hellenism, that is Gnosticism, Neo Platonism: Water (for Hygiene), Food… et c. Sex comes last.

    This was very difficult to get accepted. In at least the Swedish (Sweden/Finland) and Icelandic Church Provinces it could never be enforced. Mandatory Celibacy was to contrary to the customs of all lands.

    Inheritance was on a more basic level than the Diocese. Diocese were often the priviliege of the local Princely families, but not inhereted, the way local Parishes and later Canonicates were.

  14. This question has been bothering me since I first read it last month, since I was not aware of any evidence that ordination had NOT been allowed, but equally had no evidence that such ordinations had ever taken place. At the time, I promised to report back if I ever found an answer, and now think I have done.
    John Boswell, in “Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe” includes an extensive discussion on the nature of nuptial blessing of marriage at the time, pointing out that for early Christians, church blessing of couples’ relationships was irrelevant.

    He goes on to discuss several writers who observe that a a church blessing for marriage was only required of priests. For example (quoting Korbinian Ritzer);

    “Indeed, the most learned authority on the subject argued forcefully that for the first thousand years Christianity required nuptial blessings only for priests; for the laity, an ecclesiastical ceremony was an honour, only permitted to those being married (to their own class) for the first time. ”

    If priests getting married were required to do so in church, surely that can be taken that some were indeed getting married after ordination.

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