One of the biggest reasons for celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church is the "whole idea of the spousal relationship that we have with the church," said the Rev. David Beckman, pastor of the the Wright Catholic Community, which includes parishes in Belmond, Clarion and Eagle Grove.
The priest represents Christ, and the church is the bride, Beckman said. One of the reasons priests wear black is because of the symbolism of dying to self as they live for Christ.
The Catholic Church is universal, Beckman said. Its reach is broader than the church in America.
In parts of the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America, vocations to the priesthood are increasing, Beckman said. There are conservative dioceses in the United States that also see no lack of vocations to the priesthood.
The tradition of celibacy has a long history within the Roman Catholic Church. As monasteries developed in the fifth century, more men focused their lives solely on God and lived a celibate life, Beckman said.
Clergy could be married up until the 12th century when the Roman Catholic Church adopted the practice of a celibate clergy, said the Rev. Phil Gibbs, director of vocation awareness in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. [Source]
I have often heard this that the law of celibacy was instituted in the 12th century and have even heard it in a homily or two. Unfortunately it is not quite accurate. The argument relies on the same mistake that some Protestants use against the Church, for example saying that the Council of Trent added books to the Bible. It is true that it wasn’t until the First Council of Lateran in 1123 that many questions regarding celibacy were finally codified for the Latin Church, but it is quite untrue that celibacy for those in holy orders was not a consistent practice of the Church for much longer. The Spanish Council of Elvira (between 295 and 302) imposed celibacy on all three holy orders. There of course has always been those who lived celibate lives from the beginning of the Church and this became more of the norm over time. It was more of a matter of choice up to the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, but increasingly after that it became a required discipline. There was a lot of laxity of enforcement of this rule and the scandal caused at times kept bringing the subject up until it was finally normative. Even the Eastern Church moved towards a celibacy requirements as a precept for bishops around 692. Celibacy is of course only a discipline and not a matter of faith. I just wish it’s origins wouldn’t be down played as a comparatively recent development in Church history. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a more in depth article on the subject.
I would recommend the book of Cardinal Stickler “The case for clerical celibacy.” It is a good and short one to read on the history of celibacy. It summarizes the recent research that shows how Eastern Churches do not have the apostolic version of the law of celibacy, but it it is precisely the Roman (Latin) Church that preserved the original (apostolic) attitude about the celibacy. Also, it nicely demonstrates how celibacy flows from Jesus Christ.
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