Some non-Catholic groups accuse Catholics of practicing “a doctrine of demons” (1 Tim 4:3) for having a celibate priesthood and celibate religious orders. In this article we are going to see how Our Lord and Saint Paul praised celibate life, and answer objections to the celibate priesthood,
“His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. Except it be: In the case of fornication, that is, of adultery, the wife may be put away: but even then the husband cannot marry another as long as the wife is living.
Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’ s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.” Matthew 19:10-12
In these verses the disciples remark that it is better not to marry. Christ does not correct them, but goes on to say that while some are born eunuchs, there are others who choose to be so for the sake of the kingdom. He that can handle celibacy, let him take it. Christ therefore praises celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom,” and offers it as a way of life that anyone can choose.
“Now concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.
But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as myself: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)
In these verses St. Paul clearly indicates that it is better not to be married. When he encourages them to marry it is “by indulgence, not by commandment.” He would prefer all were unmarried like himself, but this way of life is a “gift from God” that is not given to all. In verses 23-35 of the same chapter St. Paul continues to recommend the celibate way of life.
A Protestant may object that while Our Lord and Saint Paul praised celibacy, the Church has no right to forbid priests to marry. They will point to three verses in particular. (1 Timothy 3:1-5, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, 1 Corinthians 9:1-5)
1 Timothy 3 & 4
“A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. It behoveth therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality, a teacher, Not given to wine, no striker, but modest, not quarrelsome, not covetous, but One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all chastity. But if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:1-5)
“Now the Spirit manifestly saith, that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils, Speaking lies in hypocrisy, and having their conscience seared, Forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful, and by them that have known the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:1-5
In Timothy chapter 3 St. Paul cannot be making it a requirement for a bishop to be married. He is making a limit on the number of times a bishop has been married. We know from 1 Corinthians 7:7 that St. Paul would prefer that everyone were celibate. If he is celibate as an apostle, then surely a bishop could also embrace this higher “gift of God,” celibacy. If it were a strict requirement that a bishop be married, then a married bishop would have to resign if he became a widower. This is surely not the intended meaning of the verse.
In 1 Timothy 4 St. Paul calls forbidding to marry a doctrine of devils. Is the Roman Catholic practice of a celibate priesthood a doctrine of devils? It cannot be, for no one is forced to become a Roma Catholic priest. Roman Catholic priests take their promises of celibacy voluntarily. It is also not unheard of for priests to be released from their promises or vows and to return to the lay state, and to be married. There are even exceptions where married men are ordained priests. In fact Eastern Catholic priests are usually married.
The practice of taking promises or vows of celibacy is not unheard of in the Church. In 1Timothy 5:9-12, St. Paul speaks of widows being enrolled. These were widows who promised before the community not to marry again, but instead to commit themselves to good works in the community. He forbids younger widows from being enrolled, lest they marry again and bring damnation upon themselves! So in the same epistle where St. Paul speaks of forbidding marriage as being a ‘doctrine of demons,’ he forbids those who have made promises of celibacy from being married.
“Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.” (1 Timothy 5:9-12)
“Am I am not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:1-5)
A non-Catholic may object that it is the right of an apostle or a clergyman to be married based on this verse. There are two things to consider about this verse. Perhaps of secondary importance is a translation issue. The word for wife, used after sister, is gynaika, which can be translated either as wife, or as woman. The traditional Catholic Douay Rheims Bible translates it as woman. The commentary reads;
“…he only speaks of such devout women, as, according to the custom of the Jewish nation, waited upon the preachers of the gospel, and supplied them with necessaries.”
This may or may not be accurate. The context of the verse makes it likely because in this chapter St. Paul is talking about his general welfare as an apostle. He has a right to wages and a helper, but he doesn’t want to put a burden on the community.
There is evidence that St. Peter and other apostles, while once married, had embraced a celibate life to follow Christ.
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matt 19:27-29)
However, even if we grant that St. Peter and other apostles remained married, the Church still has a right to require a celibate priesthood.
In 1Timothy 4:3, St. Paul also calls it a doctrine of demons to forbid the eating of meats, all of which had been declared clean by God (Acts 10:15, Romans 14:20). However, at the Council of Jerusalem, the Church, using the authority to bind and loose given by Christ, forbid the eating of strangled meats and of blood.
“But that we write unto them, that they refrain themselves from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:20)
Scripture declares that all foods are clean, (Romans 14:20) and yet the early Church forbid the eating of certain meats. Even if the early Church had a married clergy, it is the Church’s right to require celibacy of future clergy.
It is impossible for the Church Christ founded to bind a “doctrine of demons” onto any of her faithful. Therefore we can know that the Catholic practice of celibate priests and religious is not contrary to the gospel, but rather it flows from the Lord and St. Paul’s praise of the celibate life.