Expert Answer Forum
Priestly Celibacy QUESTION from John Hellman Oct. 3 999 You said that priestly celibacy became the norm in the fourth century. Please comment on the book THE APOSTOLIC ORIGINS OF PRIESTLY CELIBACY by Christian Cochini, S.J. - Ignatius Press. He makes the point that although Peter had a mother-in-law (and Philip had three daughters,) there is no mention of their wives and presumably they are widowers.
The requirement that they be celibate was a discipline of the early church from the time of the Apostles.
Christian Cochini, S.J. in the book that I mention above notes the similarity of the phrases husband of one wife and wife of one husband... in the verse below.
1 Timothy 3:2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher...RSV
Timothy 5:9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband...RSV
He reasons that the wife of one husband... had taken a vow of celibacy and it is obvious that she is no longer married, being a widow. He reasons that the parallel Greek phrase of husband of one wife meant the same thing, a widower who had taken a vow of celibacy. I can't do justice to his book he quotes Fathers who say the celibacy of the priesthood came from the Apostles. He says On the other hand, the opposite movement poses more problems, and it is more difficult to see how Fathers concerned with Tradition and respecting the will of the apostles could have been obstinate enough to impose a discipline of continence if it had been flatly denied by Scripture.
Thanks in advance, John Hellman
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on October 6, 999 Dear Mr Hellman
Thank you for writing. I have not been able to obtain a copy of the book that you mentioned. I have heard the argument that the Fathers quote celibacy as an apostolic discipline from the Fathers, but I am not entirely convinced-- though I confess that I haven't closely examined the debate, relying solely on secondary sources for information. However, I am not entirely satisfied with Fr. Cochini's argument because some Council Fathers at Nicea tried to impose celibacy on all priests, in both the Eastern and Western Church. If the apostolic origin was so clear, and so commanding, then I suspect that it would have been obvious to those present.
The particular issue of when priestly celibacy was first enforced may still be an object of debate, but one thing is sure: by the end of the fourth century, celibacy was absolutely mandatory for all deacons, priests and bishops in the Western Church.
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