I’ve always wondered, and I bet you have too whether you’re Catholic or not: why aren’t Catholic priests allowed to marry? Especially when just about any other church, Orthodox or Protestant or in-between, allows their clergy to marry?
I finally found the answer in the medieval church (still reading The Story of Christianity by Gonzalez). Apparently there was a time — in fact quite a long time — when Roman Catholic clergy were permitted to marry. At first it was discouraged, not on Christian grounds, but due to Platonic influences in the early church. But it was not until the mid-1000’s that celibacy of the clergy became law in the Roman Catholic church (and a few more years after that before all the clergy obeyed it!)
(BTW yes you read that right… Platonic influences. In the 100’s and 200’s AD some, not all, of the churches were influenced by the teachings of Plato. These influences are still felt today in churches that teach people to repress the physical and/or emotional aspects of life and concentrate on the spiritual. Such teachings often lead to ministries that focus on people’s spiritual welfare while neglecting their physical needs. This concept is foreign to both Jesus’ teachings and to the teachings of the first century church, which are very holistic.)
So why were the clergy forced to become celibate? It was part of an internal reformation of the church, in response to the sins and excesses of the times.
For almost two centuries, perhaps longer, the leadership of the church had become enmeshed in political and moral intrigue. The church that had started in poverty and persecution had become rich in lands and very powerful. Nobility and other wealthy families saw in the church a great opportunity to line their own pockets. Bribery, deceit, and even violence could accompany the appointment of a new bishop or pope.
Simony — the practice of buying and selling positions in the church — had become common practice. Along with simony also came the ability to inherit a church position from a father who had bought the position, in effect creating dynasties of bishops and popes within the church.
The reformation movement of the mid-1000’s was inspired and led by the inhabitants of the monasteries, who in contrast to the clergy of the day lived by rules of poverty and service to the people around them. When one of the abbots (abbots were the leaders of monasteries) was elected pope, he put forth a two-pronged program to do away with simony: he outlawed the selling of church positions, and required all members of the clergy to be celibate so they would have no children to bequeath their church appointments to.
So here we are, 1000 years later, still living with the aftermath of the sins of the medieval church.
You think maybe it’s time to allow RC priests and bishops to marry? 😉
PS – There’s an interesting footnote to this story. The reforms of the 1000’s only lasted a little while. By the 1400s, while technically all clergy were supposed to be celibate, many had concubines they acknowledged publicly. In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia — the grandson of Pope Calixtus III — became Pope Alexander VI. Must’ve been a miracle birth or something…