Friday, December 19, 2008

Criticism of Rome's Celibate Priesthood - Rebuttals to Objections

A while back I had blogged a post on the Married Priest Movement (link), which garnered a variety of criticism, from one guy who insists that I must use the word "dissent" the way he says his church does - to several more interesting comments that I'd like to discuss below.

The people are being addressed in reverse chronological order of when they commented, but their comments are (I hope) presented in the order in which the respective person wrote them.

Mike Burgess wrote:
TF said "There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture."

Untrue. See 1 Corinthians 7, particularly vv. 28-35. This is clear Scriptural warrant for the discipline, and it follows the spirit of St. Paul's inspired words: the one who is celibate seeks to be holy in body and spirit, he is concerned with the things of the Lord, and it is good to be married but "better" to remain celibate.

And, to follow up, vv 36-38 make it clear that the Bishop you quoted is correct: there is no doctrinal reason, and the Church has always allowed priests in some particular Churches to marry. She has chosen to impose a discipline for reasons of "good order," as St. Paul says, in the Latin Rite Churches of the One Church.

I presume I shouldn't need to quote St. Paul's words in full to such a biblically literate audience.
There are two main claims here:
1) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:28-35 (perhaps he means to through vs. 38) does teach that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy; and
2) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 justifies the prohibition on priestly marriage for reasons of "good order."

First things first, let's look at the text itself. Despite Burgess' reasonable confidence in the Biblical literacy of the readership of this blog, we should still take a look at what the text says:

1 Corinthians 7:28-38
28But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

As to Burgess' first claim with respect to this passage, the key part of the passage would seem to be "he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better."

The very first counter-observation to be made is that the verse doesn't say "holy" vs. "more holy" but "well" vs. "better." The question is, in what way "better"? If the answer is "better in the sense of more holy," then the distinction makes no difference.

Unfortunately, Burgess doesn't provide us with much of a positive case for his position here. He seems to assume that "better" means "more holy." Perhaps his concise comment is the rational result of my policy of publishing comments slowly, perhaps because he hasn't considered the issue, either way we can evaluate the passage and determine whether it is holiness or something else that is under consideration.

The comparison of "well" to "better" is really a comparison between καλως (kalos = well) and κρεισσον (kreisson = better). Kreisson is rarely used in the New Testament. Its two other NT uses are 1 Corinthians 11:17 and Philippians 1:23.

1 Corinthians 11:17 states that when the Corinthians assemble, it is not for better (κρεισσον) but for worse, and the word for worse here is ηττον (hetton - worse), which does not seem have any particular moral significance.

Philippians 1:23 states that to be with Christ is a thing far better (κρεισσον), but that it is needful for Paul to be with Philippians, and consequently he is "in a straight betwixt two" as the King James version puts it or "hard pressed from both directions" as the NAS puts it.

Nevertheless, there are a few additional uses in the LXX:

1) In Exodus 14:12, the Israelites say it would have been better (κρεισσον) to serve in Egypt than die in the wilderness.
2) In Judges 8:2, Gideon praises the vintage of Ephraim as better (κρεισσον) than that of Abiezer.
3) In Psalm 36:16, it is said that a little is better (κρεισσον) to the righteous than great wealth is to the wicked.
4) In Psalm 62:4, it is said that God's mercy is better (κρεισσον) than life.
5) In Proverbs 21:9, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) to live in a corner of a housetop, than to live in a plastered house with unrighteousness.
6) In Proverbs 21:19, it is said that is is better (κρεισσον) to live in the wilderness than with a militant, talkative, and angry woman.
7) In Proverbs 25:7, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) that it be said to you "come up hither" in the eyes of your prince (than to be told to take a lesser seat)

In short, what we can infer from these uses is that the word κρεισσον doesn't have any intrinsic moral significance. It can mean simply more pleasant or more convenient. In this case, the sense of "more convenient" is one obvious sense. Why might one not agree?

Verse 37 states that "he that has decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well (καλως)," and then verse 38 adds that he who gives his virgin in marriage does well (καλως)," but that he who does not, does better. What is interesting, to me, is that there is a comparative form of καλως, namely καλλιον (kallion - better) but it is not used. I think this is significant, but at a minimum it does not support the view that the comparison between giving and not giving has to do with which one is more righteous or holy.

That it is a matter of convenience and practicality can be seen from:

1 Corinthians 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

and

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

and finally

1 Corinthians 7:28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

The point of the passage has to do with it being inconvenient to be married, thus, Paul explains:

1 Corinthians 7:32-33
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

That is to say, single people have more time for explicitly serving the kingdom of God than married people do. Thus, he concludes the thought:

1 Corinthians 7:34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

With that in mind, it should be apparent that "better" does not mean "more holy" or "more righteous," but rather "more convenient." Accordingly, we can reject the first of Mr. Burgess' contentions, namely that the chaste single life is somehow more holy than the chaste married life.

Mr. Burgess' second contention, related to "good order" is again unfounded. The Apostle Paul occupies the field of marital restrictions by insisting that bishops and deacons be husbands of one wife. Further limitations on the marital status of bishops and deacons are consequently instances of forbidding what Scripture permits. Additionally, given that Scripture clearly teaches:

Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

Consequently, we also reject Mr. Burgess' second contention, that there is a valid "good order" reason to forbidding clergy from marrying.

From Mr. Burgess, we can turn to Mr. Greco.

Alexander Greco wrote:

Turretinfan: a) The analogy [to the idea that God is holier than angels] is distinguishable because the difference in holiness between God and angels relates to their being, not their actions. The issue here, however, is actions.
[Greco]: Good point.

Turretinfan: b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Greco]: But what do you make of Paul's words when he describes those who live the celibate life are of the affairs of the Lord, etc? (I'm not dealing with the terminology of "holy" versus "unholy")

Turretinfan: c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), "thing A is less holy than thing B" is logically equivalent to "thing A is more more unholy than thing B."
[Greco]: Would this really be the case though? The elect in heaven are not as holy as God, but would you say that God allows the unholy to exist in heaven?
(brackets show my edits for clarity)
Obviously, there is no real disagreement on (a). With respect to (b), as I mentioned in my response to Mr. Burgess, Paul is talking about the fact that single people have more time to give explicitly to the service of the kingdom of heaven. With respect to (c), this gets us right back to (a). An analogy between angels and the elect would be proper (or vice versa), but for the same reasons, the "elect are not as holy as God" comparison relates to being, not actions. The issue here is actions.

From Mr. Greco, we can turn to Mr. Douglass.

Ben Douglass wrote:
[Turretinfan:] b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Douglass:] 1 Cor 7:1-2, 7-9, 26-28, 32-40.
"So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better" (1 Cor 7:38).

[Turretinfan:] c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), "thing A is less holy than thing B" is logically equivalent to "thing A is more unholy than thing B."
[Douglass:] I deny. "Unholy" implies evil, which is a privation of good. "Less holy" implies mere absence of good. Not every absence of good is a privation, and hence not every absence of good is evil.

[Douglass quoting NatAmLLC:] According to the "insight" the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry! Hmmmmmm?

[Douglass:] The Catholic Church doesn't force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary. Quoting 1 Tim 4:3 against Catholicism is one of the silliest arguments in the Protestant [repertoire].
(brackets show my edits for clarity/spelling)
As to (b), I've provided a detailed answer above, in my response to Mr. Burgess.
As to (c):

i) The difference between privation of good and absence of good is something that is not agreed by the Reformed, even if it is taught from the Vatican. Scripture commands the believer to be perfect:

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

You see, we believe that the standard of holiness that God requires is perfect righteousness. Thus, any absence of good in a person's life is identical to a privation of good. Furthermore, since we believe that perfect obedience is required, we do not leave room for works of supererogation. Thus, either a person is as good as they ought to be, or they fall short by some measure greater or less.

In other words, whether an act is more or less good depends on how close it comes to approximating the duty God requires of man. Accordingly, there is no bear absence of good in a man's life - instead it is privation. There are sins both of commission and omission, of course, but both are sins. The former involve a positive act, the latter the failure to act.

ii) Douglass quoted NatAmLLC: "According to the "insight" the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry!"
Paul actually wrote:
1 Timothy 4:1-3
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

Those who impose celibacy and fasting (sound familiar at all?) are those that depart from the faith. I'm not sure what Mr. Douglass (or NatAmLLC) was trying to reference. There will be no marriage between humans in heaven:

Luke 20:34-36
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

iii) Douglass stated: "The Catholic Church doesn't force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary."

They force anyone who wants to be a bishop to take that vow, as far as I know. Obviously, they don't force people (these days) to become bishops, but for those that do wish to become bishops, it is not voluntary or optional - it is mandatory.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Updated 22 December 2008 to indicate where Mr. Douglass was quoting NatAmLLC.

7 comments:

Ben Douglass said...

Our dialogue would be much clearer if you distinguished the parts where I am quoting natamllc from the parts where I am speaking for myself.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Ben,

Would you please let me know which part you are quoting from natamllc? I'll try to update the post once you let me know.

-TurretinFan

Ben Douglass said...

According to the "insight" the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry! Hmmmmmm?

Turretinfan said...

Updated ... let me know if further updates needed for clarity/accuracy.

natamllc said...

TF,

I see I am being quoted and referred too as a part of the issue hereon. How did I miss that? :)

Well, you wrote:::> "....I'm not sure what Mr. Douglass (or NatAmLLC) was trying to reference. There will be no marriage between humans in heaven:...."

My response was to bring up the point from Paul addressing this issue of "priests" marrying and given to marry.

While it should be understood, I will state, that my understanding of the "Priesthood" is so much more different than Ben Douglass' and the RCC, that is why I just posted directly as a comment to you making my general observation specific with Scripture from where I sit regarding marriage and the Priesthood.

Seeing we are on to making a distinction about "actions" and who is "making" holy I will quote King David who equally made a distinction about who is making holy. It is very clear to me herein that he too sees that God alone reserves certain things for Himself, as in "making" a sinner "holy" in His sight:::>

Psa 71:22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.


As an aside, however distasteful it is, I need to comment some more from this Psalm. I only ask a fair reading of all of Psalm 71 for relevance and see the depth of understanding with which King David approaches his relationship before Our Holy God, "the Holy One of Israel"? The Scripture's purpose is to aid us in our salvation too.

I was visiting my churches in Guatemala some years ago and the brothers took me on a sight seeing trip to a Cathedral that was over 500 years old. There was some work being done inside this massive structure in Antigua.

No doubt, we have all heard the saying: "skeltons" in the closet? Well sadly, and quite literally, as they were doing some work on this building they discovered an underground passageway that had been covered over with mortar and bricks. As they discovered, once opened up it led them down inside this room where graves of "infants" were found. There was a living quarters and what seemed to be a cooking area and water was available.

The speculation was of course that this was where births were done and the possible killing of the infant after giving birth! I am not making this stuff up.

I have seen similar in other parts of the world, the Philippines and Africa just to name two more.

I do not want to cast unduly, the shame of all of this, just merely to show that the Bible, when handled plainly, has the best recourse for such errors when priests and nuns succumb to their baser lusts instead of covering it up so dramatically that several centuries later it is brought into the light by such discovery.

These matters have some forboding roots all the way back to the days of Nimrod and thereafter as time marched on and Dagon worship came into being. Dagon worship had both priests and sisters. There was infant sacrifice. When you look closely at History and the Assyrian rise, you see that there are similar kinds of clothings wore by the Priests and Sisters as we see today with the Papacy and the Nuns.

Oh well, maybe that was a bit much?

I can only say my hope is in the Lord:::>

1Co 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
1Co 6:10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

It is the action of God to wash, to sanctify and to justify the "saints" in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. It is this then, the "wisdom" of Paul, that he wrote to Timothy about there in 1 Timothy 4 as well as there at 1 Corinthians 6.

Ben Douglass said...

Finding superficial similarities between paganism and Catholicism (gasp, Assyrian priests wore similar clothes!) is a cheap argument against Catholicism. So is speculating, based on fragmentary evidence, that some Catholic clergy at some point in the past committed murder. Even supposing they did, Catholic theology condemns their actions. If clergy commit fornication, the proper response is to love the babies they conceive and repent of their sin, like the whiskey priest does in The Power and the Glory.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Ben,

What if the evidence were more than just fragments, like the accounts provided in the famous book, "The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk," which purports to recount eyewitness testimony of much the same sort of thing that NatAmLLC mentions?

How does the fact that "Catholic theology" condemn such actions remedy the issue?

Surely such a contradiction between theology and practice only made things worse in this instance:

Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

-TurretinFan