Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Political Significance of Celibacy: It's Impact on the Separation of Church and State

In the twelfth century, St. Ivo, bishop of Chartres, wrote to Pope Paschal II:

"When kingdom and priesthood are at one, in complete accord, the world is well ruled, and the Church flourishes, and brings forth abundant fruit. But when they are at variance, not only smaller interests prosper not, but even things of greatest moment fall into deplorable decay.”

Throughout history, when religions fell under the disfavor of the State they were often suppressed. But when a religion received State sponsorship, religious and civil authority often fused into one. From this a theocracy emerged under which the Emperor, Pharaoh, or King ruled. But this old pagan error led to a kind of totalitarianism where the State became all things to all people. This political system was fraught with problems, as Pope Benedict XVI indicated. He said, “The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical.” There is one mark of the Catholic priesthood which makes the separation between the Church and the State a visible one; a mark signifying that our citizenship is from a "holy nation" whose Fatherland is heaven. This mark of distinction is none other than priestly celibacy.

The State legitimately has a vested interest in marriage because from it children are reproduced. Indeed, under the tutelage of parents children are made into citizens. And like parents, the Catholic Church is a Mother. But in her case, she reproduces children for heaven; and her maternal function primarily resides in the priesthood where the sacraments- the nourishment of the faithful –are given.

What sets the Church apart from the State and what distinguishes the priest from your average citizen is celibacy. Jesus said some men are Eunuchs (i.e., celibate) “because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Priests have been set aside to belong entirely to God. By renouncing marriage, they are enabled to espouse the Church as their Bride. Perhaps, this is why St. Paul said, “…the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.” It is a mistake, therefore, to associate the priest of God with being single. Quite the contrary! The priest is married to a beautiful but jealous Spouse who takes up all of this time. St. Peter Damien said that the priest, by “virtue of his ordination, contracts a marriage with the Church, and he cannot be a bigamist."

Hence, while families produce citizens for the common wealth, the priesthood produces citizens for heaven. This is why St. Paul can say to the Corinthians, "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you." (I Cor. 4:15) Approximately three hundred years later Pope Siricius confirmed that the bishop or priest fulfills this maternal function of the Church by begetting children of God. He said, “How would a bishop or a priest dare preach continence and integrity to a widow or a virgin, or yet how would he dare exhort spouses to the chastity of the conjugal bed, if he himself is more concerned about begetting children for the world than begetting them for God?” Like the Father who eternally begets his Son; the priesthood of Christ participates in this mystery by begetting spiritual children. That's right! Holy Orders is a fruitful sacrament and has every bit to do with reproduction as Matrimony does. Indeed, boys and girls who were once children of Adam are made into children of God through the anointed hands of the priest. They are born the first time from their mother's womb only to be reborn through the waters of baptism.

To an all-powerful State who wants no rivals, a priesthood dedicated to the making of citizens of a supernatural order is often a threat to their imagined omnipotence. To be sure, the celibacy of the priesthood is a sign that the followers of Christ are a “chosen race and a holy nation” whose “citizenship is in heaven.” Their vocation is a living testimony that a holy nation exists beyond our earthly homeland; the only borders of which are to separate the saved from damned. The jurisdiction of the State can only go so far. Its governance does have the power to affect flesh and blood; but not the soul; nor can it reach beyond the grave. When priests espouse the Church and become fruitful, it is a reminder to the State that its powers are limited.

“Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples! Because authority was given you by the LORD and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!” (Wisdom 6:2-3)