Most people do not associate celibacy with politics. But the truth is that priestly celibacy does have profound political implications.
We already know the State has a legitimate vested interest in marriage. After all, in bearing children, a married couple also produces citizens for the body politic. Naturally, this translates into wage earners for the economy, tax payers for State revenue and personnel for the military. Although marriage is a Sacrament- rich with religious symbolism -it, nevertheless, is very much tied to the earth. When critics of our Lord asked him about a woman's marital status in heaven after having been married several times on earth, he simply reminded them that there is no marriage in heaven.
For this reason, the unmarried state- which includes childhood, virginity and celibacy -more closely resembles the blessed in heaven than does marriage. Indeed, celibacy, as practiced in the priesthood and religious life, has an "other-worldly" quality about it. The priestly sacrifice of not marrying and having children is a living reminder to the world that just as one does not live by bread alone, it can also be said that one also does not live on sex alone. Indeed, there is more to this life and the life to come than sex. You may be surprised to know that this was news to the ancient world. In fact, it is news to the modern world too.
Priestly celibacy and consecrated virginity not only remind us that there is something worth sacrificing for heaven, but it is also calls our attention to that holiness or moral goodness required to get us there. This is where the political implications of celibacy enters the picture.
Celibate priests are an image of that spiritual and moral order which transcends the State. Indeed, political rulers are to be reminded that their works, along with everyone else, will by judged by God. Being thus scrutinized by the Divine Counsel, they are to use their power justly and for the benefit of the common good. But in order for this to be realized, the very same moral goodness required for salvation is same moral goodness that ought to inspire the actions of politicians. Perhaps, this is why that in the twelfth century, St. Ivo, bishop of Chartres, wrote the following 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 fusion 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 cautioned us. 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.” Although a radical separation between Church and State is harmful to society, as St. Ivo warned, still, too close of an alliance between Church and State can be just as bad.
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. To be sure, 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 for a supernatural purpose 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)