Catholic Priest Celibacy Rebellion in Austria

Pope Benedict XVI Sitting & Wearing White

Pope Benedictus XVI


A reader sent me the following:

Dissident Austrian priests defying their Roman Catholic Church with calls for married clergy, women priests and other reforms enjoy wide public support, according to a new poll on a dispute that could lead to their dismissal.

Three-quarters of people polled in the traditionally Catholic country backed the priests’ “Call to Disobedience,” a manifesto…

The revolt, openly supported by 329 priests, threatens a split in the Austrian Church weeks before Pope Benedict’s Sept 22 to 25 visit to neighbouring Germany. Benedict, 84, grew up in Bavarian villages close to the Austrian border.

The Austria dissidents have early church history, as well as scripture, on their side regarding the idea of a married clergy.  Nearly all the early apostles were married, and actually, the Bible is clear that elders/presbyters should be married.

Actually, it appears that bishops and elders were supposed to have a wife and children to demonstrate they could handle a church as Paul wrote (Roman Catholic approved Rheims New Testament-RNT- is quoted below):

1.FAITHFUL saying. If a man desire a Bishops office, he desireth a good work.
2. It behoveth therefore a Bishop to be irreprehensible, the husband of one wife,
sober, wise, comely, chaste, a man of hospitality, a teacher,
3. Not given to wine, no fighter, but modest, no quarreler, not covetous,
4. Well ruling his own house, chaving his children subject with all charity.
5. But if a man know not to rule his own house: how shall he have care of the Church of
God? (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

5. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest reform the things that are
wanting, and shouldst ordain priests by cities, as I also appointed thee:
6. If any be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not in the
accusations of riot, or not obedient.
7. For a Bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not angry, nor
given to wine, no striker, nor covetous of filthy lucre (Titus 1:5-7).

Notice that the above roles are for men as scripture never lists such roles for women.  Also, note that the term translated as priest in verse 4, presbyter, simply means elder. Also notice that the Bishop is also allowed to be married. In Eastern Orthodox circles, while their priests are allowed to be married, their bishops are not.  All “clergy” in the Living Church of God is allowed to be married, consistent with what the Apostle Paul was inspired to write above.

Even The Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that from the beginning, celibacy was not a requirement for church leaders:

Turning now to the historical development of the present law of celibacy, we must necessarily begin with St. Paul’s direction (1 Timothy 3:2, 12, and Titus 1:6) that a bishop or a deacon should be “the husband of one wife”. These passages seem fatal to any contention that celibacy was made obligatory upon the clergy from the beginning (Thurston H. Transcribed by Christine J. Murray. Celibacy of the Clergy. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Celibacy became an ideal for the clergy in the East gradually, as it did in the West. In the fourth century we still find St. Gregory Nazianzen’s father, who was Bishop of Nanzianzos, living with his wife, without scandal. But very soon after that the present Eastern rule obtained. It is less strict than in the West. No one can marry after he has been ordained priest (Paphnutius at the first Council of Nicaea maintains this; the first Canon of the Synod of Neocaesarea in 314 or 325, and Can. Apost., xxvi. The Synod of Elvira about 300 had decreed absolute celibacy for all clerks in the West, Can. xxxiii, ib., pp. 238-239); priests already married may keep their wives (the same law applied to deacons and subdeacons: Can. vi of the Synod in Trullo, 692), but bishops must be celibate. As nearly all secular priests were married this meant that, as a general rule, bishops were chosen from the monasteries, and so these became, as they still are, the road through advancement may be attained (Fortesque A. Transcribed by Marie Jutras. Eastern Monasticism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Here is a statement from that Synod of Elvira (about 305 A.D.) that is a little different than the above indicates:

We decree that all bishops, priests, and deacons, and all clerics engaged in ministry are forbidden entirely to live with their wives and to beget children: whoever shall do so shall be deposed from clerical dignity. (Bacchiocchi S. THE CATHOLIC PRIESTS CHILD SEX-ABUSE SCANDAL. Endtime Issues No. 82, 4 April 2002)

Thus the celibacy requirement for clergy did not occur until the fourth century. It, however, contradicts the biblical teaching on this matter.

So, both the Bible and early church history support the view of the Austrian priests regarding celibacy.  And the fact that the Church of Rome has allowed the Anglican priests who come back into its fellowship to remain married shows that Rome also understands that clerical celibacy is not a scriptural requirement.

On the other hand, the idea of ordaining women to become elders does not have any scriptural support.  To the contrary, while the Bible lists a lot of roles for women (some early women were prophetesses and had other important roles, see Women and the New Testament Church), being an elder/presbyter that speaks in church services is specifically prohibited:

34 Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith.  35 But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.  (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, RNT)

11 Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.  12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence.  (1 Timothy 2:11-12, RNT)

Since the priests are Catholic, I intentionally quoted an approved Catholic translation of Paul’s writings.  Thus, the Austrian priests need to reconsider their unscriptural position on this matter.

Those interested in learning more about Christmas, early Christianity, and changes that many have adopted may wish to carefully study the following articles:

Was Celibacy Required for Early Bishops or Presbyters? Some religions suggest this, but what does the Bible teach? What was the practice of the early church?
Did the Early Christian Church Practice Monasticism? Does God expect or endorse living in a monastery or nunnery?
Women and the New Testament Church Were women important in the New Testament Church? Which women and how were they involved?
The Cherished Christian Woman: Duty and destiny This is an article by LCG’s Wyatt Ciesielka on women and their potential.
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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