Celibacy, The Council of Trent (1545 – 1563), and the Anathema

Celibacy, The Council of Trent (1545 – 1563), and the Anathema

The promotion of celibacy in the Catholic Church is addressed very briefly in this essay.

The Council of Trent, basically the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Rebellion of the 16th century, stated “If anyone says that it is not better and more godly to live in virginity or in the unmarried state than to marry, let him be anathema.”  Anathema, at that time, meant “accursed”.  (I must look up which anathema (by number) this was, as there were hundreds of anathemas declared by the 18 year long Council.)

If a married person were (to dare) to assert that celibacy and the married state were equal in God’s eyes, he/she would be accursed per this anathema.  Yet, marriage is a sacrament and Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, does not show any contempt or animosity to the married state.  (The animosity towards the married state is not found in New Testament times.)

Tracing the roots of the Catholic Church’s distaste, at times animosity, towards the married state is beyond the scope of this essay and has already been thoroughly researched and written about at length by other authors in recent decades (Uta Ranke-Heinemann, 1988).

It needs to be stated that celibacy is an unnatural state or condition.  Why?  God created us male and female such that the male and the female complement each other psychologically, emotionally, and physically.  Marriage is the natural state for men and women and has existed since the time of Neanderthal man with the long term pairing of men and women.  Married persons are not second, or third, or fourth class members of the communion of saints.

Here is what I think may be pleasing to God about celibacy.  It is not the celibate state per se that is pleasing to God.  What God may find pleasing is the sacrifice that a member of a religious order makes in foregoing a big part of his or her humanity in order to be able to devote himself or herself more fully to serving God.  (This is not to imply that the married state is somehow an impediment to serving God, just that the celibate, being freed of the responsibilities of the married state, can more fully devote his/her time and energies to serving God.)

For many of us married Christians, the deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the love (both emotional and sexual) between the husband and the wife leads us to the view that marriage is not exclusively, or even primarily, for procreation.  That view may be the topic of a future essay.

Thank you for your time reading this.

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