Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some thoughts occasioned by Dcn. Ditewig's latest post

Dcn. Bill Ditewig has some good 'open questions' on diaconal continence and celibacy over at his blog. He invited responses, which I posted over there, but they appeared in an odd order, and incompeltely, so I will post them here in due form. Do read Dcn. Ditewig's short and clear post before reading my replies...

Hi Dcn. Ditewig. Good post, it occasions some replies.

Re your Point 1.

I list several Church historians/theologians (Heid, Stickler, Cochini, etc.) who have made the studies you seek, here: I would start with Stickler, then do Cholij, then do either Heid or Cochini. They are well aware of schools of thought that differ with them (chiefly, what I call the “Funk line”) and they address those concerns, in my opinion, admirably, if not indeed decisively. They require time to read (well, Cdl. Stickler is quick), but they well reward the effort.

The phrasing of the question about sex being 'unsuitable' for ordained ministry is potentially misleading. First, it assumes that someone somewhere has found something wrong with sex and on THOSE grounds excluded it for the ordained. But notice, that’s an implied claim, and like any claim it requires proof. I think such proof would be hard to find.

The goodness (or badness if you want) of the sex act ALWAYS includes consideration of the context of the act. What is fornication for a given couple one day is conjugal love for the same couple the next, (if the context of the act is changed by a wedding), etc.

The question of clerical continence concerns the CONTEXT of the sex act, i.e., here, a context that the act is not simply being undertaken by married people, but by an ordained man and his wife. Major context change, that. But this was true even of Levitical continence in the O.T. no? Was Levitical continence an occasional accommodation to the Jews’ supposedly negative attitudes toward sex? Or was it a prototype of the single-minded and life-time focus that would be expected of the priests of the new High Priest Jesus?

Moreover, although to some degree celibacy might have been treated as “the fence around the law” of continence (and thus celibacy could be dispensed with in certain cases, provided no threat to the law of continence was implied), the value of celibacy itself has, by welcome developments, come to be more expressly articulated in law (
c. 277.1), and those developments have nothing whatsoever to do with alleged denigrations of sex, but rather, with the positive values of Christ-like celibacy. Still, you’re asking the wrong man to expound on those points. I’ve read them and studied them and find them persuasive, but it’s not my field and I leave to finer minds (like the ones I cite above) the explanation of those values. I just warn folks against thinking that a poor explanation of a principle means the principle itself is wrong, or that a proffered explanation is the only explanation upon which the principle rests.

My task as a lawyer is narrower: to point out what the law says (and to point out that, virtually without exception, it has said what it still says for a millennium and a half) and to observe that the concomitant practice has, in almost no time (from a Church point of view), utterly disappeared. That’s a grave problem, either for law or for practice. The Church can decide which. If, however, she decides it is a problem for practice, I can and do say, “No need to run around thinking you have to change canon law to re-begin expecting continence. Your law already says exactly that. It’s just that no one has adverted to it for some decades.”

From a wider ecclesiological point of view, I think what might be happening in regard to the diaconate (and the clerical state in general) in this area is comparable to what has been going on with the liturgy for a decade or so, namely, a reform of the reform. See, e.g.,

Re your point 2.

I don’t know why folks use 'two-lung' language here. I don’t think it’s relevant to start with, but, even it were, my whole point could be re-phrased as being that one of those two lungs, the Western, is no longer acting like itself and is now imitating the other (Eastern)! So Western lung, be yourself! Of course, we are not even imitating the East in regard to temporary continence; the West has simply abandoned completely ANY sort of clerical continence expectations for married clergy.

Anyway, as I say, I don’t see the relevance of Eastern law for how Western law is to be interpreted here. I grant, Eastern law can suggest how Western law COULD be changed (or vice versa, if it came to that), but if the Western Church decided to move in that direction, then my original point would still stand, i.e., that Western law would need to change, and not simply be ignored.

Let’s stay in touch on this. Best, edp.