Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The First Pope: A Question about Celibacy - Le Donne


So I found myself on this webpage and I was reminded that Catholics commemorate Peter as the first pope (By the way, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome is a must see; has a Grand Canyon quality to it).  I realize that I'm late to the party here, but it occurred to me that Peter was married. Of course, I knew both (a) that he is considered the first pope and (b) that he was married.... I guess that I've just never considered both at the same time.  I basically focus on historical Jesus and baseball... don't know much about anything else (I also tinker a bit with the ecological dynamics of medieval agrarian systems from various trubadorian perspectives).

To my Catholic and Patristics friends: Does the Catholic church teach that Peter was celibate?

If so, what does one do with Paul's assumption in this verse from 1 Cor 9: "Do we [Paul is speaking of himself] not have a right to be accompanied by a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?"

If we only had the Gospels to go by, we might think that Peter left his wife behind to follow Jesus. But here Paul assumes that Peter provides a precedent for being "accompanied by a believing wife".

Please indulge my ignorance of papal lore.

-anthony

11 comments:

  1. In various studies they are a couple of answers. As I understand, if you want to become a priest and you are married you may. There was one that I am aware of in Florida that this was the case. As to Paul, the answer I have gotten from Catholics (remember tradition is a strong as the Word to Catholics) is that Paul was married but his wife had died.

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  2. Clement of Alexandria actually mentions Peter having /children/, in addition to the couple of Biblical passages that indicate his marriage. Celibacy was entirely a choice, not a requirement, for the first few centuries.

    I think the first explicit prohibition of marriage for clergy comes from a fourth century council decree. The decree runs contrary to what we find already know about various apostles, elders, teachers, etc. up till that time, so one wonders why it was turned into a mandate, instead of a choice.

    Still, Catholics don't claim Peter was celibate, nor do they don't appeal to Scripture as an authority for the rule. However, it should be noted that Catholicism does make exceptions to this, if I understand it correctly: some men who are already married may become priests, but they cannot level up to the episcopate.

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    1. right: Synod of Elvira: "Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office."

      ...but my question concerned Peter's legacy. So it seems that there is no Catholic doctrine pertaining to Peter's supposed celibacy. Would one be on solid ground with this claim?

      -anthony

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  3. This is purely a question of order, not of doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Latin Rite, to which the bulk of the world's Catholics belong, priests and bishops are not permitted to marry. There is an exception to this for some Anglicans who have converted in some jurisdictions, but this is limited to the presbyterate and they are not permitted to marry after ordination. In the Eastern Rites, priests routinely marry as they do in the Orthodox churches, but bishops are drawn from the ranks of the monastic clergy and are therefore not married. In both Rites, vows of celibacy are taken only by members of some religious orders (Benedictines, for example, vow obedience, stability, and conversion of life instead of poverty, chastity, and obedience). Abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is assumed for all Catholics lay or ordained.

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  4. everything depends on the translation of "ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα".
    "γυνή" means 'wife' but also 'woman'; "ἀδελφή" means 'sister' and in Christian scripts 'believing'. So we could have "believing wife" as a generic "believing woman.'
    There is also the meaning of "sister-wife" that is a wife with which sexual relations had ceased.

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  5. Dear Domics,

    Thanks for pointing out this semantic range. I do think that you overstate by saying that everything depends on an atomistic translation. In the larger context Paul refers to patronage, food and drink. These are all hot button issues with regard to ascetic deprivation. Paul has chosen celibacy, but is distancing himself from life-long physical deprivation. Given this, the best and most natural translation is "wife". Patronage, food, drink, marriage - all related to physical comfort. The point, as it often is with Paul, is that he should be financially supported given his status as an apostle. When set against the community of wealth in Jerusalem, Paul looks like an ascetic in contrast.

    Just out of curiosity, is there any evidence of "sister-wife" practice among Jews in the first century? I would guess not.

    -anthony

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    1. Tertullian, On Monogamy: "Peter alone do I find — through (the mention of) his mother-in-law — to have been married. Monogamist I am led to presume him by consideration of the Church, which, built upon him, was destined to appoint every grade of her Order from monogamists. The rest, while I do not find them married, I must of necessity understand to have been either eunuchs or continent. Nor indeed, if, among the Greeks, in accordance with the carelessness of custom, women and wives are classed under a common name — however, there is a name proper to wives — shall we therefore so interpret Paul as if he demonstrates the apostles to have had wives? For if he were disputing about marriages, as he does in the sequel, where the apostle could better have named some particular example, it would appear right for him to say, For have we not the power of leading about wives, like the other apostles and Cephas? But when he subjoins those (expressions) which show his abstinence from (insisting on) the supply of maintenance, saying, For have we not the power of eating and drinking? he does not demonstrate that wives were led about by the apostles, whom even such as have not still have the power of eating and drinking; but simply women, who used to minister to them in the same way (as they did) when accompanying the Lord."

      Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book I "In accordance with this rule Peter and the other Apostles (I must give Jovinianus something now and then out of my abundance) had indeed wives, but those which they had taken before they knew the Gospel. But once they were received into the Apostolate, they forsook the offices of marriage."

      Clement of Alexandria, "On Marriage": "53. Even Paul did not hesitate in one letter to address his consort. The only reason why he did not take her about with him was that it would have been an inconvenience for his ministry. Accordingly he says in a letter: 'Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?' But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives."

      FWIW

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    2. C'mon Larry, you're making our Catholic friends look bad by contrast.

      -anthony

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    3. The Jesuits taught me law. I'm just expressing my appreciation.

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    4. Clement seems to give the interpretation of "sister-wife" and writing it does not seem to wonder about that as if it were a well known practice among Christians; as Clement knew very well also Jewish customs we have to assume that he sees no contradiction with them.
      Instead it seems to me very strange the translation as "believing wife". Do we have to assume that there was the possibility that a wife of one the apostles was not a believing? That the apostles could be accompanied only if the wife was a believing but if she was not she could not go with them?

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  6. From what I've read, Clement of Alexandria wrote that Peter and his wife had children, and both husband and wife were martyred in Rome on the same day. Clement referred to their relationship as "the marriage of the blessed". This would suggest that Peter and his wife never permanently separated. But it leaves open the question of whether they continued to have sexual relations after Peter became a disciple.

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