Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marriage and Holy Orders

St. Nonna, wife of the Bishop of Nazianzos,
St. Gregory the Elder,
and mother of St. Gregory the Theologian
As Church discipline developed, it increasingly prohibited the ordination of married men in both East and West. Initially, as in the case of Gregory the Theologian’s father, bishops were often married.* Eventually, both East and West forbade episcopal ordination of married men, as they do until this day.

Though East and West both esteemed virginity, the Latin Church grew more stringently to oppose the ordination of sexually active married men. Though the popes of Late Antiquity never forbade the ordination of married men, it is not surprising that their insistence on perpetual clerical continence soon evolved into required clerical celibacy for the Latin Church. The Eastern Church also recommended that married priests practice an ascesis of continence  - but temporary continence prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. Just as the Eucharistic fast from food was not expected to be perpetual, neither were married priests expected to practice sexual continence perpetually.

Neither approach strikes me as necessarily superior to the other. Rather, with Patriarch Photius (before 866), I regard each as legitimately distinct disciplines.** Discipline is subject to change and it is up to the Church in each age to respond effectively to the needs of her people and to demonstrate with her disciplinary decisions respect for both virginity and marriage, preferring neither.
1 Tim 3:2; Peter Gilbert. “Introduction.” On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory Nazianzus. Trans. and Ed. Peter Gilbert. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, 23. 

** Peter L’Huillier. “The First Millenium.” Vested in Grace. Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001. 34. 

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