Celibacy is a topic that has been debated for a very long time in Christian circles. People have argued about its relevance, its place in ministry, and its biblical authenticity. Many people misunderstand this practice. The Roman Catholic Church holds celibacy as a discipline, not a doctrine. While a celibate clergy is not a doctrinal or even dogmatic belief, the Church holds that a celibate clergy is praiseworthy and practical. Those who are celibate are able to be more interested in the affairs of God, rather than the affairs of men. Throughout history many people have chosen to consecrate themselves, as St. Paul did, to Christ and his Church.
Paul lived a celibate life (1 Cor 7:8). He believed celibacy had many advantages for full time ministers. He states that men and women who are unmarried are, “anxious about the affairs of the Lord, and how to please the Lord”(1 Cor 7:32-35). Paul does not disapprove of marriage, in fact, he refers to it as “a great mystery” that points to the union between “Christ and the Church” (cf. Ephesians 5:32). However; Paul tells the Church in Corinth that, “a man who marries does well, but a man who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38). This doesn’t mean the celibate life will guarantee a holier life, but it does speak to the reality that those who have consecrated their entire life to Christ, are able to focus on “pleasing the Lord.”
As Catholics we are called not to conform to this world, but to renew ourselves in order to follow the will of God and to be acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). Celibacy is a practice that is deeply rooted in obedience and faith. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
The Catholic priesthood seeks to secure a devoted lifestyle to Christ. Like Paul, the Church sees how those who are married will likely face “worldly troubles,” and will be “anxious about worldly affairs” (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:28, 33). On the other hand, Christ stated that, “those who made themselves eunuchs” (Mt 19:12), and chose to be celibate for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven will be blessed. Jesus’ statement that a celibate life is acceptable was very radical, because celibacy was not common in first century Jewish culture.
Celibacy is not the only way to be dedicated to Christ, though. St. Peter is very important when discussing celibacy because he was not celibate himself. Peter is referenced by Paul as traveling with his wife asking, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)?” (1 Cor 9:5). Peter was a married apostle, but the Bible does not say that an apostle shouldn’t be married.
Many theologians try to unravel the entire discipline of celibacy by pointing to Peter, but Catholic theologians disagree and believe that celibacy was not the common practice yet among Christians. This practice was later instituted in order to follow the example of both the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God.
Alex Blechle lives in Washington, Missouri and went to Catholic grade schools for 12 years. He is a second year student at Manhattan Christian College in Manhattan, Kansas where he is pursuing a double-major in Theological Research and Bible & Leadership. He plans to study theology at a graduate level and aspires to teach Church doctrine and theology while also maintaining a career in writing. He has been very involved in advocating for Invisible Children, a group that works to stop the abduction of African children for combat. For his efforts with the group he was awarded the MLK Model of Justice award by the Archdiocese of Saint Louis in 2013.