On Whether Required Celibacy is “Biblical” (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

On Whether Required Celibacy is “Biblical” (vs. Lucas Banzoli) September 24, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian theological writer, who denies that Jesus is immutable in His Divine Nature (i.e., judging by the standard of trinitarian classical theism, he denies that Jesus is God; hence cannot be classified as either a trinitarian or a Christian). He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster (but now inactive) for six blogs. He’s active on YouTube.

This is my 33rd refutation of articles written by Lucas Banzoli. As of yet, I haven’t received a single word in reply to any of them (or if Banzoli has replied to anything, anywhere, he certainly hasn’t informed me of it). Readers may decide for themselves why that is the case. I use RSV for the Bible passages unless otherwise indicated. Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. His words will be in blue.

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I’m replying to relatively more rational and coherent portions of Lucas’ article, “O celibato obrigatório do clero é bíblico?” [Is mandatory clergy celibacy biblical?] (10-6-17).

First of all, it is necessary to make it clear that what will be refuted here is not “celibacy” per se, but mandatory celibacy, which is the imposition of celibacy on someone who wants to be a priest in the church. Celibacy itself is respectable; Paul was celibate as was John the Baptist, but they were celibate by choice and not by imposition or obligation.

The Catholic Church (Latin or western rite; not all portions of the Church) has this requirement. But in so doing it simply chooses for its priests men who have already been called by God to celibacy (and to the priesthood). In that sense it isn’t forcing them to do anything. By this reasoning, one would have to say that God “forced” them by calling them to that lifestyle in the first place. But they had the free will to follow that call or not, just as I did to follow my calling as an apologist. It wasn’t “mandatory” that I did so. I chose to follow and pursue what I believe God has called me to, and for which he gave me various gifts (“let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him”: 1 Cor 7:17).

But Lucas presupposes something that is — upon reflection — not true at all: the impermissibility of an institution or organization to draw up rules for its members, for whatever reason it sees fit and helpful. If someone wants to play in the NBA, they will have to have the ability to shoot baskets or play good defense. This rules out many people from the outset. A baseball umpire or a bus driver can’t be blind. A major league pitcher has to be able to throw fast (much faster than the average person). A person in the military (on the battlefield) has to be healthy and physically fit. A kindergarten teacher has to like small children. A gardener can’t have severe allergies. A talk show host has to like to talk. Etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Likewise, the Catholic Church has its perfectly biblical and sensible reasons (that I shall be presenting) for having a celibacy requirement for her Latin rite, western priests. No one can say that it has no such right. Every group of human beings has requirements for various positions within the group.

In evangelical and orthodox churches celibacy is also optional; the pastor or priest marries if he wants to, remains single if he thinks better. There is no celibacy prerequisite for being ordained or for continuing to serve.

They have the right to make whatever rules and requirements they deem to be ideal for them, too. The Orthodox require celibacy from their bishops. So will Lucas say that they can’t do that, either? They have their reasons, just as we do. We simply make the requirement more broad than they do, and think it’s good for priests as well as bishops to be celibate.

The most important thing to show right away is that in the Bible there is NEVER any imposition of celibacy to be a priest; on the contrary, we see the priests, as a rule, having wives.

It’s not necessary that we see such a requirement. In the Catholic Church, celibacy is a pastoral discipline, not a dogma. It can change and has changed. Therefore, all that we need to see in the Bible is any model for celibacy that is positively presented. And we certainly have those.

This has been the case since Old Testament times, when the priests and religious leaders of the people used to live married to their wife. Moses was married (Ex 4:25), as were Aaron (1Ch 24:1), the Levites (Judges 20:4), and prophets (cf. Ezek 24:18).

Most were; but not all. Again, all the Catholic has to show is that there is such a thing as a positively presented celibate in the Bible. Once this is shown, then all we have to say is that this is the model we think is best for priests. Jeremiah the prophet was celibate (Jer 16:2). So was John the Baptist: the last prophet, as Lucas acknowledged above. It’s thought that the prophets Elijah, Elisha, and Daniel were also celibate. A search for all three of them and the word “wife” yields nothing.

Thus, the Catholic replies that our priests are following the lifestyle model of these five men, as well as that of Jesus, most of His disciples (and the Bible says that Peter “left” his wife for ministry: i.e., mutually voluntary separation), and St. Paul. No one can say that it is improper, impermissible, or “unbiblical” to do this. No one can possibly object on biblical grounds to a statement such as, “we want our priests to emulate the celibate lifestyle of Jeremiah, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul.”

Lucas refers to bishops being described as married in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 and adds:

In addition to not mentioning that he “must be celibate” to be a bishop, Paul still clearly states that they could marry, for verse 2 says he must be “the husband of one wife”, and verse 4 that he “must rule his own family”, and to leave no doubt that this family includes a wife and children, he adds: “having the children subject to him”. As we can see, the only requirements to be a priest had to do with questions of moral order and qualification for teaching, which included being a “husband of one wife”, which implies that the only thing prohibited was polygamy, not marriage itself. . It takes a monster in the art of ignorance and dishonesty not to realize this.

But — once we examine these passages more closely — this proves too much. By Lucas’ woodenly legalistic reasoning, this would require all bishops to be married, which already contradicts his earlier statement:In evangelical and orthodox churches celibacy is also optional; the pastor or priest marries if he wants to”. They wouldn’t have that choice if these passages are interpreted as absolutely binding in every case (and the Orthodox contradict that — along with Catholics — because they require celibate bishops). I Timothy 3:2 states: “Now a bishop must be . . . the husband of one wife . . .” Paul goes on to say in verse 4: “He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive . . .”

Does that mean (if we are interpreting hyper-literally and disallowing any exceptions) that every bishop must be married, and also must have children? What about widowers who became bishops (they must marry again?), or who couldn’t have children (low sperm count), or whose wives couldn’t, or were post-menopausal? Obviously, then, qualifications have to be made. I think the passage is generalized language, meaning, “if a bishop is married, it should only be once [no divorce or deceased wife followed by remarriage], and to one wife [no polygamy], and if he has children, he must have the ability to manage them well.”

The most interesting case is, ironically, that of the supposed “first pope” of the Church, Peter, who was married: . . . (Matthew 8:14 [which mentions his mother-in-law]).

This poses no problem for us. As I noted, it’s a discipline, not a dogma, and so can change without contradiction. I wrote about this:

Why Peter’s Marriage Doesn’t Disprove Catholicism: A Dialogue [January 1999]

St. Peter’s Marriage and Priestly Celibacy [National Catholic Register, 4-9-20]

But if we’re going to talk about that, let’s not forget that Peter and undisclosed other disciples were described by Jesus as having left wives and even children:

Luke 18:28-30 And Peter said, “Lo, we have left our homes and followed you.” [29] And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

To solve this problem,

It’s not a “problem” for our outlook and practice. Lucas wrongly thinks that it is.

Catholic apologists created the thesis that this wife was already dead, that is, they literally killed Peter’s wife!

We don’t know for sure. What we do know with fair certainty, based on the passage above, is that Peter left his wife and possibly children — presumably with their consent and agreement — for the sake of being Jesus’ disciple and traveling companion (an itinerant evangelist), and that at least one other disciple also did so (as shown by Peter’s use of “we”).

Many Protestants have done this. The late great Billy Graham often regretted how he had to leave his wife and family for long periods of time, for his evangelistic crusades. But all eventually regarded it as a heroic sacrifice. I recently watched a TV special about the Scottish Olympic runner Eric Liddell, who was portrayed in the famous 1981 film, Chariots of Fire. His parents were missionaries who worked with the London Missionary Society, and he became a missionary to China after running in the Olympics and receiving a gold medal in 1924. It was noted in the documentary that, often, children of such parents in ministry were sometimes separated from them in boarding schools for as long as seven years at a time. No doubt, the above passages would have been cited as the rationale for these practices.

[O]thers invented the most surreal [story]: that Peter abandoned his wife to follow Christ! There’s only one little problem with that: Paul says that “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8). . . .

There’s only one little problem with Lucas’ supposed “gotcha!” tactic: Jesus (see the passage above) commended the disciples who left their wives and families, including children, “for the sake of the kingdom of God” and said that they would “receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Obviously, Jesus didn’t think these self-sacrificial acts were of the sort that Paul condemned in 1 Timothy 5:8. Besides, Peter is shown throughout the Gospels being engaged in the work of a fisherman. Thus, plausibly, he continued to support his wife and family by simply sending them money earned by plying his trade. They wouldn’t have been that far away, as Israel is a small country. After Jesus’ Resurrection and appearances to the disciples, Peter and other disciples were still being fishermen on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-14). So up to that time, at least, Peter seems to have never ceased being a fisherman, just as Paul made tents to support himself.

And to the general dismay of them all, the older Church Fathers attested that Peter not only remained married and living with his wife who did not die, but that he also remained with her until martyrdom!

And they may very well have been right; and (I reiterate), this poses no problem whatsoever for the Catholic position. Some clergymen were married in the early days, then there was a celibacy requirement (but not in Eastern Catholicism, etc., and with occasional exceptions even in the west; such as with Anglican priest converts; I have known two of these myself). In the future the discipline may change again, for all we know. If anti-Catholics like Lucas weren’t so abysmally ignorant about Catholicism, we wouldn’t have to keep pointing out the obvious. But heaven forbid that they should actually properly learn about the thing that they despise and trash and constantly lie about.

According to a BBC article, there were at least two popes who were married while pope: Adrian II (867–872) and John XVII (1003). St. Hormisdas (514–523) and Clement IV (1265–68) were widowers. Nor are these facts covered up by the Church (Lucas is not above making such a charge). The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) noted about Adrian II: “He had been married before taking orders . . .” About John XVII, the same work stated in 1910: “Before taking orders he had been married, and had three sons who also became ecclesiastics.” Again, in 1908, the reference work wrote about Clement IV: “His wife died, leaving him two daughters, whereupon . . . he gave up worldly concerns and took Holy orders.” In 1910, it was also observed regarding Pope St. Hormisdas: “Before receiving higher orders he had been married; his son became pope under the name of Silverius (536-537).”

Sorry to disappoint Lucas and his fellow salivating slanderers, but clearly there is no cover-up at all about this. And there isn’t because it’s not a problem for our position.

Lucas brings up the following verse. I’m delighted that he did!:

1 Corinthians 9:5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

Lucas then proceeds to refute himself and make my argument for me (thanks!):

In the case of 1 Corinthians 9:5, it is perfectly clear that it is really a wife, and not another woman, for Paul is claiming for himself and for Barnabas the right to take his wife on trips as the other apostles did, this right that he would give up.

What did Paul do?! He gave up the right?!!! Ah!: isn’t that interesting. Lucas is oblivious as to the momentous nature of that statement of Paul’s, and its relevance to this discussion. After writing about the apostles’ “right” to food and wages from 9:4-14, Paul then exclaims:

1 Corinthians 9:15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. . . .

Paul voluntarily foregoes what he had just vigorously argued was his and any apostles’ right (both remuneration and having a wife). Lucas himself understands this:

The meaning of what Paul was saying is simple: “The apostles and brothers of Jesus are married, they take their companions with them in the ministry, Barnabas and I could also exercise this right if we wanted, but we gave it up”. It is a simple text for the context, requiring a monstrous effort not to understand. . . . this was a right that the apostles had, the which could be used or not. 

And so we come around again to the rationale for the Catholic position. We are simply following Paul’s model in the case of priests. He could have gotten married if he had chosen to; he chose not to, and he explained why: “though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor 9:19). Why follow Paul’s practice in particular? Well, for one thing, he urged his followers to imitate him, no less than nine times:

1 Corinthians 4:16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Philippians 3:17 Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.

Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; [7] so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedo’nia and in Acha’ia.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more.

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.

1 Timothy 1:16 but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

2 Timothy 1:13 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus;

So the Catholic Church reasons: “Paul’s a great model to follow; so is our Lord Jesus, and Jeremiah, and John the Baptist; therefore, we will require our priests to follow the model of their celibacy and full attention to the matters of the Lord.” How does one argue against that? I’d like to see the attempt. Paul provides the perfectly sensible, wise reason for doing so:

1 Corinthians 9:28 . . . those who marry will have worldly troubles . . .

1 Corinthians 9:32-35 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; [33] but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, [34] and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. [35] I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

That is the principle here. Being unmarried allows one to “secure . . . undivided devotion to the Lord.” Is that a good thing? Of course it is (while we don’t at the same time conclude that marriage is a bad thing at all). The unmarried disciple of Jesus (in this case a priest) can give full attention to the Lord, and is willing to heroically sacrifice for himself what is intrinsically a good thing (marriage).

Lucas makes an argument that these passages do not support the Catholic practice of priestly celibacy:

[N]owhere in this chapter does Paul address priests specifically or exclusively. . . . On the contrary, just read the entire chapter and you will find that Paul’s instructions are to the believers in the Corinthian church in general, not to the clergy in particular.

. . . which is perfectly irrelevant to the Catholic argument. It doesn’t have to be about priests. Paul is laying down a practical principle of the spiritual life. The Catholic Church thinks the principle he brilliantly, succinctly explains is a very good one in the case of priests. The logic would be: “if Paul’s reasoning is wise across the board, for anyone, then it’s also wise for the smaller category of priests.”

The second important thing that needs to be noted is that nowhere in the chapter, not even in these verses taken out of context, does Paul support the idea of ​​obligatory celibacy. At most what he does is place celibacy as a more praiseworthy condition than marriage, but always leaving both options open, never forcing anyone to choose the first over the second. Therefore, right after saying that he would like all men to be single like him, he adds that “but each one has his own gift from God; one this way, the other the other” (1Co 7:7), and throughout the chapter he makes it perfectly clear that marriage is a legitimate option, and in no way wrong or forbidden to anyone.

Again, this is a non sequitur. Celibacy is not forced on anyone by the Catholic Church. The Church replies, in effect: “we’re not forcing individual x, who objects to celibacy, but wants to be a priest, to be what he isn’t called to. We’re simply choosing our priests from among the group of people who have already been appointed and called by God (1 Cor 7:17) to be both celibate and priests.”

To use the sports analogy again:

We [the NBA] aren’t forcing individual x, who objects to good basket-shooting ability, but wants to be an athlete in the NBA, to be what he isn’t suited for. We’re simply choosing our players from among the group of people who have already been gifted by God (supplemented by their own serious practice) with good basket-shooting ability.

Is heroic self-deprivation taught in the Bible? It sure is. We need go no further than St. Paul, again:

2 Corinthians 11:24-27 Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Why was St. Paul willing to endure all of this voluntary suffering and sacrifice? He tells us why:

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; . . .

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.

Likewise, Catholic priests are willing to undergo personal sacrifice (including celibacy) in order to more fruitfully serve God (due to the practical advantages) and to help save as many people as possible. We think that is ideal, and, as I have shown, there are plenty of biblical rationales for it. Jesus taught the same:

Matthew 19:12 “. . . there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

Lucas comments on this:

Again, there is absolutely nothing in this text imposing the idea of ​​mandatory celibacy. “Becoming a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” is a free choice, not a coercion or imposition to become a priest.

Precisely! One who wants to be a priest ponders whether he is truly called to this life by God or not. He understands the Catholic position (western rite). Upon lengthy reflection and advice and the informed corroborating opinions of others, at length he determines that he is indeed called to be a celibate priest: that God Himself has called him to that sort of heroically self-sacrificing life. He then voluntarily goes to the Catholic Church (i.e., to a seminary where he will be trained) with all of that already determined and decided upon. No one “forced” him to do anything against his will at any point of the process. He freely decided to go along with God’s will for his life. He decided to “become a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

In fact, the text does not even speak of priests.

So what? It doesn’t have to because it’s laying down an observation about how some willingly self-sacrifice for the kingdom.

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Photo credit: Head of a Franciscan Friar (1617), by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Lucas Banzoli mightily tried to rail against required celibacy for Catholic priests. But biblically speaking, he fired all blanks.

 

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