Husband of one wife - why can't priests marry?

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:confused: Priests aren’t allowed to marry, and I understand the reasons why - Paul said a single person could better serve God, some are called to a life of singleness, etc. However, what I don’t understand is where the Bible speaks of the qualifications for an elder, which you call a priest. There are several passages defining the qualifications for an elder, and one of those is that he be “the husband of one wife.” Doesn’t the Bible presume that some elders/priests, but not all (due to a calling to singleness), would be married? How do you reconcile “the husband of one wife” passage with Catholic doctrine?

I am considering becoming a Catholic, and I am eager to resolve my questions regarding Catholic doctrine.

In my study, I found that this verse was not a command to be the husband of one wife, any more than it was a command that they HAD to have children. (since the verse also says they must be able to rule their children well). But is more a limitation… ie. if they are married, they should be the husband of no more than one wife. Even today, polygamy is acceptable and normal in the middle eastern culture. If we take this as meaning that the person must have a wife to be qualified to be a priest, it would also mean that he could not be a priest if his wife died, because he would no longer be the husband of one wife. In addition, you would have to take this even further and apply it to the other part of the verse that says he must be able to rule his Children well… what happens when they grow up and cease living under his “rule”?

IMO, this verse is a encouragement for an elder to be temperate in his life choices, dealings with people particularly his family. Further if we look at the example of the Apostles lives it is clear that they did not see having a wife or children as a requirement for serving God in Church offices, therefore I think it can be assumed that they believed, even when writing this passage, that it meant that elder/priest had to be married.

Finally, yes the Bible did assume that some would be living married… and some are. It is not the norm in the Latin Rite Church (ie. Roman Catholic), however, it does happen. In addition, it is not uncommon, and is perfectly acceptable for Eastern Rite Churches to have married priests. The Roman Catholic Church completely recognizes these priests as valid priests.

It is not a church “doctrine” that priests cannot marry in the Roman Catholic church… it is a discipline… ie… it is something that the church sees as desirable in it’s priests, but is not actually a doctrine, therefore could change in the future if the Church decided it would be better.

At least that is my understanding… 🙂

How do you reconcile “the husband of one wife” passage with Catholic doctrine?
Sabrina, Celibacy is not a Catholic doctrine. It is a discipline, a choice that the Church in the west made. Although rooted in the words of Our Lord and St Paul, the discipline evolved gradually in accordance with the needs of the Church.

Pax Christi,
I was over spending some time with a Priest friend of mine Thursday night when out of nowhere there comes a knock on the door. 10pm and a man visbily shaken he asked Father Dan I have a lot on my mind would you hear my confession. Father Dan at that time turned to me and asked if I would be ok, to which I replied yes. An hour latter the man left free and happier, and commiting to come back.

I think we need to look to the wisdom of the Church on this one, now while all Priest do not fufill the role fully some do 🙂 and I think that is what we need to see. You see the Priest is the shepard over many and there are many demands on his time, he needs to be as free as possible to meet thouse demands. Some one in a car accident, a marriage on the verge of failure, a baby born but not in the best of health, someone just in need of help to answer the call God just placed upon their heart…etc

I as a married man with 3 Blessings from God in my children I try to be as open as possible to meet the needs of others however my Wife and boys must come first, as I am called to be a husband and father first.

The Church and scripture sees this as one of the factors that lead her to this displine, we are all called to serve God but each in a different way and as Christ remained single to meet the needs of many we are Blessed by this teaching that allows our Priests to follow his example.

God Bless and Be Safe

PS. My wife is a convert and I am a revert, and I know it is hard to seek truth but do not give up the search for he is the way, truth and the light, and nowhere is that clearer than in the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church.
I believe a possible interpretation of “husband of one wife” means (1) simply husband of one wife only, thus excluding polygamy, or (2) the person in question shouldn’t be divorced/remarried. What it doesn’t mean is someone who is single/unmarried/celibate can’t be a bishop, since that would exclude Paul himself right?

My Protestant evangelical NIV translates 1 Tim 3:2 as “husband of but one wife” and adds in footnote: “A general principle that applies to any violation of God’s marriage law, whether in the form of polygamy or marital unfaithfulness…”

Titus 1:6 has the same phrase “husband of but one wife” and the NIV note says: “Since elders, by definition, were chosen from among the older men of the congregation, Paul assumed they already would be married and have children. A qualified unmarried man was not necessarily barred.

(1) above is given by a baptist site here

This site gives three possible interpretations

Phil P
“Husband of [but] one wife” had nothing to do with polygamy, which was not a temptation for the Jews and not really for the surrounding pagans.

Marriage was understood by all parties to be something of a concession. If a man became a widower and married a second time, it was taken as a bit of a character flaw: The fellow should have been grateful for one marriage and then have resolved to live on his own.

(As Dr. Johnson would put it centuries later, in reference to a man who remarried shortly after his first wife died: “Sir, it was the triumph of hope over experience.”) 😉
Everyone seemed to answer this so well, I am not sure how much I can contribute. Anyway, my cousin is one of the “Priets of the New Millinium,” the new wave of orthodox, dedicated priests ready to lead the Catholic Church. Anyway, he keeps hours worse than any doctor in the world, makes a lot less money, and lives in rural Alabama. It would take a special kind of woman to share her husband in this manner. Then, if he had a family, think of the chaos when he was moved to another parrish, thus uprooting his family.

I am not saying that there are not women out there who would be willing to take on such a life. I do think that it is hard enough to find ONE man to take on the duties of a priest, let alone a man and a woman to take it on together.

I hope this makes sense, after all, this is my first post…
To me the celibate priest hope make perfect since. As a father of four there is no way I could be a priest. The biggest problem in our society is father who neglect their children. With our culture just seeks to destory the innocents of children a father can’t let down his guard. Priests must also spend a great deal of time in prayer to be effective. Wife, children, parishoners, and prayer! Married priest would have a hard time no neglecting one of these.

Also, who says a priest is not married. The church is his bride.

I hope that helps!
great answers, but most seem to beg the question. if paul allowed for married priests and bishops, why don’t we. my priest is the father of three, and he does quite well meeting the needs of our parish. and we have other priests with 4, 5, even 6 children in our eparchy. perhaps many priests are run of their feet because there just aren’t enough. and since practicality seems to be the principle in many of the replies, practicality might suggest a change in the roman discipline, which would bring in more priests, which would lessen the load on the existing celibates.
At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I accept priestly celibacy because that is the rule of the pope. The pope makes decisions concerning church discipline, and that is his decision. Is it founded on Scripture, yes? Is it unheard of for priests to be married, no. There are converts from Orthodoxy and Anglicanism who become Catholic priests and are married, the hitch being that they were already married at their conversion. If their wife dies before them, they are not allowed to remarry.
…and the pope not only accepts, but encourages eastern catholics to recover and live according to their heritage, part of which includes married priests. in fact, the norm for the easterns was that married clergy were the parish priests, while the celibates were taken from among the monastics for the purpose of serving the monastery, or else as bishop of some eparchy.

so celibacy can find scriptural support, but so can marriage, and married priests and bishops. so it seems sabrina’s question still stands.

perhaps before making the jump to the romans, you should check out the eastern catholic churches.
The Church has not declared priestly celibacy as a matter of morality, but rather as a discipline. Although Paul makes allowances for married men to enter the ministry, the Church later decided to impose the discipline of celibacy upon its clergy. The sacrament of Holy Orders is not a right, but rather a privilege, and the Church has every right (and full responsibility) to be as selective as possible in those it chooses to give this sacrament.

The Church has imposed other disciplines upon her clergy as well. For instance, all priests are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours under pain of sin. Celibacy is no different from other disciplines, all of which are an attempt by the Church to promote holy and (therefore) effective priests.
Doesn’t the Bible presume that some elders/priests, but not all (due to a calling to singleness), would be married? How do you reconcile “the husband of one wife” passage with Catholic doctrine?

I am considering becoming a Catholic, and I am eager to resolve my questions regarding Catholic doctrine.
The early Christians had married clergymen. In fact we still have married deacons in the Church (i.e. 1 Tim 3:13). We also know that St. Peter was a married Pope. However, the discipline of celibacy came about through the Church’s decision after the first 1000 years of Christian history.

Anyway, another interpretation of Titus 1:6, 1 Tim 3:2,13 (i.e. ‘husband of one wife’) is simply this:

When these people had married clergymen, the didn’t remarry. And that’s what being a ‘husband of one wife’ is about: Not remarrying after the wife passes away.
1 Corinthians 7 has Paul saying it is better to not be married so they can focus on serving God instead of their spouse.

Jesus mentions the Eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God. This is His endoresement of celibacy.

Then there’s the interpretations angle: If the “husband of one wife” phrase means many things: “the bishop is required to be married” or “the bishop must have at most one wife”

The first one is senseless: the apostles (who were bishops) were all not married (except for maybe Peter, who may have been widowed) If that interpretation held, then 11 out of the 12, and Paul, and Barnabas, and Matthias were automatically excluded and thus did not count. Oh well 🙂

The second one has two choices: zero wives (celibacy) or one wife. It makes more sense.
I once heard a priest preach that celibacy was a “sought out suffering” that originated after the legaliztion of Christianity in the Roman Empire. He clearly had a poor understanding of history, as this discipline developed early on (earlier than after 1000 years), having biblical roots as mentioned earlier in this thread. I pray for him that he find his “burden” easier to bear.

I spoke to my “priests council” (my wife has several priests in her family) about how they viewed celibacy. They spoke of it as a freedom and a gift which allows them to respond to their vocation. While I agree it is a discipline, I would distinguish it from other disciplines due to its importance and biblical roots.

The Catechism paragraphs 1579 and 1580 talks about priestly celibacy. An unmarried man who is ordained is not then permitted to marry. In the Easterm Rites a married man is permitted to be ordained a deacon or priest, but bishops are chosen from the ranks of the celibate. See also 1618-1620 regarding virginity for the sake of the Kingdom, especially St. John Chrysostom’s quote.

I have heard that there is a question about the prevalence of married priests in antiquity as well as the origin of the permission to marry in the eastern rites (note the wording in the Catechism skirts this issue). Unfortunately, I can’t remember which CA Live show it was on. This might start a whole other thread, but does anyone see a tie between the greater reach of evangelization by the Latin rite and its discipline of celibacy? Surely there are other considerations, but I don’t think celibacy can be overlooked.
A theologian priest in NZ presented a paper exploring this subject. Here’s a two-sentence excerpt to give you the main idea:
“Ordination makes bishop, presbyter, deacon sacramentally representative of the relationship Christ has to the Church as bridegroom to bride, as husband to wife. For this reason, those ordained can be a ‘husband of only one wife.’”
Fr Paul has given permission for the paper to be distributed so I have posted it and an associated paper he delivered (Clerical Celibacy – Its Significance: Some tentative reflections on the theological meaning of the Church’s discipline of clerical continence). Both papers are in MS Word format.

The first paper argues that this issue may be much more tied to the nature of the priesthood than most people think. This study by Fr Paul is scriptural, historical and theological, and presents research to conclude that the Church has always insisted on clerical continence, since apostolic times, and this insistence is tied to the way that the minister is called upon to sacramentally represent Christ, who is husband of but one wife, the Church. It also shows how the discipline was dropped for deacons and priests in the Eastern Churches.

So if you’re really interested in the issue and would like a fairly scholarly perspective on it, these two papers might be helpful (they are about 30 pages altogether).
I would like to put my :twocents: in.

As a married deacon in the Church I think I have gained some insights into the requirement of celebacy for priest.

I have been a cleric (deacon) for 15 years and a married man for 41 years. At ordination one of the vows I took was one of conditional celebacy. In other words if my wife dies I am not allow to remarry. I must remain celebrant for the rest of my life.

From day one of our formation till this day deacons are told: Family 1st, Job 2nd, Ministry 3rd. My first responsibility is to my wife and children. As a matter of fact if a deacon loses his employment the Church insist that he take a leave of absence from ministry in order to care for his family.

In situation where there are differculties in the marriage of a deacon and his wife, his faculties are withdrawn till the differculties are solved. In one case of a deacon who is now divorced, his faculties were permanently removed.

My wife is very supportive of my ministry but there are times when she says, “Don I need you home!” Guess where I am at those times?

Can you imagine the chaos this would bring to the priesthood if there were not celebacy. If a married priest was haveing marital problems or was divorced, how would we as Catholics deal with that? :crying:

Just some thoughts to ponder!

:love: Blessings and Peace
<<so celibacy can find scriptural support, but so can marriage, and married priests and bishops. so it seems sabrina’s question still stands>>

You are correct. The Scriptures more than once acknowledge the value of celibacy in the ministerial service (Wisdom 3:14; Matthew 19:10-12; Luke 18:29, 30; 1 Cor 7:7, 8, 17, 25-27, 32-34, 37-40; Galatians 5:25; Revelation 14:3-5). The passage initially referenced establishes the other side (a married elder). But maybe this is how it should be within the Catholic Church. Considering both have Scriptural warrant and both have Tradition backing them up, maybe God designed it this way. He is after all the wise One. The Church is founded on “and” as opposed to “or” (faith and works, Scripture and Tradition, Man and God, etc.).
Thank you so much for this (name removed by moderator)ut 👍 The more my mother and I talk about the Catholics Church, I just became Catholic and my mom is Luthern, the more we notice that she agrees with Catholic teaching:) Except about Priest:( One of the main concerns that I used to have was that the Priest could not relate to his flock… my experience of Priest has proven me wrong and has shown me how they are protected from some of the forces satin uses to sway others into false teaching or being wishy washy. The more protection the better, I think! I am learning to pray more for Priest having experienced having an adulterus leader in another church, which had been that churches second occurance.
The twisted thing is that may think if we compramise on this we will have more priest, but through what I have read I think many of us agree that it is better to just as important for fathers to father well to make future Priestly Fathers:) than to temp either to spit their vocation into two. I felt guilty for a bit after marrying my husband in the thought that he may wanted to be a priest, though he never voiced this to me. The thought that he could be a Deacon and the father of a Priest has really given me peace:) I have met wonderful Deacons and praise God for them 🙂

Our greatest hope for them is Heaven!!
There are converts from Orthodoxy and Anglicanism who become Catholic priests and are married, the hitch being that they were already married at their conversion. If their wife dies before them, they are not allowed to remarry.
It seems to me the RCC’s discipline of celibacy is not very congruent. It seems to force upon the Latin Rite a choice of either marriage or holy orders in a way that is not demanded by Scripture nor applied to Eastern Catholics or converts.

Pardon my simplistic mind …it seems unfairly applied! It creates a double standart for the priesthood.


Serafin +
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