Friday, 13 January 2012

What is Christian celibacy?

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Some ideas, as a basis for discussion...

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Not merely not having sex, not merely voluntarily refraining from sex in situations where it is not permitted or where children are not wanted...

(that is chastity - I think: a contingent suspension of sexual activity for a reason, rather than celibacy as a resolved cessation offered as a consecrated act...).

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Nor is celibacy legitimately a means to the end of creating an autonomous and dedicated professional priesthood - but celibacy is (like it or not) a spiritual practice.

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In particular, celibacy is an ascetic practice - a denial, part of the via negativa (negative way) akin to fasting, prayer vigils, endurance of heat, cold and other physical harshness etc.

These designed to develop control of passions, and resistance to temptations (including demonic masquerading as divine visions and experiences); prior to attempted Sainthood.

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And, as such, celibacy is hazardous: spiritually hazardous. Especially, celibacy in isolation is hazardous (for many men) - since this is a partial acesticism.

Celibacy is likely to be much harder and more hazardous to attempt when the body is indulged and fuelled by plenty of food, warmth, comfort, alcohol, tobacco...

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Celibacy should therefore properly be done under monastic supervision, as part of a general and mutually-reinforcing programme of ascetic training. (And when monasteries lack such conditions, celibacy is presumably that much more difficult and hazardous.)

Just as monks are only allowed to become solitary hermits after a period of disciplined training under supervision, with the gradual and incremental development of the powers of self-discipline as discerned by a competent Spiritual Father, the same should apply to lifelong celibacy.

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Because celibacy is spiritually dangerous - it strongly tends (like other advanced spiritual practices) to produce spiritual pride; which is why it ought to be practised only under supervision and discipline until a person is 'ready' to go it alone and resist the temptations of pride - and this takes (apparently) something of the order of ten to twenty years of monastic supervision.

Therefore - since celibacy is so difficult to attain and so prone to go wrong, it is spiritually safer, as a general rule, to have mostly married priests administering the sacraments (since many such priests are needed and it is impractical/ impossible that there are sufficient trained and willing ascetics to perfom them), these being led by an elite of Holy and celibate monk-Bishops (Holiness being - ahem - more important than, for example, managerial abilities, eloquence or scholarship).

This was, I understand, the usual and universal practice until medieval times.

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