06 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Eunuch (1)

miguel pro martyr

Blessed Miguel Pro as he starts to fall a split second after being shot, immediately after famously saying, “Viva Cristo Rey!”

Of all the posts in this series, the present article – 06 Eunuch (1) – and then the next in the series after this – 07 Eunuch (2) – are by far the most important.

Mt 19,12 – Eunuchs for the sake of Heaven’s Kingdom

(1) For there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb like this and (2) there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and (3) there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He who is able to make room, let him make room.

Eunuch — from the Greek words εὐνη, which means bed, and ἔχειν which means to have [and, in context: have charge of something], is understood to be someone who has [charge of] the bed [that is, for someone else]. “The bed” may very well refer to a large harem of a powerful king. The eunuchs would not dream of touching any of the women of a king like Solomon, even with his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3). This kind of misbehavior would mean certain death. To keep them from physical temptation, most eunuchs were castrated by means of even total removal of the genitals… However, this is merely the prudence of whatever king, and has nothing in itself to do with the actual office that is being executed by the eunuch, the keeper of the bed. To be a eunuch and to be castrated are not synonymous. At any rate, eunuchs, not surprisingly, often came to be the most trusted individuals of most any empire. They were often second only to the king in power. Not infrequently, they were more powerful than king or emperor who was only a figurehead for the eunuch who actually ruled the land. The “bed” which is being supervised by the bed-keeper, the eunuch, was often a reference to the political relations of the king. We still hear this as a euphemism for political maneuvering: “So-and-so is in bed with so-and-so.” Eunuchs were so respected, I suppose, because the horrendous barbarism so often inflicted upon them was seen to be some sort of participation in a materially effective redemption, something seen as a correction of the havoc original sin has caused, havoc which is manifest both within individuals and in relations with others. Indeed, the destruction of the image of God in man by original sin wrecks havoc on the impetus for man and woman to come together and procreate. But hacking off genitals is not the way to go for the true redemption of specifically that kind of destruction. Such violence only causes further spiritual and psychological chaos inasmuch as attempted repression of the dreaded devastation caused by original sin can only bring about more frustration. This only makes the individual and all of society much worse.

Having said all that, the word eunuch is by far the richest of all of the terms we’ve seen, and it is the only one used by Jesus Himself in describing those men whom He calls to Himself for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, though there is a synonymous phrase He uses, which will also be examined briefly further below. Again, Matthew 19:12 reads as follows, with my rather precise translation:

(1) For there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb like this and (2) there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and (3) there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He who is able to make room, let him make room.

The usage of the term eunuch by Jesus admits of three types, the first two have similarities, while the third is unique.

The first, “there are eunuchs who have been brought forth from their mother’s womb,” is a not infrequent correctable congenital defect.

The second, “there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men,” refers to those who not only have the office of eunuch described above, but have also suffered the humiliation of being castrated.

The third type of eunuch, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,” cannot refer to self-castration despite the fact that some of the greatest thinkers, such as Origen († @ 254), have mutilated themselves because of what they thought they saw in this passage (perhaps paying too much attention to the Latin Vulgate translation). The Vulgate at this point changes the phrase to say “castrate themselves” (se ipsos castraverunt). While this has a correct spiritual sense, one must further nuance this rendition by paying more attention to the original Greek!

Those who do something for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven do what they do only with the greatest respect and reverence for God’s economy of salvation. It would be positively anti-evangelical to castrate oneself while saying that this was done for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thinking one can save oneself from temptation and sin, and also do something positive for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and simply because one castrates oneself, is a most gross, crass insult to the saving power of the grace or charity (χάρις – caritas) which Christ granted to us from the Cross.

Being continent, chaste, celibate and possibly even virginal for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven must be wrought in a manner which demonstrates that the establishment of the Kingdom is paramount in our lives, that the transformation in grace of the individual (Ephesians 1:3ff ) who would generously give himself to the Lord (with the generosity provided to Him directly by the Lord) is what has enlivened the individual in the Trinity’s fullness of life.

This does not mean that the carrying of the cross in regard to faith-filled chastity is any kind of burden, a woeful curse, a cruel condemnation to suffer the most useless loneliness – an attitude only those suffering from the most stultified torpidity come up with. That there would be those who would not be open to the radiance of Jesus’ loving union with His Bride, the Church, is here recognized by Jesus with His ever unsurpassed agility in setting the matter straight. He offers this admonition: “He who is able to make room, let him make room.” This is often mistranslated to read: “Let he who can receive this, receive it,” or “Let he who can understand this, understand it,” or some such thing along the lines of “Let him who has ears to listen, listen!” Instead, here, we read about making room. This, take note, is the named office of the eunuch, who is to have care specifically of the bedroom (again: εὐνη, which means bed, and ἔχειν, which means to have [and, in context: have charge of something], is understood to be someone who has [charge of] the bed [that is, for someone else]). One’s vocation to the priesthood depends upon one’s being able “to make room” because of having received that very ability from the Lord. The question then, is, what is “making room”?

Stay tuned for Part II !

3 Comments

Filed under Priesthood, Priestly Celibacy, Priestly Celibacy Series, Vocations

3 responses to “06 – Priestly Celibacy Series – Eunuch (1)

  1. Aussie Mum

    Looking forward to reading Part II.

  2. Aussie Mum

    Is “making room” making room in one’s life for God’s grace so that complete sexual continence is possible as self giving rather than repression? Might it also mean that in this way a priest supports and protects the moral standards of his people?

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