Priests are soooo lonely! Let us be married!

Pope Francis has been reiterating his ambiguity about priestly celibacy, putting an emphasis in the direction of changing what he calls a mere disciplinary measure. Celibacy is more, on a doctrinal level, which, to ignore, seems to be a denial of Christ Himself.

My own experience, having been clearly called by Jesus to His priesthood when I was only two and half years old, an experience clear and present now more than sixty years later, is that, weak as I am in following Jesus when a teenager, though this vocation was ever present in my heart, I did have a girl friend such that we were discussing marriage and discussing children. She said she had also dreamed of having lots of kids. How many? I asked. A dozen has always been my dream, she said. I said that would be great, but I was a little sad. What’s wrong? she asked. I had always dreamed of sixteen kids, but really, however many that God would want us to have. She agreed. But off I went to the seminary right after high school. Jesus’ calling was unstoppable.

It takes a huge heart to be married and raise a family. But the priesthood, this kind of participation in the marriage of Christ with His Bride the Church, this takes one’s very heart being ripped out, taken by Jesus, whose own Heart was pierced through. The priest is be entirely standing in solidarity with Jesus at the Cross, supporting His dearest Mother Mary, Mother of priests. The heart one might have had for one woman and some children is immediately brought to one being married to the Church, with so many children. One’s way of caring for the Lord’s Little Flock is… to remain with one’s heart ripped out of one’s chest, unable to leave Calvary, unable to leave the Cross, unable to leave our Blessed Mother. Unable… So one with Christ that one says in the first person singular the marriage vows of Christ with the Church at that Wedding Feast of the Lamb: This is my body, given for you in Sacrifice. This is my Blood poured out for you in Sacrifice. The heart the priest is to have is Christ’s, and as soon as that happens… the sword pierces through…

… … …

… …

When John Paul II went to the USA way back in I think it was the late 1970s or 1980s, he endured a speech given by an Irish born priest who was representing, he claimed, all the priests in the USA. That guy droned on for like 40 minutes, crying, actually, moaning, lamenting, that priests are so lonely and that the Pope simply had to permit them to get married.

JPII’s brilliant and ever so brief answer was that “It’s a long way to Tipperary” referring to still Catholic Ireland.

The lonely thing coupled with a desire to get married in a one-man, one woman situation, might seem mighty tame these days when, instead, so many priests and bishops are all about same-sex sex.

But today’s same-sex sex situation developed from priests wanting to get married (male-female) back in the day. That desire to get married was a symptom of a much greater problem, that is:

Priests and bishops and popes no longer understand that presently and since their ordinations THEY ARE MARRIED TO THE BRIDE OF CHRIST, THE CHURCH, BY THE WEDDING VOWS THEY PRONOUCE WITH THE CONSECRATIONS AT HOLY MASS: This is my body given for you in sacrifice, my blood poured out for you in sacrifice. They act in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ. That’s quite an exalted vocation, that with such marriage vows one is at the ready at any second to lay down one’s life for the Church. These vows mean that the priest be one is solidarity with the One High Priest, standing with Jesus in His trials.

Because priests and bishops no longer think they are married at all, the priesthood becomes an unnatural situation for them. Since they entrench in misunderstanding of human nature, how it is that it is the image of God (male, female, marriage, family as redeemed and sanctified by God’s own marriage to the Church at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Last Supper, Holy Mass, united with Calvary)… since they are rejecting marriage and the image of God, they, by force, are smashed down into a corruption, perversion, into that which mocks marriage, mocks the image of God. Same-sex sex does just that. They embrace it.

Whenever I hear priests and bishops and popes promote priests getting married I try to dispel their likely malicious ignorance with posts like this: THEY ARE MARRIED. Priests and bishops and popes are so ignorant because they have abandoned Jesus altogether. Jesus is, for them, no longer the Living Truth who can provide them with instruction and good spiritual life.

If Church law were to change, by the way, I doubt that priests already ordained would be able to get married. They made a lifelong commitment. Being liars does not speak well to the vows they would pretend to make.

An argument for married priests is that this would attract vocations to the priesthood. I say that that’s BS. It’s the same-sex sex thing that has emptied the seminaries. Young men with a vocation from Jesus want to have their hearts ripped out for the sake of the Bride of Christ, the Church. But who is there among bishops or priests to promote the greatness of the priesthood in this way?

Chaste guardian of the Virgin, Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Here’s the truth of the matter: priests and bishops are to be in only one marriage, as Saint Paul says, that with the Bride of Christ, the Church, by the very Sacrifice of the Mass that they daily offer:

The biblical foundation of

priestly celibacy

Ignace de la Potterie

Biblical scholar

For several centuries there has been much debate as to whether the obligation of celibacy for clerics in major orders (or at least that of living in continence for those who are married) is of biblical origin or whether it is based merely on ecclesiastical tradition dating back to the fourth century, since from then on, without question, legislation exists on the subject. The first of these two possible answers has recently been presented. once again, this time with an extraordinary wealth of material, by C. Cochini in Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal.1 Clearly set forth in the title, the author’s position is apparently that celibacy can be and should be upheld, given that account is taken (more perhaps than in the past) of the growth of ancient tradition, a point on which A.M. Stickler also insists in his preface,2 and H. Crouzel in a review.3 In other words, it could be said that the obligation of continence (or of celibacy) became canon law only in the fourth century but that, before that, from apostolic times, the ideal of living in continence (or in celibacy) was already held up to the ministers of the Church, and that this ideal was indeed deeply felt and lived as a requirement by quite a number (Tertullian and Origen, for instance) but was not yet imposed on all clerics in major orders. It was a vital principle, a seed, clearly present from apostolic times but which gradually then developed until the ecclesiastical legislation of the fourth century.4

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1579) seems to take the same line. Out of prudence, however, it omits to mention the canon law on celibacy, which nonetheless forms part of Church law today (CIC 277 par. 1), and merely sets out the biblical reasons for celibacy. Yet even here it no longer refers (as often in the past) to the Old Testament, and only quotes two passages from the New: the one in Matthew 19:22, about celibacy: «for the sake of the kingdom of heaven»; and then the Pauline text of 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, where the Apostle speaks of those who are called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and «his affairs»; and adds by way of conclusion that «embraced with a joyful heart, it (the celibate life) radiantly proclaims the kingdom of God». Here of course one might quote other New Testament passages to which, for instance, Paul VI referred in his encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus (nn. 17-35), to indicate the reasons for sacred celibacy (its Christological, ecclesiological and eschatological significance). But the problem is that these various texts describe, as a typically Christian ideal, the theological and spiritual value of celibacy in genere. This ideal, however, is equally valid for the religious and for people living consecrated lives in the world; they do not show any particular connection with the ministries of the Church.

The precise question that arises, therefore, is this: do texts .exist in Holy Writ which point to a specific connection between celibacy and priesthood? It would seem so. But if this is the case, more importance will have to be attached to certain New Testament passages which (oddly) have not received much attention in the recent debates. These are the texts in which the Pauline norm (much contested, to be sure) of ‘unius uxoris vir’5 is set out, for analysis of which C. Cochini has also now adduced new material. Enunciated several times in the Pastoral Letters, this principle is uniquely important in our case for two reasons. The first is, as has been convincingly shown by Stickler6 as well as by Cochini,7 that the stipulation was one of the main formulae on which the ancient tradition was based for claiming an actual apostolic origin for the law of priestly celibacy. This was, of course, an immense paradox: how can one base the celibacy of priests on the evidence of texts which talk about married ministers? Such reasoning can only make sense if there is a middle term between the two extremes (marriage of ministers and celibacy): it is that of continence, to which, in fact, married ministers were bound. It was probably because this mediating value of continence was overlooked, that in recent times the formula unius uxoris vir dropped out of discussions on celibacy. It is therefore timely today to re-examine carefully the traditional argument.

The other reason why these texts are especially important from the strictly biblical point of view lies in the fact that they are the only passages in the New Testament where an identical norm is laid down for the three groups of ordained ministers, and only for them. For, according to the Pastoral Letters, the bishop ought to be unius uxoris vir (1 Tim 3:2), so ought the priest (Tit 1:6) and so ought the deacon (I Tim 3:12), whereas that formula (a technical one, it would seem) is never used for other Christians. So here we have a special requirement for the exercise of the ministerial priesthood as such. Further, it should also be observed that the complementary formula unius viri uxor (1 Tim 5:9) is only used of widows at least 60 years old. That is to say, it does not apply to any Christian woman only but to elderly women who exercise a ministry in the community (comparable, one imagines, with that of deaconesses in ancient times). The stereotyped character of this formula in the Pastoral Letters makes one suspect it must have already been rooted in a long biblical tradition.8

So what does it mean that the minister of the Church should be «the husband of one wife»? In the following pages we shall first try to show that the formula unius uxoris vir, up to the fourth century, was understood, as Stickler so well puts it, «in the sense of a biblical argument in favour of celibacy of apostolic inspiration: for the Pauline norm was interpreted in the sense of a guarantee assuring effective observance of continence by ministers who were already married before they were ordained.»9 In the second part, we shall take a step forward: we shall propose a deeper theological interpretation of the Pauline stipulation itself, to show that, already in New Testament times it actually does propose the model for the ministerial priesthood of a marital relationship between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride, on the basis of the mystical view of marriage which St Paul frequently mentions in his letters (cf 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22-32).10 From this, it will become abundantly clear that, for married ministers, their ordination implied an invitation to live in continence thereafter.

The stipulation unius uxoris vir: an argument in

ancient tradition for the apostolic origin of


a. Ecclesiastical legislation from the fourth century onwards

Scholars generally agree that the obligation of celibacy, or at least of continence, became canon law from the fourth century onwards. Here certain incontrovertible texts are quoted repeatedly: three pontifical decretals around AD 385 (Decreta and Cum in unum of Pope Siricius and Dominus inter of Siricius or Damasus) and a canon of the Council of Carthage of AD 390.11

However, it is important to observe that the legislators of the fourth and fifth centuries affirmed that this canonical enactment was based on an apostolic tradition. The Council of Carthage, for instance, said that it was fitting that those who were at the service of the divine sacraments be perfectly continent (continentes esse in omnibus): «so that what the apostles taught and antiquity itself maintained, we too may observe».12 The decree on the obligation of continence was then passed unanimously: «It is pleasing to all that bishop, priest and deacon, the guardians of purity, abstain from marital relations with their wives (ab uxori bus se abstineant) so that the perfect purity may be safeguarded of those who serve the altar.»

The Pauline unius uxoris vir is not explicitly quoted here but reference to this stipulation is implicit since, as in the Pastoral Letters, the bishop, priest and deacon each are mentioned. Besides, 1 Timothy 3:2 is quoted explicitly in an earlier text, the decretal Cum in unum of Siricius himself, who presented the norms of the Council of Rome of AD 386. Here the Pope first formulated an objection that the expression unius uxoris vir of 1 Timothy 3:2, some said, specifically guaranteed the bishop the right to use marriage after sacred ordination. Siricius answered by giving the stipulation’s correct interpretation: «He (Paul) was not speaking of a man who might persist in the desire to beget children (non permanentem in desiderio generandi dixit); he was speaking about continence which they had to observe in future (propter continentiam futuram).» This fundamental text was repeated a number of times subsequently.13 This is Cochini’s comment on it: «Monogamy (that is to say, the law of unius uxoris vir) is a condition for receiving Order, since faithfulness (observed up till then) to one woman is warranty for supposing that the candidate will be capable (in the future) of practising the perfect continence to be asked of him after ordination.»14 And the author goes on: «This exegesis of St Paul’s prescriptions to Timothy and Titus is an essential link by which the bishops of the Synod of Rome (AD 386) and Pope Siricius are cited in continuity with the apostolic age.»

But is this exegesis, for which an apostolic tradition is claimed, properly founded? Not without reason, some scholars think it doubtful.15 For certain questions have to be asked: is it not rather odd to discover in the past behaviour of the married minister (that is to say, his faithfulness to one woman, even in sexual relations) a sufficient guarantee of his future but different behaviour (that is, continence in conjugal relations with that same woman, his lawful wife)? The legislators saw in the past a guarantee for the future, but at the same time they changed the tune to be played: from the (lawful) use of marriage to renunciation of it. To justify this twofold transition from past to future and from sexual relations to conjugal continence, we need an explanatory tertium quid: such justification is only possible if an interpretation of this same formula can be found to bring out, perhaps, some hidden and hitherto unnoted aspect. And this is what we shall try to do in the second part.

But first let us briefly investigate whether, in the history of exegesis and canonical legislation, there may not be elements that can lead us to a deeper understanding of the Pauline stipulation.

b. Theological reasons for the continence and celibacy of priests

From the patristic period until today, we find ourselves faced with two different interpretations of the Pauline formula: for some people, the norm unius uxoris vir prohibits serial polygamy; for others, only simultaneous polygamy.16

The first solution is undoubtedly the more traditional: the expression then means that the sacred ministers could be married men, but only married once; and if the wife had died, they must not have contracted a second marriage, nor could they marry again later. Today, too, this interpretation is the more commonly held among Catholic exegetes. According to the other solutions, however, unius uxoris vir means only being forbidden to live with more than one woman at the same time; it would thus simply be a recommendation to observe conjugal morality.

But neither of these two solutions is entirely satisfying. To the first, it can be objected: if the union in which the married minister was hitherto living was virtuous, why should a second marriage not be so, after the first wife’s death? It is also the case that the Apostle himself on the one hand required the elderly widow who served the community to have been unius viri uxor (1 Tim 5:9), whereas he advised young widows to get married again (1 Tim 5:14). But the other solution raises problems too: conjugal faithfulness in married life is certainly required of all Christians. Why then is the expression unius uxoris vir (and analogously unius yin uxor) used only for those who exercise a ministry in the community?

We may add that the second interpretation goes no further than the simple level of general morality; applied to ministers of the Church, it has something commonplace and reductive about it. The first — the prohibition of a second marriage — is rather of a disciplinary and canonical nature, but its theological basis is not indicated. The same omission has indeed already been noted in the canonical legislation of the fourth century: Pope Siricius and many others after him interpreted the Pauline stipulation as the obligation to continence for the married clergy. They did, it is true, give their reason: the purity required of those approaching the altar. But it has to be recognized that this is not in fact what is being talked about in the text of the Pastoral Letters.

At the end of Stickler’s historical investigation, he too recognized that, in this whole problem of priestly celibacy, there had been too much concentration on the juridical aspect.17 Throughout that lengthy history there had been a lack of theological reflection on the deeper significance of the ministerial priesthood, on the reason for its celibacy and on its spiritual value. This is particularly true of the canonical use of the norm unius uxoris vir from the fourth century onwards. So we shall have to search the patristic and canonical tradition itself to see if any theological reasons are given for basing the disciplinary obligation of clerical continence on the Pauline stipulation.

Three pieces of evidence are significant here. The first is provided by Tertullian at the beginning of the third century. He reminds the clergy that monogamy is not only an ecclesiastical discipline but also a precept of the Apostle.18 It thus dates back to apostolic times. Furthermore, he insists on the fact that, in the Church, not a few believers are not married, that they live in continence and that some of them belong to ‘ecclesiastical orders’.19 Now, the men and women who live like this, Tertullian goes on, «have preferred to marry God» (Deo nubere maluerunt);20 and speaking about virgins, he says that they are «brides of Christ».21

But what is the connection between monogamous marriage on the one hand and continence on the other? Tertullian does not say, but here invokes the example set by Christ who, according to the flesh, was not married and lived in celibacy (he was not, therefore, «a husband of one wife»); yet, in the spirit, «he had one bride the Church» (unam habens ecclesiam sponsam).22 This doctrine of Christ’s spiritual marriage to the Church, here inspired by the Pauline text of Ephesians 5:25-32, was common in early Christianity; Tertullian saw this spiritual marriage as one of the main theological bases for the law of monogamous marriage: «because Christ is one and his Church is one» (unus enim Christus et una eius ecclesia).23 But it does not follow from this that Tertullian had already- made the connection between this doctrine and the formulae unius uxoris vir or unius yin uxor of the Pastoral Letters, where monogamous marriage is explicitly referred to; this connection between the two themes is what we shall be trying to establish further on.

Besides, in the last text quoted, Tertullian’s reasoning was not soundly based: the problem dealt with in Ephesians 5:25-32 was not monogamous marriage but, in principle, the relationship of every Christian marriage with the covenant. Here Paul is speaking of all married members of the Church. When, referring to Genesis 2:24, the Apostle says that husband and wife «will be one flesh» (v. 31), he is justifying the use of marriage for them.24 The formula unius uxoris vir of the Pastoral Letters, however, is not used for all married men but only for ministers of the Church (this fact has been too little noted); yet subsequently it came to be regarded as the biblical basis of the law of continence for clerics. This is the point that still needs to be cleared up.

With St Augustine we take a step forward. He, having taken part in the deliberationsof the African synods, was certainly aware of the ecclesiastic law governing the ‘continence of clerics’.25 But how does Augustine then explain the stipulation unius uxoris vir which is used by Paul for married clerics? In De bono conjugali (written in about AD 420), he advances a theological explanation for it, and asks himself why polygamy was accepted in the Old Testament, whereas «in our own age, the sacrament has been restricted to the union between one man and one woman; and consequently it is only lawful to ordain as a minister of the Church (ecclesiae dispensatorem) a man who has had one wife (unius uxoris virum)». And here is Augustine’s answer: «As the many wives (plures uxores) of the ancient Fathers symbolized our future churches of all nations, subject to the one man, Christ (uni viro subditas Christo), so the guide of the faithful (noster antistes, our bishop), who is the husband of one wife (unius uxoris vir) signifies the union of all nations, subject to the one man, Christ (uni viro subditam Christo)».26

In this text, where we find the formula unius uxoris vir being applied to the bishop, the whole accent falls on the fact that he, ‘the man’, in his relations with his ‘wife’, symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church. An analogous use of the phrase ‘man and wife’ occurs in a passage of De continentia: «The Apostle invites us to observe so to speak three pairs (copulas): Christ and the Church, husband and wife, the spirit and the flesh».27 The suggestion these texts offer us for interpreting the stipulation unius uxoris vir applied to the (married) minister of the sacrament is that he, as minister, not only represents the second pair (husband and wife) but also the first: henceforth he personifies Christ in his married relationship with the Church. Here we have the basis for the doctrine which was later to become a classic one: Sacerdos alter Christus. Like Christ, the priest is the Church’s bridegroom.

One further word on the canonical legislation of the Middle Ages. On various occasions, in penitential books, it is said that for a married priest to go on having sexual relations with his wife after ordination would be an act of unfaithfulness to the promise made to God. It would be an adulterium since, the minister now being married to the Church, his relationship with his own wife «is like a violation of the marriage bond».28 This weighty accusation against a lawfully wedded, decent man only makes sense if something is left unexpressed because it is well-known, i.e., that the sacred minister, from the moment of his ordination, now lives in another relationship, also of a matrimonial type — that which unites Christ and the Church in which he, the minister, the man (vir), represents Christ the bridegroom; with his own wife (uxor) therefore «the carnal union should from now on be a spiritual one», as St Leo the Great said.29

With these various historical and theological preliminaries, we have gathered enough material for us to be able to tackle the exegetical problem, that is to say, to make an accurate analysis of the actual formula unius uxoris vir in the Pastoral Letters.

‘Unius uxoris vir’: a covenantal formula

We have already seen that, of the two traditional interpretations of the stipulation, one (the more widespread) was of a disciplinary type, and the other exclusively moral. But it was virtually never explained why a minister of the Church should be ‘the husband of one wife’. We shall now attempt to show that the reason for this norm, its deeper meaning and its implications are already present in the text itself if we succeed in analyzing it properly. First we need to clear up the problem of where this mysterious form comes from, with its undeniably fixed, technical, stereotyped nature. But let it be said forthwith: the stipulation is actually a covenantal formula.

This becomes plain when we consider the parallelism between the formula in the Pastoral Letters and the passage in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where Paul describes the Church of Corinth as a woman, as a bride, whom he has presented to Christ as a chaste virgin:

I am jealous about you with the jealousy of God, because I have betrothed you to one man (uni viro), to present you to Christ as a pure virgin.

The context of this passage is particularly clear if we read it with 1 Timothy 5:9. The same formula unus vir is used of the relations whether of the ~2hurch with Christ, or of the widow who has only had one husband and discharges a ministry in the community. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Christ’s bride is the Church itself. Let us carefully read the text over again. The jealousy of which Paul speaks is a sharing in God’s jealousy over his people.30 It is the zeal devouring the Apostle that his Christians may remain faithful to the covenant made with Christ, who is their true and only bridegroom. Another detail confirms this interpretation:

the Church-bride is paradoxically presented to Christ the bridegroom as ‘a pure virgin’. This is a reference to the Daughter of Sion, sometime called ‘virgin Sion’, ‘virgin Israel’ by the prophets,31 especially when she is invited, after past infidelities, once more to be true to the covenant, to her marriage relationship with her only Bride groom.

The other decisive New Testament passage is the classic text in Ephesians 5:22-23: husband and wife united in matrimony are the image of Christ and the Church. Now Christ, the bridegroom, gave himself up for the Church, so as to make her his glorious, holy and spotless bride (cf vv. 26-27). But the fact that the expression unius uxoris vir is not used here in the Letter to the Ephesians for all married Christians, and is reserved in the Pastoral Letters for the married minister, shows that the formula refers directly to the priestly ministry and the Christ-Church relationship: the minister must be like Christ the bridegroom.

We can also point out another important consequence of the connection between the unius uxoris vir (or unius viri uxor) of the Pastoral Letters and the passage in 2 Corinthians 11:2. It is that the Church-bride is called a ‘pure virgin’. Marital love between Christ the bridegroom and his bride the Church is ever a virginal love.

For the Church of Corinth (where obviously the great majority of Christians were married), it was an immediate question of what St Augustine calls virginitas fidei, virginitas cordis, unblemished faith,32 well described also by St Leo the Great: «Discat Sponsa Verbi non alium virum nosse quam Christum».33 But for the married ministers of whom the Pastoral Letters speak, it is the norm that — in that mystical view of their ministry — the radical call to virginitas cordis should also be lived by them as a call to virginitas carnis as regards their wives, that is to say, as a call to continence, as becomes clear in Tradition, at least from the fourth century onwards. So we are now no longer dealing with an external, ecclesiastical prescription but rather with an inner perception of the fact that ordination makes the priestly minister a representation of Christ the bridegroom in relation to the Church, bride and virgin, and hence he cannot live with another wife.

The decisive relationship between the unius uxoris vir of the Pastoral Letters and the ‘pure virgin’ of 2 Corinthians 11:2 has also been well brought out by E. Tauzin: men who are consecrated to God, he says, «should represent Christ; now, he is only the bridegroom of one bride, the Church: ‘Virginem castam exhibere Christo’»34 And he then applies this principle to the parable in Matthew 25:1-13, where the ten ‘virgins’, who are (in the plural) the brides of Christ, in fact present this one bride: «Outwardly there is multiplicity; inwardly, unity. Isn’t virginity perhaps the best outward image of an inner unity?»

This sacramental and spiritual argument of the unius uxoris vir, based on the theology of the covenant, emerges first in the Western tradition with Tertullian, then with St Augustine and St Leo the Great. We find it well summed up by St Thomas in his commentary on 1 Timothy 3:2 (Oportet ergo episcopum… esse unius uxoris virum): «This is so, not merely to avoid incontinence, but to represent the sacrament, since the Church’s bridegroom is Christ and the Church is one: Una est columba mea (Song of Songs 6:9).35 But St Thomas does not as yet make the connection with the text in 2 Corinthians 11:2, which speaks of the bride-virgin; and therefore he does not add that the representational role of the monogamous priesthood also entails the call to continence for the married minister, and consequently, for the unmarried ones, the call to celibacy.


In order to grasp the way in which we have tried to show the biblical basis of priestly celibacy, it is important to distinguish between celibacy and continence. In the ancient Church, many priests were married. This explains why, in speaking of the ministers of the Church, the formula unius uxoris vir came to be used. It also explains the great interest the Fathers had in monogamous marriage (cf for instance Tertullian: De monogamia). But it becomes clearer still in the Tradition that for a minister of the Church, united once in matrimony with a woman, acceptance of the ministry brought with it the consequence that he had to live in continence thereafter.

In later times, the separation was introduced between priesthood and marriage. And so the formula unius uxoris vir, in its literal and material sense, is no longer of immediate application to the priests of today, since they are not married. Yet paradoxically, precisely in this lies the interest of the formula. We set out from the fact that in the apostolic Church it was only used for clerics; and so it took on, besides the immediate sense of conjugal relations, a further, mystical sense, a direct connection with the spiritual marriage between Christ and the Church. St Paul was already hinting at this. For him, unius uxoris vir was a covenantal formula: it introduced the married minister into the marriage relationship between Christ and the Church; for Paul, the Church was a ‘pure virgin’, it was the ‘bride’ of Christ. But this connection between the minister and Christ, due to the sacrament of ordination, today no longer requires as human support for the symbolism a real marriage on the part of the minister; so the formula is still valid for priests of the Church, although they are not married. Hence, that which in the past was continence for married ministers, in our own day becomes the celibacy of those who are not. Yet the symbolic and spiritual meaning of the expression unius uxoris vir remains ever the same. Indeed, since it contains a direct reference to the covenant, that is to say, to the marriage relationship between Christ and the Church, it invites us to attach much greater importance today than in the past to the fact that the minister of the Church represents Christ the bridegroom to the Church his bride. In this sense, the priest must be «the husband of one wife»; but that one wife, his bride, is the Church who, like Mary, is the bride of Christ.

It is precisely thus that on various occasions John Paul II expresses himself in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis. By way of conclusion, we quote some of the more telling passages from it.

In n. 12, having said that, as regards the identity of the priest, his relationship with the Church must take second place to his relationship with Christ, the Pope goes on: «As a mystery, the Church is essentially related to Jesus Christ. She is his fullness, his body, his spouse… The priest finds the full truth of his identity in being a derivation, a specific participation in and continuation of Christ himself, the one High Priest of the new and eternal covenant; the priest is a living and transparent image of Christ the Priest. The priesthood of Christ, the expression of his absolute ‘newness’ in salvation history, constitutes the one source and essential model of the priesthood shared by all Christians and the priest in particular. Reference to Christ is thus the absolutely necessary key for understanding the reality of priesthood.» On the basis of this very close union between the priest and Christ, the deep theological reason for celibacy is easier to grasp.

In some editions of the document, n. 22 bears the crosshead: «Witness to Christ’s spousal love». Further on, it reads: «The priest is called to be the living image of Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church.» The Pope then quotes a proposition of the Synod: «Inasmuch as he represents Christ, the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church, the priest is placed not only in the Church but also in the forefront of the Church.»

In n. 29, in the very paragraph where the Holy Father speaks of virginity and celibacy, he cites in full the Synod’s Proposition 11 on this subject. Then, to explain «the theological motivation for the ecclesiastical law on celibacy», he writes: «The will of the Church finds its ultimate motivation in the link between celibacy and Sacred Ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the Head and Spouse of the Church. The Church as the Spouse of Jesus Christ wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her Head and Spouse loved her.»


  1. Christian Cochini, Origines apostoliques du célbat sacerdotal (Le Sycomore), culture et vérité, Lethielleux/Namur, Paris 1981. On the much debated problem of celibacy in the Church today, see a special number of the review Conciluum: Le Célibat du Sacerdoce catholique, in Concilium 78 (1972).
  2. A.M. Stickler, in Cochini, (ut supra), Préface, p. 6.
  3. H. Crouzel, Une nouvelle étude sur les origines du célibat ecclésiastique, in Bull. de Litt. eccl. 83 (1982), 293-297.
  4. See also two studies by canonists: P. Pampaloni, Continenza e celibato del clero. Leggi e motivi delle fonti canoniche dei secoli IV e V. in Studia Patavina 17 (1970), 5-59; J. Coriden, Célibat, Droit canonique et Synode 1971, in Concilium 78 (1972), 101-114.
  5. See our article Man d’une seule femme. Le sens théologique d’une formule paulinienne, in Paul de Tarse, apôtre de notre temps (ed. L. De Lorenzi), Rome 1979, 619-638. In the present study we confine ourselves to the Latin tradition; as is well known, a different discipline obtains in the Oriental Churches.
  6. A.M. Stickler, L’évolution de la discipline du célibat dans l’Église en occident de la fin de l’âge patristique au Concile de Trente, in Sacerdoce et célibat. Études historiques et théologiques (ed. I. Coppens), Gembloux-Louvain 1971, pp. 373-442.
  7. Cochini, op. cit., pp. 5-6.
  8. See our study Mari d’une seule femme, (ut supra), p. 635, n. 64, where we show that the formula unius uxoris vir (1 Tim 3:2) expresses the marriage relationship of the covenant between God and his people, between Christ the bridegroom and his bride the Church. Furthermore, the similarity of the formula in 1 Tim.3:2 with the one nearby in 1 Tim 2:5: unus Deus, unus… homo Christus Jesus permits the connection to be made with the prophetic theme of the covenant, and to uncover a link with the Old Testament; cf especially Mal 2:14 (LXX): ‘the wife of your covenant’ 2:10: ‘the covenant of our forefathers’.
  9. A.M. Stickler, in Cochini, (ut supra), Préface, pp. 5-6 (our italics).
  10. Cf our article La struttura di alieanza del sacerdozio ministeriale, in Communio 112 (July-August 1990), 102-114, where we summarise the results of the previous study: Man d’une seule femme, (vide supra), in order to apply them specifically both to the case of priestly celibacy and to that of the priesthood of men (not of women).
  11. For this historical part, see the texts in Cochini, op. cit., pp. 19-26.
  12. The text (taken from CCL 149, 13) is given in the original Latin with a French translation in Cochini, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
  13. For the decretal Cum in unum of Pope Siricius, cf Ep. V. c. 9 (PL 13, 1161 A); it is also found in the African Council of Theleptis (AD 418): Conc. Thelense (CCL 149, 62): French trans.: Cochini, op. cit., p. 32; see also the two letters of Pope Innocent I (AD 404-405) to the bishops Victricius of Rouen and Exuperius of Toulouse: Ep. II, (PL 20, 476 A. 497 B; Cochini, op. cit., pp. 284-286). Africa, Spain and the Gauls thus take direction as indicated by the Popes.
  14. Cochini, op. cit., p. 33 (our italics).
  15. For P. Pampaloni for instance (art. cit., 41-42), this would involve «a forced interpretation of the Apostle»; he does however concede that, according to the sources of the period, that interpretation was probably regarded as the correct one. H. Crouzel (art. cit., 294) also rightly observes: if it were true, as these Fathers thought, that the Apostle regarded ‘monogamy’ as guaranteeing suitability for continence, we should then have to suppose that, for Paul, it was a known fact «either that the wife was dead or that the candidate was to live with her as with a sister: which unfortunately the Pauline text does not make clear.» This is true. But the Pauline text does contain a literary contact with 2 Cor 11:2 (vide infra), which allows the indirect recovery of the theme of continence as a covenantal theme.
  16. Cf our article Mri d’une seule femme, (art. cit): ‘I. Histoire de d’exégèse’ (pp. 620-623); ‘II. Insuffisance des deux interpretations en présence’ (pp. 624-628).
  17. Stickler, L’évolution de la discipline dui célibat, (ut supra), pp. 441-442.
  18. Cf Ad uxorem, 1, 7, 4 (CCL 1, 381); the reference here is to 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6; see too De exhort, cast., 7,2 (CCL 2, 1024).
  19. De exhort. cast., 13, 4 (CCL 2, 1035): on this passage, see Cochini’s comment, 01). cit., pp. 168-171.
  20. Ibid., cf Ad uxorem, 1, 4, 4, speaking of women who, instead of choosing a husband, have preferred a virginal life: «Malunt enim Deo nubere. Deo speciosae, Deo sunt puellae» (CCL 1, 377).
  21. De virg. vel., 16, 4: «Nupsisti enim Christo, illi tradidisti carnem tuam, illi sponsasti maturitatem tuam,» (CCL 2, 1225); De res., 61, 6: «virgines Christi maritae» (CCL 2, 1010).
  22. De monog., 5,7 (CCL 2, 1235)
  23. De exhort, cast., 5, 3 (CCL 2, 1023); hence, Tertullian goes on, the law of single marriage is also founded on ‘Christi sacramentum’.
  24. The Apostle thus in no way excludes the ‘carnal’ use of marriage between Christian husbands and wives, despite what Tertullian the Montanist was to pretend to the contrary, cf De exhort. cast., 9, 3 (CCL 2, 1028): for the latter, marriage as such (not a second marriage) was to be regarded as a sort of stuprum. As can be seen from this brief analysis, ‘una caro’ (Eph 5:31) and ‘una uxor’ (1 Tim 3:2) have very different functions, although the same adjective una occurs in both texts: Tertullian’s mistake was to have virtually identified them: ‘una caro undoubtedly legitimizes conjugal relations; whereas ‘una uxor’, as we shall see, excludes them, and instead becomes the theological basis for continence.
  25. St Augustine speaks of this in the De coniugiis adulterinis, II, 20, 22: «solemnus eis proponere continentiam clenicorum» (PL 40, 486).
  26. De bono coniugali, 18, 21 (PL 40, 3 87-388).
  27. De continentia, 9, 23 (PL 40, 364).
  28. Stickler, L’évolution… (ut supra), p. 381; sundry texts from penitential books are quoted in the notes.
  29. St Leo the Great, Ep. ad Rusticum Narbonensem episc. Inquis. III: Resp. (PL 54, 1204 A): «ut de carnali fiat spirituale coniugium».
  30. Cf J. Daniélou, La jalousie de Dieu, in Dieu vivant, n. 4, 16(1950), 61-73.
  31. Cf our work Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, New York 1992, pp. xxiii-xxv, xxxv-xxxvii.
  32. Cf R. Hesbert, Saint Augustin et la virginité de la foi, in Augustinus Magister. Congrès international augustinien (Paris, Sept. 1954), II, Paris 1954, pp. 645-655.
  33. St Leo the Great, Epistolae, 12, 3 (PL 54, 648 B).
  34. E. Tauzin, Note sur un texte de Saint Paul (Essai d’exégèse synthétique) in Revue apologétique 36 (1924-1925), 274-289 (see p. 289, in the note). It should be noted that this author too has spontaneously made the connection between the formular unius uxoris vir of the Pastoral Letters and the virgo casta of 2 Cor 11:2.
  35. In 1 ad Tim., c. III, lect. 1 (ed. Marietti 1953, n. 96); see too Denis the Carthusian, on 1 Tim 3:12 (Opera omnia, 13, 420).


Filed under Priesthood, Priestly Celibacy, Priestly Celibacy Series

2 responses to “Priests are soooo lonely! Let us be married!

  1. Gina Nakagawa

    There is an excellent reason that Catholic priests are called “Father” God grants them an enormous number of wayward difficult children who need their kind fatherly teaching, discipline and encouragement. Thank you, Father.

  2. Aussie Mum

    Re “The heart the priest is to have is Christ’s,” so beautifully expressed in your whole post, Father.
    St John standing under the Cross with our Immaculate Mother, the first of the Apostles to fully realise what his ordination the previous night meant … he the first of all the faithful priests and bishops to follow Christ – with Him on Calvary – generation after generation for millennia until the end of the world.
    How have some priests and bishops lost their way? Sacrifice (in the proper sense) is shunned but real love and sacrifice go hand in glove – there is no love without sacrifice. Pope Francis and his ilk pretend to be so kind and loving, and perhaps they believe it themselves, but it is all a farce because they turn a blind eye to truth and promote evil as when love and sacrifice are inverted. Such was the case when the abominable sacrifice to idols was “equated” with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (offering to Pachamama by Pope Francis on the altar in St Peter’s Basilica, 2019) and other shocking sins condoned by corrupt members of the hierarchy (e.g. killing of the unborn and blessing unnatural unions) and described as acts of love. The idol Moloch, was even hosted in Rome at the scene of Christian martyrdom (the Roman Colosseum), and at the same time Pachamama was worshipped in the Vatican Gardens in the presence of Pope Francis, paraded before the Blessed Sacrament and honoured in the Synod Hall.
    More and more in recent years, our times remind me of when Jerusalem fell to Babylon in the 6th century BC because of idolatry: the priesthood corrupted and apostasy among the people running amuck. God’s response:
    “Make thy way, the Lord said to him, all through the city, from end to end of Jerusalem; and where thou find men that weep and wail over the foul deeds done in it, mark their brows with a cross. To the others I heard him say … destroy till none is left, save only where you see the cross marked on them. And begin first with the temple itself.” (Ezekiel 9:4-6. Knox Translation)
    God’s purification of Judah began in the temple in Jerusalem – in the sanctuary. The priests responsible for safeguarding true worship had not done so, the temple at Jerusalem becoming the scene of crimes and looking similar to what is happening in the Church today.
    Scripture also tells us that, ” Ever that shall be that ever has been, that which has happened once shall happen again; there can be nothing new, here under the sun. Never man calls a thing new, but it is something already known to the ages that went before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10). And therefore, perhaps the parallels that spring to mind are not far-fetched – that the Church will be purified beginning in its sanctuary as happened in Jerusalem of old, and those with “the cross marked on them” them then prefigure the little flock in our own time.
    The purification of the Temple and destruction of Jerusalem were preparation for the first coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Will the purification of the Church (and perhaps the destruction of Rome) be preparation for His second coming at the end of the world? What we are living through now may only be a preview of what will come at the end or it might be the last and ultimate purification. Whatever, I think the Babylonian captivity has much to say to us today.

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