Celibacy

When it comes to the question of celibacy, whether it is Jesus, Saint Paul, or the author of our Prayer Book, Thomas Cranmer, one conclusion is shared by all of them. Celibacy is not for everyone.

Jesus talks of “Eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”, and expressly indicates that “not everyone can receive this teaching, but only those to whom it has been given” (Matthew 19:12). Paul, discussing marriage with his Corinthian converts, wishes that everyone would be unmarried as he is, but recognizes that celibacy is a “particular gift from God”, and for those who do not have this gift, “it is better to marry than be aflame with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:7-9).

Cranmer’s prayer book pulls no punches either. Besides two reasons for marriage carried forward to our time—procreation of children and mutual support—there is a third one that nowadays that we are perhaps too bashful to talk about:

Secondly, It [marriage] was ordained as a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication, that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

It seems to me that this acknowledgment of the strength of sexual passions has a place in the current discussions on same sex unions. Whether the reason is genetic, or the result of foetal development or early childhood experiences, it appears to be an established fact that some people are attracted to members of the same sex.

Until recently, both such persons have been expected by Society and the Church to remain celibate, and there have been unpleasant scandals and punishments when they have been unwilling or unable to do so. Now the pressure is mounting both in Church and State to allow such persons to enter into some form of marital or quasi-marital union.

There’s a difference between irresponsible promiscuity, and a committed relationship between two persons. Going as far back as the story of Sodom’s destruction, the former has been everywhere condemned. The latter, however, whether it is the story of the faithful love of Ruth and Naomi or of David and Jonathan, are moving stories of faithfulness and mutual support, examples to be admired and followed.

General Synod has this question on its agenda when it meets later this year, and has spent many years in study without coming to unanimity. It is going to be an interesting challenge for it to decide just where the Church will stand on the issue.

– Gemini, 2007*
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