No Rivalry Between Celibacy, Marriage in Church Teaching, U.S. Liturgist Notes

“Christian celibacy is not to be regarded as a state in rivalry to marriage, much less in opposition to it,” a leading American liturgist has said here.

Father Godfrey Diekmann, O.S.B., of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., a council expert, spoke at a press conference at the American bishops’ press panel on the Christian theological aspects of celibacy.

He noted that Scripture “begins with the story of God’s blessing of marriage in the first book of Genesis and ends with the vision of the Spirit and the Bride, inviting all to come to the heavenly wedding feast. And, we might say, all the story in between expresses God’s relations to man in terms of marriage.”

Father Diekmann’s conference paralleled the discussion in the ecumenical council of the establishment of the married diaconate. He said: “Celibacy is not of divine law, but a disciplinary Church law which could be changed. There are different customs in the East and West. Yet despite painful and even egregious failures in practice, especially from the fifth to the tenth centuries, the ideal has been insisted upon.”

Father Diekmann said that “strictly speaking, celibacy is misnamed as a ‘single state,’ if by that is meant anything like taking advantage of freedom from the duties of married life in order to be more or less exclusively concerned with the self. After all, it is axiomatic that charity, love of God, is the highest commandment and that love of the neighbor is identical with it.

“Hence, unless celibacy, a state of striving for Christian perfection, is distinguished by greater love of the neighbor, service of one’s fellowman, it is not true Christian celibacy.”

He stressed that “celibacy in its ideal form is not repressive or restrictive, but is a freeing of the energies of the priest or bishop or deacon for fuller dedication to his parish.”

Applying the positive concept of celibacy to the problems of the married state, Father Diekmann noted that the laws of God “and of the Church relating to marriage often are a hardship. No doubt many married Catholics are resentful of the celibate clergy’s insisting on the laws concerning married life and its use. “You have easy talking,” they say, and undoubtedly there is some element of truth in this.

“Perhaps if some of those in Holy Orders, ordained men [that is, deacons], were to give an example of Christian married life, having themselves experienced the problem in their own lives, it would contribute to establishing a better rapport, a better mutual understanding between the clergy and the laity in this complex and vexed problem.”

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