A thousand years of Catholic celibacy: the Pope and the Emperor prohibited priests from being married in Pavia

On August 1, 1022, citizens (then they were not even citizens) did not stop for vacations, so there was no need to launch summer snakes to feed public opinion, which did not exist at that time either. That day, just a millennium ago, the Papacy and the Empire promulgated a rule that, ten centuries later, is still in force, and is still being discussed: prohibiting the marriage of priests.

The first thing to clarify is that compulsory celibacy is not a dogma of the Church, but a provision of Canon Law, which was established as a result of an agreement between Pope Benedict VIII and Emperor Henry II, who were very close (the The monarch replaced the pontiff, who had been deposed a few months after being elected, and the Pope crowned him emperor in Rome, in an act that united, for the first time, the crown, the globe and the cross, as a symbol of universal power ).

Both agreed to definitively introduce in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed the origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father "and the Son" that would lead years later to the Schism of the Churches of East and West, so much in vogue today with the conflict in Ukraine.

The one that has turned a millennium this Monday is the story of the Synod of Pavia, raised as a sort of reform of the Church and which was held under the presidency of the Pope and Emperor, concluding that the high clergy (up to their subdiaconate) should be obligatorily celibate and that his sons would have to become priests so as not to endanger the inheritance of ecclesiastical assets: money, land and temples. Simony (purchase of positions) and nepotism were also condemned, but where the norm was strictly adhered to for centuries was with regard to celibacy.

Now it's called tradition, but the truth is that, during the first millennium of the Church, it was natural for priests to marry. In fact, almost all of Jesus' apostles (the first Pope, Peter, too), except John, were married and many had children.

However, the growing union between religious power and political power, consecrated by Constantine in the year 314, made it more convenient for the institution that the clergy be reserved solely for men, singles and - as the normative – heterosexual. At the moment, as recommendations, which later became rules, more or less covert.

However, it was not an official rule of the Church until now, a millennium ago today. Subsequently, the rules became more and more hardened, despite the successive schisms (the one in the East, in 1054; or the one caused by Luther in 1521, and to which Henry VIII joined, precisely, to be able to remarry), until to the Second Lateran Council, in 1139, which declared priestly marriages null.

Already in Trent, as a response to Luther's reform, the exclusion of marrying after ordination was confirmed, but it did not deny the possibility of ordaining already married men, something that, even today, is allowed in many Christian churches (and in up to 23 rites permitted by the Catholic Church, as in the case of Anglican priests who return to Rome and continue to be priests without having to abandon their wife and children). What this Council did do was prevent non-celibate men from entering Holy Orders.

​The Code of Canon Law of 1917 declared those who "have a wife" to be "simply prevented" from receiving holy orders, and the Code that is currently in force, that of 1983, prohibits married men from being ordained priests (although they can be deacons), and these "observe a perfect and perpetual continence for the Kingdom of Heaven". A rule that, as we said, has exceptions.

And what does Pope Francis think? In February of this year, in the midst of a storm over the request of the German Synodal Way to end compulsory celibacy (something that it has also happened in several Spanish diocesesalthough the Episcopal Conference has conveniently 'shaved off' this and other demands in the summary sent to Rome), Bergoglio defended priestly celibacy as "a gift" that "requires healthy relationships" so as not to "become an unbearable weight". The voices that demand to end this norm grow.

"A phrase from Saint Paul VI comes to mind: 'I prefer to give my life rather than change the law of celibacy,'" the Pope said after returning from a trip to Panama, although he also acknowledged that "it is not a dogma." and, as such, can be modified.

Perhaps it is not necessary to repeal the norm created a thousand years ago today, but it is necessary to fill the Canon Law with exceptions (the viri probati of the Amazon, or Christians of recognized prestige in unpopulated areas, where the arrival of priests is impossible) that, coupled with the growing vocational crisis, can become, over the years, as a rule. Although there is no Church that can endure another millennium like this.

All the information in www.religiondigital.org

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