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“A Father of the Fatherless”: The Implications of Clerical Celibacy (Part III)

The following is the third part of a series dealing with clerical celibacy and its dangers; for those following the argument, it ought to be clear that the author is not a confessing member of the Roman Catholic Church, and so it must be clearly stated: this is not meant to be an anti-Catholic polemic. Rather, it is an examination of the practice of clerical celibacy and the problems it creates in current—and any—conditions. Parts I & II have “primed the pump” in this regard by tracing the history of married priesthood among the Hebrews and Early Church and examining the natural role that celibates possess in civilizations where they are present. In short, it looked at the religious and historical places of celibacy and priesthood. This third part will instead look at the importance of biological fatherhood and its relationship with the spiritual role of the priest as a father to congregation and community, and will tie the argument together with a more explicit articulation of the need for our society to begin reproducing priests in a literal sense to reassert and re-establish the priestly caste as the sun sets on our civilization, that we might not wander in the night alone with blind guides.

Among those peoples who have fully actualised themselves as human beings by producing civilizations worthy of remembrance, there is not a single one in which the relationship between father and son was not valued above all other relationships. Matriarchal societies are rare, fleeting, and universally savage. It may offend the virgin ears of many, but it is an historical fact that only men are capable of producing civilization, and civilizations are therefore only perpetuated by men handing on the achievements of one generation to the men of the next generation—what your author has referred to as vertical growth in another piece on fathers and sons. So important is this relationship that the True Faith is founded upon it: for there is One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and One Lord, Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, consubstantial, coeternal, sent to bring to fulfilment the Salvation of Man which the Father willed from the Fall itself. This does not, of course, diminish the role of the Paraclete, the in-dwelling of whom is alone capable of producing recognition in the hearts of men of the Truth of the Triune God, but without a doubt the archetype of Father and Son is of overriding significance in the pursuit of godliness, or true humanity, among men.

Christianity, however, is not alone in recognising this truth of the centrality of father-son relationships, as has already been noted in this series. In what your author has called Chung-hua Civilization, the circle around Confucius elevated the paternal-filial relationship to be of cosmic significance as well. All of the Five Bonds are built from the core bond of father to son—and the absence of this essential relationship makes the others less functional; Emperor to subjects, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother—all of these are merely re-articulations of the father-son archetype. Even the friendly Bond between equals is merely a more fluid articulation of father-son, with each friend playing the rôle of father and the role of son casuistically. This extends beyond Confucianism in the Orient—the influence of the Confucian Bonds lent itself readily to the development of Ch'an (jp. Zen) Buddhism, which emphasises the relationship of single Master to single Disciple (world famous ignoramus George Lukas used this as inspiration for his Sith Order, for those playing the home game). The Tao concept of Yin in balance with Yang is likewise lacking the egalitarian assumptions of Western readers of Chinese culture—rather, a fluid hierarchy remains hierarchical, and the relationship of Heaven to Earth is still paternalistic in its nature. Filial piety, at its beating heart, is not a Confucian idea, but a Sinic cultural archetype found in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan alike.

Among the Classics, the relationship between patronus and cliens mimics the father-son relationship so prized by the Romans themselves—indeed patronus itself is derivative of pater, whence also patria, the most valued of all things to the Roman citizen). This would join readily with Christianity in shaping the guild system of the early West. Across the Adriatic, even the perversity of the Attic Greeks reveals this same paternal-filial structure as the basis of their society. Pederasty perverts and destroys a natural relationship between men and boys, but it also indicates a more natural predecessor. So many looking at the pederasty of the Greeks falsely interpret it as an analogue to contemporary Western perversities; ideological homosexuality, though, with its exclusive nature, had an antecedent among the Greeks and Romans that was clearly condemned. Socrates is quoted in one of his more humorous moments as advising his students always to marry “for if you marry well, you shall be happy, and if you marry poorly, you shall be a philosopher.” Yet Socrates doubtlessly had a sexual relationship with some of his students; his relationship with Alcibiades is questionable at least. His student Plato condemns sodomy at some length in the Laws, and regards the Cretans especially to be slaves of their sodomitic passions. This will strike many as a gross contradiction of Greek life—which is, perhaps, why the debate over “them Greek homos”, as Al Sharpton put it with the eloquence we have come to expect from America’s own Cicero, continues without resolution. The solution is to be found in recognising that the Greeks (and indeed, the Classics generally) did not view sodomy categorically; rather, it existed to them in two types. The first we as Christians might regard as the perversion of celibacy—what we are told to believe is “same-sex attraction” in the Current Year. The other is the aforementioned perversion of fatherhood; that is, the temporary practice of pederasty that is expected to be neither exclusively sexual nor a permanent sexual practice, but a sort of rite of passage for the Athenian and Corinthian (and perhaps Spartan—this was hotly disputed even in ancient times) youth who would take a wife and produce children, preferably sons, for the πολις. Sodomites, however—being men who engaged in sexual intimacy exclusively with other men—contributed nothing to their society and were perceived as remaining perpetually adolescents, unable to move past the youthful relationship sanctioned by Greek society. They were unsanctioned celibates in a loose sense—offering nothing to posterity because they refused to produce heirs. To the Classical mind, a man was not a man unless he was a father.

Here we run the risk of interpreting the attitudes of the Chinese and the Classics as being purely biological in their concerns, however. A child being born does not merely produce an heir—rather, it produces both an heir and an ancestor, for it changes a man inasmuch as it makes of him a father, just as the child born is a son or daughter. Therefore, valuing fatherhood is both backward- and forward-looking, because ancestry grants identity and meaning to a man. This is true in both micro-relationships (that is, a father learns to be a father from his father) as well as in macro-relationships (that is, a man is a member of his family and must rise to or rise above the reputation of his people). Fatherhood is not merely an act of creating a child, therefore, it is an act of joining in a continuum of people who belong to a certain tribe, race, city, or caste. To fail or refuse to reproduce is to make the decision to step outside that continuum, to interrupt it and also to destroy it—for a family must be fed with successive generations or it starves to death. We have already discussed the conditions under which societies permitted men and women to kill their bloodlines—when those bloodlines are offered as sacrifices to God.

Insofar as men are continuing their bloodline, they are also continuing traits unique to that bloodline. Vocations, prior to the professionalization of Europe, were as heritable as brown hair or attached earlobes: only with the rise of a European Mittelstand as the culture-defining class did this change, as blacksmiths’ and farmers’ sons were sent to apprentice with attorneys and businessmen, gaining access to greater social esteem and higher incomes with which their children and grandchildren might buy lordships and elite status. There was, however, wisdom in the older practice whereby a mason’s son had traits that suited him most readily to be a mason himself, just as a scribe’s son had skills that best suited him to scribal work. This is no less true of men called by God to the priesthood—a far more significant vocation with far more nuanced skills and proclivities, all lost to time if the man in question does not or, indeed, refuses to pass these traits on. Consider, for instance, S. Gregory the Great himself—not merely a priest who was the son of churchmen, but a direct descendant of Pope S. Felix III, who himself was the son of a Roman priest. Does it not appear that this certain family line produced men who were not just given over to the priesthood out of habit, but particularly suited to that vocation? The clan, after all, produced two popes, one of whom is a saint. How many great popes, saints, and theologians of the West might have produced their share of holy successors had they not been celibate?

Fathers and Sons

It is a poor argument indeed, though, that roots itself solely in counterfactual history. It is not, ultimately, the hypothetical descendants of S. Gregory that are the most significant evidence of the importance of priestly fathers, but S. Gregory himself as a culmination of successive generations who elected to offer his bloodline to God and became a monastic. This is not to say that Gregory was a natural result of some kind of eugenic process, of course: breeding may produce a superman, but he will be a superman of this world, divorced from the spiritual virtues that make a saint. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that S. Gregory would not be Saint Gregory but for his own upbringing and the upbringings that shaped his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father in a continuous line—not a line of genetic inheritance but, perhaps, personal inheritance, born from conscious imitation of predecessors. This sort of personal training is fundamentally different than the impersonal training of the seminary.

Gregorius was the son of a Senator, Gordianus, who had also held the position of praefectus urbanus and Regionarius, a position universally held by priests or deacons overseeing all the Christian communities of the city not directly controlled by the Papal See (essentially, this was a sort of Auxiliary Bishop, but without the episcopal title or sacerdotal powers). His own father was likewise a Senator, and two of his sisters as well as his wife became, through pious living and strict devotion, saints. The sole sister to have abandoned the pious life was Gordiana, the eldest, indicating that Gordianus was a popular cognomen in the family—tying the family to other naturalised citizens of Rome from the region around Gordium that also produced the short-lived Roman Emperors Gordian I & Gordian II, who reigned together for 21 days in the year 238. (Another S. Gordianus makes an appearance in Rome in 362, a magistrate of Senatorial rank who was loyal to the pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate, and was converted to Christ by the family of a certain Januarius and was himself deposed and charged with treason before his successor). Whether there is any relation at all among these is an open question, but the probability seems low. Whatever the case, the Prefect Gordianus certainly came from a prestigious clan of immigrants who had managed to secure senatorial rank in the city as well as a family villa on the Cælian Hill looking across the city of Rome directly at the Imperial Palaces themselves. By which means Gordianus descends from Pope S. Felix III is likewise unclear; the saintly Pope is said to have appeared in apparition before Gordianus’ younger sister Trasilla before she died on Christmas Eve in the early fifth century. There is reason, however, to believe that he descends in a direct male line because of the position he held in the Church—coupling this role with the fact that Felix’s own father, also named Felix, was both a Senator and a Priest ordained by S. Leo the Great is more than enough to conclude that the family was, as a whole, part of an early “black nobility” of Rome.

S. Felix III was a controversial and zealous Pope who followed very much in the footsteps of his predecessor S. Leo; his devout attachment to Dyophysitism against the Mia- and Monophysite heresies spreading in the East caused a brief schism between Rome and Constantinople (the latter was at the time in the grip of a miaphysite, Acacius), combatting the good-hearted but easily-led Emperor Zeno in his attempts to moderate a peace among in the Church riven over the declarations of Chalcedon some thirty years earlier. He also issued excommunications against Peter the Fuller in Antioch (who had himself illegally deposed the orthodox bishop Martyrios) and Peter Mongus in Alexandria, though these excommunications and depositions were regarded as illegal and therefore had no real effect until 512 when Patriarch Euphemius of Constantinople joined with S. Felix in the condemnation of Mongus and Fuller, allowing the faithful of those Sees to choose orthodox patriarchs. His great-great-great-grandson S. Gregory would come into similar conflict with John Nesteutes of Constantinople when the latter decided to begin styling himself “Ecumenical Patriarch”, declaring that “Whoever calls himself universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor to the Antichrist.” Pride and power were deep concerns for both Ss. Gregory and Felix, and a deep belief in proper procedure in exercising authority in the Church seemed present among the family—for, while Felix’s excommunications were seen as false because they were unilaterally, he had in fact insisted on calling upon the Synod of Rome to make the decision with him, a very conciliar act and a step his successor Nicholas I would see no reason to take before excommunicating and deposing Photios the Great of the Constantinopolitan See. What else would one expect from a son of a Prefect and Regionarius that he would regard authority and hierarchies of authority as being of supreme importance to Christians? Popular hagiographies of S. Gregory ascribe the title he assumed—servus servorum Dei—as stemming from his monastic vocation, but there seems to your author to be greater reason to believe this title to be an extension of his high senatorial upbringing, dominated by old Roman virtues of self-discipline, respect for hierarchy and legality (but not legalism), and the sense of propriety that marked the greatest representatives of the Senatorial elite throughout Rome’s long history.

S. Gregory’s father may be given credit for passing on to his son those traits that, properly channelled, produced a saint. With such a pedigree, though, should it surprise us? Gordianus, though, is not regarded as a saint, though he may be—and he shares this first trait in common another good father whose virtues and faults alike shaped another great Father of the Church. Patricius of Thagaste receives very little attention in Church histories—usually it is his wife, S. Monica, who gets the bulk of the credit for her son Augustine becoming the great saint and teacher of Christian doctrine, a tendency S. Augustine contributed to directly in writing his own mother’s hagiography. Subsequent biographers of the saint have abused Patricius’ memory terribly—painting him as a drunkard, an adulterer, and a short-tempered, vulgar man of little intellectual ability or care for his wife and children. This is a gross disservice, however, to the Roman to whom Augustine owed his education, his sociability and rhetorical skills, and whose social station proved a tremendous boon for the penniless, nameless Berber S. Monica. By no means was he the dedicated priestly patrician Gordianus, but Aurelian Patricius was a man of a good Roman family who valued his family name enough to seek high office in the town of Thagaste where he owned a modest farm and a dozen or so slaves. He was engaged constantly in efforts to put aside sufficient money to guarantee an education for both of his sons, but especially for Augustine, in whom he recognised both masculine prowess and tremendous intellectual ability that could bring great honour to the gens Aurelia. True, these are deeply worldly concerns, and not the sort of virtues one finds praised in hagiographies, but they are hardly black marks on Patricius’ character. Many readers of the Confessiones might be put off in Book II when we read that Augustine’s father, “seeing [his son] at the baths, perceived that [he] was becoming a man, and was stirred with a restless youthfulness, he, as if from this anticipating future descendants, joyfully told it to my mother”. However, this was fairly typical of North African Romans of the time, who would have to demonstrate by legal oath to the families of their future daughters-in-law that their sons were capable of performing the necessary functions to provide heirs.

Patricius, therefore, this working man of the world whose concerns were the betterment of his sons and his family name, and who worked tirelessly to gain connexions which the young Augustine could take advantage of, was doubtlessly heavily involved in directing his son to those places that allowed him to enter the true Church, a prospect that seems slim indeed had he merely remained in Thagaste as an unlettered farm-boy and occasional tax collector as Patricius had been when his marriage with Monica was contracted. In addition, Patricius is reported to have had a gregarious and generous nature that was passed onto and perfected in his son, a great preacher and organiser. In both the case of Patricius and Gordianus, fathers who go largely unmentioned, about whom we can glean only basic traits described by their sons, nevertheless were tremendous figures in the lives of their holy sons. It is clear that neither of them really set out to produce saints, either—especially not the civil servant of Thagaste—yet, without those qualities which each sought to impart to their boys, those boys would not have been saintly men. This differentiates spiritual fatherhood from physical fatherhood. A spiritual father is one who guides his spiritual children in the faith: everything he does is aimed solely at their religious observance and spiritual welfare. He becomes more important in times of crisis and times of complacency; he can vanish from the world. Physical fatherhood is different—not only is it constant, but a physical father shares with his son something much closer, a real bond formed by both shared blood and by participation in a continuous line of family traditions in upbringing. It would be a gift for a spiritual father to feel as deep a connexion as a father feels to his son by birth—a gift because it is so difficult and rare for a man to feel for a stranger’s son what he would feel for his own. This is not a question of feeling either—rather, it is only natural: for one to be flesh of flesh, bone of bone, with another necessarily creates a deeper more natural psychological bond and a different kind of love that for human beings is of an obligatory sort. It is, to a greater or lesser extent, less than human not to regard one’s children in such a way. How much more difficult, however, would it be for a man who has no children at all to be a spiritual father, because he cannot know the love and connexion a man feels with his children.

It is not, therefore, strictly inheritance that produces better priests from priestly lines, but likewise it is the commitment proper to fatherhood that a priest would have to his sons and no other category of person. Now only can we return to the counterfactual: if the worldly Patricius could sire S. Augustine, and the Deacon-Senator Gordianus could sire S. Gregory, what sort of son could a saint like Gregory have produced? The adage goes that women raise children, but men raise adults: so much stands to be gained from priestly fathers raising priestly men.

Fathers of the Childless Winter

These examples, however, are aimed at providing evidence of general realities; there are also specific conditions that concern us in dealing with the relationships of fathers and sons. Patricius offers us an example of one of the best sorts of men the Classical world in its death throes had to offer—there are far greater examples of far worse men and fathers during the same age. Today, the great Vesuvius of inevitable cultural collapse threatens to consume us, unknowing, in our own civilizational Pompeii (or, more likely, our own Herculaneum). One would be justified to wonder if we could furnish history with a man as good as Patricius, just as he could hardly be blamed for despairing of us producing a man of Gordianus’ standing, let alone these men’s great sons. We have no children because children, as mentioned above, create the future while continuing and preserving the past, and this civilisation is focused wholly on the present, which only serves to be disrupted and disturbed by the presence of the past dragging it into the future. Such an age demands a constant supply of spiritual fathers—indeed, a growing supply, and one that is peopled with confessors and preachers of the best possible quality. With few fathers, and none who are functionally priests, many who are no even functionally fathers, what hope is there of functional priests? Consider especially the problem of professionalization in the Roman church in particular: in an age of advanced adolescence, boys are taken from high school or perhaps after a baccalaureate program and move directly into seminary—in some cases, efforts are made to force them to mature, but such efforts are always dependent wholly on artificiality. In the past, it is true, it was by no means uncommon for 15- and 16-year-old lesser sons of the nobility to become priests, but it is likewise true that adolescence in those days of Faustian Spring lasted at best 3-4 years, not 15-20, as in our days. A “boy” of 15 was functionally a man: entrusted with responsibilities that included the management of manors and the command of armies (Richard Cœur-de-Lion earned his famous epithet commanding troops in putting down rebels in Poitou at the age of 16). A boy cannot be an elder—yet a priest must be an elder first and foremost. Today, however, a man of 22 may yet be less experienced in the world and less spiritually and mentally mature than Prince Richard in 1173. The absence of elders reflects the sad reality of the age, that it is an age of childlessness because it is an age of endless childhood, and the priests of the age are not free of this curse.

There is a further problem with professionalization contrasted with the apprenticeship of priests to their fathers’ vocation—a recurrent fault of Western Christendom which has historically played the role of standing athwart secular academia shouting “teach us your ways!” A quick survey of Roman Catholic universities in the United States displays a unique propensity to imitate secular colleges poorly far more readily than excelling as uniquely Catholic institutions. For every Christendom College and Ave Maria University, one finds a dozen Georgetowns, Fordhams, and Notre Dames. The seminaries are no better off—the Catholic University of America, under the watchful gaze of the USCCB, cannot help but produce priests steeped in the sociopolitical culture of an average American college, and the isolation of Mount St. Mary’s and Franciscan Universities have not prevented them from forming a University State. Understand, reader, that it is not your author’s intention to impugn the honour of these seminarians by suggesting they are subject to the sexual culture of the contemporary university—this is perhaps the easiest thing to avoid for young men—but rather that their mindset is one which is accustomed to the University State, and therefore little inclined to do battle with it. In an age in which the University State threatens to engulf society at large, and the elders of society are the only alternative, the priest plays a more important role than in almost any previous age. A priest who rises out of a very personal tradition, passed from father to son, will be able to respond as an elder; a priest whose tradition is impersonal, academic, and isolated will not be able to discern where that tradition ends and the threat of the godless world begins (as Catholic priests have, unfortunately, displayed in recent years, arraying themselves firmly with the left-wing camp as regards community identity, punishment for crime, and even explicitly moral issues like sodomy and infanticide).

It is, therefore, insufficient (albeit correct) to argue that clerical celibacy does not work in an age in which families are having fewer children—rather, the tradition of celibacy in the West has produced a priesthood that is doomed to fail even in a highly fecund community because of the divorce that exists between the personal inheritance of a—for lack of a better term—Levite and the impersonal inheritance of the celibate priest. The celibate priesthood has, in order to replace the sort of training a son receives from his father, created a professional priesthood, a priesthood subjects to the demands of professionalization but also to the faults and artifice of bureaucratisation. By eliminating the possibility of inherited priesthood, the priestly caste natural to all civilizations and no less present in the Faustian West is not just subject to brittleness and impermanence, lacking a natural replenishment (as noted in Part I), but is also subject to degradation of purpose overtime as the training of priests ceases to produce elders and instead produces professionals. Thus, in times of cultural collapse, such priests become a liability when they ought to be a bulwark.

Summa: The Dangers of Clerical Celibacy

It has been the effort of this essay to demonstrate that clerical celibacy is dangerous not only to the priesthood but indeed to the society that permits it. It diminishes the resilience of tradition and the successive quality of priests. Lessening birth rates accentuate, but are not the source of, these problems—and even a society producing many second and third sons, priests who are professionalised rather than personalised will fail to become elders, and therefore the quality of elders will likewise degrade until the society is, as our is, devoid of visible elders and spiritual fathers. History has demonstrated that a man, insofar as he is a part of his wider community and not of a sub-community, cannot be a man if he remains unmarried and childless.

Celibacy, though, does have a social role—specifically as part of a wider separation from society. The celibate priest who has no calling to monastic life is truly subject to involuntary celibacy, for his participation in the broader world makes his celibacy a sort of permanent wall between him and the people to whom he is tasked to minister. The incel phenomenon indicates what can happen to a man’s mind and soul when he finds himself in celibacy without a monastic calling—he becomes, to a greater or lesser extent, asocial. To make all priests into monks guarantees that the number of those who are genuinely called to be monks are forced to be more than monks and those who are truly called to be priests may become less than priests.

Manhood and fatherhood are mutually dependent—one cannot be one without an experience of the other. Monks surrender worldly manhood and manliness to give their manhood and their entire bloodline as a sacrifice to God; priests, though must be men for only real men can offer the guidance that a priest must be able to offer to his flock. A Church officiated by spiritual adolescents will inevitably fall into the trap of becoming an adolescent church, failing to identify true crises and therefore unable to prevent or at least address catastrophic cultural and historical events. All of its shepherds will become hirelings, and its sheep left to the guidance of other sheep, left to guard themselves against the wolves.

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