Friday, November 15, 2013

Of Clerical Marriage

What follows is a short reflection on one of the Articles of Religion, which, perhaps, could be overlooked due to its simplicity. The issue is of clerical marriage, a key point during the Protestant Reformation, which broke the ties with the medieval Church. To this day, it is one of the defining marks that separates the Reformed Churches from the Roman and Eastern Churches. The requirement of celibacy was seen by our Reformers as an unbiblical and unnatural demand of men in the ordained ministry of the Church. They searched the Scriptures and saw the holiness of marriage as it was instituted by God. Furthermore, they saw that the Apostle Peter was himself married, as well as many in the early Church. If one were to look at the history of the Church, they would see that the issue of clerical marriage was not settled in the West until the 11th century and that the decision to require clerical celibacy was rooted in issues of property rather than any doctrinal issues (obviously, this is drastically over-simplified for the sake of brevity).

Here is the text of Article XXXII...

XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests.

BISHOPS, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God's laws either to vow the estate of single life or to abstain from marriage. Therefore it is lawful also for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

The importance of this Article is crucial to the question of Anglican identity. This is the point which is often overlooked when discussing the issues related to the material in this Article. This Article allows marriage to the discretion of ministers, to whether or not they will pursue it. This overturns the medieval practice of requiring celibacy for all orders. More importantly, it also departs from the Eastern tradition of allowing married men to become priests and deacons (but not bishops). There seems to be a current in North American Anglicanism to highlight the alleged similarities between Anglicanism and unreformed Byzantism. This is one of the supposed ways in which these two drastically different religions are similar. The problem is that the underlying principles of Article XXXII are contrary to those underlying the allowance of clerical marriage in the Eastern churches. In the East, a married man may become ordained but, after ordination, a priest or deacon may not marry. This is remarkably different from the Anglican position.

The teaching of the Bible does not support the idea that ministers may not marry (except perhaps by some strange eisegesis). St. Paul implies that ministers will be married in his discussion of the qualifications of bishops and deacons in I Timothy iii and Titus i:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife... One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (I Timothy iii, 2, 4-5).

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly (Titus i, 6).

There is no Scriptural requirement that ministers be unmarried. The nature of the Church's authority does not allow it to require something to be practiced that is contrary to Scripture, which would be unlawful. Does the requirement of celibacy contradict the teaching of Scripture? While it is not the purpose of this piece to exhaustively prove this point, I do think that the requirement of clerical celibacy is contrary to the teachings of Scripture.

The key thing which should be noted about the teaching of Article XXXII is the wedge that it places between Anglicanism and both Rome and the East. In a time when many are trying to create some artificial bridge between Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it remains ever crucial to note that this bridge does not exist. The Non-juring Scots found that out in the 18th century and I have the feeling that many "non-juring" bishops in North America are going to find that out rather soon as well.

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