The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Celibacy for priests is not a matter of doctrine, and so could be changed at any time. It is probable that most of the Apostles were married. In the west, mandatory celibacy was rather late in beginning. Here are the chief reasons for it:
1) It is a sign of what all will be like after the resurrection. - This is true, but does not impress many people.
2) It frees one from the responsibilities and work of a wife and family. Cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35.
3) It is financially less a burden on the local parish to support a single priest than a married priest.
4) The greatest reason is a spiritual one. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus says: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In the narrow sense that would be a box of coins buried under the floor. It would act like a magnet, to pull the owner's heart and thoughts - he would like to think of that stash. But we can put our treasure in anything: in huge meals, gourmet meals, sex, travel, study, even the study of theology. These are all lower than God, some lower than others. So this is the first of two factors. The second is this: How strongly pulled is a person by creatures? At the lean end of the scale, they pull him only into imperfections - but the next stage would be occasional venial sin - then, habitual venial sin - then, occasional mortal sin - then, habitual mortal sin. -- So in proportion to these two factors, it is so much less easy for thoughts and hearts to rise to the divine level.
We supplement this with another comparison: We think of a galvanometer, which is a compass needle on its pivot, and a coil of wire around it. We send a current through the coil, the needle swings the right direction and the right distance to measure the current. The reading should be correct unless there are outside pulls, such as 30,000 volt power line, or a mass of magnetic steel. The two forces affect the needle. If the current in the coil is mild, and the outside pulls strong, the current in the coil may have no effect. - This is an image of an actual grace coming to a soul. It must first put into it the good thought that God wants it to have, to lead to action. The current in the coil, grace, is mild, in that is respects our freedom. If one lets self be greatly hooked by the pulls of creatures, those pulls may overpower the current in the coil. So grace cannot do the first thing needed. So it will not do the other things if it cannot do the first thing. Then the person is blind. For spiritual eyesight, it is good to have as little influence of the pulls as little as possible. Celibacy tries to remove the most powerful pull. Of course, the soul then should try not to be affected by the other pulls either. So celibacy can help spiritual eyesight.