WADE ST. ONGE

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Superiority of Celibacy to Marriage: Response to Deacon Scott Dodge

This is a response to Deacon Scott Dodge from a homily he posted on his blog. He brought an end to the discussion after two exchanges, so I decided to put the third response on my blog. His words will be in blue, mine in black.

It is interesting to note that Deacon Dodge seemed to have agreed with my main argument, and has responded accordingly (see last paragraph).





“Christian matrimony is a holy state-of-life, something that in my view and the view of many others who have studied the matter far longer and more deeply than I have, has been downplayed to the detriment of marriage throughout the Church’s history”.

And what you and “many others who have studied the matter far longer and more deeply” have done is swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. Your blog is a good example: you speak about the holiness of marriage, but hardly ever mention the call to celibacy or extol its glories (as the Saints and Doctors and Fathers of the Church did frequently and eagerly). You “admit” that the Church teaches there is some kind of “superiority” to celibacy, but you can’t seem to actually bring yourself to say it. Even in your post of December 4th, where you were conceding my points, you speak of celibacy as being “indispensible”. Well so is marriage, so is working at soup kitchens, and so is taking out the garbage. By doing this, what you are guilty of is what others who have studied this matter far longer and more deeply than you have do: you speak of the dogma of the superiority of celibacy to marriage in such a way as to practically take the substance out of it, usually by qualifications and exceptions (similar to the little anecdote you gave at the end of your last response). Basically, what you and the others you speak of say this:

Yes, celibacy is superior to marriage, but marriage is holy for those called to it (and all of us who are married are obviously called to it), and celibacy is the “lesser” call if you choose it for the wrong reasons, and celibacy is only superior in the sense that the eschatological nature of it is more clear, and celibacy is only for a few people, not including us, so it would be the lesser call for us personally if we chose it, and once St. Antony of the Desert went to a village and asked the Lord to show him the holiest man in the village and the Lord led him to a married man [without, of course, mentioning that the married man was a virgin in a Josephite marriage”, etc.

So, once again, the reader/listener leaves with the following impression: whatever superiority celibacy has, it doesn’t really apply to me. Whereas the Doctors of the Church did not speak about celibacy at all like those “who have studied the matter far longer than you” have. If I am to choose between Orthodox priests writing in Commonweal magazine and the Doctors of the Church, I will choose the Doctors – and so should you.


“Let me ask you (rhetorically- meaning I'll leave you to ponder these for yourself), What half-truth am I exaggerating?”

As you see, there is no need for me to reflect as I knew what I had in mind when I asserted you were presenting only half the truth. Thus, I will take your question as a serious one rather than a rhetorical one. You do what most do today: namely, speak about how marriage is holy, but never speak about how celibacy is holier. You are afraid to state unequivocally that celibacy has a “superiority”. You cannot seem to bring yourself to say it.

This is the half-truth: “marriage is holy”. But there’s more to it than that. “Marriage is holy, celibacy is holier”. Dr. Scott Hahn teaches the full truth, as I cited on your blog. You only teach half the truth – the first half. And today, to teach only half that truth is a serious and dangerous error.

You quote Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:32, and Revelation 19:7. But you do not cite Matthew 19:12, Luke 18:29, or 1Corinthians 7:38. Your selective citation of Scripture itself is a “half-truth”, and it demonstrates the point I am trying to make.


“Marriage is a state-of-life that has very often been dealt with, especially in the Latin Church, on the basis of a dualistic anthropology? It has been observed that St. Augustine’s view of sexual relations, especially within marriage, represents a vestige of his earlier Manichaeism. I am not in a position to make an authoritative judgment on that, but I am inclined to agree with it”.

Would you also say, then, that St. Augustine’s Manichaean-influenced view of marriage influenced Thomas, the other Doctors of the Church, the Fathers of the Council of Trent, and the Magisterium itself until “John Paul the Great” came along and corrected it? That is, of course, what you are implying, correct? That is a dangerous assertion – one that is, of course, quite common in this era where our theology comes almost exclusively from post-Vatican II sources while the Doctors and Fathers are merely considered valuable as proof-texts rather than for the entirety of their thought.

I was involved in the second round of the “Christopher West” debates that ensued after Dawn Eden published her Master’s thesis. We made the allegation that West and his followers were teaching that pretty much every theologian before Vatican II was tainted by the Manichaean influence and that skewed the Church’s view of marriage. The breaking point came when we cited something from De Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” and his chapter on sexual intimacy, and Christopher West’s editor, Sr. Lorraine, stated that this showed that De Sales was also influenced by Manichaeism. Kevin Tierney responded by writing an excellent defence of the passage from De Sales.


“On the contrary, you seem to suggest that marriage is not an authentically Christian way of life, but only a negative vocation reserved for those who can’t hack the demands of celibacy, thus failing to recognize in Christian marriage any eschatological value ... I reject the idea that marriage is but a remedy for concupiscence. I view marriage as a positive vocation, an insight supported by my own experience”

Actually, I consider it to be both. I would assert that there is some truth to the idea that marriage is a vocation for those who cannot handle the demands of celibacy. Why do I say this? Because Jesus Himself said so: “Let he who can accept this teaching do so”, and so does the Church by teaching that Christ has recommended the evangelical counsels to all. Now, if I merely left it at that, it would be a “half-truth”. Indeed, those who cannot “accept this teaching” (Matthew 19:12) “do well” to marry (1 Corinthians 7:38). That is the words of Scripture. And I am guessing that you, like many others who have been influenced by the heresy of the “equality” of marriage and celibacy (not unlike St. Augustine who retained vestiges of his Manichaean past when theologizing about marriage), cringe when you read 1Corinthians 7 in toto. Christopher West, when speaking of 1Corinthians 7 in his magnum opus, “Theology of the Body Explained”, did his best to take the substance out of Paul’s words and qualify them – you could almost picture him cringing at the keyboard. I, for my part, have no problems with what St. Paul wrote – in fact, when I read, I nod enthusiastically in complete agreement, without the need to qualify his statements to bring it into agreement with my theology.


“At least as regards the Roman Catholic Church, I agree with something I heard Fr. Ray Carey say during a session of diaconate retreat a little over a year ago, namely that we didn’t even have a theology of marriage until after the Second Vatican Council. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is not much of one”.

Things like this make me question the quality of the training that deacons in the Church are getting (something I have long been concerned with). When I read the Catechism of Trent and the section on marriage and sexuality in St. Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life”, I certainly do see a well-developed theology of marriage.

Please answer me this, Deacon Dodge: what in our current “theology of marriage” was not there before Vatican II? Please give me examples ... and I will attempt to show you from past Popes, Councils, Doctors, and Fathers that they were indeed there.

Dawn Eden, who was in the forefront of the debate, recommends Fulton Sheen’s 1951 book, “Three to get Married”, as one of the best resources for teaching or learning the Christian theology of marriage. Now, how can that be if there was no real “theology of marriage” until the Second Vatican Council? This is not a rhetorical question – I would like you to answer.

It would be interesting to see what Dawn Eden, Steve Kellmeyer, Kevin Tierney, Alice von Hildebrand, and all those who were involved in this debate would say about your quotation. All of the aforementioned, along with myself, are concerned with how widespread this error is, especially among our clergy, and how this is not just an error restricted to West and those who listen to him but rather is an error rife throughout the post-conciliar orthodox Church, which is where West got it to begin with. Dawn Eden speaks in her thesis about the “hermeneutic of continuity” and the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”, and says that West has applied the latter to the topic of marriage and sexuality. I think Eden, Kellmeyer, and others involved in the debate would agree that you, too, Deacon Dodge, and Fr. Carey, have done the same.


“You missed the most important point I made in my response, which was that any authentically Christian mode of life, including marriage, is eschatologically-oriented”.

Of course. Then again, that goes without saying. Everything is eschatologically-oriented. The dirt on the ground is eschatologically-oriented because it was created by God, as are all other things in the world, as a faint reflection of His glory and our heavenly home. Thus, I am glad you followed this sentence up with the following:


“What I did not note, but perhaps should have, is precisely what makes celibacy superior, namely that in light of Christ it is a “purer”(?) eschatological sign than is marriage”.

That is why celibacy is referred to as an “eschatological sign” in the Church’s Tradition. Marriage is never referred to as such.


“One of the most balanced (i.e., an example of holding competing truths in tension) treatments of Christian marriage vis-à-vis celibacy is found in the unified code of canon law for the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome [Canon 373]”.

It is interesting that you mention Canon 373 – my last blog post was in regards to that precise canon. There are times where “competing truths” are actually in contradiction with one another rather than being complementary. I would argue that is the case concerning the Western practice of a celibate clergy and the Eastern practice of a generally married clergy (as I pointed out in my last two blog posts and the links I provided in those articles). I believe there is a synthesis between these two practices, but I would submit that it would be that the Eastern practice of a married priesthood is an exception necessitated by accidents of history to what should ideally be the norm of clerical celibacy universally, similar to what Cardinal Cochini would argue.

Why, may I ask, do Western Catholics always bring up the Eastern discipline as though it is the ideal model?

And just as you think it “bears noting” that the author of the piece you cited is an Orthodox priest, I would likewise say it “bears noting” that you are citing from the extremely-liberal Commonweal magazine. Certainly, there is a legalism about celibacy and it can be chosen for the wrong reasons. I would say the best celibate priests have a certain humility about their call, like the associate pastor back home, who told me one time, “they say priesthood is the higher call, but when I think about the struggles of married life and what it takes to raise a family, I would say they have the higher call”. Of course, the priest is wrong - he does have the higher call. However, St. Francis of Assisi was also wrong in considering himself to be a more likely candidate for damnation than most of his brother monks. Such is the virtue of humility.


“My homily was an exhortation given [sic] follow Christ by faithfully living out the state-of-life which one is called, as well as encouraging young people to consider religious and priestly vocations, and urging parents not to be an obstacle given that Catholic parents are often a hindrance to those young people who consider responding to this call. Preaching on the last item is a delicate matter requiring pastoral judgment”.

Another hindrance to the call is the heresy that holds that marriage and celibacy are different but equal calls. And Catholic parents are often a hindrance because they have bought into that heresy and have taken it a logical step further – namely, if they are equal, marriage is actually superior because, as I stated in a series of articles I wrote years ago, “since many Catholics were taught that celibacy was a ‘different’ but ‘equal’ call to that of marriage, they actually began to see celibacy as a lesser call, because they knew the married person, who was the ‘equal’ of the celibate, had one huge ‘perk’ over the celibate - he could get married and have children while the celibate could not”. West essentially teaches that we will all have the “heavenly marriage” – it’s just celibates get there a little quicker than we do. Well, if we all end up with the same thing in the end, then why not have marriage and a children while you’re on this earth as well? Of course, the glories of celibacy and its superiority as taught by the Saints will tell you that celibates have greater access to grace and will more likely win more merits in heaven. But West doesn’t teach what the Saints have taught, nor what the Church has taught before Vatican II.


“What people who listen to any given homily may take away is beyond knowing and certainly varies widely”.

Correct, but depending on what you say, you can either maximize or minimize possible misunderstandings. In this case, you were increasing greatly the possibility that the high majority of people would come away with the misunderstanding I mentioned previously.


“However, knowing the people to whom I preach places me in a position to judge how best to approach certain matters with them, whereas you are in no such position, at least with regards to the parish I serve”.

Yes, but not to the extent you think. My guess is that the people in your parish are pretty much like the people in most other parishes. In other words, you preach to the “typical American parish”. I have been a member of many “typical American parishes” and I can assure you that the preaching does not need to change much from one parish to another. In the “typical American parish”, 95 percent of the people believe that marriage and celibacy are “different but equal” calls, and when those 95 percent hear your homily, they will hear you saying just that.


“It also bears noting that while homilies can and frequently do have catechetical features, preaching is not essentially catechesis, which is not to say that preaching shouldn’t be doctrinally sound, which mine is, even if not to your personal liking, which seems to be the cause your quibbling. So, I am not going to make an act of contrition for what I preached”.

Let me ask you, Deacon Dodge: considering 95 percent of the “typical American parish” spends only one hour a week at the parish (Sunday Mass), and considering we have on our hands one of the most poorly catechized generations in Church history, how are we supposed to catechize most of our Catholics if we do not do so through the homily? Preaching before Vatican II was very much “catechetical”, which can be clearly seen by going to any Fraternity of St. Peter parish. My catechetics professor at Steubenville was booked to give a talk to seminarians one time about preaching, and he asked us if there is anything he should mention. I said, “Yes. You should speak about preaching catechetically”. He agreed. A good preacher in the church today will incorporate catechesis into his homilies. He will expound on the Scriptures, but in such a way that he incorporates catechesis. Also, it “bears noting” that for pastoral reasons, the preacher can in fact make his homily into a catechesis – and I would argue that considering the state of affairs in your “typical American parish”, that would be a good idea.

And the “cause of [my] quibbling” has nothing to do with personal taste. It has to do with the perpetuation of a damaging heresy. Just as “while homilies can and frequently do have catechetical features, preaching is not essentially catechesis”, so too, “while homilies are not teaching heresy, they can perpetuate heresy by not making the proper distinctions among people who have embraced a particular heresy”.

“You merely restated, albeit more strongly, what you wrote in your first comment”.

I had to. You were constructing straw men (i.e. “Wade, I never taught that marriage is greater than celibacy”; of course you were not – I was saying you were implying they were “equal”, not that marriage was “greater”). And you were responding with a lot of red herrings as a result.


Finally, I find it interesting that on your blog, like many other blogs in this post-conciliar church, you have a section of links for "Christian Marriage" but none for "Religious Vocations", of which there are plenty of good and important ones. To me, that speaks volumes.

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