Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of a Discipline of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West

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Ignatius Press, 2000 - Religion - 375 pages

Heid presents a penetrating and wide-ranging study of the historical data from the early Church on the topics of celibacy and clerical continence. He gives a brief review of recent literature, and then begins his study with the New Testament and follows it all the way to Justinian and the Council in Trullo in 690 in the East and the fifth century popes in the West. He thoroughly examines the writings of the Bible, the early church councils, saints and theologians like Jerome, Augustine, Clement, Tertullian, John Chrystostom, Cyril and Gregory Nazianzen. He has gathered formidable data with conclusive arguments regarding obligatory continence in the early Church.

 

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Stefan Heid is so dead set on "making the case" for clerical celibacy and he gets there, by God; but by then you wonder if you are reading a barely veiled propaganda piece trying to pass itself off as serious academic research.
And as for his theories based on some strange exercise in channelling some quasi-historic personalities to show just where the Eastern Church went so wrong can't seriously be meant to be read by the Eastern Church to educate them in the error of their ways. It is condescending, and pure triumphalism.
He is more likely preaching to the choir...the Western Church is crumbling, but they can at least take comfort in pretending they were right...about everything.
 

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Under a mask of scholarly language and citation, Stefan Heid has presented a most unconvincing case for tracing the discipline of ministerial celibacy right back to apostolic times. How can he truly interpret the injunction in 1 Timothy about bishops (he must be 'above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable... He must manage his own household well') to imply a rule of continence within marriage for those bishops, once their role of begetting children has been achieved? Further, he wants to minimise the significance of the "agapetae" - devout women who lived with clerics - to some kind of aberration. That the practice was later denounced by Cyprian and Jerome proves that by that time (3rd and 4th centuries) it was still widespread, and by them regarded as aberrant because by then there was a wider admiration for voluntary celibacy, based on monastic example.
One has the impression that Stefan Heid is like a clever but somewhat unscrupulous barrister trying to prove the virtually impossible. His brief is a dogmatic rather than an historical one: to demonstrate that a mandatory rule of celibacy for clerics was the norm rather than the exception in the Church's earliest centuries. The implication that the Greeks and other Eastern Christians went astray from that solid norm, while the Western, Latin Church kept it more faithfully, is implausible to say the least. One might rather trace the celibacy rule to a combination of ascetic ideals and the stronger Western tendency towards a Roman-imperial, monarchic system of governance. Celibate clergy, presumably, will be more amenable to absolute obedience to their ecclesial superiors.
 

Contents

Preface
11
The Continence of the Ministers in New Testament
24
Summary
56
Higher Clerics Must Not Marry Again
86
Disputed Canons of the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Holy
105
Eusebius Continues the Tradition of Origen
115
Summary
141
Clerical Continence in the FourthCentury PostNicene
144
Summary
198
Conditions in Italy under Pope Siricius
240
The Situation in Gaul under Pope Innocent
262
Summary
280
The East Continues for a Long Time to Adhere Firmly
296
Summary
347
Bibliography
353
Abbreviations
359

Obligatory Continence Despite Criticism of the Digamy
156
The Trend toward a Celibate Clergy
170

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