Benedict: If celibacy, then heterosexual marriage

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Well, take a look at the pope’s response last Thursday to a request from a European priest that he “speak on ‘the profundity and authentic significance of ecclesiastical
celibacy’ also in view of the ‘worldly criticisms’ to which it has been
subjected,” as transcribed by Rocco. Benedict begins by portraying celibacy as a way of demonstrating in this world how we will live with God in the next: “to show the reality of the future which we must live here in the
present, and in this way bear witness to our faith.”

He then goes on to claim that celibacy is

an act of faithfulness and trust, an act which presupposes the
faithfulness of marriage, … which is the biblical form, the natural
form, of being man and woman, foundation of the great Christian culture
and of other great cultures of the world. If this is lost, the roots of
our culture will be destroyed. Thus celibacy confirms the ‘yes’ of
marriage with its ‘yes’ to the world to come. This is how we wish to
proceed and actualise this scandal of a faith which founds all of
existence on God.

OK, I can see that celibacy may be considered a special kind of godliness. It’s certainly an ancient Christian practice, even though it was originally just part of the monastic vocation–and though, to this day, a married priesthood is the norm in Eastern Orthodoxy. Moreover, the use of marital–to say nothing of (heter-) erotic imagery to describe the individual’s relationship to Christ is longstanding and central to the Catholic imagination–cf. St. Bernard’s sermons on the Song of Songs.

But it’s something else again to turn celibacy’s “yes” to God into an argument for the “yes” to heterosexual marriage–as if there were some kind of Great Chain of Marital Being by which heterosexual marriage is transformed into a unique metaphysical preparation for a spiritual marriage with God in heaven, about which we are enlightened by the example of thisworldly clerical celibacy.

This is hardly Pauline “better to marry than to burn” theology. Nor is it calculated to mitigate the power of clericalism in contemporary Catholicism.

Update: Sandro Magister has the official text of Benedict’s response, plus he calls attention to a speech to the Curia of 2006 in which he dilates on the importance of clerical celibacy.