Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 10/21/08-Celibacy

In today's excerpt--in the book of Genesis, humanity is commanded to "be fruitful and multiply." But this idea is overturned in the Christian New Testament when the Apostle Paul writes that "it is well for a man not to touch a woman," which eventually leads the Catholic church to require its priests to be celibate, a prohibition that is egregiously violated through the centuries. Then enters Martin Luther and his Reformation:

"The Apostle Paul is not only celibate and chaste, but he wishes that 'all were as I myself am,' telling his congregants, 'It is well for a man not to touch [have sex with] a woman.' But he isn't delusional. The sexual urge exists, alas, and Paul knows that only the lucky few are capable of 'practicing self control,' as he does. Everyone else should marry, says Paul, 'for it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.' Here he sets up the hierarchy of sexual life that will persist until Martin Luther breaks it down in about fifteen centuries. Single and sexless, celibate and chaste--that's the coming gold standard, the ideal human state. Marriage is inferior to celibacy by a long shot, but superior to fornication. ... In Paul's view, marriage is not a sin, it's a lust-containment facility. ...

"[In 1517], the thousand-year reign of celibacy over marriage is about to end, and the man about to end it is, miraculously, a 40-year-old virgin wearing a monk's cowl. Martin Luther [who posts his ninety-five accusations to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church, primarily condemning indulgences] has seen for himself what happens to clerics who experience the carnal urge--the overwhelming majority he thinks--yet are forbidden to marry. Unable to slake the urge through the conjugal act, all they're left with is fornication. So they fornicate: with prostitutes, with live-in mistresses, and for some priests who serve the public, with female parishioners. ... Far from quelling lusts so that clerics can attend to matters of the spirit instead of the flesh, the celibacy mandate in place for centuries has accomplished precisely the opposite. All of this clerical sin, Luther suspects, is ultimately to the pope's benefit, thanks to the system of indulgences. ...

"[Once he has dispensed] with indulgences, Luther--still wearing his monk's cowl--starts hammering the hell out of celibacy while praising the goodness, indeed the 'godliness,' of marriage with relentless force. He wants to liberate the 'wretched multitude'-- his celibate peers, nuns included--'who now sit in shame and heaviness of conscience' over their sexual sins. As their would-be savior, Luther must convince this multitude to trade the 'villainy and wickedness' of celibacy for the God-given glory of marriage. ... His message does not fall on deaf ears. An escalating number of monks and nuns respond by ditching their communally celibate lives for marriage, sometimes to each other, and with little hesitation--as if they'd been waiting for their prince to come all along."

Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 90-91, 200-207.


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