Monthly Archives: December 2010

“Between Quinisext and Canon 277”

“Between Quinisext and Canon 277”
A Combined Response to Father Vincent and to Father Kosterman.
Letter to the Editor in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 2008 , pp. 6-7.

The history of the ecclesiastical discipline of continence in the Eastern Churches is this. Until the 692 A.D. Quinisext Council [“In Trullo”], all married clergy in East and West practiced perfect apostolic continence. They completed their families before ordination and lived “as brother and sister in the Lord”.

The Eastern Church’s appeal to Paphnutius was demolished by Alfons Maria Stickler. “Paphnutius” was invented to persuade Council and Emperor to legitimize a return to Levitical or temporary continence for priests and deacons. The Western Church rejected that canon from Quinisext and continued the original apostolic practice. Eventually, the Western Church stopped ordaining married men altogether and ordained only celibate men. This shift made it clearer that the offering of the One Sacrifice in the Person of the Bridegroom is the unsurpassable fulfillment of masculine nuptiality. There is no remainder for a wife, and deacons are required to be celibate because their liturgical office is integrated with that offering.

The Eastern return to the Levitical discipline was never formalized. Orthodox priests and deacons abstain before and after Divine Liturgy “from the one blessing not washed away in the Flood” for one day, three days, seven days and perhaps during all of Great Lent. Temporary continence prevents the Orthodox lower clergy from celebrating “daily Mass” because such frequency would entail de facto perpetual continence. Only the bishop, because he is chosen from the celibate monks, can celebrate “daily Mass”. The Moscow Patriarchate canonized St. John of Kronstadt in 1990. After ordination to the priesthood, the saint announced that he and his matushka were living in continence. By this choice they returned to the practice of the first centuries of the undivided Church.

Some years ago I occasionally visited a Russian Orthodox priest-friend on Saturday evenings. I learned from him that he always camped out on the living room couch because his celebration of the Divine Liturgy was scheduled for the next morning. This is Levitical practice, like Zachariah who lived in the temple during the time of his service. Zachariah and the priests left their wives at home and returned to them after temple duty.

Despite Paul VI’s Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704) which presupposes apostolic continence, many on the religious left continued to promote the permanent diaconate as “a wedge in the door” opening to the real agenda: the abolition of mandatory priestly celibacy. Sacred Tradition and the canons of Western councils requiring apostolic continence for married clergy, especially Elvira and Carthage, were ignored. A noncontinent diaconate was to be the “first step”. Some bishops in Europe attempted to ordain married “viri probati” as priests, but Paul VI stopped these efforts.

As Edward N. Peters illustrated visually, the revised draft of Canon 277 for the 1983 CIC contained an exception from continence for permanent deacons. The pope, acting in his office as pope, removed the exception. There are no exceptions written into Canon 277, and commentaries on the law have no canonical standing in the church.

Father Kosterman can obtain a brief of Edward Peters’ analysis of Canon 277 at his website: The analysis is set out fully in Peters’ article “Canonical Considerations on Diaconal Continence” in Studia Canonica 39/1-2 (2005) 147-180. The earlier studies of Alfons Stickler, Roman Cholij and Christian Cochini are essential to our understanding of the tradition of apostolic continence and its relation to the Holy Eucharist. Cochini and Cholij wrote their doctoral dissertations on that subject. Henri Crouzel and Stefan Heid offer yet further documentation.

Given the chaos and incoherencies of East and West, Pope Benedict’s 2005 restriction on second marriages for permanent deacons precisely because it is apostolic tradition, assures a lively future discussion of clerical continence. The sources of the Tradition, especially before the novelty of Quinisext, will not disappear. Can we say that the Holy Spirit did not guide the early church?

Any adequate theology of the nuptial symbolism of the Eucharistic sacrifice cannot conceive of a sacred ministry other than that instituted by our Lord. This ministry is the representation in his Person of the Bridegroom’s sacrificial fidelity to his Bride, a fidelity which is unqualified and unconditioned (I Timothy 3:2).

Reverend Brian Van Hove, SJ, PhD

His Eminence, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

"The Lion of the Signatura"