Tag Archives: Catholic Doctrine

quotation of the day




An Exorcist Tells His Story


An Exorcist Tells His Story

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, S.S.P.
Translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)
paperback, 205 pages, no index
ISBN 0-89870-710-2

Upon the publication of the ad interim Rite of Exorcism, Father Gabriele Amorth wrote a criticism and a complaint in 1990 called in Italian Un escorista raconta (Rome: Edizioni Dehoniane; tenth and expanded reprint 1993) but only in 1999 did it appear in English.

The completion in 1998 and the appearance in 1999 of the Latin editio typica of the new Rite of Exorcism,1 mandated by the Second Vatican Council, have answered some of his questions. But the fact that it took thirty-five years for this revised rite to be completed by the competent authority is an unfortunate sign for Amorth of misplaced priorities in the church of our day.

Underlying his rather short and anecdotal essay of fewer than two hundred pages is the observation that today bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, influenced by rationalistic theologians, have abandoned their duty of pastoral concern for those suffering from demonic activity. Many bishops have never personally performed an exorcism, and therefore lack sensitivity to this issue. Other bishops simply do not believe in the devil. As a result, the faithful are left unprotected from these manifestations of evil which are permitted for a time by God.

Despite some preaching by the post-conciliar popes, Amorth attributes this abdication of responsibility to a loss of faith in the supernatural, which includes satanic forces.

Sometimes Amorth himself has had to “pick up the pieces” when other pastors, especially in Western Europe outside Italy, should have been more generous in exercising their traditional ministry. He is wrong (p. 15), however, in insisting that only Protestants today treat of the devil with any seriousness.2 There are Catholics, especially those associated with the charismatic movement in the United States and elsewhere,3 who have written on the topic and who are just as competent in the field as the Protestants. And perhaps Father Amorth would be disedified by certain Protestants who place so much emphasis upon deliverance ministry that it becomes an unbalanced kind of Christianity, reducing the centrality of charity. Catholics at their best are promoters of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. That is why Satan hates orthodox Catholics so much.

Some may claim that the emotionalism of the Italian context prohibits a more sober Anglo-American readership from identifying with what Amorth has to say. On the contrary, the growth of dangerous cults and sects in all countries affected by Western secularism affirms him. The occult thrives today alongside business in the decadent West, whether European or American. Among the victims of this phenomenon are women and children, the historical targets of a more emphasized pastoral care in the Church. Whether Amorth expressed himself well or not, and whether he succeeded as well as he should have or not, is beside the point.

A fact which establishes Father Amorth credibility is that he did not wish to become an exorcist. He did not aspire to it but was simply appointed by Cardinal Ugo Poletti (1914-1997) who made him assistant to Father Candido Amantini (1914-1992). For thirty-six years Father Amantini, a Passionist stationed at the church of the Holy Staircase, was chief exorcist of Rome. Amorth became his apprentice and then eventually his successor.

The author shows that he knows the traditional distinctions among the kinds of demonic activity—infestation, oppression, possession. But surprisingly, he explains that the rite of exorcism is diagnostic and intended to discern whether a person is possessed or not. The average reader might have thought it was only practiced after this had been determined. According to Amorth “the starting point and the first purpose (of exorcism), that of diagnosis, is all too often ignored.” (p. 44) The wise exorcist learns to detect the signs of an evil presence before, during, and after an exorcism.(p. 45) As to the question of an unnecessary exorcism, he maintains the best practitioners claim it never harmed anyone. The goal of exorcism is not just liberation but also healing, and the process may be slow in some individuals or communities. Yes, whole societies may be collectively affected by the world of the demons.

Exorcism typically works in tandem with psychiatry and not in opposition to it. Amorth maintains that church officials stated as early as 1583 that mental illness should be distinguished from diabolical possession. He never sees any conflict between exorcism and mental health, except that secular mental health professionals do not believe in exorcism, and therefore at times misdiagnose cases where true demonic presence is at work, whether by infestation, oppression, or possession.

For his work as exorcist Father Amorth believes in using the full assortment of signs and symbols found in the Catholic religious tradition. Exorcism is not a private devotion but a sacramental and a prayer of the whole church. As such it shares in the intercessory dimension of the universal Church. (p. 186)

Three of the most important signs which he uses, and to which he dedicates a chapter showing their role, are salt, water, and oil. Since he adheres very closely to the formal liturgy of the Church, he was disappointed that the 1999 revised Rite of Exorcism made no reference to oil in the Praenotanda. However, in the section on local adaptations made possible if requested by the episcopal conferences of the various regions throughout the world, there is clearly room for petitioning the Holy See to allow anointing with oil4 to be part of the official Rite of Exorcism in a particular part of the world.5 The same can be said for a restoration of the office of exorcist as part of minor orders or a revived ministry.(p. 187)

Father Amorth is a man of simple and naive faith who has not produced for us a literary masterpiece. He learned from Father Amantini, and perhaps priests ought to be afraid to try performing an exorcism without this type of apprenticeship, even if requested by their bishop, simply on the grounds of inexperience. It could be dangerous and unpredictable business. Deliverance ministry is not for the foolhardy. However, Amorth answers such an objection in the following way:

Often priests do not believe in exorcisms, but if the bishop offers them the office of exorcist, they feel as though one thousand demons are upon them and refuse. Many times I have written that Satan is much more enraged when we take souls away from him through confession than when we take away bodies through exorcism. In fact, we cause the devil even greater rage by preaching, because faith sprouts from the word of God. Therefore, a priest who has the courage to preach and hear confessions should not be afraid to exorcise. (p. 67)

In his introduction to An Exorcist Tells His Story, Father Benedict Groeschel asks the reader to keep an open mind. Skepticism on this subject is widespread, and some will refuse to read the book out of prejudice. In fact, on spiritual grounds, it is better not to cultivate any type of curiosity here, because curiosity can grow and become distorted and lead to no good. But for those seeking information on this traditional religious theme, Father Amorth’s testimony may serve as a point of departure. It is not the last word, but an introduction, especially for those who may be suffering from some unidentified evil presence. Amorth wrote the book with the hope of reestablishing the pastoral practice of exorcism in the Catholic Church. We will only know in the future if his influence along with the publication of the new rite have been successful.

Amorth followed this first book with a second, An Exorcist: More Stories (Ignatius Press, 2002). For some it may be astonishing to learn that with the publication of the new Rite of Exorcism, which Amorth calls “useless”, there was separately published a Notification from Cardinal Jorge Medina, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, that the old rite of 1614 can still be freely used with permission.

All of Father Amorth’s concerns about the ineffectiveness of the new rite were settled by that Notification. Since then, a scholarly analysis of this new rite of exorcism has been published by Daniel Van Slyke as “The Ancestry and Theology of the Rite of Major Exorcism (1999/2004),” Antiphon 10 (2006) 70-116.6

  • Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J.
  • UCS Province


Published in The Catholic Faith, 6/1 (January/February 2000): 56-57. Revised for The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1 (Fall 2006): 53-54. Revised for the Saint Louis Review, vol. 67, no. 17 (25 April 2008) 14-15. Revised for this blog 2016.

Online St. Louis Review:    http://www.stlreview.com/article.php?id=15239


1 De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam. Editio typica (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999). 84 pp. +Index.

2 He is also inconsistent on this point since, in more than one place, he admits there are still Catholic exorcists. In fact, he rejoices that they are increasing in number. (p. 17) This happens when an author does not revise his text but merely adds a new introduction years later.

3 Amorth is enthusiastic about the charismatic renewal, especially in Belgium, where it was led by Cardinal Suenens and in Assissi where there is a center. (p. 157 and p. 185). (Let it be said that some Americans are not enamored of “pentecostalism” which has been the subject of more than one formal canonical investigation in the United States. Here the work of Thomas S. Yoder of Ann Arbor is relevant. Also see Raúl Olmos, El Imperio Financiero de los Legionarios de Cristo, Una Mafia Empresarial disfrazada de Congregación (2016). Regnum Christi sponsors faith-healers and other pentecostalist features.)

4 Confusion in the Western world over the difference between sacramental oil blessed on Holy Thursday by the bishop, and the use of plain oil for simple prayer and blessing, has made the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments anxious in recent years.

5 “Signa et gestus ipsius ritus, si hoc necessarium vel utile iudicatur, attenta cultura et genio ipsius populi, de consensu Sanctae Sedis, aptare.” De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam, Praenotanda, #37b.

6 A legal study is by Jeffrey Grob, “A Major Revision of the Discipline on Exorcism: A Comparative Study of the Liturgical Laws in the 1614 and 1998 Rites of Exorcism.” University of St. Paul, Ottawa, 2007.



Edward N. Peters, Hincmar, and clerical continence: the deep roots of Canon 277

September 26, 2013

A different kind of glimpse into the history of clerical continence

Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, was one of the most important ecclesiastical figures of the early Middle Ages. Among his surviving writings, Letter 22 analyzed a tangled marriage case. The great bishop makes therein a parenthetical but fascinating comment on a tradition that the Apostle John was called by Our Lord to follow Him on the very day that John was to have been married. While other medieval sources (e.g., Bl. Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, c. 1260) refer to the story about Jesus calling St. John on his wedding day, it is Hincmar’s comment regarding clerical continence that catches the eye:

As historians relate, Our Lord, who came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, called John (at the time desiring to marry) not after his wedding was celebrated but from the very ceremony and thus before the coupling of the flesh. About the intended wife of John, beyond that the Lord called [John], not just before the union of flesh but even before the celebration of the wedding was complete, it is not recorded whether she remained in continence (as did the wife of blessed Peter, who persevered most continently) or whether, in accord with the old law as applied among the children of Israel, she perhaps decided to marry another.

George Joyce (English Jesuit, 1864-1943), noting the episode in his classic treatment of Christian Marriage (1933) at 55, takes for granted that: “Had [John’s] call come immediately after the wedding, [his wife] would have been bound to live her life in continence.”

Hincmar’s concern (and even less so, Joyce’s) is not, of course, whether the Apostle John was married; rather, both men use the story to underscore that, had John been married at the time of his being called to follow the Lord, he and his wife, like Peter and his wife, would have lived henceforth in a continent marriage.

More evidence, I suggest, that the roots of Canon 277 go very, very deep. + + +

Hincmar of Rheims (Carolingian prelate, 806-882), “Epistola XXII (Ad Rodulfum, etc.)”, PL 126: 132D to 153C, at 148A-B: “Unde et Dominus de nuptiis Joannem volentem nubere, ut tradunt historiae, non post celebratas nuptias, sed de nuptiis, et ante carnis copulationem, vocando retraxit, qui legem non solvere, sed adimplere venit. De cujus scilicet Joannis futura uxore, nisi eum Dominus, non solum ante carnis unionem, verum et ante nuptiarum percelebrationem, revocaret, sicut de beati Petri uxore, quae continentissime perseveravit, non legitur utrum in continentia manserit, an secundum legem veterem, ut semen in Israel relinqueret, alii forte nubere delegerit.”

Dr. Edward N. Peters: A Primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

In the Light of the Law

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on the following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, through its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority eversupporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief(credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held(tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Moreover, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

+ + +

Additum: Scholion on the phrase “homosexual unions” as envisioned in CDF’s “Considerations” (2003).

Some are wondering whether the 2003 CDF document requires Catholic opposition toany civil attempt to accord same-sex couples, qua couples, any, let alone many, of the rights of married couples. I think the CDF document does not make such a demand on Catholic consciences.

Consider: having thoroughly and completely and correctly rejected the claim that same-sex couples can marry, the CDF document, to underscore, I suggest, its rejection of that claim,  would not even countenance use of the phrase “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage” or “homosexual marriage”, and instead referred exclusively to “homosexual unions”. Now, however, a decade further into this debate, the distinction between “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual marriage” and “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual unions” is more commonly recognized, with the latter category (“unions”), insofar as it limits itself to civil consequences for certain living arrangements and does not attempt to redefine marriage itself, being a possibility to be assessed in accord with prudence, while the former category (“marriage”) is, as a matter of principle, to be universally and indeed vigorously rejected.

In short, notwithstanding the 2003 CDF language, civilly sanctioned “homosexualunions”, as that term is understood today, might or might not be objectionable depending on the terms of such recognition, but civilly sanctioned “homosexualmarriage” can never be supported by Catholics in good conscience.

Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

Clerical Continence and the Restored Permanent Diaconate by Donald J. Keefe SJ

Clerical Continence and the Restored Permanent Diaconate

The results of the historical research of Alfons Cardinal Stickler into the apostolicity of the tradition of clerical celibacy and continence,[1] the corroboration of his conclusions by Frs. Christian Cochini and Roman Cholij, and the theological analysis of the intrinsic relation between the sacramental signs of marriage and of priestly orders proposed by Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver at a recent Roman conference,[2] are all in practice controverted by the effective condonation of the noncontinent exercise of their orders by post-conciliar married deacons who having lived in ignorance of any obligation to abstain from conjugal relations after their ordination, have now have been absolved of any obligation to continence, and in fact, if widowed, may apply for dispensation from what has been a diriment impediment to remarriage and, if remarried, continue in the exercise of their orders.[3]

This anomalous departure from the ancient tradition of clerical continence appears to have its inception in the discussions of the restoration of the permanent diaconate during the second Vatican Council.[4]  However, it cannot be shown to have been authorized by the Council, whether tacitly or overtly, nor by Pope Paul VI in the documents by which he formally instituted the restored permanent diaconate and permitted the ordination to it of mature married men, nor by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Further, it is not unlikely that the practical condonation of the use of marriage by such deacons has led to a comparable condonation of the use of marriage by converts from among Protestant clergy who have later been ordained in the Roman Catholic rite; it is evidennt enough the noncontinence of married deacons is no more anomalous than the noncontinence of married priests.

Therefore, the restoration of the permanent diaconate and the ordination of married men to the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II requires a further examination for, if the effective condonation of clerical noncontinence in married deacons and married priests in the Roman rite is in fact legitimate, that legitimacy can rest upon no other grounds than the documents underlying the restoration of the permanent diaconate.  In what follows, we shall show that those documents provide no justification or warrant for diaconal noncontinence.

I.  The Documents of Vatican II: Lumen Gentium §29

The concluding sentence of Lumen Gentium §29 reads:

De consensu Romani Pontificis his Diaconatus viris maturioris aetatis etiam in matrimonio viventibus conferri poterit, necnon iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus tamen, lex caelibatus firma remanere debet.[5]

It is as well to note at the outset that it is the significance of “lex caelibatus” which is in issue.  Granted that the canonical requirement of consecrated celibacy for those in major orders, (the “lex caelibatus”) is waived for married candidates (men “in matrimonio viventes”), and is retained for presumptively unmarried, because more youthful, candidates for the diaconate (“pro juvenibus idoneis”), the meaning of this waiver of the “lex caelibatus” granted the more mature candidates for the diaconate must be determined.  Specifically, does the waiver legitimate, for those candidates who are married, the continuance of conjugal relations with their wives after their ordination?

The language of Lumen Gentium itself cannot be said to do so.  The waiving of the “lex caelibatus” refers simply to dropping the juridical prohibition of married candidates for higher orders; the dropping of the requirement of nonmarriage for an older candidate says nothing about a removal of the obligation of clerical continence after his ordination, unless his continuing in conjugal relations be thought inseparable from his marriage.  Since continuing in conjugal intimacy is not thus integral to marriage, and that as a matter of canon law, such a reading of Lumen Gentium cannot be defended.[6]

Similarly, Austin Flannery’s translation of Lumen Gentium§29 offers no justification for diaconal noncontinence:

Should the Roman Pontiff think fit, it will be possible to confer this diaconal order even upon married men, provided they be of more mature age, and also on suitable young men, for whom, however, the law of celibacy must remain in force.  (387)[7]

Neither do the reports of the conciliar discussions and debates concerning the restoration of the permanent diaconate justify the equation of the waiver of celibacy with a waiver of clerical continence, although some evidence of a conciliar confusion of the obligation of consecrated celibacy with the obligation of continence, whereby the waiver of the one might be thought to be assimilated to the waiver of the other, begins to surface in them.[8]

Herbert Vorgrimler’s commentary on Lumen Gentium §29 relates the procedure decided upon in the third session for the restoration of the permanent diaconate; he affirms, as in line with the conciliar decision, that the “duty” of celibacy is not to apply to married deacons:

Only two points are laid down with regard to the way it (the restoration of the permanent diaconate) is to be done: the competent authority is the episcopal conference, with the consent of the Pope; the duty of celibacy is not to be imposed upon men of more mature age, although it remains for younger men.[9]

The phrase used by Vorgrimler, that of a “duty of celibacy,” is entirely misleading; §29 of Lumen Gentium speaks of a “law of celibacy,” not of a “duty.”  This is not mere quibbling: such a misreading reveals a certain lack of reflection upon the relation of major orders to consecrated celibacy on the one hand and to continence on the other.  In fact, it amounts to a confusion over the meaning, and therefore the interrelation, of celibacy and of continence, and of their respective relations to major orders.  In the first place, major orders are a diriment impediment to marriage; e.g., we read in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” that

Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt.[10]

As Paul VI here affirms, ordination to the diaconate makes subsequent marriage impossible: an unmarried deacon cannot marry, and a married deacon, upon the death of his wife, cannot remarry.  The language here is not disciplinary: it speaks of a simple sacramental incapacity, the sort that is termed a diriment impediment.  Canonists are accustomed to speak of major orders as a diriment impediment to marriage only when celibacy is formally embraced as a condition of ordination.  However, the inability of a married major cleric to remarry upon the death of his wife can only be due to precisely such an impediment: i.e., one which as inherent in his exercise of his orders simply nullifies any such attempted marriage.  It is of course true that this impediment is not absolute: a cleric may be laicized and, in consequence of such laicization, of such removal from the exercise of orders, he may be granted a papal dispensation from the law of celibacy.  Nonetheless, in the absence of such dispensation, the “lex caelibatus” binds even the laicized cleric, and simply precludes a subsequent marriage.

This inhibition upon the marriage of major clerics is not mere Roman rigorism.  The reasons for it rest upon the meaning of ordination itself, and finally derive from the nuptial relation between Christ and the Church which is celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  A diriment impediment to marriage, an inability to marry, a sacramental incapacity, is inherent in the exercise in persona Christi of major orders.  However, this impediment is distinct from (a) celibacy, and (b) continence.

Celibacy denotes the unmarried status, the absence of the marital bond.[11]  Concretely, celibacy is thus merely a matter of fact: the absence of a marital bond.  However, “consecrated celibacy” denotes a specific commitment to the unmarried state, as alone consonant with ordination to a major Order, whether that be in prospect, or already received.[12]  Heretofore, in the Latin rite, consecrated celibacy has been canonically requisite to the reception of major orders.  The institution of the married permanent diaconate is by way of exception to this canonical and liturgical tradition.

The noncelibate state, on the contrary, denotes the presence of a marital bond, and the consequent incapacity to enter upon another marriage prior to the death of one’s spouse.  Prior to the approval of the admission of married men to the permanent diaconate by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium,noncelibate men, as has been seen, were barred by canon law from receiving major orders.  However, noncelibacy — which is to say, the existence of the marital bond — has never been understood to be a diriment impediment to such ordination.

Continence is deliberate abstention from sexual relations.  Its first reference is to abstention from marital relations; by extension and a fortiori, it denotes abstention from all extramarital sexual relations.  Abstention from marital relations may be temporary, in accordance with the Pauline counsel in I Cor 7:5, or it may be permanent, as required by the reception of major orders, a sacrament transcending but not annulling marriage.[13]  Cochini has shown such clerical continence to have been required of married men by an tradition which can only be of apostolic origin.[14]  Married men who, with the consent of their wives, were ordained as bishops, priests, or deacons, were thereafter held to continence: only in the Eastern Church has this obligation not been observed, and Cholij has shown the inadequacy of the supposed conciliar foundation of that rejection of clerical continence.  The Code of Canon Law continues to require the consent of the wife of the candidate for the permanent diaconate.

The canonical clerical celibacy proper to the Latin rite, which has been dropped for the “more mature” candidate for the restored permanent diaconate, is the unmarried status heretofore canonically requisite for ordination to any of the three major orders.

The sacramental character of Orders is thus analogous to the vinculum of sacramental marriage, in that ordination to a major Order simply renders the ordained man, whether married or unmarried, incapable of contracting marriage apart from laicization and papal dispensation.  Thus, such ordination bars the cleric arctius altari conjungi from attempting or entering into marriage, quite as an existing marriage bars one from entering into another marriage.

It is then evident that one cannot accurately speak of a “duty” of celibacy any more than one can speak accurately of a “duty” of marriage.  Quite as marriage connotes the obligation of fidelity, clerical (here, diaconal) celibacy connotes the duty or obligation of continence.  But as marriage is distinct from fidelity, so celibacy is distinct from continence.  As marriage is not the same as fidelity to marriage, neither is celibacy the same as the continence which, analogously, is fidelity to major orders.  However, such casual reference to celibacy as a “duty” precisely suggests or connotes this identity, and so induces the confusion between celibacy and continence which seems to have governed much of the discussion of the celibacy of the permanent diaconate at Vatican II.

To speak of clerical celibacy as a “duty” further implies that clerical celibacy is not a committed state, but is only a continuing moral responsibility which one might fail to meet, as one may fail to meet the duty of marital fidelity.  Such language further suggests what could not be affirmed, the merely “functional” status of clerical celibacy: that is, to speak of a duty of celibacy is to intimate that celibacy, with its connoted moral obligation of clerical continence, is not integral to major orders.

Therefore, while it is entirely proper to speak of a celibate major cleric’s duty of continence, it is quite misleading to speak of his celibacy as a “duty.”  Duties are positive moral — and therefore free — concomitants of a positive office, or munus, which arise out of that office.  Because they arise out of an office or munus such as orders, duties consist in continuing fidelity to that office, but they are not identified with the office, and should not be spoken of in such a fashion as to blur that fact.  Once ordained, an unmarried deacon, priest, or bishop is not free to be noncelibate, for a man exercising major orders simply cannot marry: such a cleric cannot be married apart from dispensation.  But he is certainly free to be continent, for otherwise continence would not be a matter of fidelity; therein lies the particular obligation, the “duty,” of the major cleric — here, the deacon.

Vorgrimler informs us that two points, viz., the authority competent to admit married men to the permanent diaconate, and the married (non-celibate) character of the permanent diaconate, were those most debated at the second and third sessions:

For the course of the voting, see the historical introduction to this commentary by G. Philips.  In view of the interventions and the results of the voting, the text was considerably revised by the Theological Commission (relatores: B. Kloppenburg, O.F.M., and P. Smulders, S.J.), and adopted into the draft of July 3, 1964 in a form which differs substantially from the present text only in two points.  One is concerned with the authority competent to admit married men to the diaconate.  Here the Theological Commission was ordered to insert the words De consensu Romani Pontificis.  The second point was whether young men who wished to be deacons were obliged to celibacy or not.  The council decided in favor of celibacy, but it should be noted that as many as 839 Fathers rejected celibacy in such cases.  The official relator, Bishop Jiménes L. Henriquez [sic], was not in favor of young married deacons.  (227; emphasis added)

In the first place, if Vorgrimler’s recital of a conciliar discussion of the “obligation” of celibacy is accurate ad litteram, this usage again reveals the acceptance of a certain suggestio falsi within the conciliar discussion, wherein “celibacy,” which in the technical language of canon law simply refers to the unmarried state, is discussed as though it were an obligation: viz., the word is used by the conciliar Fathers as though it were associated with “continence” in such wise that a noncelibate or married diaconate is one which is noncontinent, i.e., a diaconate which contemplates the continuing use of marriage by the married ordinatus.  If on the other hand, Fr. Vorgrimler may be thought to be reading his own confusion on this point into the conciliar discussion, it does not appear that that discussion contained anything which might have worked to correct such a mistake.  As we shall see, this confusion of celibacy with continence, and of noncelibacy with noncontinence, did in fact obtain among the bishops, and nothing in the record of the conciliar discussion of Lumen Gentium §29 evidences any recognition of the confusion, nor any clarification of it.[15]

Further on in his commentary on this passage, Vorgrimler has observed that

It is also noteworthy that the tasks of the deacon include liturgical functions, but that his role in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is one of the most outstanding features of the diaconate in the Eastern Churches, receives no mention.  (229)

Vorgrimler’s report of a lack of conciliar interest in the liturgical dimension of the diaconal office, particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist, is consistent with Michael Novak’s report.[16]  Gérard Philips’ historical survey,[17] cited by Vorgrimler supra, contains the following observations:

Here (relative to the priesthood) the whole assembly was perfectly unanimous.  But when the votes were taken on the diaconate, the difference of viewpoint emerged more strongly than ever.  In principle, the revival of the permanent diaconate was accepted by 1903 votes against 242.  But the next day, 29 September, the question came up as to whether the local authorities, with the approval of the Pope, could decide on the actual revival, and here almost a third of the voters expressed themselves in the negative.  (702 against 1523).  But the nub of the controversy was whether this form of diaconate could be entrusted to married men of mature age.  Here the two thirds majority was slightly larger, 1598 ayes against 629 noes.  The next clause was the only one which was rejected by the assembly.  The draft envisaged the possibility of young men who were not bound by the law of celibacy being ordained deacons.  Here a large majority of the Fathers flatly said no: 1364, against 839 ayes.  (130).

Philips’ account says nothing of the noncontinence of the married men ordained to the permanent diaconate: again, the same silence characterizes Novak’s fuller treatment of the conciliar debate.

A confusion of celibacy with continence, of marriage with noncontinence, and so a confusion of the institution of a noncelibate (married) diaconate with the formal permission for the diaconal use of marriage, is evident on both sides of the debate.  The only possible inference from Philips’ account is that the minority of bishops — 839 out of 2203 is no inconsiderable fraction —, who voted against holding even the younger and unmarried deacons to the “lex caelibatus,” could hardly have understood the universally noncelibate, viz., married, diaconate which they contemplated for the younger men nonetheless to oblige such men, once married, to abstention from the use of marriage.  There would not have been sufficient point to such a proposal to gain the support of eight hundred and thirty-nine bishops.  The minority bishops could only have had in view, and were understood by their conciliar adversaries to have in view, the establishment of a novel diaconate: one whose members, because they could marry after ordination, need not be continent after ordination.  But there is no conciliar clarification of the minority’s obvious identification of noncelibacy with noncontinence.  One can hardly avoid concluding that the majority of the conciliar Fathers shared this confusion with the minority.

The latent, or tacit — but in any case evident — confusion among the conciliar Fathers of clerical celibacy with clerical continence, and so of married clergy with clerical noncontinence, which this vote manifests, could not but have carried over into the conciliar approval of the ordination of married candidates for the diaconate, to whom the “lex caelibatus” would not apply.

For it does not appear that the conciliar Fathers ever considered a married diaconate to which the lex caelibatus would not apply, to be the mere tautology that it is.  For the conciliar bishops, the waiver of the lex caelibatus with respect to married deacons was quite uncritically understood to connote the legitimation of conjugal intercourse.  The vote on the waiver of celibacy for the younger deacons could only imply that more than a third of the bishops voting were in favor doing what had never been formally discussed: legitimating subsequent marriage or remarriage by a man in full exercise of major orders.

As Gérard Philips observes, “a large majority of the Fathers flatly said no” to the minority proposal of the dropping of the law of celibacy for the younger candidates for the diaconate.  We may be quite sure that in the minds of the minority, the noncelibacy which they would permit the younger candidates did not carry the implicit qualification that as married deacons they would live in continence.  Rather, for reasons which we shall later explore,[18] the minority view of the restored diaconate had so accepted a dissociation of celibacy from major orders, at least with respect to the diaconate, as to no longer consider ordination to the diaconate a diriment impediment to subsequent marriage.

Given this dissociation, they could hardly be concerned for the continence of married deacons.  But again, insofar as one may judge from the conciliar documents, as well as from the reports of those present, there was no significant discussion of this underlying point of view.  It would seem to have passed unchallenged by the majority, who simply held to the ancient tradition.  For there is no record of such a subtlety entering into the conciliar discussion.  In the view of the minority at least, the relaxation for diaconal candidates of the lex caelibatus was identically the relaxation of the traditional requirement not only of married continence for those in diaconal orders, but was also the dismissal of the tradition which had found in major orders a diriment impediment to marriage.

But what of the majority?  We can only conclude that they rejected what they understood the minority to approve: the admission to the diaconate of unmarried candidates, who subsequent to ordination might marry and enter into marital relations.

It is important to emphasize that an approval by the conciliar Fathers of the subsequent marriage of unmarried deacons would have for them to have flatly rejected the liturgical and doctrinal tradition of clerical celibacy which Stickler, Concini and Cholij have rightly judged to be apostolic in its origins — and more, to have done this without any conciliar discussion of so radical a step.

Yet further, that step — the conciliar approval of a view of diaconal orders in which ordination to the diaconate would not be a diriment impediment to marriage — would not only have amounted to a conciliar approval of the noncontinence of married clerics across the board; its dissociation of celibacy from major orders would have instituted a drastic alteration in the sacramental doctrine of Roman Catholicism, one extending to the Eucharist itself, which for reasons which cannot here be explored, would thereby have ceased to be the offering of the One Sacrifice.[19]

Therefore, the majority of the conciliar Fathers, whose views found expression in Lumen Gentium §29, were aware of the doctrinal significance of clerical celibacy, if inarticulately: for the majority, the celibacy required of the younger candidates to the diaconate connoted a continuing obligation to continence, and most certainly was associated with recognizing, in ordination to the diaconate, a diriment impediment to subsequent marriage.  The majority’s rejection of a noncelibate youthful diaconate, one whose members might later marry, is otherwise unintelligible.  This rejection of the minority approval of a noncelibate and noncontinent youthful diaconate cannot but have had consequences for what the majority understood the opening up of the diaconate to married men to entail, but these consequences seem never to have been explored at the Council.

Consequently it is manifestly important to clarify the terminology used in the conciliar approval of the restored permanent diaconate, and in the papal legislation implementing that restoration.  Specifically, it is necessary to avoid what the conciliar Fathers did not avoid, the confusion which would identify the “lex caelibatus” with the obligation to continence and, eo ipso, would identify relaxation of the “lex caelibatus” with a relaxation of the obligation of continence in those ordained to major orders.

We have seen that “celibacy” and “celibate” do not identify respectively with “continence” and “continent.”  A celibate priest or deacon is unmarried; he is expected to be continent, but a sinful noncontinence does not nullify his celibate state.  A noncelibate priest or deacon is one who is married; his noncelibacy does not imply or warrant his noncontinence, in law or in fact.

Thus the celibacy and the continence of those in major orders are in the same positive correlation which links marriage to fidelity in the married;[20] a married deacon or priest cannot be celibate — this is a matter of definition.  Nonetheless, he should be continent, for the reasons adduced by Cochini and Cholij, and resumed in Archbishop Stafford’s recent lecture.[21]  It is then evident that those men who are candidates for a liturgical office by which they will be arctius altari conjungi[22] are held to continence, and precisely by such ordination, whether they are celibate or married.  No other reading of Lumen Gentium §29 is internally coherent, nor could it be made consistent with the later papal legislation instituting the restored diaconate.

II The Papal Documents

Three years after the Council, Paul VI began to lay down the norms for the permanent diaconate: first in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,”[23], then in “Pontificalis Romani Recognitio,”[24] and finally in “Ad pascendum”[25].  Moreover, the Pope had earlier spoken to the same subject, if only briefly, in “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.”[26]

“Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” is then the first in time of these documents; it bears only in passing upon the diaconate but, because “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” follows immediately upon it, what it has to say on that subject is of no little interest.  We quote §13 of “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,” in full, and the final paragraph of §42:

§13         Porro hi contradictorum veluti concentus non solum perantiqua et grandia testimonia sive Pastorum Ecclesiae, sive magistrorum pietatis opprimere videtur, sed etiam viva in nostrisque oculis haerentia exempla, ab innumerabili cohorte edita sanctorum ac fidelium Dei administrorum, qui in re vera sacrum caelibatum demonstrant sibi causam itemque indicium eius fuisse doni, quo se totos laetissimosque Christi mysterio tradiderunt.  Quae utique egregia exempla, non minus nostris quam praeteritis temporibus posita, placate constanterque adhuc loquuntur.  Quapropter Nos, quibus praesentes res semper curae fuerunt, teneri non possumus, quin nec opinatam hanc mirificamque veritatem animadvertimus, qua docemur nunc etiam in Dei Ecclesia, ubicumque terrarum ea sancta tabernacula statuit, innumerabilem multitudinem sacrorum administrorum — subdiaconorum, diaconorum, presbyterorum, episcoporum — voluntarium Deoque sacratum caelibatum caste et integre servare.

§42         Ceteroqui Ecclesiae primores ab hac utenda potestate minime abstinere ex eo colligitur, quod recens Concilium Oecumenicum sapienter censuit, ut sacer nempe diaconatus ordo provectis etiam aetate viris, in matrimonio viventibus, posset conferri.  (emphasis added)

The italicized phrase is perhaps a term of art, although the 1983 Code of Canon Law avoids it; first appearing in Lumen Gentium §29, immediately afterwards in “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,” and then in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” it imports a continuing condition or status which will not cease upon ordination: this can only be the marriage bond itself.  To interpret it otherwise, as warranting the continuing use of marriage by a married deacon is to rest the use of marriage by a deacon upon a highly debatable exegesis of a rather obscure canonical phrase, and to suppose that such a drastic departure from tradition could rest upon such a debatable exegesis.

Such a putative papal rejection of the tradition of diaconal continence would require more foundation than the documents instituting the permanent diaconate can provide.  This is particularly the case when, as here, the implication of a papal dismissal of the requirement of diaconal continence would have clear doctrinal import, as is shown to be the case by Cochini’s establishment of the apostolic origin of the tradition of clerical celibacy.

The third of these documents, the “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” is Pope Paul VI’s formal statement of the rules governing the restored permanent diaconate.  In it, a paragraph confirming the existing law relative to the diaconate, except insofar as specifically altered (“nisi aliter cautum fuerit”), prefaces the numeration of the new regulations; viz:

698         Principio igitur quae in Codice Juris Canonici de diaconorum juribus et officiis, sive omnium clericorum communibus, sive eorundem propriis, statuuntur, ea omnia, nisi aliter cautum fuerit, confirmamus et in eos etiam valere edicimus, qui stabiliter in diaconatu sunt mansuri.  Pro quibus praeterea haec alia, quae sequuntur, statuimus.

There follow thirty-five headings of regulations respecting the restored permanent diaconate; of these, the second, eleventh, sixteenth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-sixth bear upon the requirement, or not, of diaconal continence.

The second paragraph contains a clear if unattributed paraphrase of the final sentence of Lumen Gentium §29; it merely changes the order of phrases in that sentence.  However, even as altered, this text deals only with celibate and noncelibate candidates for the diaconate, and says nothing which could be read to authorize the noncontinence of married deacons.  The law of celibacy, imposed on unmarried candidates for the diaconate, obviously does not hold for married candidates: once more, “celibate” means “unmarried,” and it is simply as a matter of definition that married candidates are not celibate.

Here we place in sequence, for purposes of comparison, once again the final sentence of Lumen Gentium, §29, and the excerpt from “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” which depends upon it:

Lumen Gentium, §29: De consensu Romani Pontificis hi Diaconatus viris maturioris aetatis etiam in matrimonio viventibus conferri poterit, necnon iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus tamen lex coelibatus firma remanere debet.[27]

699         “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” ¶2: In petenda ab Apostolica Sede approbatione exponendae sunt tum causae, quae novam huiusmodi disciplinam aliqua in regione constitutendam suadeant, tum rerum condiciones, quae veram boni eventus spem afferant; itemque describendus erit eiusdem disciplinae modus, utrum videlicet agatur de diaconatu conferendo iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus … lex caelibatus firma remanere debet, an viris maturioris aetatis, etiam in matrimonio viventibus, an utrique candidatorum generi.  (original emphasis)

To repeat, the reference in the latter excerpt to Lumen Gentium §29 is by way of italicization, not citation, and so can be said to be implicit.  It can be read only as warranting or authorizing the ordination of deacons “in matrimonio viventibus,” which is to say, the ordination of married men to the diaconate.  Nothing whatever appears in that text to authorize the novelty of a continuing exercise by them of conjugal relations subsequent to their ordination.  It cannot be said to have been instituted by the Pope even tacitly, as by indirection.  It is therefore evident that the condition of such a drastic change in the diaconate, as restored by Vatican II and Paul VI, viz., the “nisi aliter cautum fuerit” set forth in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” at 698, quoted supra and again here, simply is not met:

698 Principio igitur quae in Codice Juris Canonici de diaconorum juribus et officiis, sive omnium clericorum communibus, sive eorundem propriis, statuuntur, ea omnia, nisi aliter cautum fuerit, confirmamus et in eos etiam valere edicimus, qui stabiliter in diaconatu sunt mansuri.  (emphasis added)

The eleventh paragraph of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” requires the permission of the wife before the ordination of the married candidate to the permanent diaconate:

700         ¶11. Grandioris aetatis viri, sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti, ad diaconatum vocari possunt: hi vero ne admittantur, nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec impediant nec dedecorent.  (emphasis added)

Once again, we here see celibacy contrasted not with noncontinence but with marriage, and the contrast evidently is understood as exhausting the possibilities.  This paragraph quite clearly restates the traditional requirement for permission from the wives of married ordinands who, by their husbands’ ordination and consequent continence, would find themselves comparably bound to continence: we shall see that the moral demands placed upon the wife by her husband’s ordination are sufficiently alluded to in the “nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec impediant nec dedecorent.”

Paragraph sixteen is yet more difficult to account for, if one supposes the use of marriage by the married permanent deacon to be licit:

701         ¶16. Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt.

The phrase, “grandiore etiam aetate promoti,” can only refer to those candidates for the diaconate who are “viri(s) maturioris aetatis, etiam in matrimonio viventibus,” (“sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti”) i.e., the older candidates for the permanent diaconate, to whom the law of celibacy does not apply.  Here, we are informed that, whether married or not, once ordained the older deacons are incapable of marrying, or of marrying again.

It is impossible to understand why a second marriage should be excluded “ex tradita ecclesiae disciplina” if, contrary to that traditional discipline, conjugal intimacy in an existing marriage is acceptable.  The paragraph clearly refers back to the ancient tradition which found such a remarriage, with its implication of reinstituted conjugal intercourse by one in higher orders, entirely immoral and in fact impossible.  This interpretation, the sole possible one, of course invokes again the traditional law of continence for married deacons.

The twenty-fifth paragraph is as follows:

702         ¶25. Diaconi, utpote qui Christi et Ecclesiae mysteriis inserviant, a quovis pravitatis vitio se abstineant Deoque semper placere studeant, ad omne opus bonum pro hominum salute parati.9 (Cfr. 2 Tim 2,21)  Ob receptum ergo ordinem, longe aliis excellant oportet in vitae liturgicae actione, in studio precandi, in divino ministerio, in oboedientia, in caritate, in castitate.  (original emphasis)

First to be remarked of this paragraph is the Pope’s emphasis upon the traditional liturgical responsibility of the permanent deacon, a matter we have seen to have been largely ignored by Lumen Gentium §29.  Secondly, we note that the “castitas” to which the preceding quotation makes reference is the traditional equivalent of that “pudicitia” which from the earliest years had described the continence required of those ordained to the episcopacy, priesthood, and diaconate.[28]

The twenty-sixth paragraph of this papal document takes for granted the liceity of permanent deacons “in matrimonio viventium,” once again contrasting that state not with continence, but with celibacy.  A single diaconal spirituality is said to be incumbent upon both celibate deacons, and those who are married, viz., those “in matrimonio viventes:”

702-03   ¶26. Episcopalis Conferentiae erit efficaciores normas statuere ad spiritualem vitam alendam diaconorum, tam in caelibatu quam in matrimonio viventium.  Curant tamen locorum Ordinarii, ut omnes diaconi:

1)  assidue legendo attenteque secum meditando Dei verbo vacent;

2)  frequenter vel etiam cotidie, quantum fieri potest, Missae sacrificio actuosi intersint, SS. Eucharistiae sacramento reficiantur idemque pietatis causa invisant; (emphasis added)

Again, we note the stress which Pope Paul VI has placed upon the Eucharistic focus of the restored diaconate.  Here the Pope makes the first clear reference, whether in Lumen Gentium or in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” to the ordained deacon as “in matrimonio vivens.”  The only use of such language in Lumen Gentium or in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” related to married candidates for the diaconate.  If in fact “in matrimonio vivens” does imply ongoing conjugal relations, surely here was the place to have made it clear, for the contrast, constant heretofore, of celibacy with marriage, not with noncontinence or with the use of marriage, has excluded a reading of “in matrimonio viven(te)s” which would imply the liceity of marital intercourse after ordination to the diaconate.

The earlier paragraph (11) of the same document, in which we have read that the consent of the wife of the married candidate for the diaconate is prerequisite to his ordination, only confirms the equation of “in matrimonio viventes” with the reality of marriage bond itself:

700         ¶11. Grandioris aetatis viri, sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti, ad diaconatum vocari possunt: hi vero ne admittantur, nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec empediant nec dedecorent.  (emphasis added.)

According to the tradition which Cochini and Stickler have cogently argued to be of apostolic origin, it was precisely the post-ordination use of marital relations by the married deacon which was described as an impediment to the diaconal ministry at the altar, and as indecent.  Consequently, the addition of this ad cautelam proviso must be read as meant to guard the consequently continent modality of life required for the admission of married candidates to diaconal orders: that they be continent thereafter, and this with the wife’s consent and with her foreseen moral support.

This interpretation is the simplest reading of the language of paragraph 26, “tam in caelibatu quam in matrimonio viventium.”  Once again, it is to be noted the paired opposites are presented as exhaustive; further, if “in caelibatu (viventes)” simply means “unmarried,” as opposed to “in matrimonio viventes” as the equivalent of “married,” nothing in this paragraph (26) can be shown to warrant a noncontinent married permanent diaconate.  If on the other hand “caelibatus” does not exhaust the alternatives to “in matrimonio vivens” this needs to be shown, whereas that it does not has only been assumed — unwarrantably — by those who suppose the married deacon to be permitted conjugal relations simply qua noncelibate.

It must be therefore be concluded that at this point in the documentation there has appeared no warrant for the novel understanding of the diaconate whereby the ordination of married men to the permanent diaconate would no longer oblige them to subsequent continence.  Because they are married, such deacons are by definition not celibate, but this says nothing as to their freedom to continue to engage in marital relations.  The relaxation of the “lex caelibatus” for the permanent diaconate does not in any manner imply the relaxation of the obligation of continence for those in major orders.  It is intended merely to open up candidacy for the permanent diaconate to a group of men formerly excluded from such orders by the fact of their married state, their noncelibacy.

It is further to be noted that conjoined to paragraph 26 supra is a subsection exhorting precisely the close association of the deacon with the Eucharistic sacrifice which has been — and remains — the liturgical ground for clerical continence.  In fact, whatever the silence of the Fathers at the Council on the point, “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” clearly assigns to the restored permanent diaconate the liturgical responsibilities within the Church’s Eucharistic worship which have been traditional to the diaconate as such:

701         ¶22.     Secundum memoratum Concilii Vaticani II Constitutionem, diaconi est, quatenus loci Ordinarius haec ipsa expedienda commiserit:

1)         inter actiones liturgicas episcopo et presbytero adesse in omnibus, quae rituales varii ordinis libri eidem attribuunt;

3)         Eucharistiam asservare, sibi ceterisque distribuere, eam in viaticum morientibus offere, atque eucharisticam benedictionem, quam dicunt, cum sacra pyxide populo impertire.

Further, the prefatory pages of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” leave no doubt that the restored permanent diaconate is indeed the sacramental Order of the apostolic tradition, ordination to which confers a specific character, by which the deacon is ordered to the service of the altar.  This service of the altar had been further spelled out in earlier introductory paragraphs, among them following, which assign and confirm the traditional liturgical duties of the diaconate:

697-98   Sacrum diaconatus ordinem iam inde a prisca Apostolorum aetate catholica Ecclesia magno in honore habuit, quemadmodum ipse Gentium Doctor testatur, qui diaconos una cum episcopis nominatim salvere jubet1 (Cfr. Phil 1, 1) atque Timotheum docet, quaenam virtutes animique dotes ab iisdem sint expetendae, ut suo digni ministerio aestimentur.2 [Cfr. I Tim 3, 8-13.] (emphasis added)

Porro Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, perantiquam huiusmodi morem servans, honorificam diaconatus mentionem in Constitutione, a verbis Lumen Gentium incipienti, fecit ibique, cum de episcopis et presbyteris egisset, tertium quoque sacri ordinis gradum celebravit, eius dignitatem illustrando atque officia percensendo.  Verum hinc probe intellegens haec munera, ad vitam Ecclesiae summopere necessaria, in disciplina Ecclesiae latinae hodie vigenti in pluribus regionibus adimplere difficulter posse, hinc tantae rei commodius consulere exoptans, sapienter decrevit, ut diaconatus in futurum tamquam proprius ac permanens gradus hierarchiae restitui posset.3 (Cfr. n. 29; A.A.S. 57 [1965] p. 36.)

Quamvis enim nonnulla diaconorum munera laicis viris, in terris praesertim missionali opere excolendis, revera committi soleant, eos tamen juvat… qui ministerio vere diaconali fungantur…per impositionem manuum inde ab Apostolis traditam corroborari et altari arctius coniungi, ut ministerium suum per gratiam sacramentalem diaconatus efficacius expleant.4 (Cfr. Conc. Vat. II, Decr. Ad Gentes, n. 16; A.A.S. 58 [1966] p. 967)  Qua profecto ratione optimo quasi in lumine collocabitur propria huiusce Ordinis natura, qui non tamquam merus ad sacerdotium gradus est existimandus, sed indelebili suo charactere ac praecipua sua gratia insignis ita locupletatur, ut qui ad ipsum vocentur, ii mysteriis Christi et Ecclesiae stabiliter inservire possint.5  (Cfr. Conc. Vat. II, Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, n. 11: A.A.S. 57 [1965] p. 46.)

In 1972, norms for admission to the diaconate were promulgated in “Ad Pascendum;” these include:

6. The special consecration of celibacy observed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and its obligation for candidates to the priesthood and for unmarried candidates for the diaconate are indeed linked with the diaconate.  The public commitment to holy celibacy before God and the Church is to be celebrated in a particular rite, even by religious, and is to precede ordination to the diaconate.  Celibacy taken on in this way is a diriment impediment to entering marriage.

In accordance with the traditional discipline of the Church, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage.26

26Apostolic Letter Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem, n. 16: A.A.S. 59 (1967), p. 701.

“Ad pascendum,” A.A.S. 64 [1972] 534-540; tr. Documents, 439

The language bearing upon the continence expected of the ordained deacon, married or unmarried, remains indirect.  For example, the celibacy attaching to the office of the priesthood, and of the unmarried deacon, is said to be a diriment impediment to marriage.  We have earlier seen that the married deacon is unable to remarry (“Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt”).  If there was there no explicit mention of a diriment impediment, it is understandable enough, for it is ordination to the diaconate which is the ground of the impediment: the language quoted here is sufficiently explicit as to its reality.  In the end, the obligation of consecrated celibacy is of sacramental, not merely of juridical provenance: thus before affirming that diaconal orders constitute a diriment impediment to marriage, “Ad Pascendum” speaks not of an illiceity but of an incapacity in the deacon with respect to subsequent marriage.

That the requirement of diaconal continence is left intact by Vatican II and Pope Paul VI is yet further manifest in the spate of scriptural and patristic references in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and again in “Ad Pascendum” — these references to Phil 1:1, to I Tim 3, to 2 Tim 2, to Ignatius Martyr, to Polycarp, to Irenaeus, to Justin Martyr, to Tertullian, to the Didascalia Apostolorum, to Hippolytus’ Traditio Apostolica, to Leo the Great — invite the application to the renewed permanent diaconate of all that had been understood by the patristic tradition to pertain to the diaconal office.

With the publication of Cochini’s research, anticipated by the work of Alfons Cardinal Stickler and confirmed by that of Roman Cholij, the burden of going forward with the evidence rests upon whoever would deny that the apostolic tradition of continence is integral to the apostolic and the patristic understanding of the diaconal Order, and consequently that the tradition is liturgical and therefore is doctrinal.  It is not at all a mere disciplinary usage, as Cochini and Cholij have shown.

As prelude to the list of “norms” set out in “Ad Pascendum,” Pope Paul VI recited his extensive consultation with “experts,” as well as with the episcopal conferences.  It is inconceivable that he would have ignored the scholarship of Fr. Stickler who, raised by Pope John Paul II to the archiepiscopate in 1983 and to the Cardinalate in 1985, had already at the time of the Council a stellar reputation as a Church historian, and who as we have seen had published a paper directly on the continence of the diaconate in 1964 and another in 1970, well prior to “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and “Ad Pascendum.”  Cochini has written:

Fr. Stickler was an expert at the Second Vatican Council, which decided, as we recall, the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Church.  His study, “The Continence of the Deacon, Especially during the First Millennium of the Church,” published in 1964, was written as part of studies aiming to bring to the Council Fathers elements of reflection borrowed from history.  The author points out that one must understand celibacy in the early Church not only as meaning a prohibition of marriage, but also in the sense of perfect continence for those who were already married.  The Western Church Tradition is studied in the light of the teachings of the councils, of the Fathers, and of the Roman pontiffs who always preserved (or restored) its essential features.  The author opines it is on the basis of motivations inherent in the very nature of the Order and of the sacred ministry that this uninterrupted tradition demands a perfect continence on the part of those who have been married before receiving sacred Orders.

Apostolic Origins, at 43.

The doctrinal point raised by Fr. Stickler — viz., that continence is integral to the diaconal service at the altar — seems never to have been expressly contested by the Fathers in the Council.  This impression is confirmed by the conciliar reportage, supposing it to be accurate, of Vorgrimler and Philips, supra, as well as that of Henri Fesquet.[29]  Similarly, Michael Novak’s fuller account of the debate over diaconal celibacy never touches on this point.  The only debate was over marriage versus celibacy for the diaconate; the continence which the tradition has required of married deacons simply did not arise as a topic of discussion.

In connection with this reportage, it is noteworthy that Stickler’s name, that of a peritus at the Council who had addressed this much-discussed subject expressly in the 1964 article cited by Cochini, supra, is not found in the index of Vorgrimler’s Commentary, in which the quotations supra from Vorgrimler and Philips appeared; neither is he mentioned in Fesquet’s book, nor in Novak’s, nor in the Actus Synodalia.  It can hardly be supposed, then, that his well-known position had been controverted by the conciliar Fathers: such a controversy could not have passed unnoticed, whereas we have both Vorgrimler and Philips as witnesses to its absence from the conciliar discussion.  We must conclude that Stickler’s point of view was never opposed at the Council, and more likely, that the question of whether or not the married permanent deacon was to be continent was not raised at all.  As has been seen, it does appear that a large minority of the conciliar Fathers took for granted the noncontinence of the married diaconate: otherwise, the minority approval of waiving celibacy also for the younger candidates for the diaconate is without point.

Cochini has shown that the continence of the diaconate was from the earliest records considered to be on the same level as that of the priest and the bishop, and that this requirement of continence in those serving the altar did and does not rest upon such early legislation as that promulgated by the Councils of Elvira (305) and of Carthage (390) (which, bye the bye, are cited neither by “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” nor by “Ad Pascendum”) but rests rather upon a liturgically-grounded apostolic tradition which links celibacy and marital continence to the intercessory Eucharistic role of the higher clergy, whose rank reflects the level of their direct responsibility for the celebration of the Mass.  Following I Tim 3:8-13, this continence was from the earliest times held consistent with the ordination of married men to the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate, who were held to strict continence thereafter.  Such ordination of married men was predicated upon the prior consent of the wives of the candidates, for of course ordination imposed continence upon them as well as upon their husbands, even to the point of forbidding the widows of deacons, as well as of priests and bishops, to remarry quite as it forbade widower bishops and priests to remarry; we have seen this requirement reaffirmed in §11 of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and also in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.  The ordination of younger, unmarried men to the diaconate required then as now a life-long commitment to celibacy and obviously to continence.

It is only with the Council in Trullo, at the end of the seventh century, that this discipline lapsed in the Eastern Churches; Cochini has detailed the circumstances of this deviation, and Cholij, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, has seconded Cochini’s conclusion that it is indeed a deviation, as has also Henri Crouzel.[30]

In the light of Lumen Gentium’s omission, stressed by Vorgrimler, of any mention of participation in the celebration of the Eucharist as among the duties, liturgical and otherwise, of permanent deacons, it might have been asked whether the “permanent diaconate” envisaged by the Council had not suffered a sea change from that of which the apostolic tradition has demanded celibacy.  For an instance of such change exists: Cochini and Cholij both record a change in liturgical responsibility in the reverse direction, which affected the subdiaconate in the West from the fifth century onward to Vatican II.  From its primitive standing as an exterior service or ministry akin to that of an acolyte, lector or porter, the subdiaconate had by the fifth century became directly involved in the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery.  Thereupon it was recognized by the Pope as a major Order, and its candidates were committed to continence, despite the considerable inconveniences involved in the drastic demand this novelty placed upon married subdeacons.  The abolition of the subdiaconate as a major Order, and its consequent dissociation from celibacy by Pope Paul VI in “Ministeria Quaedam,” §4,[31] can only reflect a shifting of the liturgical responsibilities of the subdiaconate away from direct responsibility for the Eucharistic celebration.  In Rahner’s view, just such a shifting of responsibility, from liturgical to practical responsibilities, would appear to have long since overtaken the permanent diaconate at the time of its recommended reinstitution by Lumen Gentium and Ad Gentes Divinitus, and its actual institution by “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and “Ad Pascendum.”

However, if only because the conciliar motives for that reinstitution of the permanent diaconate, as set forth in Lumen Gentium, §29 did not touch the diaconal exercise of a direct responsibility in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, it is evident that no change in the liturgical responsibilities of the permanent diaconate was in contemplation at the Council.  What may have been assumed by many of the Fathers present there is another matter.

In any case, Paul VI, in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” explicitly reaffirmed the liturgical and particularly the Eucharistic responsibility, and the correlative Eucharistic spirituality, of the restored diaconate.  The Pope was equally insistent upon the traditional hierarchical rank of the permanent diaconate, and upon the indelible sacramental character which the ordination to it, by the imposition of hands, effects.

There can be no doubt that the Pope has restored the permanent diaconate in the sense of the traditional, sacramentally-conferred, hierarchical Order, an Order which he describes in the traditional language of “altari arctius conjungi.”[32]  It is this closeness to the altar, inseparable from their liturgical office, that Cochini has shown to be the basis for the ancient tradition requiring continence of deacons, as it is required of bishops and of priests.

Yet further: it must be kept in mind that the Nota Explicativa which Pope Paul VI added as an appendix to Lumen Gentium bars the reading into that document, by way of a supposedly latent implication, of any novel doctrinal affirmation:

the sacred synod declared as binding on the Church only those matters of faith and morals which it has expressly put forward as such.[33]

It is impossible to find in the documents of Vatican II any intent or indeed any intimation of an intent to teach a novel interpretation of the sacrament of orders; in fact, the conciliar intent to attach the renewal of the permanent diaconate to the biblical and patristic tradition is evident.

Thus, the post-conciliar proliferation of married and noncontinent deacons, in the face of an evident apostolic tradition denying the liceity of such a practice, demands a solution which can only be an explicit recognition of the binding character of the apostolic tradition of diaconal continence.  The pastoral problem has no other answer, for any alternative would undercut the nature of the diaconate itself, as arctius altari conjungi.  Further, the implications of the noncontinent married diaconate for the celibate priesthood cannot be ignored: if a noncontinent diaconate, “altari arctius conjungi,” is legitimate in the Latin Church, all that remains for the legitimation of a married and noncontinent priesthood and episcopacy is negotiation of the terms of the surrender of all sacramental realism.  In the final analysis, we are dealing with a matter which puts in issue the point upon which the Reformation turned, and which was resolved at Trent: the Mass as the celebration, or not, of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  If the apostolic doctrine on that point is to be upheld, so also that which is strictly conjoined to it, the celibacy of those who serve the altar upon which the One Sacrifice is offered and the One Flesh of the New Covenant instituted.

The contemporary fact of the married deacons — and perhaps of married priests as well — in full exercise at once of their marital intimacy and their orders is an obvious surd in Roman Catholic life and worship, for the coincidence of conjugal relations with responsibility for service arctius altari conjungi has been illicit since apostolic times for reasons going to the heart of the Church’s Eucharistic worship in truth.  Consequently, there is every reason to deny that the restoration of the permanent diaconate in any sense legitimates the noncontinence of deacons “in matrimonio viventes.”

The Fathers at Vatican II, and Paul VI in his implementation of Lumen Gentium, §29, were intent upon the restoration of the third hierarchical Order; it is evident from the opening paragraphs of “Pontificalis Romani Recognitio” that there was no intent to introduce a novelty:

Pontificalis Romani recognitio non tamen generali modo a Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II praescribitur,1 sed etiam peculiaribus regitur normis, quibus eadem Sacra Synodus ritus Ordinationum, sive quoad caeremonias sive quoad textus2 dimutari iussit.  (original emphasis)

Sed ex Ordinationis ritibus illi imprimis considerandi sunt, quibus per Sacramentum Ordinis, vario gradu collatum, sacra Hierarchia constituitur: sic ministerium ecclesiasticum divinitus institutum diversis ordinibus exercetur ab illis qui iam ab antiquo Episcopi, Presbyteri, Diaconi vocantur.3  (original emphasis)

In recognitione autem ritus Ordinationum Sacrarum, praeter principia generalia, quibus integra instauratio Liturgiae, iuxta praescripta Concilii Vaticani II, regi debet, summopere attendendum est ad praeclaram illam doctrinam de natura et effectibus Sacramenti Ordinis, quae in Constitutione de Ecclesia ab eodem Conciliio pronuntiata est, nam textus et ritus ita ordinari oportet ut sancta, quae significant, clarius exprimant, eaque populus christianus, in quantum fieri potest, facile percipere atque plena, actuosa et communitatis propria celebratione participare possit.4  (original emphasis)

1Conc Vat. II, Const. de Sacra Liturgia, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 25: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 107.

2Ibid., n. 76: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 119.

3Conc. Vat. II, Const. dogm. de Ecclesia, Lumen gentium, n. 28: A.A.S. 57 (1965) pp. 33-34.

4Conc Vat. II, Const. de Sacra Liturgia, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 21: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 106.

After reading language such as this, it is impossible to believe that the restoration of the permanent diaconate by the Council and the Pope contemplated making any alteration in the sacrament of orders.  Some at least of the conciliar Fathers must have been aware of the doctrinal weight of the traditional obligation of diaconal continence; Fr. Stickler’s articles would not have passed unnoticed.  While the Fathers agreed at the Council to permit a married permanent diaconate, and while there is reason to suppose that the commentators we have cited (Vorgrimler, Philips, Novak, Fesquet), and with them a minority of the Fathers, understood the phrase “in matrimonio viventibus” to connote or denote permission for the continuing use of marriage by married deacons, there is no indication in the records of the conciliar debates that the Fathers ever approved a noncontinent married diaconate.  In fact, the evidence is all to the contrary effect.  The reasons for the confusion at the Council over the meaning of diaconal celibacy are not apparent on the record.[34]

Married bishops, priests, and deacons are no novelty in the Church, but the use of marriage by men in major orders is precisely the novelty which Stickler understood it to be; we have seen Stickler repeat this conviction, which the research of Cochini and Cholij has since corroborated.

Finally, the theological development of the doctrine of “Pastores Dabo Vobis” presented by Archbishop Stafford’s lecture provides further reason for agreeing with Cochini’s affirmation of the patristic origin of the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy; it does appear that the sacramental signs themselves of marriage and of orders intimate the impropriety of noncontinence in anyone who is “altari arctius coniungi,” as we have seen the diaconal office described by Paul VI in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.”

Vorgrimler has pointed to the large minority of bishops at the Council who voted to relieve even the unmarried deacon of any consequent obligation of celibacy.  We can hardly suppose so large a number of the world’s Catholic bishops to be intent upon dismissing an apostolic doctrine, and yet the perduring tradition of clerical continence can have no other ground — but this is precisely what does not appear to have been suspected by that minority of Fathers who voted against diaconal celibacy at the Council.  The minority of the Fathers — a sizable minority — quite clearly intended to dispense even the young unmarried deacons from both celibacy and from continence in marriage.  The only alternative to this conclusion is that the minority read “celibacy” strictly, to mean unmarried simply, so that the dropping of the requirement of celibacy for unmarried deacons meant permission for them to marry after ordination coupled with the obligation to live continently thereafter — but for the reasons which have been set out, that alternative appears to be excluded: in brief, it is pointless.

When the majority reaffirmed the requirement of celibacy traditional for unmarried deacons, and at the same time approved the ordination of married men to the diaconate — thus approved the ordination to the permanent diaconate of men who were not celibate — they did not thereby license the use of marriage by such deacons; had they done so, there would have been no possible basis for their firm refusal to drop the requirement of celibacy for younger candidates for the diaconate.

In sum, there is every reason to insist that the sacrament of orders remains as it has been, and that the current practice — one cannot speak of its canonical institution — of a noncontinent diaconate is an aberration which will not attain a permanent standing in the Church.

Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

(formerly) St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie

October, 1998


[ed. note: while this essay shows signs of being dated, the essential dogmatic elements remain the same]


[1] Alfons Stickler, “La continenza dei diaconi specialmente nel primo millenio della chiesa,” Salesianum 26 (1964) 275-302; “Tratti salienti nella storia del celibato,” Sacra Doctrina 15 (1970) 585-620; “Il celibato ecclesiatico” in L’Osservatore della Domenica, supplements to nos. 103, 109, and 115 of L’Osservatore Romano for May 6, 13, 20, 1979; “L’évolution de la discipline du célibat dans l’Église en Occident de la fin de l’âge patristique au Concile de Trente,” in Sacerdoce et célibat.

[2] Archbishop (now Cardinal) J. Francis Stafford, “The Eucharistic Foundation of Sacerdotal Celibacy,” Origins 23/12 (2 Sept., 1993) 211-216.  The then-Archbishop Stafford delivered this address at a conference on the priesthood, held under the auspices of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy on May 26-28, 1993, at the Gregorian University in Rome to mark the first anniversary of the papal encyclical, Pastores Dabo Vobis.  His essay relies upon Christian Cochini, S.J., Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal.  Préface du Père A. Stickler; coll. Le Sycamore (Paris: Éditions Lethielleux; Namur: Culture et Vérité, 1981).  Page references hereafter to Fr. Cochini’s chef d’oeuvre will be to its English translation, The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy.  With a Preface by Father Alfons M. Stickler.  Translated by Nelly Marans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990) [henceforth, Apostolic Origins].  This latter edition is furnished with an index, unfortunately lacking in the original.  See also Roman Cholij, Clerical Celibacy In East And West.  Foreword by Alfons Cardinal Stickler, S.D.B., Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church; Preface by Michael Napier of the Oratory (Leominster, Herfordshire: Fowler Wright Books, 1989) [henceforth, Clerical Celibacy].  At the time of his writing, Fr. Cholij, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was secretary to the bishop of the Ukrainian-rite Catholics of London.  As Cardinal Stickler observes, Fr. Cholij’s book is a most valuable supplement to Fr. Cochini’s work, the more so in that although himself a member of a rite (Ukrainian) permitting the ordination of married men and their subsequent exercise of marital rights, Cholij agrees with Cochini that this concession rests upon a mistaken interpretation written by the Quinisext Council (In Trullo) into the Greek translation of the canons of the Council of Carthage.

Fr. Cochini’s book originated as a doctoral dissertation for the Institut Catholique (Paris), while Fr. Cholij’s study was written as a doctoral dissertation in canon law at the GregorianUniversity in Rome.  Cochini’s dissertation, defended before a board headed by Jean Cardinal Daniélou, S.J., was at the latter’s urging, with the approval of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and under Fr. Alfons Stickler’s guidance, later expanded into the present work.  Its invaluable contribution to the theology of Orders seems to have been little  regarded in this country, although since its appearance in English translation it is being widely read.  Its distinguished author is now a missionary in Taiwan.

[3] During the summer of 1998, American ordinaries received two documents, written in close association by, respectively, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Education.  The document from the Congregation for the Clergy was published in English as “Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons,” Origins 28/11 (Aug. 1998) 181-91.  In it we read:

For married candidates, to live love [sic] means offering themselves to their spouses in a reciprocal belonging, in a total, faithful and indissoluble union in the likeness of Christ’s love for his church, at the same time it means welcoming children, loving them, educating them and showing forth to the whole church and society the communion of the family (§68, 188a; emphasis added).

An English translation of the document issued by the Congregation for Education was published in the same number of Origins as “Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons,” ibid., 191-204; it contains the following passage:

In particular, the widowed deacon should be supported in living perfect perpetual continence.192  He should be helped to understand the profound ecclesial reasons which preclude his remarriage (cf. I Tim 3:12), in accordance with the constant discipline of the church in the East and West.193  (§62, at 200b; emphasis added).

192Cf. Canon 277.1.

193Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, III, 16; Ad Pascendum, VI; Canon 1087.  Provision is made for possible exceptions to this discipline in the June 6, 1997, circular letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship; and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Prot. No. 26397, 8.

The circular letter referenced in the footnote quoted supra (193) was published in English as “Deacons’ Remarriage: Laicizing Priests,” Origins 27/11 (Aug. 28, 1997), 169, 171-72, wherein we read:

1. The competence1 to treat of cases of dispensation from the obligations of sacred ordination and of vows in the above mentioned institutes, such dispensation being inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state, lies with this congregation. (at 169b; emphasis added)

1Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 230.139 (Feb. 8, 1989).

On the next page of the English tr. of the circular letter the following language appears:

6. As a consequence of the new disposition concerning the permanent diaconate and of the norms issued by the Holy See5 and by numerous episcopates regarding formation, lifestyle and ministerial activities entrusted to deacons, a difficulty that arises from the impediment preventing “married permanent deacons, widowed after ordination” from contracting a further marriage [sic].  Such a second marriage after ordination could in fact be attempted only under the pain of canonical nullity.6  (at 171a-b)

5Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 29; Paul VI, apostolic letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (June 18, 1967): A.A.S. 59 (1967), pp. 697-704; apostolic constitution Pontificalis Romani Recognitio (June 18, 1968): A.A.S. 60 (1968), pp. 369-373; apostolic letter Ad Pascendum (Aug. 15, 1972): A.A.S. 64 (1972), pp. 534-550; Code of Canon Law, Canons 236, 276.2 and .3; 1035.1; 1037; 1042.,1; 1053.3; John Paul II, “Catechesis” from the Oct. 13, 1993, general audience address: Insegnamenti XVI, 2 (1993), pp. 1000-1004; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1554.

6Ad Pascendum, VI, and Canon 1087 in connection with Canon 1078.2.1.

7. For some time it has been evident that because of this prohibition grave difficulties have arisen for those who have been widowed after ordination but are desirous of remaining in the diaconal ministry.

8. With a view to establishing a new practice modifying the current norm, which requires three cumulative and simultaneous conditions which would constitute motivating exceptions for the granting of a dispensation from the prohibition of Canon 1087, this dicastery has requested and has obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are [sic] sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, namely:

—The great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs.

—That he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care.

—That he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care (§8, at 171b).

And finally, at the end of the circular letter:

9. The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.  It was further established that this circular letter be sent to diocesan and religious ordinaries informing them of these new measures for future reference.

10. Diocesan and religious ordinaries are therefore kindly requested to give due attention to these instructions should they have occasion to forward petitions for dispensation to this congregation.

Vatican City, June 6, 1997

Archbishop Jorge Medina Estevez, Pro-Prefect

Archbishop Geraldo M. Agnelo, Secretary

The first passage quoted, (§68) excerpted from the document published by the Congregation for the Clergy, clearly knows nothing of, or ignores, the traditional requirement that married men in major orders be continent in their marriage after ordination: the propriety of sexual relations between married deacons and their wives is even insisted upon.  As will be shown, the liceity of this departure from tradition was never discussed during the Council by any of the bishops concerned for the married diaconate.  Further: it is evident that with their promulgation by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the new norms annul the diriment impediment to marriage constituted by prior ordination to major Orders.  The “diriment” character of that impediment has been summarily negated; the impediment of Orders has been treated as though it were of merely canonical provenance and standing, and its dispensability thereby taken for granted.  The “great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon, etc.,” now trumps “the constant discipline of the church in the East and West” which has required that “such dispensation (be) inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state” — this inseparable connection of its dispensation with dismissal from the clerical state is that which makes the impediment of Orders to be a diriment impediment.  The constant tradition of the Church, East and West, has been denied doctrinal significance, and this without any discussion of the subject by the bishops at Vatican II or elsewhere, and in the entire absence of any competent theological inquiry into the matter other than that provided by Stickler, Cochini and Cholij, whose unanimity contradicts the assumptions of both Congregations and of the Secretary of State.

It is to be noted that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, while asserting that “this dicastery has requested and obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, etc.,” relies for this assertion of papal permission upon a document which on this point is at best ambiguous, for we have read in the circular letter that:

in a letter of March 22, 1997 (no. 402.629) permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

In the first place, the protocol number assigned this letter of March 22nd is the same as given the letter received the previous February 27th concerning the dispensation of laicized priests: both numbers may be in error, and one of them must be.  However that may be, in the footnote citing both of these letters from the Secretary of State we have read that:

The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27th, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22nd, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

Here the Congregation clearly asserts, in the active voice, that the Cardinal Secretary of State has communicated to the Congregation for Divine Worship a papal permission to dispense, under certain circumstances, laicized priests under the age of forty from their canonical incapacity to marry.  In this direct statement there is nothing startling, for while the laicization of a priest does not imply such dispensation, and while its discretional grant by the Pope to priests who have been thus dismissed from the clerical state may be more or less rare, such a dispensation presents no novelty.  However, in the Congregation’s circular letter we find incongruously associated with this dispensation granted to laicized priests, another and entirely different situation.  For it is to be noted that the description in the Congregation’s ‘circular letter,” of the Secretary of State’s letter of March 22nd, couched in the passive voice, makes no mention of any papal approval of the dispensation which may be granted by the Secretary of State to widowed deacons from the canon law and the ancient tradition which have barred their remarriage.  Rather, in that same passive voice, we read that, in the March 22nd letter, “permission was given” to the Congreation for Divine worship to grant such dispensations: it does not say by whom permission was given.

Where, as here in the case of widowed deacons, a papal permission to dispense from a diriment impediment is not clearly asserted, as it was in the circular letter’s immediately prior discussion of the dispensation of laicized priests, that permission cannot be presumed, as the circular letter presumes it.

In the absence of a clearly and responsibly affirmed papal permission, who has the canonical authority to grant such a dispensation from a traditionally diriment impediment?  Within the ambiguous context of the Congregation’s ‘circular letter,’ which touches its jurisdiction, the question does not arise.  Viz., we read:

1. The competence1 to treat of cases of dispensation from the obligations of sacred ordination and of vows in the above mentioned institutes, such dispensation being inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state, lies with this congregation. (at 169b; emphasis added)

1Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 230.139 (Feb. 8, 1989).

The second clause of the quoted sentence is clearly a continuing limitation placed upon the authority of the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The limitation is stated in the present tense, as a fact in being at the time of the writing of the letter.  And in fact, nothing in the following paragraphs of the letter recite any expansion of this jurisdiction by the Pope, who alone can dispense from diriment impediments.  There is only the general statement by the Congregation in paragraph 8, which we have read supra, stating that:

8.   With a view to establishing a new practice modifying the current norm, which requires three cumulative and simultaneous conditions which would constitute motivating exceptions for the granting of a dispensation from the prohibition of Canon 1087, this dicastery has requested and has obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are [sic] sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, namely:

—The great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs.

—That he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care.

—That he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care (at 171b).

This is curious: the “motivating exceptions” apply to all dispensations from “the prohibition of Canon 1087”, which applies to everyone in major orders, not merely to deacons: it reads:

Can. 1087 – Invalide matrimonium attentant qui in sacris ordinis sunt constituti.

Yet we have seen that the circular letter’s application of these exceptions to the dispensation of priests from “the prohibition of Canon 1087” requires their prior laicization, in such wise that these exceptions can have no bearing on their case.  Viz.: the first condition expressly concerns deacons who will remain in the exercise of their orders, while the second and third “conditions” for granting dispensations from Canon 1087 likewise can have no application to the previously unmarried and now laicized priest, unless it contemplates condoning the contumacious attempted marriage of the previously laicized priest under the age of forty who, unable for some reason to meet his responsibilities for his young children, or parents, or parents in-law, now seeks a dispensation from Canon 1087, which condonation can hardly be presumed.   Nonetheless, we have seen that the next paragraph of the circular letter expressly applies these new conditions to priests:

9. The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

The clarification of this confusion must be left to canonists: it defeats common sense.

The puzzlement over the reality of an intimated papal approval of the new conditions which would permit the novel remarriage of widowed men in major orders without their prior laicization, which in fact underwrites the encouragement given them by the Congregation for Education and the Congregation for the Clergy to live in marital relations with their wives, might easily be resolved, were the subject letter of March 22nd letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State to the Congregation for Divine Worship available for public or even episcopal inspection.  However, such correspondence is not available in any published collection insofar as a reasonably diligent search can discover.  Thus, even were its protocol number accurately cited in the English tr. of the circular letter in Origins, it would be without value to anyone seeking that information.

One cannot but wonder why these two letters from the Secretary of State, disparate in time as well as in subject matter, were so closely associated by the circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.  They were dealt with separately by the Secretary of State, and no reason appears for their being lumped together four or five months later by the Congregation for Divine Worship: we have seen the muddle which this close association has permitted and perhaps forced.  Further, such a clear departure, in the case of the widowed permanent deacon, from an ecclesial tradition whose authority is nonetheless cited in the first section of that circular letter, needs some rather more solemn form of communication than can be provided by a circular letter.

In this connection, it should not pass without remark that the title given this circular letter by the editor of Origins simply reverses the letter’s order of treatment of its subject matter, which deals first with the dispensation of laicized clergy, and only then with the dispensation of widowed permanent deacons.  This was hardly inadvertent: the editor recognized the relative unimportance of the former subject, and the high significance of the latter, and thus testifies further to the incongruity of their being bundled together in the circular letter.

Not only is the situation anomalous which results from the novel dispensation granted widowed permanent deacons from what has been the diriment impediment of Orders to marriage: it clearly invites a comparable nullification of the celibacy and continence required of the priesthood by a comparably ancient ecclesial tradition, and by the canon law.  This outcome might be thought acceptable on the ground that several Eastern Churches in union with Rome nonetheless permit the marriage of their priests prior to ordination.  They do not of course permit the re-marriage of their priests after ordination without having first dismissed them from the clerical state.  The Eastern practice since Trullo provides no grounds for the re-marriage of widowed permanent deacons.

Once the widowed deacon’s re-marriage is admitted as consistent with his continuing in the exercise of his orders — i.e., with remaining in his clerical state — not only is there undercut the continent fidelity traditionally essential to the spirituality of Orders; there is also invoked by this anomaly a Protestant interpretation of the Eucharist.

Given that the permanent deacon is in major Orders, and thereby arctius altari conjungi, his capacity to remarry while in the exercise of his Order implies either that the diaconal Order is no longer arctius altari conjungi, or that the Eucharist is no longer the offering of the One Sacrifice of the Second Adam for the Second Eve, for by this authorization of the remarriage of widowed deacons the nuptial symbolism of the sacrament of Orders has been dismissed without any discussion of that symbolism, or even any exhibition of interest in it, and this on the level of universally-distributed proclamations by two of the Vatican dicasteries.

The anomaly of diaconal remarriage may continue to be ignored, as it has been by documents issuing from three Vatican dicasteries and the from Vatican Secretary of State: it does not thereby cease to insert confusion into the sacrament of Orders, a confusion which touches the Church’s worship in truth.  Catholic sacramental worship is utterly dependent upon the truth, the authenticity of its sacramental signs, whose institution is of God, not man, but whose safeguard must be the Magisterium.

[4] Actus Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, Vol. III, periodus tertia, Pars I, Sessio Publica IV. Congregationis Generalis LXXX-LXXXII (Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1973) [hereafter, Actus Synodalia], 259-69, esp. 266ff.

[5]A.A.S. 57 [1965] 36.

[6]Codex Juris Canonici, C. 277 distinguishes clearly between celibacy and continence:

§1. Clerici obligatione tenentur servandi perfectam perpetuamque propter Regnum coelorum continentiam, ideoque ad caelibatem adstringuntur, quod est peculiare Dei donum, quo quidem sacri ministri indiviso corde Christo facilius adhaerere possunt atque Dei hominumque servitio liberius sese dedicare valent.

§2. Debita cum prudentia clerici se gerant cum personis, quarum frequentatio ipsorum obligationem ad continentiam servandam in discrimen vocare aut in fidelium scandalum vertere possit.

The distinction between continence and celibacy is again recognized in C. 599:

Evangelicum castitatis consilium propter Regnum coelorum assumptum, quod signum est mundi futuri et fons uberioris fecunditatis in indiviso corde, obligationem secumfert continentiae perfectae in caelibatu.

The most recent examination of the historical articulation of this apostolic tradition, with an overview and criticism of previous studies of clerical celibacy, is provided by Christian Cochini’s study, cited in note 2, supra.  In the foreword of Roman Cholij’s comparable work, Clerical Celibacy In East And West, also cited in note 2, supra, Cardinal Stickler has written that:

These two studies surpass, therefore, all the preceding ones which are often one-sided and even historically wrong, and will constitute in the future the new, scientifically certain basis for every safe statement in this delicate field with all its different and even opposed subjective meanings and objective difficulties.

[7]Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, [henceforth, Documents] at 387.

[8]The official summaries of the Conciliar discussion of diaconal celibacy may be found in Francisco Hellín, Concilii Vaticani II Synopsis in ordinem redigens schemata cum relationibus necnon Patrum orationes atque animadversiones 2. Constitutio Dogmatica de Ecclesia Lumen Gentium; ser. Studi sul Concilio Vaticano II (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1995), 310-315; see also “Relationes circa Caput III”, 2066-2067; 2077-2080.

[9]This may be found in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II [henceforth, Commentary] at 22-30.

[10]“Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” §16 (A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704) at 701.

[11]Stickler has drawn attention to the more inclusive understanding of celibacy in the early Church; see note 1, supra, and Cochini, Apostolic Origins, at 43.

[12]“Ad pascendum,” A.A.S. 64 (1972) 534-540; tr. Documents, at 439:

6. The special consecration of celibacy observed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and its obligation for candidates to the priesthood and for unmarried candidates for the diaconate are indeed linked with the diaconate.  The public commitment to holy celibacy before God and the Church is to be celebrated in a particular rite, even by religious, and is to precede ordination to the diaconate.  Celibacy taken on in this way is a diriment impediment to entering marriage.

In accordance with the traditional discipline of the Church, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage.26

26Apostolic Letter Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem, n. 16: A.A.S. 59 (1967), p. 701.

[13]Archbishop Stafford developed this point in the lecture cited in note 2, supra.

[14]The review article, “The Apostolic Origins of Clerical Continence: A Critical Appraisal of a New Book,” Theological Studies 41 (1982) 693-705, which Fr. Roger Balducelli, O.S.F.S., directed to the French original of Cochini’s study, applies an Enlightenment notion of historicity to Cochini’s conclusion of the apostolic origins of clerical celibacy, and on that rather fragile if commonplace foundation dismisses Cochini’s findings.  This is to proceed rather by an ideologically-driven fiat than by a serious examination of Cochini’s argument.  The Enlightenment’s rationalization of history is really not the last word on the subject.

[15]I am indebted to a conversation with Edward N. Peters, J.D., J.C.D., Diocesan Director for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of San Diego, for a clarifying insight into the failure of the conciliar Fathers to distinguish between celibacy and continence during their discussion of the renewal of the permanent diaconate.  Their inadvertent melding of celibacy with continence may well underlie the post-conciliar divagation from the ancient apostolic tradition of diaconal continence.

[16]Michael Novak, The OpenChurch: Vatican II, Act II (New York: Macmillan, 1962, 1963, 1964), 121-27; see also Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber: The Unknown Council (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), 96-100.

[17]Gérard Philips, “History of the Constitution,” Commentary, 105-137.

[18]See note 33, infra.

[19]The point is developed in Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter’s “Do This in Memory of Me”: A Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Priestly Orders (Toronto: The Mission Press, 8 December, 1983); see also the comparable pastoral letter of Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, “In the Person of Christ, The Head of the Body: The Mystery of the Priestly Vocation,” Origins 18 (1988) 349-360, together with the address cited in note 2, supra.

[20]At bottom, as Cardinal Stafford has pointed out, this is the relation between the ex opere operato effect of the sacrament (the res et sacramentum) — which is the diaconal, priestly or episcopal character in the ordained, and is the matrimonial vinculum in the married — to the ex opere operantis effect, (the res sacramenti) of the sacramental sign — which in the ordained is celibacy, in the married is fidelity, and in each is the free fulfillment, the spirituality, of the respective sacramental sign — whether of Orders or of Matrimony.

[21]Cf. note 1, supra.

[22]“Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704, at 698.

[23]A.A.S. 59 (1967) 697-704.

[24]A.A.S. 60 (1968) 369-373.

[25]A.A.S. 64 (1972) 534-540; (Documents, 433-441).

[26]A.A.S. 59 (1967) 657, 697; §§ 13 and 42.

[27]See note 4, supra.

[28]Cochini, op. cit., 236 (quoting Ambrose, De officiis III (PL 104b-5a), 247-48, and citing Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, the so-called Canons of Hippolytus, Epiphanius of Constantia, and Jerome; et passim.

[29]Henri Fesquet, The Drama of Vatican II: The Ecumenical Council, June 1962 – December, 1965; tr. Bernard Murchland; American Intro. by Michael Novak (New York: Random House, 1967).

[30]Henri Crouzel, “Une nouvelle étude sur les origines du célibat ecclésiastique,” Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 73 (1982) 293-97.  Cochini’s and Cholij’s works are cited in note 2, supra, et passim.

[31]A.A.S. 64 (15 August, 1972) 529-534; Documents 427-32.

[32]See note 22, supra.

[33]Documents, 423.

[34]The reasons given by the bishops and their theologians at the Council for their advocacy of a noncelibate permanent diaconate sometimes simply assumed without discussion that diaconal celibacy is without intrinsic relation to the diaconate.  This view appears in a highly pertinent document provided me by the late Fr. William J. O’Rourke, S.T.D., then pastor of St. Steven’s Church, Quinebaugh, CT.  Entitled “Formal Request to Restore the Diaconate as a Permanent Order Presented to the Fathers of Vatican Council II in 1962 by the Original Deacon Circle, Munich, West Germany,” it has more recently been translated and published by Patrick McCaslin and Michael Lawler as Appendix 2 of Sacrament of Service (Mahway, NY: Paulist Press, 1986).  Its signatories stressed that

The diaconate, to which, according to St. Paul (cf. I Tim 3:12) the earliest Church councils and the custom of the Eastern Churches up to the present day, married men are admitted, had in the early Church its own specific nature: the basic fundamental was always the liturgical office, while the exercise of the other essential offices, namely the works of charity and the ministry of the word, varied in importance according to the needs of particular places and times. (at 146)

Further on, to the same effect:

The tasks of the restored diaconate would all have their source and center in the intimate connection of the deacon’s office with the Holy Eucharist.  (at 146)

But the signatories and their theological advisor[s] evidently had no intimation of any causal link between that “intimate connection” and the tradition of diaconal celibacy, for they continue:

What of the question of celibacy?  The celibacy of the priest plays an impressive part in witnessing to the reality of supernatural goods, especially in our day, when so much emphasis is placed on the goods of this world.  This celibacy would also apply to deacons under the new plan, when they were members of religious orders.  On the other hand, the Church is also stressing more and more today the witnessing power of the sacrament of matrimony as a sign of Christ’s union with his Church and as a means of sanctification in the world.  As the diaconate of its nature does not require celibacy, it seems that there are rich potentialities for holiness in the married life for those who would also belong to the hierarchy of the Church as deacons.  (at 148-49)

Obviously, this highly pragmatic rationale for a married diaconate can apply to the priesthood as well as to the diaconate.  Further, we see here the confusion of noncelibacy with noncontinence in the allusion to the “rich potentialities for holiness in the married life.”  It would strain the intention of the authors considerably to read into such language that transcendence of matrimony by major orders and the consequent obligation of the ordained to live in continence, which the apostolic and patristic tradition affirms.

The pragmatic mentality we have noted in the “Original Deacon Circle” surfaces again in the near-ultimatum presented the conciliar Fathers by Bishop McHugh of Panama: “Aut diaconatus instauretur uxoratus, aut non instauretur.”  For Bishop McHugh, as for most of the bishops favoring the married diaconate, the justification for its renewal was pastoral and practical.  The married diaconate was perceived as a means of bringing a more or less influential class of laity into closer association with the mission of the Church.  Even Cardinal Spellman, although he had opposed the restoration of the permanent diaconate, had also treated the question of its restoration pragmatically, as a merely disciplinary matter, and Cardinal Döpfner of Munich, who rejected Cardinal Spellman’s objections to the restoration, evinced no interest in exploring the doctrinal content of the traditional requirement of celibacy in the diaconate, although he defended the sacramentality of the diaconate as a matter of doctrine.

Cardinal Döpfner was a major spokesman for the restoration of the permanent married diaconate; his argument, here as elsewhere, was clearly reliant upon the views of his famous peritus, Karl Rahner, whose viewpoint on the question is set out in “The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate,” Theological Investigations V, 269-314 (a translation of his contribution, “Die Theologie der Eneuerung des Diakonates,” to a massive collection of articles which he co-edited with Herbert Vorgrimler, Diaconia in Christo; ser. Quaestiones Disputatae 15/16 (Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1962); see pp. 285-324).  In this essay, Rahner displays a highly nominalist theology of diaconal ordination and diaconal orders.  We find him simply reversing the order of sacramental causality, reasoning as though the sacramental sign were indefinitely plastic, continually informed by concrete facticity of the empirical situation, and not by the liturgical intentionality intrinsic to every sacramental sign and therefore intrinsic to the sacramental character received at ordination, the res et sacramentum which is the effect ex opere operato of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church by the risen Christ.

E.g., we are told that

If one bears the distinction of office and of the rite of the transmission of office clearly in mind — and if one is quite clear in one’s mind about the fact that in the very nature of things a rite of the transmission of office can “demand” celibacy only if the office to be transmitted demands it — then it will be easy to answer the question with which we are now concerned.  For the Church shows by her practice that she does not see any very close and necessary connection between the office of deacon and celibacy.  For this office exists and is transmitted in the Church without celibacy being demanded.  For, those men and office-bearers in the Church in whose case the desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated here are de facto for the most part married men, and neither the official Church nor people in the Church have ever maintained or felt any incompatibility or inconvenience in the co-existence of this office in recent centuries or at the present time.

Throughout this widely-published article, Rahner expressly presupposes that the service rendered by the participation of married laymen in the Church’s mission is the concrete exercise of a factual if anonymous diaconate which, as anonymous, can only have arisen and been transmitted nonsacramentally: we have seen him speak nonchalantly of deacons as

those men and office-bearers in the Church in whose case the desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated here.  (emphasis added)

For Rahner, clearly enough, the meaning of the diaconal office is controlled by the pragmatics of its quite anonymous exercise.  This entirely gratuitous presupposition controls his analysis.  In view of the presupposed “de facto” situation, ordination to the diaconate, as he argues, must now conform to what that “diaconate” already is, by virtue of its supposedly de facto ongoing transmission and exercise by married laymen.  Every significant question is begged.

Rahner’s reasoning discounts a priori the sacramental efficacy ex opere operato of ordination to the diaconate, and reduces the Church’s liturgical worship to that level of historical anonymity which will support the article’s major premise of an anonymously transmitted diaconate already in existence as a matter of hard fact: i.e., pragmatically.  There is no reason for limiting his rational to the diaconate.

Consequently, for Rahner, the sacramental sign of diaconal orders is intrinsically empty, devoid of any intrinsic intelligibility and so without any intrinsic sacramental efficacy, for that intelligibility, and therefore that efficacy, according to Rahner’s postulate, have already been supplied ab extra, pragmatically and “anonymously” by the de facto historical situation.

To accept this rationale is to accept ordination sola fide; the diaconal Order can have nothing to do with the sacramental realism which specifies Catholicism, nor can any of those office-bearers in the Church in whose case the “desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated”.

We need not here repeat nor enlarge upon the sharp criticism already made of Rahner’s sacramental theology: for a celebrated instance of that criticism, see William A. Van Roo, S.J., “Reflections on Karl Rahner’s “Kirche und Sakramente”,” Gregorianum 44 (1963) 465-500.  The same sacramental nominalism as Rahner then endorsed now serves such organizations as CORPUS with respect to their dismissal of any need for priestly celibacy, and such organizations as the Women’s Ordination Conference with respect to their dismissal of any need for priestly masculinity, or indeed for the priesthood as defined by the Council of Trent.

Summarily, those theologians and bishops favoring the restoration of the permanent diaconate as noncelibate generally understood celibacy to be a merely disciplinary usage, advantageous under past circumstances but without intrinsic significance for the diaconate, and a matter therefore dispensable for practical purposes.  The dropping of this supposedly extrinsic disciplinary requirement was dealt with by them simply as the quite acceptable and necessary price to be paid for supposedly pastoral ends — which were recited at length by some dozen contributors to the last section of the Diaconia in Christo.  It is fairly evident that when celibacy is understood to be merely a disciplinary matter, its waiver is eo ipso the waiver of continence in the married deacon: any other view must derive from something more than an extrinsic disciplinary usage.

The conciliar Fathers’ unconcern for the doctrinal weight of the ancient tradition of diaconal celibacy, and for any doctrinal import which the restoration of the permanent diaconate as noncontinent might have, was not uncommon.  While those favoring the restoration often stressed also the doctrinal character of the close association of the diaconate with the priesthood and the episcopacy, this association contributed little to the discussion.  The novel association of the restored diaconate with marriage and the exercise of marital intercourse by married deacons was much more in view, however uncritically, as the language, already cited, of the “Formal Request” of the Original Deacon Circle reveals:

the Church is also stressing more and more today the witnessing power of the sacrament of matrimony as a sign of Christ’s union with his Church and as a means of sanctification in the world.

From the perspective afforded by the passage of more than thirty years, it may be said that the hopes placed in such a “diaconate” as Rahner, the authors contributing to the final section of Diaconia in Christo, and “The Original Deacon Circle” envisaged, have not been fulfilled, whether in the First World or in the Third.  An anonymous diaconate is finally imperceptible, which is to say, fictive.  An anonymous diaconate cannot but vanish from history, for it has no sacramental objectivity, no character given ex opere operato by the efficacious sacramental sign that is ordination to the diaconal service of the altar, and can only be imperceptible to, and thus without impact upon, the secularity of the world.  If the restoration of the permanent diaconate is to be efficacious in those dioceses which elect it, such restoration can be realized only by a return to the Catholic tradition, and to a fuller appreciation of the sacramental, liturgical, and apostolic specificity of the diaconate than was in evidence among those discussing its renewal at Vatican II, or has been in evidence since.


                   Rev.  Donald J. Keefe, S.J. [1974]
[Father Keefe was an Associate Professor of Doqmatic and Systematic
Theology in the Divinity School of Saint Louis University. Father
Keefe  is a graduate of Colgate University and the Georgetown
School of Law. He received his licentiate in theology at
Woodstock College and his doctorate at the Gregorian University
in Rome. Father Keefe is a member of the Bars of the District of
Columbia, State of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court. He taught
theology at Canisius College in Buffalo before coming to Saint
Louis University in 1970. He is the author of a book, “Thomism
and the Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich: A Comparison of
Systems” (1971).]
During the past few years a number of developments in widely
separated fields have raised the problem of the human norm to a
level of urgency which Catholic theology cannot ignore. Some of
these developments are technical, particularly in the biomedical
area; some are dogmatic, touching particularly the requirement of
masculinity for the Catholic priesthood; some are more properly
cultural and put in question the conventional norms of sexual
morality. Any attempt to propose the fundamental structure of
properly human existence will inevitably reflect upon these
concerns, and doubtless upon many other’s. It is evident that a
brief article on this topic will be open to objections arising
from interests which have been inadequately considered, if at
all, and very few of which can be given a brief response. In
consequence, some limitations must be placed upon any given
discussion, limits which are in no sense a disavowal of the
implications which the norm proposed may entail. For our
purposes, the discussion must be limited to a single issue: the
bearing of the norm upon the morality of “in vitro” conception of
human life. This is in itself a limitation upon the broader topic
of the morality of what has come to be called genetic
manipulation or genetic engineering.
The most adequate treatment of the more general topic by a
Catholic theologian is undoubtedly that of Karl Rahner;(1) his
approach is also endorsed by James Gustafson.(2) As might be
expected, Rahner’s treatment of the topic is not without
subtlety. In the first place, he rejects the possibility of a
deductive approach to moral theology, an approach which would
proceed by inference from some adequate definition of human
nature. The objection to such an approach is its static quality,
and its consequent ignorance of the creative and historical
dynamism of human morality, of human freedom. He then proposes as
his own moral norm what he calls the faith-instinct. This he
regards as universally given to all human beings as the origin of
their moral understanding. The actual process of moral
understanding is one of historical self-determination; otherwise
put, it is the noetic aspect of our con-creation of ourselves in
history. The faith-instinct is directed to a goal, which is
already given: the predetermined nature of man. This
predetermined nature is the object of an existential intuition.
This intuition is simply the direct self-awareness each of us has
of his humanity: it is immediate knowledge, preconceptual, prior
to and the a priori of all reflex thought and utterance. It must
be remembered that Rahner accepts no dichotomy between our
self-awareness and our existence; to exist as human is to exist
as self-aware, and this self-awareness is historical, a
being-toward, an awareness-toward, a final goal which is already
given us as the meaning and the norm of historical existence. It
is this final goal which is the truth of our humanity. Our
immediacy to, our intuition of this truth is also that by which
we are free: to live humanly, historically, morally is therefore
a matter of choice, of decision. We can express our
self-awareness by affirming the human structure which is the
meaning of history, and by so affirming enter into the
con-creation of ourselves, or we can refuse: so to refuse is to
refuse history, the “absolute future” of our humanity. Thus, our
faith-instinct is expressed in moral existence. It cannot be
reduced to objective statement, for its content is the “prius” of
any conceivable conceptual elaboration and is always available
for further expression into history than has been given it. For
Rahner, morality has therefore the structure of self-creativity;
it is a dynamism oriented to a goal which is pre-determined,
toward the production of a self whose ontological truth is not
negotiable, to a destiny uniquely individual which must be
individually accepted as the gift of God, not feared as an alien
trespass upon one’s proper autonomy. For Rahner, it is this fear
of one’s destiny which is expressed in genetic manipulation.
     Now man is in a certain respect most free when he is not
     dealing with a “thing” but calling into being another,
     freely responsible person. If he is not to conceal or fall
     short of his nature, man must be presented clearly with the
     dialectically opposite position of his freedom as a man. And
     in concrete terms that means that the freedom to determine
     another person must remain a clear-cut and radical destiny,
     which one has not chosen but accepted. Procreation in
     particular must not become an act of neurotic anxiety in the
     face of fate. The other person must remain the one who is
     both made and accepted; both an elevating influence, because
     he has been chosen, and a burden to be accepted and carried.
     If man, when confronted with his child, saw only what he had
     himself planned, he would not be looking at his own nature,
     nor would he experience his true self which is both free and
     the object of external determination. Genetic manipulation
     is the embodiment of the fear of oneself, the fear of
     accepting one’s self as the unknown quantity it is.
     . . . . What in actual fact is the driving force behind
     genetic manipulation? What sort of person is driven to it?
     And the answer would be, in the first place, the hate of
     one’s destiny; and secondly, it is the man who, at his
     innermost level, is in despair because he cannot dispose of
This argument Rahner supplements with others: for example, a
sphere of intimacy is necessary to personal freedom, and must be
safeguarded; for another, the fundamental Christian conviction
that history is irreversible should urge our cultivation of “a
sober and critical resistance to the fascination of novel
possibilities.” However, these arguments are not thought to be
conclusive; it is not upon their cogency that the moral decision
is to be based; Rahner considers such reasoning to constitute no
more than
     an appeal to, and the inadequate objectifying of, a human
     and Christian “instinct” which can be discovered in the
     moral field. A moral awareness of this kind (which both is
     and does more than we have mentioned here) forms the context
     in which man has the courage to make decisions; thus a
     decision is also more than its rationale, because the act is
     always more than its theoretical foundation. . . . This will
     is meaningful in spite of the fact that it neither claims
     nor is obliged to be exhaustively analysable by theoretical
     reason; measured against the opposite will, this will is
     more deeply meaningful and more genuinely human.(4)
Rahner is certainly correct in his analysis of the place of
discursive reason in moral decision. The theological rationale
can never be more than an appeal to freedom. It is calculated to
enhance, not displace, free choice and for this to be possible
there must be some co-naturality between the truth which the
rationale proposes, and that presumed to be in the inchoate
possession of the person to whom the appeal is directed.
Consequently, the instinct of faith, understood as the direct
awareness of an as yet unuttered knowledge of the self, is seen
without much difficulty to be the condition of possibility of
moral choice, and so the norm of moral choice, the human norm.
Rahner has also provided it with a certain content, which may be
summed up as historicity: those familiar with his anthropology
will recognize the weight of this word, and acknowledge as well
the power of the transcendental method which has elaborated its
meaning. But in this elaboration we verge upon scholasticism; the
appeal begins to be again to logic, rather than to the instinct
of faith, and this seems to be forced by the need to give the
instinct a public content. Rahner is well aware of the
difficulty; his notion of the anonymous Christian underlies his
attempts to meet it.(5) Unfortunately, this anonymity accorded
the expression of the instinct of faith is in some tension with
its historicity: it should make some identifiable difference to
be a Christian. Given that the anonymity is not complete, and
that the anonymous Christian is urged by his faith-instinct
toward a more adequate, and therefore less anonymous, expression
of his self-awareness, it remains difficult to locate the public
content of the faith-instinct.
In what follows, we will suggest that this human norm which is
given us in the faith-instinct has achieved a privileged public
expression in Judaeo-Christian history. Before doing this, it
will be necessary to look somewhat more closely at the instinct
of faith itself: to many, it will have an unfamiliar sound.
The intuition which is designated the instinct of faith in the
Thomist theological tradition is not a private possession of
Rahnerian Thomism, although the term itself is identifiably
Thomist. Anyone wishing to familiarize himself with its fortunes
in that school may well begin by reading E. Schillebeeckx’s (6)
discussion in the second volume of his Revelation and Theology,
where an ample further bibliography is available. Those standing
outside the Thomist tradition can turn to Tillich’s analysis of
ultimate concern for an understanding of the some reality. More
remotely, we are dealing with Augustinian illumination; still
more remotely, with Platonic anamnesis, given a Christian
conversion. In the medieval period, Bonaventure provided it with
its classic account in the Itinerarium mentis in Deo. Its
importance to the Thomist synthesis is a rediscovery of the
present century, after some centuries of scholastic rationalism.
Schleiermacher revived the interest of Protestant theologians in
it in his equation of faith with a sense of total dependence. The
most important development of it in the modern period is
undoubtedly that of Kierkegaard, whose identification of truth
and subjectivity underlies much of the theological development of
the present century, although the contributions of Newman and
Blondel are also significant. The instinct of faith can thus
claim to be as ancient and as recent as anything in Christian
theology. In the simplest terms, it is intellectual intuition,
the complex datum of immediate awareness. Our problem is to
identify the object of this intuition: precisely what is it that
is intuited, in the concrete? It cannot be simply the triune God,
for the intuition is also an awareness of oneself; further, it is
difficult to understand how an intuition of the Godhead could be
referred to faith in the historical Jesus who is the Christ. On
the other hand, if it is an intuition of the Christ, then the
ontological possibility of such an intuition as a universal datum
of consciousness must be established, and that in such a manner
that the experience permit the anonymity of which we have spoken,
as well as the historical mediation of its content. This is of
course the task of systematic theology: we cannot undertake it
here. Suffice it to say that during the past quarter century or
thereabouts the conviction has been growing that the root datum
of everyone’s direct, preconceptual awareness is a God-given,
gratuitous intuition of one’s relatedness to God in Christ
through the pleroma of his creation, of which we are all
participations. More succintly stated, the instinct of faith,
however labelled, is the intellectual aspect of our creation in
Christ. Rahner has himself been hesitant to go so far,(7) yet
there is some reason to believe that he also is coming to share
this view of the matter. It is in any case the view upon which we
shall now proceed.
If we grant that the object of the immediate intuition which we
have been referring to as the instinct of faith is the Christ, we
must at the same time remember that we have to do with
self-awareness, with the global experience of ourself in relation
to Christ and to his creation which is the condition precedent,
the ontological ground, of our articulated experience. We are
self-aware precisely as radicated in the fundamental relatedness
of Christ to his creation. This correlation of Christ to his
creation constitutes what is usually called the “whole Christ”:
this “whole Christ,” constituted in its entirety by the Father’s
sending of the Son to give the Spirit, is that by which we exist,
for our creation is but our participation in this fullness.
Because our immediate dependence upon it is constitutive of our
whole reality, it is constitutive of our self-awareness, and is
therefore the object, the immediate datum, of the intuition which
we have called the instinct of faith.
This instinct is universal, the subject matter of all religious
experience and of all religious expression. It is a “lumen,” a
continuing illumination, prior to all concepts, which we can no
more escape than we can escape our creation. We can refuse it by
turning away from it, so to speak, but it is inseparable from our
constitution as human in this world. Because it is prior to any
distinction in us between will and intellect, it is immediacy in
the order of goodness as well as in the order of truth: it is
inspiration as well as illumination. It is an invitation, a
continual temptation, to enter freely into the
creative-redemptive work of Christ, to con-create ourselves and
our world in Christ. The appropriate response to this invitation
is simply to live in Christ. Such a life may well be anonymous in
its Christianity, but it is not automatic, for it demands a
decision for the good and the true, for the human, which is not
imposed upon us. This decision is the fundamental moral option,
continually before all human beings throughout history and the
world. Its universal availability is the universal grace of
participation in the Christ, the light of the world.
Because we are immersed in a fallen humanity and in a fallen
history, we have the mysterious ability to refuse to be creative,
to refuse to be free, to refuse to exist in the only order of
history which is real, the history of salvation in Christ. There
is within us a counter dynamism, an inclination contradictory to
that of the instinct of faith. This concupiscence, which
according to the Catholic tradition is rather the effect of sin
and the temptation to sin than sin itself, is oriented to the
nullification rather than the creation of humanity, to the
disintegration of those correlations between Creator and creation
which are the truth and the reality of man, which are intuited in
the instinct of faith.
The most devastating disintegration worked by the concupiscent
instinct is the isolation of the divine from history and so from
the world of men; the cosmos then becomes a place of servitude
and death. This is the commonplace of the pagan religions, whose
salvation schemes, as those of the philosophical systems which
are their heir, require the removal of man from matter and from
One elected people were delivered, by their worship of the God of
history, from this trap; their history is their liturgy, for
Yahweh is present to them in the now, this day, forcing their
exodus from cosmic servitude into the freedom of the desert, into
the responsibilities of freedom. We are today the inheritors of
their history; we stand in continuity with it by our worship of
their God, the God of history. We are then members of a
worshipping community, a community whose history is the history
of the discovery of the structure of truly human existence, which
is the structure of the worship of the God of history. It must be
stressed that we have no other ultimately reliable criteria for
free, moral, historical existence than those which this worship
has discovered, for this worship is the only proper response to
the normative presence of the Lord of history in the midst of his
people. All other criteria can be no more than possibilities of
thought: those of historical worship are the actuality of
This worship is then crucial; it is a struggle, sustained by the
creative presence of God in history. It is a struggle for
significant, sacramental existence. For this worship and for this
significant existence, the bipolarity of human sexuality has been
discovered to be of fundamental importance, of an absolutely
radical liturgical value.(8)
For Judaism, as for the fertility religions which menaced her
faith, woman is the symbol of immanence, of nature, but within
Judaism this feminine symbolism is not of alienation, but of
reciprocity or bipolarity with the masculine, as in the Jahwist
creation account, where she is the helpmate of man, or in
Proverbs 8, where she is the cooperator with God in the creation
of the world. The bi-sexuality of the creation is simultaneous
with its goodness: this is a consistent theme from the Jahwist
creation account to the late Wisdom literature of the post-exilic
period. In particular, the positive value accorded femininity in
the Old Testament is equivalent to the rejection of the
pessimistic dualism which characterizes the cosmic religions of
the pagan world. This was by no means an instant insight; the Old
Testament has many traces of the primitive deprecation of
woman,(9) but the history of the Hebrew people from the tenth to
the first century before Christ is a history of the purification
of Judaism from the primitive tendency to see in woman the
ancient and ambivalent adversary of the masculine divinity. The
value accorded the feminine by the cosmic religions is the
expression of their experience of the natural world, ambivalent
in its simultaneous threat and promise. The value given woman by
the Jahwist religion corresponds to the instinct of faith which
is expressed in the affirmation that the world is created good,
that it has in it no immanent principle of evil, and therefore,
no ambivalence.(10)
The Wisdom tradition is explicit. Created Wisdom, described by
von Rad(11) as “the mystery inherent in the creation of the
world,” as “a voice which came from creation, the voice of the
primeval order,” is also “the darling, the pet,” who, present at
the creation of the world, is personified as feminine: “she was
the dearest child of God, and played with Creation and with men.”
Contrasted in Proverbs 1-8 with the seductive harlot, the
temptress whose lineaments are clearly drawn from the temple
prostitute of Canaanite worship, this created Wisdom is herself a
seductress: her voice is addressed to the individual, not to the
covenant community. She summons those who would possess her,
offering them life; entirely benevolent, evoking and even
provoking the acceptance of her gift of salvation, she is Eve to
those who seek her, a testimony emanating from creation, the good
creation whose primordial order is such that it must be
symbolized and personified as woman. This quasi-personal Wisdom
speaks with the undifferentiated voice of the primordially
feminine: as companion, sister, lover, bride, wife and mother to
men, and as the created cooperator with Jahweh in the creation of
the world. She speaks not to Israel but to the individual who
seeks her, and who is masculine in the seeking.
What is sought is life, the summary salvation benefit which is
the gift of God alone, mediated by motherhood. To see in this
Wisdom the face of Eve, “the mother of all the living,” is no
great step, one all but explicit in the Wisdom hymns. The
antithesis of this Wisdom is not the male, but the harlot whose
temptation is to destruction, to foolishness and death. It is the
harlot who repeats the cosmic symbol of the antagonist of the
masculine, the demonic feminine, the principle of disorder, of
chaos, old ocean and dark night. To follow her is to abandon
Yahweh, to enter upon a pagan worship of the principle of death.
For the harlot is either sterile or the destroyer of her
children: false to Yahweh, she has no life to mediate, for she
serves idols who are not God. The Yahwist worship simply
transposes the pagan religion into demonolatry, at the some time
introducing the true feminine symbolism, the truth which summons
one to leave the foolish servitude of cosmic demons, to enter the
service of the God of history, the God of the living, not of the
dead, who does not enslave but proclaims the year of jubilee.
The application of the feminine symbol to the covenant community
is equally striking. While feminine Wisdom is primarily oriented
toward the individual Hebrew, the feminine symbol which is Israel
is primarily oriented to Jahweh, as bride to bridegroom. This
relation between the God of the covenant and his covenanted
people is too well known to require much illustration here. Some
of its most vivid expressions are to be found in the Prophets, in
Hosea, Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel.(12) The theme is
again insistent: Israel’s infidelity to the covenant is
assimilated to the betrayal of a marriage bond; it is adultery,
fornication with false lovers, harlotry. The prophets continually
summon Israel to return to her first love, to cease her barren
prostitution to false gods. There is then a noticeable tension
between the feminine imagery of the Wisdom literature and that of
the prophets; the latter stress the historical fallenness and
degradation of the bridal community of the covenant, while the
emphasis or tonality of the Wisdom symbol is eschatological or
primordial, with little reference to fallenness. The
eschatologically good creation beckons to each man, enticing him
to an achievement never wholly realized, the achievement which is
his own con-creation of himself,(13) his own integration into the
primeval order of creation. The historical symbol of the fallen
woman who is the unfaithful Israel does not however bear the same
unrelieved condemnation which is visited upon the “alien woman”
and the “seductress” of Proverbs 1 and 5; the pessimism of Amos
and Hosea gives way in the later prophets to the conviction that
Jahweh is intent upon the restoration of his covenanted bride to
the innocence and purity of her primordial fidelity. In one of
the latest of the Wisdom books we find this bridal Israel theme
of the prophetic books resumed; in the Song of Songs the feminine
imagery of the good creation and of the redeemed Israel merge in
the single vision of the eschatological nuptials of Jahweh and
his people, a vision which is also that of Deutero-Isaiah. The
historical creation of the Jahwist tradition finally identifies
with the cosmic interest of the post-Exilic writers, and the
theme of the good creation is given its universal application:
creation is salvific, as history is.(14) The feminine symbols
combine to express this experience which is Israel’s: the
experience of order in history under Jahweh,(15) the Lord of
history and of the world.
The New Testament further develops this coalescence of the
feminine symbols; they now converge upon Mary and the Church.(16)
In Colossians, Paul develops the cosmic role of the Christ; by
him, Christians are set free of their cosmic servitude to the
“principalities and powers,” simply because these, no less than
humanity and the universe itself, are created in Christ and so
are subordinate to him. The entire created order is assimilated
to the Body of which Christ is the head, and in the letter to the
Ephesians Paul has come to realize that this relation is marital,
for the Christ’s relation of headship to his Body is that of
husband to wife. By this life-giving union — for all life
belongs to God — the Church is fecundated by the life-giving
Spirit, as was Mary, the archetype of the Church. This parallel
is brought out first by Luke, then John, and has been the subject
of an ecclesial meditation from that time forward: from it has
been developed all that the Church has taught of Mary, and
necessarily of the Church as well: they are the single locus of
the divine presence in the world, of creation and redemption in
Christ, and of freedom from the ancient enslavement to cosmic
futility. Since the second century, the Fathers have seen in
Mary’s virginal relation to God, as bride and as mother, the
reality of the created Wisdom of which Sirach and the Psalmist
sang; in her “Fiat” they have seen the eschatalogical fidelity of
the covenanted bride, the Church, to the New Covenant by which
she is “one flesh” with her head, the Christ.
Over the centuries the reflex of this meditation, whose ground is
already given in Ephesians, has seen that the meaning of the
sexual relation is realized only in its lived symbolism of Christ
as the head of his Body which is the Church.(17) There has been
more than logic at work here: Paul does not reason from the
nature the marriage to the nature of the Christ-Church relation.
Rather, it is the meaning, the truth, the liturgical significance
of sexuality which is given to him concomitantly with the
revelation of the unity of Christ with his Church. Paul’s
condemnation of extramarital sexual expression is that it is
idolatrous, inseparable from false worship. He insists upon this,
not as a child of his time, immersed in the idiosyncracies of
Judaism despite himself, but as the recipient of a revelation of
the order of God to man so vast as to defeat explanation: it must
be lived, by a life which is in Christ, a life which shares the
experience of order given to Paul in such surpassing measure.
For it is an experience of order with which we have to deal, an
experience which lives out the instinct of faith to call creation
good precisely by symbolizing it as feminine, possessing an
intrinsic truth and beauty which is that of daughter, sister,
bride and mother: the face of Eve, the mother of the living, as
of Mary, the mother of God. It is an experience which has found
abominable all sexual expression which is not liturgical, which
does not celebrate the saving presence of God to his people. It
is an experience which sees, beyond all the long recital of our
betrayal of each other and of God, a steadfast love of God for
his people which is properly that of Father, Son, Brother and
Bridegroom, a relation of love which gives meaning to these human
roles, rendering them holy, liturgical, so that to be a man is to
worship God by imaging his relation to his creation, as to be a
woman is to worship God by imaging the relation to him of his
pleroma, the spiendour by which He is present to us, and we to
This experience is an experience of conversion, an experience
given to faith, in and to the community of the faith, through
some three millennia of historical discovery, a discovery which
has been called by one of the greatest Christian minds of the
century an unveiling of the mystery of the etemal feminine,(18)
whose ultimate realization is Mary, the Mother of God. It is
obvious that any argument for the normative value of this
Judaeo-Christian experience of God in history can do no more than
describe it: the appeal is to faith, as Rahner has said.
Even from such a hasty survey as this, some indication of the
profundity of this sexual symbolism can be obtained, and some
appreciation of its inseparability from the experience of order
which is salvation history, which is the worship of the Lord of
History, and whose only adequate articulation is liturgical. This
liturgical tradition has found in the masculine-feminine polarity
a significance transcending all other signs by which reality may
be communicated. The faith-instinct of the Jewish and the
Christian people has found no more profound symbol of God’s love
for humanity than that which a man should have for his wife, no
more profound symbol of the splendour of the good creation than
that of feminine beauty, and no more profound symbol of betrayal,
the betrayal of the covenant, than marital infidelity. In sum,
neither the Old Covenant nor the New can dispense with the
holiness of the marriage relation, and from the liturgical
significance of masculine and feminine existence. Karl Barth was
not wrong to find sexuality to be at the root of our imaging of
God;(19) if the creation of man is the apt means by which God
expresses himself in the finite, as the Trinitarian theology (20)
of Rahner maintains, the conclusion is inescapable. The mystery
of God’s relation to humanity in history and in the world is not
communicated to us as information: it cannot be conveyed except
as an experience of order, the experience whose initial moment is
that of a conversion, a conversion which is a transvaluation of
the relation between ourselves and the world. This conversion is
simultaneous with the exaltation of the feminine, as the symbol
of the good creation: we refuse both, if we refuse either.
Very simply put, the alternative to the sacramentality of
femininity and masculinity is a relapse to a dualistic pessimism,
the pessimism which finds the individual human being to have no
more than a pragmatic value, to be only a thing whose worth is
precisely measured by its fulfillment of a function. If we do not
approach our sexuality as revelatory, and therefore as
mysterious, bearing a meaning and value which only worship can
unveil, we will again be trapped by an ancient dialectic which
can give no value to masculinity which is not a suppression of
women, and none to femininity which does not conclude to the
emasculation of the male.  Eliade (21) has illustrated the
universal use of the masculine-feminine polarity to depict the
radical dichotomies which are instinct to the experience which
the ancient pagan liturgies express. These antagonisms are the
very structure of a mimetic experience of order which puts no
value in the individual or in personal freedom. Private
initiative and personal responsibility become thus a defiance of
the timeless order established “in illo tempore” by the divinity,
an order which, as Gilgamesh learns, has reserved death to men
and life to the Gods, or as the creation story in the Enuma elish
tells us, an order which charges man with servitude, that the
gods might be free. The absolute tensions placed by this
experience between the free individual and the society, between
experienced reality and discursive reason, between time and
eternity, between man and god, are all epitomized in the
dichotomy between the masculine (understood as the symbol of
order, rationality, divine transcendence) and the feminine (the
symbol of chaos, mystery, nature, immanence). Plato’s rationalist
attack upon the mimetic understanding of the poets is only an
objectification of the instinct of pagan wisdom to defeminize the
world: the stifling of history is its goal, Sparta has been its
inspiration, and a homosexual sterility its destiny. (23)
The correlatives of the secularization of humanity and of human
sexuality do not wait to be discovered: the discovery is part of
every culture unformed by the Judaeo-Christian experience of
order in history. If we do not experience salvation by the Lord
of history within our history, we shall surely seek it outside of
history, as has every primitive religion apart from Judaism, and
as has every rationalist objectification of the pagan experience
of disorder in history, of creation as evil.
Much has been written and said over the past seven years
concerning the problem of what is called “civil religion.”
Insofar as every society, every culture, is in search of a remedy
for the evils at hand, there is a certain kind of quest for
salvation at work in all peoples, at all times. More than most
people, the citizens of this nation seek such salvation: from the
burdens of poverty, of ignorance, of disease and even of death.
But every such quest must decide, if only implicitly, whether the
problems which we encounter are those which yield to logic, to
technology, to the application of the machine. This decision is
one about man, about the source of the evil in his world, about
the value of freedom and of history. When the salvation sought is
equivalent to a foreclosure of freedom, a moratorium upon human
unpredictability and spontaneity, those who seek salvation in
this guise are converted to a new experience of order, one
incompatible to and fundamentally at war with that which has
formed the Western world for some three thousand years. With
every such conversion, a new adherent to a new civil religion is
gained, and the tensions endemic in a free society are increased.
We should not be deceived. If there is no perception of the
indecency of reducing human mating to a laboratory event, it is
because we are involved in a different experience of order than
were the founders of our religious and cultural institutions.
This difference is simply a loss of faith: we are no longer able
to affirm the revelation, for the symbols by which its truth may
be uttered are no longer alive to speak for us and to us. We have
turned away from the light, and no longer recognize the splendour
of our humanity, we no longer see in ourselves the image of God.
Having rejected the symbolic and sacramental significance of the
sexuality whose truth is luminous of Jahweh’s relation to his
people, we have rejected the fundamental mystery by which we live
in history, by which we worship God.
For the Christian symbols are true because they are
participations in the reality of which they speak: their truth is
inescapable in history. It is possible to ignore that truth, but
it is not possible to escape the consequences of that ignorance,
of that refusal of the Wisdom which the good creation utters. The
truth of these symbols is not a matter of information; it cannot
be summed up in however prolonged a statement. Their mystery is
revealed only to worship; it is given to faith and not otherwise.
When that faith is historical, when it is not the mere ritual
re-enactment of a cosmic legend or of a cosmic, because equally
timeless, philosophy of man, but is rather the participation of
the worshiping community in the creative deed of God in history,
then the history of the community is the history of its
participation in the good creation, and in the Wisdom which is
its voice, a voice heard in the streets, not of the faithless and
whoring Babylon, but of that Jerusalem which is the Church. It is
with that wisdom that we are now concerned: it utters at once the
meaning of history, the structure of freedom, and the uniquely
valid norm of the human and the moral.
This norm, as we have seen, safeguards and is safeguarded by the
instinct of faith. By means of this faith instinct, it has become
explicit in the Judaeo-Christian salvation history that human
sexuality is holy, that it is the profoundly meaningful human
structure by which the historical revelation of Jahweh as present
to his people is mediated, not as information, but in reality, as
reality: the meaning of the feminine is Mary’s mediation, as the
meaning of the masculine is Christ’s. Their relation is the
revelation of a single mystery, the truth of God and man. Thus
the relation between human sexuality and salvation history is
reciprocal: only within this relation is sexuality known to be
holy, to be significant, and only when it is so valued, can its
symbolic power be creative, salvific rather than destructive.
Again, there is no matter of logical inference here; we do not
deduce the sanctity of the masculine-feminine relation from the
revelation, or vice versa. These are given simultaneously and
inseparably in what von Rad and Voegelin have referred to as an
experience of order in history: we have made that language our
own. This experience is an ongoing intuition of the structure of
significant existence, of the moral norm. Radically, this is an
experience of living in a salvation history, in a benevolent
world, the good creation. Its ontological prerequisite is our
creation in Christ. Its finality is the building up of the full
membership of the Body which is the Church. The Church is then
encountered as the truth of that eternal feminine which the pagan
seers experienced as the animating principle of nature, which the
Old Testament authors found at once in the figure of created
Wisdom and in the fallen and redeemed Israel whose paradigm is
Eve, and which in the New Testament and the patristic tradition
focuses finally upon the Church, and upon Mary as the archetype
of the Church. This feminine principle is the created medium of
salvation, bridging the abyss between God and man precisely as
feminine: to be feminine has no other meaning than to be the
pleroma,(24) the splendour, the beauty, the fullness of God’s
presence among men, enticing men to their salvation by the
bearing of His gifts.
In this experience, the value of masculinity pivots upon that
assigned the feminine, as the cautionary verses in Proverbs may
remind us. The feminine mediation of Jahweh is also the mediation
of the revelation of the masculine, which can no longer be self-
enclosed, fearful of mutuality, alienated from woman whether by
isolation or nullification. The Jahwist has said goodbye to all
that, and the record of the Old Testament history is a record of
the purification of these symbols from their circumambient pagan
context, a purification worked not by reason but by the worship
which is also the experience of order. In this experience, the
sexual relation is marital, the great sacrament of Christ and his
Of all this, enough has been said to point out the basis for
believing that such technological rationalizations,
secularizations, of human sexuality as in vitro fertilization are
simply blasphemous. They convert the value of the feminine to
that of a producer of egg cells, a functional definition as
inhuman and as suppressive as any known to the ancient idolatries
(which at least respected her mystery even in fearing it). They
are consequently dismissive of any value in masculinity
irrelevant to the process of fertilization. That this will
provide even a technological solution to a human problem is open
to question: that it will introduce a destructive degradation of
the symbols by which we live in history is quite certain.
The fact that such technological procedures are now sufficiently
commonplace to be matters of public and academic discussion is
witness to the presence among us of a new mentality, perhaps not
yet dominant, but certainly interested in domination. Its newness
is however only with relation to the experience of order which
has formed the western world; it is actually the ancient
alternative to the worship of the God of history. Its
re-emergence has not gone unremarked. Eric Voegelin (25) gave an
account of its progressive impact upon our legal and political
institutions some twenty years ago; more recently Karl Stern (26)
has pointed out its association with the decline of trust in our
cultural institutions, as manifested in the writings of half a
dozen salient authors since Descartes. For our own inquiry, Leon
Kass has spoken to the some effect:
     We are witnessing the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of
     the idea of man as something splendid or divine, and its
     replacement with a view that sees man, no less than nature,
     as simply more raw material for manipulation and
     homogenization. Hence our peculiar moral crisis. We are in
     turbulent seas without a landmark precisely because we
     adhere more and more to a view of nature and of man which
     gives us enormous power and, at the same time, denies all
     possibility of standards to guide its use. (27)
Later in the some article, Kass urges some reliance upon caution
and education for protection against the evident danger of the
new mentality. Education is sufficiently broad a term as to need
some specification. It is axiomatic to decry the equation of
education and morality as a mistake of Socrates; yet, as I have
read somewhere, we may suppose that Socrates, and Kass, know what
any schoolboy knows. For it is true that it is our educational
institutions which must bear the blame for the resurgence of the
new gnosticism. By institutions I do not especially designate the
schools, though it is in their purlieus that most of the more
optimistic estimates of technological salvation are heard. For
all our cultural institutions have failed notably to make their
symbols live and speak. And underlying that failure is a more
sombre and personal one. Many of us have lost all experience of
our own historical significance, and it is perhaps not too much
to say that for all of us that experience is highly dilute; in
these circumstances, it is not remarkable that we are unable to
communicate effectively our own experience of order. It is usual
to refer this loss of conviction to the weight of technological
manipulation, but this is simplistic; even such enormous tools as
the new generation of computers remain without autonomy; they
possess no intrinsic dynamism inimical to man, however enormous
their potential. The primary educational institution remains the
voice of Wisdom, and the worship which responds to that voice.
Our failure is a failure to worship the God of history, to enter
effectively into the con-creation of the world. For that worship
is the only guarantee we have of being more than meets the eye,
more than a rabble of phenomena ripe for rearrangement in the
image, and according to the likeness, of that sullen god of a
timeless utopia, the philosopher king whose transcendence is our
diminution. It is to his foolishness that we must listen, if we
will not hear the voice of Wisdom, if we will not heed the
instinct of faith.
If our technology is not assimilated to the worship of the God of
history,(28) it will be because we ourselves have decided, like
many before us, to be less than we are, and in the service of
that decision, have undertaken our own domestication, which is
also our disintegration, our reduction to the integers of which
Dr. B. F. Skinner has spoken so well. The human truth is then
rendered entirely manageable. The one symbol which resists this
dehumanization utterly is that of the human community, the sexual
community. When we tamper with this, when we treat the stuff of
life as though we were mixing reagents in a bottle, we are in the
sanctuary of a false god, whose image is not man, but a cypher.
And we shall find in that bottle not a man, but a demon.
1.   Karl Rahner, “Experiment with Man,” Theological
Investigations ix, 244-245.
2.   James Gustafson, “Genetic Engineering and the Normative View
of the Human,” Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed.
Preston Williams, Schenkman Publishing Co., Cambridge, Mass.,
1973, 57.
3.   Rahner, op. cit., 244-245.
4.   Ibid., 251.
5.   Karl Rahner, “Christian Humanism,” Theological
Investigations ix, 187-243; x, Part Four, “The Church and the
World,” 293-388.
6.   Edouard Schillebeeckx, Revelation and Theology, ii, Sheed
and Ward, 1968, 30-72.
7.   Karl Rahner, “Questions of Controversial Theology on
Justification,” Theological Investigations iv, 210-218. Rahner’s
more recent work, The Trinity, Herder and Herder, New York, 1968,
seems to be more amenable to, and even to require, a doctrine of
creation in Christ.
8.   Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, i, tr.  D.G.M.
Stalker, Harper and Row, New York, 1963, 150.
9.   Thierry Maertens, La promotion de la femme dans la bible,
Casterman, Tournai, 1967, esp. 49 ff. Edouard Schillebeeckx,
Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, Part  1, tr. N.D.
Smith, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1965.
10.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, Abingdon Press, Nashville and New
York, 1972, p. 305.
11.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 163-175; Old Testament Theology,
12.  E.g., Hos 1-3; Jer 2:1-2, 3:1-13, 4:30-31, 5:7-11, 13:20-27,
18:13, 23: 10-11; Is 47, 50:  1-3, 54: 1-17, 62: 1-12, 66: 7-13,
Ezk 16, 23.
13.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 308-311.
14.  von Rad, Old Testament Theology i, 137-139, observes that in
Deutero-Isaiah and in the Wisdom tradition in particular,
creation is understood to be soteriological; the creation of the
cosmos and of Israel are seen almost as coinciding in Is 51:9.
15.  Eric Voegelin has established the meaning of this
expression, whose contrast is with the experience of order in the
cosmos. Each type of order has its peculiar symbolic expression.
Voegelin remarks, relative to the Judaeo-Christion experience,
     For mankind is not constituted through a survey of phenomena
     by even the most erudite historian, but through the
     experience of order in the present under God.
     When finite speculation possesses itself of the meaning of
     history, philosophy and Christianity are destroyed and
     existence in the historical form has ceased.
Order in History, ii, The World of the Polis, Louisiana State
University Press, Baton Rouge, La., 1957, 16, 19.
16.  Ren‚ Laurentin, Courte trait‚ de th‚ologie mariale, 4e
edition, P. Lethielieux, Paris, 1959, provides an indispensable
starting point for the study of the Marian theology which is the
prime locus for the Church’s meditation upon feminine symbolism.
See also Otto Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, tr.
Maria von Eroes and John Devlin, with an Introduction by Jaroslav
Pelikan, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1963; Hugo Rahner, Our Lady
and the Church, tr. Sebastian Bullough, O.P., Darton, Longman,
Todd, London, 1961; Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1963, as well as the numerous Marian
articles dispersed in the Theological Investigations; Louis
Bouyer, The Seat of Wisdom, tr. A.V. Littledale, Pantheon Books,
Random House, New York, 1962, and Max Thurian, Mary, Mother of
All Christians, Herder and Herder, New York, 1963, for a review
of contemporary Marian theology. The most comprehensive dogmatic
study is H.U. von Balthasar’s Sponsa Verbi: Skizzen zr Theologie
II, Einsiedeln, Johannes Verlag, 1960.
17.  Karl Rahner, “Marriage as a Sacrament,” Theological
Investigations x, 199-221, esp. 218.
18.  Teilhard’s development of this theme is the subject of Henri
de Lubac’s L’ternel Feminin, Aubier-Montaigne, Paris, 1967, esp.
179-215, in which the Teilhardian  symbol, the “veiled Virgin” is
seen as the sign of creation itself, precisely as saivific, and
as finally unveiled in Mary. There is far more than metaphor
19.  Some little digression may be useful here. When Karl Barth
asserted, (Church Dogmatics 3/1, 183-206) some twenty years ago,
with a good deal of vehemence and some contemporary support, that
the creation of man to the image and likeness of God should be
referred to the interpersonality of man and woman, he ran counter
to the received exegetical opinion, which considers that man’s
imaging of God is rather to be found in the dominion given him
over the created world. Cf, von Rad, Old Testament Theology I,
136-153, and The Interpreter’s Bible, i, 484-485. More recently,
Leo Scheffczyk, Creation and Providence, tr. R. Strachan, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1970, 10, has been at pains to point out
Barth’s supposed error. The chief argument against Barth’s
reading of Gen 1:27 would seem to be that supplied by von Rad:
that contemporary paganism understood the image notion, which was
a common one, in terms of man’s imitation of divine despotism,
and further that the Priestly tradition had a horror of the
intrusion of sexuality into Jahweh’s creative deed: this in sharp
reaction to the Canaanite mythology. This argumentation seems
quite inconclusive. If, as is the case, the cosmic Babylonian
creation myths are rejected by the Priestly creation account,
which nonetheless has a cosmic rather than a historical emphasis
(in contrast to the Jahwist creation story), is not the
conversion from dualism which controls the reworking of the pagan
understanding of creation also that which accounts for a
reworking of the negative valuation of sexuality operative in the
Canaanite creation myth? The despotic god of the Babylonian
culture necessarily had an antagonistic relation to the
recalcitrant — and feminine — principle of immanence; does it
really make sense to suppose that the notion of despotic dominion
as the specific attribute of Jahweh remains a part of the
Priestly tradition? If on the contrary this notion is given a
transvaluation appropriate to the Lord of history, of the good
creation, so that lordship is no longer despotic, antagonistic to
creation, then the idea that the sexual mutuality of man and
woman is an imaging of God in his soteriological relation to his
creation is hardly inconsistent with the Priestly tradition,
particularly inasmuch as its final redaction is had at a time
when the Canaanite religion is no longer a vital alternative to
Jahwism. In brief. the good creation theme of the Priestly
account is simultaneously the abandonment of divine despotism,
and of the objectionable content of the sexual symbolism
associated with that despotism; this occurs in the conversion
process which is equivalent to faith in Jahweh, the lord of
history whose relation to his creation, to humanity, to Israel,
is seen as marital at an early period: he is a jealous, not a
despotic God. The “heiros gamos” of the cosmic mythology has not
been abandoned, but transvalued. In consequence, there seems to
be a scriptural base for Barth’s assertion.
20.  Karl Rahner, The Trinity.
21.  Mircia Eliade, Mephistopheles and The Androgyne, Sheed and
Ward, New York, 1966. To assert, as Eliade does, the nexus
between the flight from history is of course to reject the
occasional embarrassment over the sexuality of mankind which we
find even in such eminent authorities as Gregory of Nyssa; v. In
Cantica Canticorum, homilia vii, P.G. 44, 916b, cited in Gregoire
de Nysse, La cr‚ation de l’homme, intro. et trad. de Jean
Laplace, S.J.; notes de Jean Danielou, S.J., Editions du Cerf,
Paris, Editions de L’Abeille, Lyon, 1943, 56. Gregory reads Gal
3:28 to mean that the eschatologically redeemed creation is
sexless. H.U. von Balthasar points out the gnostic roots of this
mentality in Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur, tr. L.
Haumet et H.-A. Prentout, Aubier Editions, Montaigne, Paris,
1947, 127-150. It nonetheless has had a certain vogue of late:
e.g., Wayne Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a
Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions xii, 3,
(Feb. 1974) 165-208.
22.  Eric Havelock, Preface to Plato, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Mass. 1963.
23.  Henri Marrou, The History of Education in Antiquity, Sheed
and Ward, New York, 1956, has detailed the close association in
classic culture between the devaluation of the feminine, whether
in the militarist culture of Sparta or in the philosophy schools
of Athens, and the perversion of the male. See esp. ch. 2 and 3.
24.  Henri de Lubac. Corpus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et L’‚glise
au Moyen Age. Etude Historique. Deuxieme Edition, Revue et
Augmentie. Aubier, Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1949, 139. The
author observes of the Pauline notion of the Church, “`Corps,’
c’est aussi organisme, c’est ‚change entre des membres aux
fonctions variees et conspirants, et c’est aussi plenitude.”
25.  Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, The Univ. of
Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1952, describes a continual
degradation of the historical experience of order as written into
the constitutive law of the American and European republics over
the past two and a half centuries.
26.  Karl Stern, The Flight from Woman, Farrar Strauss and
Giroux, New York, 1965, finds a comparable decline in Western
literature since Descartes, linking it to a decline of the
mutuality of the masculine and the feminine in our culture, and
to a consequent homosexual emphasis. In this connection, the
celebrated vision of Aidous Huxley, as manifest in Brave New
World, may be a bit myopic. The possibility that there may be no
particular demand for the pneumatic ladies of his utopia is quite
real. The anti-utopias envisioned by Orwell and C.S. Lewis are
more realistic.
27.  Leon R. Kass, “The New Biology: What Price Relieving Man’s
Estate?”, Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed. Preston
Williams, 164.
28.  Philippe Roqueplo, O.P., “La cr‚ation g‚mit en travail
d’enfantement,” La nature: problŠme politique, Desclee de
Brouwer, Paris, 1971, 162 ff, suggests the need for such an
SATTLER:  Don, what do you mean when in the early part of the
paper you refer to the predetermined nature of man?
KEEFE:    It’s difficult to point to an eschatological reality
without treating it in a language that makes it sound
uneschatological, and therefore, unmysterious. Predetermined
means fixed, in the sense that God has created man. Therefore… 
SATTLER:  To be a certain kind of being?
KEEFE:    Therefore, man is what God has made him to be, and this
is determined. It is not open to indefinite change. Man has a
structure. It is one which is to be discovered, certainly. It is
one which is to be discovered in worship.
SATTLER:  In other words, his concreation is not open to his
KEEFE:    No. He is created in the image of God. That image is a
matter of discovery, but it’s also a matter of fact. Does that…
SATTLER:  It’s a start, I’m sure. But we’re going to have to work
at it.
KINDSCHI: Don, in your description of human sexuality as the key
paradigm for a relationship between God and his people, or
between Christ and his Church, how do you explain or how do you
fit into that the fact that two of the key developments in the
biblical imagery are asexual? Both Eve out of the rib of Adam and
Christ from the Virgin Mary, either are asexual. How does that
fit into this picture?
KEEFE:    Let me take the latter one first. Creation is, as
understood theologically, as the Father sending the Son to give
the Spirit, to give the lifegiving Spirit. Consequently, Mary’s
generation of the Christ is virginal insofar as it is a total
dedication of her life-giving function to God. This is the
ordinary patristic explanation of this.
You were saying that, if sexuality is the key symbol, then it
should be operative at the moment of creation. Then it would be a
symbol of itself. Sexuality is a symbol of creation. It’s a
symbol of something other than itself. The incarnation, if we
take the creation in Christ seriously, is the radical moment of
creation. The focal energy of God’s relation to man is released
at the incarnation. If we take creation in Christ seriously, this
is what it means. Therefore, the sexual relation is symbolic of
that reality which precisely involves femininity as that to which
Christ’s humanity is responsive, and that into which his humanity
is sent by God. In consequence, then, her femininity is a
mediation between God and man. Man precisely is Christ.
Now, to answer your question simply would be to go through a
whole theory of symbol. What we mean by symbol, in relation to
that which is symbolized. But ultimately it would seem that the
pagan temptation to use sexuality in its various accounts of the
cosmogenesis are rejected because this is in some fashion a
violation of the good creation. As soon as you have the various
accounts of the sacred marriage in paganism, or more primitively
of some divine masturbatory act by which the first pair of gods
come into being, you are already supposing a web of relationships
which say something about the interrelation to the sexes.
The fundamental mystery is the good creation. The symbol points
to this, but it is not identified with it.
Now, that is about as close as I can get to an answer to a very
difficult question, a difficulty I’m sure you’re aware of.
THOMAS:   If I follow the logic of your argument in terms of the
development, the historical development of the man-woman
relationship, the meaning that that has in the history, etc., the
reflective nature of the divine covenant, it would seem that the
logic would lead to a conclusion that there should be no man-made
technological interference with the basic natural creative
dynamics of this relationship. Now, you can see it, I think,
something like “in vitro” embryology where the technology is
perhaps more apparent. But if you pulled it back a little bit and
think of the issues relating to birth control, say, that you have
a technological intervention there as well. Does your argument
stand, you might say, as the biblical dogmatic basis against that
kind of thing, as well as against other technologiztion?
KEEFE:    It’s certainly relevant to it. It isn’t dispositive of
it. The reason that I restricted this just to the “in vitro”
situation is because there you have the sharpest and the clearest
case that I know of reducing human sexuality to a function and
nothing more. It is, I think, true that a laboratory is an
unhistorical environment in that it attempts to make the
intrusion of the unpredictable as slight as possible. When one
does this there is immediately a refusal of the symbolic truth
insofar as that is not reduced to the univocal symbols of
mathematics. The notion that sexuality then has a value which is
not available to the apparatus in the laboratory is ignored. Now
it seems to me that when you suppose that human sexuality can be
turned over to such a use that you are treating it in an overall
sense as something that is of no more significance, say, than the
processes of digestion. It keeps occurring to me that there have
been many programs for improving the race. These are almost as
old as human history. Attempts to improve the breed by referring
its blood lines to divinity, attempts to keep noble blood pure
and so on. These are commonplace. And all of them failed. The
most recent failure I suppose being that of the Third Reich. They
failed because history finally defeated them. They’re
inconsistent with the realities of history. And almost always
they involve some sort of an attempt to isolate that which is to
be controlled from historical reality. A laboratory is about as
unhistorical as you can get because its isolation from the
contingent is the most complete. And it seems to me when there is
a real attempt to produce human life in a laboratory you have
already admitted that the contingencies of the human reality of
which one deals — and I take it that the fertilized ova of which
we are dealing — are human beings. There could be only one
reason for putting a human being in an unhistorical environment.
That is to subject him or her to total control. That is to deny
his transcendence.
Now, can this be applied to the question of contraception? I
think the question of contraception is a classic instance of an
attempt to solve a human historical, liturgical problem without
reference to worship. It was thought for reasons of natural law,
upon a basis which upon examination seems to be rationalist, that
contraception violates the decencies of sexual symbolism. And
well it may. But this has not been a matter of discovery. This
has been a matter of law. At least we seem to be in a position
where it is practically impossible to find a consensus within
Catholicism on this point. And the failure of consensus on a
point of this importance seems to me to indicate that it has not
been permitted to become a matter of discovery by worship. It
would seem that if there is an indecency in the sort of
contraceptive usages which you refer to, that it would be
discovered by decent Christian people who are truly involved in
Christian worship and would discover in this worship the same
sort of inconsistency between that worship and contraception that
Paul discovered between that worship and the deeds of which he is
concerned with in the first chapter of Romans. But it isn’t
something that is going to be a matter of inference or of
The only possible discovery process for the structures of the
human norm is historical worship which is an educational process
among other things. At least that’s the way it seems to me your
question must be answered.
McLEOD:   When you were talking about sexuality as the symbol of
creation, isn’t it, more fundamentally than that, a symbol of
KEEFE:    Well, it’s a good creation. Presumably it’s a creation
which is an act of love.
McLEOD:   And Christianity is really saying what love is, being
self-giving, free-giving, creation?
KEEFE:    The Father sending the Son to give the Spirit,
precisely. And this immediately involves a sexual expression of
that sending. That is, the incarnation. That is what I mean. I
haven’t said this very well, I recognize.

Quotation of the Day from “Reflections on the ‘Functional’ Nature of the Priesthood”

 Footnote  #2  from

“Reflections  on  the  ‘Functional’  Nature of the Priesthood”

by Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

 [ii]  The  mistake  is  at  least  as  old  as  St.  Thomas’  application  of  the  Aristotelian  category  of  the  “perfect  society”  to  the  Church.  Within  the  past  few  decades,  sociology  has  displaced  theology  in  many  fields  of  formerly  theological  interest,  particularly  sacramental  theology  and  ecclesiology.  EDWARD Schillebeeckx  did  not  invent  this  dissent,  but  his  willingness,  even  eagerness,  to  reduce  the  priesthood  to  a  variety  of  “leadership”  in  Ministry:  Leadership  in  the  Community  of  Jesus  Christ;  tr.  John  Bowden  (New  York:  Crossroad,  1981)  paved  the  way  for  a  widespread  rejection  of  the  sacramental  reality  of  Orders:  e.g.,  John  Coleman —  the  author  of  “The  Future  of  Ministry,”  America  144  (March  28,  1981),  243-49;  and  “Ministry  in  the  80′s,”  Call  to  Growth/  Ministry  9/2  (Winter,  1982)  24-31 — teaches  sacramental  theology…  at  Berkeley.

“Reflections on the ‘Functional’ Nature of the Priesthood,”

Faith, 32/ 2, March-April, 2000.

Even better, see Footnote #1:

[1] Gregory Baum, whose article in The Ecumenist (November-December, 1965) announced the passage, supposedly warranted by Lumen Gentium, §28, from a “cultic” priesthood, defined by the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, to a “ministerial” priesthood specified by the “making present” of Jesus’ salvific work, was a bell-wether in the ecumenical/liturgical effort to persuade Catholics that Vatican II had underwritten the merely functional priesthood, one resulting from Christ’s gift of ministry to his people, in such wise that it became impossible to distinguish the universal priesthood which is given in baptism from that priesthood which is given in ordination, since the latter is no longer specified by the authority to offer the One Sacrifice in persona Christi.  Baum contrasts a priest who thinks his ordination to have given him a distinct ontological reality, with the post-conciliar “ministerial” priest who has no such illusions. However, over the intervening thirty years, Baum failed to persuade the Magisterium: Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, closed the door on the functional priesthood.

Ed. note: Gregory Baum left the priesthood in 1976.