Monday, February 06, 2006

Clerical Celibacy & the Principle of Asceticism in Catholicism (Louis Bouyer)

[originally uploaded in 1997]

Edited by Dave Armstrong, from Introduction to Spirituality, by Louis Bouyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1961, translated by Mary Perkins Ryan). Fr. Bouyer is a convert from Lutheranism. From pages 125-127, 132-136, 143-145, 186-189, 223-227. These excerpts elucidate the Christian and biblical principles of self-denial and asceticism in Catholicism, which are oftentimes thoroughly misunderstood by non-Catholics, who think, e.g., that the voluntary relinquishing of some pleasure for the sake of the Kingdom of God is the equivalent of pronouncing the thing sacrificed "evil" or "bad" in and of itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fr. Bouyer also explains the unique and particular calling of the priest and the function and utility of celibacy (much maligned today) within that calling.

******

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


[The] recognition of the place of the cross in our life, this deliberate seeking after the cross, should not be interpreted wrongly. We must not see it as any misprizing of creation, as if any work of God could be evil. In particular, Christian asceticism implies no condemnation either of the material world or of our own body ....... we must be careful not to confuse the motives which can impel Christians to the practice of asceticism with those that move, for example, Buddhists and Manichaeans.

For Buddhism, it is the individual existence which is evil. In this sense the whole world ..... is to be fled from, overcome, abolished.........

Less universal but no less radical in its pessimism is Manicheism.....Not all existence is condemned here, only one aspect of it: its dark aspect, identified with matter, as opposed to the wholly spiritual, the wholly luminous.......

Christian asceticism is always tempted to confuse its motivation with this view of things, the simplicity and logic of which seem so attractive. The confusion comes about from a mistaken identification of the Greek opposition between the body and the soul with the opposition made by St. Paul between what he calls 'the flesh' and 'the Spirit.' But, for St. Paul, 'the flesh'........is what the whole human being, body and soul linked together inseparably, becomes when it is separated from God. For 'the Spirit' is not the spirit of man, but the very Spirit of God.......

[Bouyer cites Luke 6:20-26, Matthew 16:24, Philippians 2:5-8 and 1 Peter 2:21 as examples of the many biblical indications of self-denial and asceticism - p.132]

The motto of Christian asceticism is......: 'to follow Christ.' And this is why the martyr is the first and lasting model of the Christian ascetic. The word 'martyr,' which means 'witness,' is applied in the Apocalypse of St. John [i.e., Revelation] to those who, giving up their lives in fidelity to Christ, witness by their death to the life-giving power of His cross.......

THE ASCETICISM OF ANCIENT MONASTICISM

A little later, when the Roman Empire had become at least nominally Christian, all at once persecution ceased. It was precisely at this moment that monasticism arose as a substitute for martyrdom. It might be said that as soon as the Church ceased to be forced by the world to live in the world without being of the world, she felt herself obliged to live in this way by her own choice. Now that the world was offering her its friendship, she seemed to fear being engulfed in it. Hence monasticism.

We should not forget also that, from its first beginnings, the primitive Church had developed, along with the ideal of martyrdom, that of virginity consecrated to Christ.

While Christ Himself had exalted the ideal of marriage as no one had done before Him even in Israel, He Who was born of a virgin had, nevertheless, placed the family among the best of the good things that His disciples could be called upon, like Himself, either to abandon or never to possess. In St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians, he exalts celibacy as the means to a more direct or more complete fidelity to Christ. This implies no deprecation of marriage in his thought. Does not the same apostle exalt marriage as the image of, and an effective participation in, the love between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5)? Nonetheless, he observes, marriage involves new bonds with the world, our being established in it to a certain degree, and, to that extent, it diminishes our freedom to follow Christ. As St. Paul says: the married man is, or at least may be, divided between his desire to please Christ and his desire to please his wife (cf. 1 Cor 7:25 ff.)......
All this shows us clearly that monasticism, like martyrdom, simply prolongs and deepens the piety of the 'poor' of the Old Testament. Biblical, Christian asceticism cannot be a condemnation of the gifts of God. A preference is what motivates it, a preference for the Giver over any of His gifts. It seeks only to make us free: free to accept His love, free to give ourselves up to it.

It is in this perspective that we see the meaning of the three vows which, in the East as in the West, have come little by little to express the essence of the monastic life (or the 'religious' life in the technical sense of the word, as applied to a life of special consecration to Christ). These three vows are simply a full acceptance of three permanent renunciations designed to put us integrally at the disposition of Christ.

Poverty is always basic. In a sense, it includes the three vows: they simply extend its application to the whole of life. Poverty in the narrower sense makes us free with regard to the world. Chastity makes us free with regard to the flesh. Obedience makes us free with regard to our will itself and its basic egoism.

It should be clearly understood that 'the world' from which poverty frees us is not a mere synonym for creation. In the biblical sense, and particularly in the sense in which St. John ordinarily uses the word, it means the organization of all things, not in function of the plan of God, but in consequence of the fall of man (of man and of the spiritual powers beyond him). In the same way, the 'flesh' in the sense of St. Paul, is not the body as such: it is its disorganized instincts, maddened by man's disobedience to a higher law. And, finally, that will of one's own, that 'myself' which we must renounce by religious obedience, is not our personality as God has willed it, but that caricature of it which, as it were, has trammeled its true and healthy development........

CHRISTIAN ASCETICISM AND CHRISTIAN HUMANISM

All this might be summarized by saying that it presupposes, in the evaluation of the human condition which must be our starting-point, both a metaphysical optimism and a historical pessimism. A metaphysical optimism, since everything is good in itself, in our own nature and in the universe, our body as well as our soul, matter as well as spirit, for everything has been willed and created by God. A historical pessimism, inasmuch as sin has vitiated the very conditions of our spiritual life, our natural relationships with things. But sin, in its source, does not belong to matter, but to the created spirit: it is the willed revolt of an intelligence against its creator. This revolt sets creation as it were against itself. The highest goods that it contains, instead of leading us beyond them to the Creator, screen Him off from us. Necessarily, therefore, we must sooner or later break with these things if we are to return to Him.

Yet this death, voluntarily accepted as a sign of His love newly recognized and welcomed in our hearts, is to become the principle of resurrection, that is, of an integral restoration of creation, once again brought into harmony with its creator. But this cannot be done except in Christ, as St. Paul says........The cross is life-giving only if it becomes the cross of Christ received through faith in Christ, the Son of God made man.

All this we must try to understand if we are to discern the concrete pattern of an asceticism that is truly and fully Christian. This requires first of all an examination of the anthropology, the idea of man, presupposed by Christian asceticism. then we need to see exactly what sin is, as well as the fallen state which it has meant for man and which must be our starting-point. Then we shall be in a position to understand how the fundamental process of creation is interconnected with the process of redemption, and how the latter, at first sight antagonistic to the former, is actually oriented only toward restoring its original design.........

Such a view of things differs sharply from that of Greek spirituality as this is formulated by Plato, for example. Here, by contrast, the soul (psyche) conceived above all as intelligence, as nous, is in direct opposition to the body. To repeat: for the soul, its soma, its body, is a tomb, sema, into which it has fallen and from which it can only aspire to free itself........

FLIGHT FROM THE WORLD AND THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD

What certainly makes it difficult for many Christians today, even very fervent Christians, to appreciate monasticism is that it is without any question a flight from the world. Is this not opposed to the Christian ideal of saving the world? Others go further and say that behind monasticism lies a hatred of the world opposed to the love (so fundamentally biblical) of the world as a divine creation. And thence it is only a step to maintaining or suspecting that monasticism involves, if not a more or less hidden Manicheism, at least a conception that is more Platonic (or Neo-Platonic) than Christian.

What we have already said about the indubitably biblical and Gospel sources of all Christian asceticism should suffice to dissipate such harmful simplifications. To choose, or to believe that we have to choose, between love of the world and hatred of the world is to have no understanding of the paradox inherent in the Gospel. St. John expresses it more frankly than anyone else when he says: 'Do not love the world, nor anything that is found in it....' with this explanation: 'The whole world is in the power of the Evil One,' while he also states explicitly: 'God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him will never perish but will have everlasting life' (I john 2:15 and 5:19; John 3:16).

This means that our attitude towards the world cannot be a simple one, for, according to the point of view from which it is considered, it appears to Christians under two aspects, not only different, but completely contrary. If we consider the world as it was in the beginning and as it is to become, it goes without saying that it is God's creation, that it is good in itself, and that we should love it as does God Himself to the point of sacrificing ourselves for it. But if we consider the world as it has become in consequence of sin - not in the least the world God willed nor the one He made, but the one we have made by our sin - we must recognize that it is the enemy of God and so our enemy, and that it must, as such, be overcome by the victory which St. John also speaks of, the victory which is our faith (1 John 5:4-5).........

Jesus proclaimed 'Blessed are the poor,' but He clearly did not prescribe total destitution. He did, however, actually ask this of certain men. To the rich young man, who had practised, or who believed himself to have practised, all the commandments since his youth (let us say that he had not positively transgressed them) Jesus said: 'One thing is lacking to you: go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor: you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.....' (Luke 18:22). Again, St. Matthew's Gospel does not hesitate to have Him say: 'There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. he who can understand this, let him understand' (Matt. 19:12). And just previously He had said: 'All will not understand this word, but only those to whom it is given' (v.11).

CLERICAL CELIBACY

From the time of the Old Testament and especially in the last period of Judaism, virginity appeared as a particularly strict form of the poverty of the faithful who made their whole life a waiting for the Kingdom. Already Jeremiah had had neither wife nor children (16:1-4). In the Jewish communities contemporary with the Christian era, the least that can be said is that the practice does not seem to have been exceptional. St. John the Baptist, like the Essenes with whom he may perhaps have been connected, was not married. the resolve, transparent through the Gospel of St. Luke, that led Mary to dedicate herself to a virgin life even before the Annunciation in spite of her betrothal to Joseph, makes us see in her piety the flower of the piety of Israel.

Yet.....it was the Gospel alone that fully brought out the positive significance of virginity consecrated to God in Christ. In relation to poverty, even as understood in the very interiorized sense already given it among the 'anawim' of Israel, virginity voluntarily preserved represents a transfer from the giving up of our exterior goods to the giving up of ourselves, and thanks to this transfer, this renunciation now becomes the center of asceticism.

It is remarkable, furthermore, that this transfer took place, not in consequence of any deprecation of marriage, but rather of its exaltation. St. Paul, like Christ Himself, far from setting up the ideal of consecrated virginity against that of Christian marriage, exalts them both together, and, even more, exalts the one by the other.......

It is under these conditions that the renunciation of marriage itself can become the sacrifice of an indirect and limited realization for the sake of a realization that is direct and total. The dignity of marriage is fully revealed in the possibility it presents of sketching out something of the very reality of the union of Christ with the Church, and, in this union, of the union of God with each soul. The sacrifice which renounces marriage in order to consecrate oneself exclusively to the superior union typified by marriage, therefore, only renounces it in a way that implies for marriage the supreme consecration.

Understood in this way, virginity, even better than poverty, leads, beyond the giving up of one's possessions, beyond the giving up of one's own body, to giving up oneself into the hands of God, through Christ, in the Church.

In this perspective, we can see very clearly how the personal renunciation of marriage is in no way a renunciation of what makes the whole 'mystery' of marriage according to St. Paul (Eph 5), but, on the contrary, is a very special consecration, at once more immediate and more complete, to the union of Christ and the Church.......

The monk, in becoming a monk, can have no immediate objective other than his complete liberation from all earthly ties to be wholly Christ's. The priest, in accepting the priesthood and more particularly the charge of souls, equally consecrates himself wholly to Christ, but, directly and by that very fact, to Christ in his brothers and especially in those to whom he is sent. His celibacy, with all that it implies and that extends it, should therefore be not only a celibacy in view of intimacy with God, but a celibacy in view of being, as the apostle says, 'all things to all men for Christ.' Doubtless, for the monk also, the consecration to God in Christ implies a consecration to the Church in her union with Christ. But the consecration of the monk in itself consecrates him in a unique way to this union inasmuch as it is first to be realized in each of us. The consecration of the priest, of the sacred minister of any kind, consecrates him to this union inasmuch as it is to be realized also and at the same time in other men.

In this way, we can unhesitatingly say, ecclesiastical celibacy is like, and even perhaps more like, the consecration of the married layman to his family than it is like the consecration of the monk to intimacy with God alone........

In other words, the call and the consecration to the priesthood are an immediate call and consecration to spiritual fatherhood under the particular form of pastoral responsibilities, with the functions of preaching and celebrating the sacraments attached thereto. It is in view of this precise call, in view of this definite consecration, that the priest is required to renounce the marriage and the fatherhood of this earth. It is not purely and simply in view of taking up his cross and following the crucified Christ. It is the business of the preparation for, and the exercise of, the priesthood fully to equip the priest for that to which he is called, that for which he is to be consecrated. And it is his business not to withdraw his interest purely and simply from the world for the sake of the things of God, but to withdraw his interest in a family life like that of the ordinary Christian for the sake of that family life, wholly supernatural in its principle, of the Church of God on earth - and of that special portion of the Church
which will be entrusted to him......

The disinterestedness of the priest - not only carnal, which goes without saying, but also spiritual - in his devotion to his priestly tasks, and more especially to the souls entrusted to him in the exercise of these tasks, should, then, be complete. This is why he has need, more than any other Christian living in the world, of a continually renewed recourse to an asceticism of detachment, of self-abandonment, which, as to its basic principles, unceasingly rejoins monastic asceticism itself.

No comments: