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Posts Tagged ‘priesthood’

The new Pope must be “a truly spiritual man.” So said Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, a week or so before conclave to elect a pope in March 2013. O’Connor was already too old at 80 to attend, but he had a view of what the attending cardinals would likely discuss. Foremost on the agenda would be how the church governance could be reformed so as to deal better with the past and future sexual abuse scandals involving clergy. Relatedly, the question of clerical celibacy would likely come up.

That the unnatural practice of adult celibacy had been a factor in the errant priestly sexual practices is perhaps the implication. Giving things up for God is surely praiseworthy, but not perhaps at the expense of such a vital or engrained biological element as an organism’s sexuality. Try as we might to the contrary, we cannot cut ourselves off from our basic biology without risking aberrant dysfunction.

O’Connor stressed that the new pope would not be a saint, but that the world could count on the occupant being “of irreproachable character.” This is not to say that being “a truly spiritual” person reduces to virtue ethics; rather, the point is that a sensitivity to matters of conscience is a byproduct of an orientation to experiencing transcendence. How, it may be asked, can a group of Vatican insiders select such a man?

In his interview, O’Connor related how Joe Ratzinger first replied, “No, I can’t” before saying he accepts. As what name he would be called, Ratzinger quickly answered “Benedict.” O’Connor concludes that Ratzinger had already selected the name, making his first response something less than forthright. Such subterfuge does not belong to the sort of character that comes from being “a truly spiritual man.” The question therefore is how a good pope under this criterion can be picked.

O’Connor offers a hint by observing that the new pope may not be a cardinal. Reaching out beyond the Vatican’s walls to put a man unlike themselves at the apex would not be a bad idea. Ideally, the more political and bureaucratic men would be held to one who is not so inclined. The problem is that a basic pragmatism is often needed to see to it that reforms are actually being carried out. Even so, pragmatism in a sort of “trust but verify” sense can be a response to the distance between a truly spiritual person and those who are politically or bureaucratically inclined. Ideally, the Church should have such an arrangement, wherein the political and bureaucratic do not occupy the “soft” center. Direct access to that center would be vital though given the size of the organization such appeals can be difficult. The challenge would be that of transcending the political and bureaucratic for those outside the Vatican’s walls. If God is love, then the core of the governance should also be love, with the more practical impediments being like an egg shell rather than the yoke.

See Jessica Elgot, “Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor ‘Saddened’ By Cardinal O’Brien Scandal, Says New Pope ‘Will Not Be a Saint,” The Huffington Post, February 26, 2013.

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A piece of a papyrus paper written in Coptic in the fourth century, probably translated from another manuscript written in Greek in the second contains the following line: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’” A second clause just below says, “she will be able to be my disciple.” This wife-disciple combo dovetails with the line in the Gospel of Philip, which says, “[Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her on her . . . “  Lest these findings seem to upend Christian dogma, the significance should be carefully considered.

First, even if the paper is genuine, it does not prove that the historical person was married. Writers of religious texts do not view themselves as historians documenting empirical events; rather, sayings or narrative serves religious points. If such a point is best served by wandering from “what really happened,” doing so would be in line with the writer’s objective and thus perfectly acceptable in his or her mind.

Theologically speaking, a married Jesus who has sex with his wife as he wanders with his followers throughout his preaching days suggests that his way into the kingdom of God may not be foreign to us mere mortals. That is to say, stressing Jesus’s human nature can show his way as realizable rather than ethereal.  For this point to be made, the writer could have invented the marriage if Jesus had not been said to be married. In short, making Jesus more human (not at the expense of his divinity) is not the project of a historian. Superimposing the latter would reflect more on us than on anything in the writing of the text.

Second, even theologically, portraying Jesus as married does not mean that he could not be a god-man figure (i.e., the Son of God).  Being married—even having sex—is consistent with being fully human, fully divine, the two qualitatively different elements not intermingling. The biological sex act would doubtlessly be on the human side, though “making love” suggests that “divinity as love” could come into play. Therefore, a theologically orthodox Christian should have no problem with “married tradition” evinced in some early scriptures.

The question of whether Jesus and his wife had children opens up the question of whether Jesus’s “genes from His Father” could be passed down. In other words, if your dad is a god-man, are you likely to be a mere mortal or might you have some special qualities. Greek mythology contains god-men such as Hercules and Dionysus who had special qualities. I do not know whether the offspring of such an offspring of Zeus and a mortal woman were said to have special qualities. It could be that Jesus’s children would have laid low after their father’s cruel death, so the lack of any reported miracle-worker does not mean that Jesus’s children were only fully human.

Rather than serving as historical evidence or upending theology as it has come down to us, the reference to Jesus having a wife bears mostly on the traditions of some of the more traditional Christian sects, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, if Jesus was said by religious to be married and his wife to be a disciple, the tradition of the clergy being limited to single men (or simply men) would be directly confronted as dogmatic, or arbitrary. I submit that even this matter is of little significance in religious terms, as a tradition is not dogma. That religious functionaries would view the matter as much more important may suggest that they are more worldly than religious, for if one’s eye is on unfolding the Kingdom of God that lies within, the matter of the sex and marital status of priests would pale in comparison.

To be sure, if the Christology of theology—the identity of Jesus Christ—has through the centuries become “higher and higher,” the discovery that Jesus might have actually been married or portrayed  in faith narratives as such could “crack that pristine egg.”  That is to say, if the notion of the Son of God became less and less “human” through the centuries (or even decades), then introducing a married Jesus who had sex could be seen as discrediting the entire God-man concept—the entire Christology. Even if “fully human, fully divine” can support such a man who fucks his wife, the god-man figure as idol surely cannot. This does not mean that the “new information” is lethal to the theology; rather, it is the obsession that has engulfed the god-man concept at the possible expense of the historical Jesus that is at risk. At the very least, its utter inflexibility renders its decadence transparent. That a married Jesus need not cancel or invalidate Jesus’s message that the kingdom of God is at hand suggests that the significance of the reference to a wife is not a big deal  after all, at least to his authentic followers in the real Church.  In fact, the contrary reaction of the “guardians” of the Church could be helpful in making them transparent, and thus more avoidable as obstacles to the faithful.

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