On August 6, Dr. Ed Peters graciously and thoroughly offered commentary on my earlier post “The ‘Continent’ Deacon?”, in which I challenged his view regarding the canons pertaining to whether married deacons are to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom.
Below I offer individual follow-ups to Dr. Peters’ comments. But for anyone who wants a “shorthand” version of my challenge, I first offer the following summary of points. I think this summary also represents a refinement of my views in my original post. I now suspect that the 1983 Code of Canon Law is internally consistent in its handling of these norms pertaining to clerics (this would be a “fourth” possibility—a more refined version of #2 in fact–to add to the three in the conclusion of my original post), because, in my view, it can be demonstrated that the Code consistently links continence for the sake of the kingdom with the celibate state. If my “refined” view is correct, this would help explain why the 1983 Code is also consistent with the practice of ordaining married men to diaconate with no expectation of continence, which was in place from the very beginning of the restoration of the permanent diaconate.
I think this is vitally important to note—if the Church never intended to set aside the centuries-old requirement of continence for even married clerics, why did the Church put “non-continence” into practice from the beginning of the restoration of the permanent diaconate? I propose that the Church’s non-expectation of continence for married deacons, which pre-dates the Code of Canon Law, is precisely the result of a more contemporary perspective that directly links continence for the sake of the kingdom with the celibate state. Such a link resolves the issue of whether all clerics are currently obligated to continence (they aren’t) while leaving open the question regarding whether some married clerics who are not permanent deacons (such as married priests) might, in specific cases, be called by the Church to continence for the sake of the kingdom despite being married.
It is this link that puts the admittedly meager evidence found in the Canons into proper context.
Here are some of the basic points to keep in mind, from my perspective:
1. The natural moral obligation to continence is not the same thing as an obligation to “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
2. Canon 277 creates a necessary link between the “what” that is a singular obligation (the “what” that is “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”) and the “how” of realizing this obligation (by “therefore” being bound to celibacy). My conclusion, therefore, is that the 1983 Code of Canon Law makes clear in Canon 277 that celibacy is the “means” to the “end” of perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
3. In the history of the Church, a distinction did indeed exist between the practice of clerical continence and the practice of clerical celibacy (that is, all clerics, married or not, were to observe perfect/perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom regardless of whether they were celibate). But this prior practice is simply not reflected in the language used in Canon 277. As such, the promulgation of Canon 277 could represent an abrogation of the prior practice (a practice which we know was set aside when the permanent diaconate was implemented), along the lines of what is mentioned in Canon 6.
4. I would agree with Dr. Peters that it is reasonable to infer from Canon 1042 that married men who become deacons are not bound by any obligation of celibacy, despite the fact that Canon 1042 states nothing directly about this subject (as it’s focused on who may be ordained, not on what occurs post-ordination). But because I interpret Canon 277 as denoting celibacy as the means to the end that is the obligation of continence, I add that it is reasonable to infer from Canon 1042 that married men who become deacons are neither bound by the obligation of continence for the sake of the kingdom.
5. To support this conclusion, in keeping with Canon 17 (interpreting canons via “parallel passages” in the code), I have examined Canon 599, which contains the only other direct reference to “continence” in the Code outside of Canon 277. In this context (consecrated life and “chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”), the canon also specifies “continence in celibacy” (not continence “and” celibacy). Thus the only two references to “continence” in the 1983 Code of Canon Law consistently describe celibacy as the “means” to the “end” of continence. (I’d say that the “gift” from God that is celibacy thus becomes the “fabric” of a life lived out in perpetual and perfect continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.)
6. The January 2012 Vatican reply to the US bishops confirming that married deacons are not obliged to perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven would seem to coincide with this type of interpretation of Canon 277 and the other canons associated with this question.
What follows is my point-by-point reply to much of Dr. Peters’ response to my original post. God bless!
****[Dr. Peters:] My position is that modern canon law (and the unbroken Western tradition behind Canon 277) unquestionably requires “perfect and perpetual continence” of all clerics, even those married. Then, assuming that I (and others) are correct in this interpretation, I hold that either the law should, with equity of course, be enforced, or, it should be changed to reflect some (as yet unclear) developments in the theology of holy Orders which have obviated this traditional clerical obligation.****
Thank you for stating your position more clearly than I did—my position is that the Code implicitly mitigates both celibacy and continence for the married cleric, rather than implicitly (or “obviously”) mitigating only celibacy for the married cleric.
****Careful here. All clerics are impeded from marrying in virtue of holy Orders. So, if a married cleric’s wife dies, he is bound by celibacy even without having “embraced” it as would have an unmarried candidate for Orders. Meanwhile the continence expected of single men arises from natural law and moral theology, not from canon law.****
I agree. It will be important to keep in mind this concept of “continence” arising from natural law/moral theology.
****One is continent when one does not engage in sexual intercourse (or those other acts appropriate to married couples’ intercourse), regardless of whether those acts are technically “conjugal”. ****
True enough. I should have said “sexual intercourse”—I used “conjugal relations because all sexual relations are intended to take place in marriage, but I appreciate your precision.
****Ambiguous. Celibate men and women may not pursue marriage, yes, but I do not know what “participation” in marriage means here or what else is allegedly prohibited to them. As I have stated elsewhere, married clerics (and their wives) in fact “participate” in every aspect of marriage, save intercourse.****
And so here I simply should have said that one is celibate when one neither pursues nor “gets” married. (“Participation in marriage” meant being in the married state.)
****A reminder: “our context” is canon law. We are asking, what exactly does canon law require. Now, Canon 17 explains how the meaning of disputed canons is to be determined, and that time-tested process cannot be ignored except at peril to one’s argument about the meaning of canon law. I have provided extensive and sound canonical analysis of a controverted canonical question. Yet almost no one is taking up my canonical arguments; instead most folks are inventing their own criteria for assessing the meaning of a disputed canon. *****
Actually, you will note that I have taken Canon 17 to heart, below, by appealing to the one and only other “parallel” text in the Code in which the term “continence” appears. While I claim no significant training or expertise in the discipline of Canon Law, I don’t find it to be a discipline that is utterly foreign to my knowledge and experience. Further, my approach is to take the disputed canon fully in accord with the interpretative principles mentioned in the canon(s) you cite. This is why, for example, I accept at face value the singular use of the term “obligation” in Canon 277 rather than extend it to mean something plural.
****I hope these words “intimate and intrinsic link” will be defined; they do not have a ready meaning in canon law and, as they stand, they risk conflating two distinguishable issues.****
On the contrary, I see the “conflation” happening relative to your use of the terms “continence” and “continence for the sake of the kingdom.” That is, Canon 277 does not say that a cleric has the obligation to merely observe perfect and perpetual continence (which presumably all single clerics-to-be have already felt obligated to do because of the natural law and moral theology (as you mention above). But the canon says specifically that the obligation is to “continence for the sake of the kingdom”. Whatever “continence” the potential cleric might have observed up to the point of becoming a cleric is now specified by the canon to be the particular kind of continence practiced for the sake of the kingdom. And the canon expresses how this singular “obligation” is manifested—by the cleric therefore being “bound to celibacy.” My argument is not that continence and celibacy are “conflatable”, but rather that the canon describes an “intimate and intrinsic link” between them. The link is “intimate and intrinsic” because “continence for the sake of the kingdom” happens in the Church through or ”in” the celibate state.
****Well, single men should be continent in accord with their status as single men, but we do not properly call men “celibate” until they embrace that single state as a life-long commitment, usually in holy Orders, but sometimes in consecrated life. To answer the question, an already-continent (because he is single) man assumes the obligation of clerical celibacy in a liturgical rite that reflects the canonical obligation incurred under Canons 1087.****
Agreed, indeed. The continent man who becomes a cleric assumes the obligation of “continence for the sake of the kingdom” precisely through being “bound” to celibacy. Prior to this, his continence may well only have been a consequence of his observance of the natural law, without accepting it perpetually for the sake of the kingdom. It is the perpetual observance of continence “for the sake of the kingdom” that is realized by means of assuming the celibate state. It is this kind of continence Canon 277 has in view—continence for the sake of the kingdom arising through being bound to celibacy.
****They are closely related, yes, but they are not identical. Most of the errors in this debate come from not keeping these differences clearly in mind, as below.****
But, again, I’m not claiming they are identical; I’m claiming they are distinct but intrinsically linked. I’m saying that, in the Code of Canon Law, continence for the sake of the kingdom is inseparable from the bond of celibacy. Continence (unmodified) is not intrinsically linked to celibacy, but continence for the sake of the kingdom is.
****The traditional and current clerical obligation is to continence, and not to continence for the sake of the kingdom, at least if that phrase implies a different category of continence with a different character.****
But that’s not the way Canon 277 reads, Dr. Peters, and you surely know that. You know the canon specifically mentions “continence for the sake of the kingdom.” If we are to take the canon in context, how can you make this claim?
**** A given act can be performed from different motives, but it remains the same act. ****
Did Jesus see it that way in Mt 19:12, or did he make distinctions regarding the reasons for “not marrying”?
****Here, the refraining from intercourse by a single man who wishes to act in accord with natural law is a good thing and the refraining from intercourse by a married cleric who wishes to act in accord with canon law is a good thing, namely, continence. In terms of the actual conduct, they are indistinguishable acts, even though they spring from different motives.*****
I disagree—and I think Jesus’ words in Mt 19:12 contradict this. In our context, there is a big difference between continence “until” marriage (as a consequence of natural/moral law) and continence for the sake of the kingdom instead of marriage (the celibate state). If there weren’t, why the public expression of the promise of celibacy?
****I believe the phrasing of the canon suffices to establish two related but distinct obligations here. Consider: If American law says “All citizens are obligated to file their tax returns by April 15, and must file in English,” is there only one ‘obligation’ set out here, or are there two? I think there are two. Granted, the word ‘obligation’ only appears once, but, pretty obviously, one cannot claim there is only one obligation here, can one? Those doubting that claim should consider the consequences of filing one’s tax return in English after April 15, or in French before April 15.****
This helps to make my point—again, go back to the Latin of Canon 277—to “what” does “obligatione” refer? It refers to “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”. Then, the canon says the cleric is therefore bound to celibacy. This is the “how” part of the canon, not the “what”, so to speak. “What” is the obligation (singular)? Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom. “How” is that “therefore” achieved? Through the bond of celibacy. True, it would be hard to claim that a “bond” is not also an “obligation,” but I’m sticking with the text of the Canon. “Dual obligation”? That’s not what the text says—it says there is one obligation made possible “therefore” by celibacy. Taking on the obligation of continence for the sake of the kingdom is contingent upon taking on the obligation of celibacy, if you take the text of the Canon at face value.
****In any case, I do not see Canon 277 as setting out a single obligation with, I gather, two sides, such that obviation of one is the obviation of the other, but rather, I see it setting out a fundamental clerical obligation (continence) that is to be lived by most clerics within the context of a wider obligation (celibacy).****
We are soooo close that we’re almost in agreement. But the problem is that Canon 277 says “therefore” when it comes to the “obligation” or bond of celibacy. Celibacy is the “how” of the “what” of Canon 277….As such, it does indeed seem reasonable to suggest that, according to the current Code, dispensing from celibacy (the “how”) also dispenses from the “what” (continence for the sake of the kingdom).
****This latter obligation is, from time to time, relaxed for Western clerics, but the former obligation, at least in current canon law and in the ancient tradition behind the canon, is never relaxed.****
But, according to Canon 6, if Canon 277 does assert the intrinsic connection between the “means” of celibacy and the “end” of continence for the sake of the Kingdom, and if Canon 1042 implies a married deacon need not live in the celibate state, then the “ancient tradition” of continence for all clerics has effectively been abrogated, right?
**** I believe my reading of the law is more consistent with its plain text, and I am certain that my reading of the law is more consistent with how all predecessor norms for Canon 277 have been understood and applied over the centuries. I don’t see my arguments in this regard being addressed here, let alone refuted.*****
Again, if the current Code asserts an intrinsic link between celibacy and continence for the sake of the kingdom (along with no requirement for celibacy for the married deacon),this could serve to abrogate prior legislation/practice regarding continence for all clerics?
****Addressed above, but surely, continence is not “made possible” by celibacy; continence is already required of every unmarried person regardless of ‘celibacy’.****
Dr. Peters, this statement clearly indicates the “conflation” of continence and “continence for the sake of the kindgom”. This is where I believe your argument fails. Is every unmarried person required to observe continence for the sake of the kindgom? No. The unmarried merely observe continence. Canon 277 clearly and unambiguously states the clerical obligation is to continence for the sake of the kingdom…
At this point, I quote from my original post, with your reply to it:
[ME:] Illustrating this point further, other than Canon 277, there is only one other place in the Code that uses the word “continence,” and it can help illustrate that this is the correct way of looking at Canon 277 §1. Here is Canon 599, which reads: The evangelical counsel of chastity assumed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of more abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart, entails the obligation of perfect continence in celibacy. [Dr. Peters:] Okay. Reminder, I am talking about clerical continence, an obligation arising from holy Orders, and not about obligations arising from consecrated life, but, well, okay.
[ME:] Notice here, too, the use of the singular “obligationem” and the phrase “continentiae perfectae in coelibatu” (perfect continence *in* celibacy). Canon 599 reflects the idea that, for the legislator of the Code, “continence” and “celibacy” are actually two aspects of *one* obligation, as expressed both in Canon 277 §1 and 599. [Dr. Peters:]Addressed above.
And so, with Canon 17 in mind, I make appeal in this quote to the only other place in the Code in which the word “continence” appears. And here in Canon 599 the Code also refers to the singular “obligation of perfect continence”…how? Does it say “along with the second obligation of celibacy”? No. It says “in” celibacy. In the consecrated life, the Code asserts that the evangelical counsel of chastity—assumed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (again, there is the “chastity” we are all called to and there is the kind “assumed for the sake of the kingdom”)—entails continence “in celibacy”. The “in” in this canon is as crucial as the “therefore” in Canon 277. If Canon 17 is to be believed, Canon 599 is entirely relevant regarding how we should interpret Canon 277…
****I do not follow what is being offered here. I see no aspect of this canonical question that is not covered somewhere in the Code, but canon law need not repeat every aspect of every issue in every canon addressing that issue. Canon law is to be read as a whole, and what is stated in one part of the Code can generally be assumed when reading other parts of the Code. Briefly, again, continence and celibacy are canonically imposed on every Western cleric; canonically, celibacy is lifted for some clerics, continence is not lifted.*****
The point I raise here is that the Canon 1042 does not explicitly indicate anything one way or the other regarding the question of whether celibacy is expected of a “man who has a wife” who is in formation for the permanent diaconate. Canon 1042 is focused on who is simply impeded from Holy Orders (from receiving the Sacrament) and does not touch upon the issue of whether a “man who has a wife” is expected to assume the celibate state upon receiving the Sacrament. Hence, your “conclusion” that this Canon 1042 “obviously” mitigates the rule of clerical celibacy for married men ordained to the diaconate is based not on anything explicit in the canon itself, but upon what you infer to be a reasonable conclusion based on the fact that a married man who becomes a deacon would not be expected to be celibate, despite the fact that the Code does not anywhere directly state that a married deacon does not have to assume the obligation of celibacy.
But I am open to correction on this point—is there any canon in the Code that explicitly makes clear that the married deacon does not have to assume the celibate state, or is it merely “obviously” implied (meaning that one must correctly interpret the various canons to form the conclusion)?
****…Well, because nothing in the text, context, or history of Canon 1042 tells me that the rest of Canon 277 is being mitigated. Indeed, my research has shown that exactly the opposite interpretation is more persuasive.****
But the problem here is twofold—first, the text of Canon 1042 does not directly address the question of either celibacy or continence as applied to the married deacon. Second, your statement here makes clear that your conclusion regarding celibacy is an indirect “interpretation” as opposed to merely a reiteration of something found directly in the code. And our mileage varies when it comes to “interpretation,” right?
****I am drawing a conclusion (not positing an ‘assumption’), and I am doing so only as far as I think the canons allow me to draw a conclusion. In any case, all sides agree that Canon 1042 (and others) allows us to conclude for the mitigation of celibacy for some clerics, no?****
“All sides agree” only to the extent that it would seem ludicrous to suggest that a married man can be ordained but then must from that point live in the celibate state. But the canon doesn’t clarify this one way or the other. We have to “conclude” as much.
****Well, no, of course it is not mitigated, for all the reasons I offered above and elsewhere. That’s not a “problem”, that’s my point.****
Indeed it is—and my point is that you are using the ambiguity of Canon 1042 on this point both ways—as evidence that celibacy is “obviously” mitigated while continence is (presumably obviously) not. I am pointing out that the canon simply doesn’t address the issue at all. Rather, it merely and sparely makes clear that married men *can* become permanent deacons. It says nothing about anything pertaining to life after ordination.
****Because, as I said above and in many other places, they are distinct obligations treated distinctly in the law.*****
Yes, you have said this. And thus I ask—where in the Code is continence treated distinctly from celibacy? Where in the Code is celibacy for married deacons treated distinctly from continence?
****To continue my analogy from above, Congress could change the deadline for filing taxes, or it could change the language for filing returns, but modifying one part of the filing law does not imply that the other part of the law has been changed as well. Clearly, the pope modified one clerical obligation for one category of men seeking one part of holy Orders; but many others have assumed that he modified much more than that. The burden is on them to show where and how.*****
Where? In Canon 277. How? By imposing in the canon a necessary connection between continence and celibacy that is effected by a singular obligation (continence) in turn brought about (therefore) by being bound to the celibate state. This could suffice to abrogate prior legislation and affirm the current practice relating to permanent deacons.
****First, as stated above, and as explained fully in my original studies of this topic, one is not permitted to talk about only two canons in this area when, in fact, many canons are relevant; second, while not every canon in the Code is written in the stylistic manner that I or others might like to have seen them written in, one can offer convincing conclusions about the meaning of most canons using words other than those used by the canon. If Canon 1042, with its roots in Sacrum diaconatus ordinem being expressly cited, tells me that married men with wives are impeded from Orders unless they are destined for the permanent diaconate, I can conclude that the celibacy imposed by Canon 277 on clerics is mitigated for such men headed to such a rank of holy Orders. But I do not extend that mitigation-conclusion to other men, or to other ranks of Orders, or to other clerical obligations. *****
I completely agree that many canons are relevant (particularly the comparative relevance of Canon 599). But it seems you will not extend the “mitigation-conclusion” to include continence precisely because you pre-conclude that Canon 277 does not establish a necessary and intrinsic link between continence for the sake of the kingdom and celibacy. If it did, then I think you would necessarily have to conclude that Canon 1042 implies a mitigation of both (if it implies a mitigation of celibacy).
My intention at this point is to focus on this much of the content, leaving subsequent content unaddressed (e.g. the rationale behind the editing of proposed canonical texts etc.)
I also realize this may be a rough and unstudied follow-up, but I think it gets to the fundamentals as I see them. As always, I’m willing to accept all clarifications and corrections that better express the truths involved.
God bless you, Dr. Peters! I’m appreciative of the time and energy and charity you have shared in this discussion. May our pursuit of truth bear much good fruit!