The Council of Trullo, to which Father referred, was a synod held in the palace of the Byzantine Empire, in 692. Its members included bishops of the Church of Constantinople and other Eastern churches in communion with it. (It is also well to remember that this was when Constantinople was in communion with Rome.) The council enacted a number of disciplinary decrees that are, to this day, observed among both the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. This included recognition of the already long-established custom wherein married men could submit themselves for all degrees of Holy Orders, save the episcopate—and who could likewise continue to licitly exercise their conjugal rights. Like the familiar modern discipline of the “permanent” diaconate in the West, Trullo also provided that only already-married men could be ordained; if widowed, they could not remarry. Also, like the Latin Church in general, single men were prohibited to marry with ordination to the diaconate.
While the provisions of the Trullan council were not enacted in the Latin West, their canons are regarded by Rome as absolutely normative and legitimate in the Christian East. This includes a married (non-monastic) priesthood, with all that would imply for Christian men.
The institution of continence among married clergy, while certainly widely practiced in the early Medieval period, was by no means the only legitimate discipline among the married clergy (as Fr. Stravinskas seems to imply). It perhaps was regarded as an “ideal,” but this practice was by no means general or universal. While existing in both East and West for a time, it by no means invalidates the exercise of intimacy among married clerics. In fact, it affirms the truth that marriage may rightly be lived in all its aspects among the clergy. It is, and has been for most of the history of the Church, a righteous way of life—just as it is, in a different fashion, also a righteous observance among the clergy who have renounced their marital rights while remaining together. (In fact, some clergy and their wives have voluntarily observed such abstinence into the modern period.)
History is instructive on this point. Between the end of the Middle Ages and the late seventeenth-century, nearly all of the current Eastern Catholic Churches reestablished ecclesial communion with Rome. In no case did the Holy See require, in any fashion, the abrogation of Trullo’s provisions among the Byzantine churches. The imposition of diaconal or priestly celibacy (as observed in the Latin Church) as a general condition before or after reunion was never required or even sought. (It was only in the twentieth century that the American Roman Catholic hierarchy tragically pressured the Holy See to impose Latin-style celibacy upon Eastern Catholic secular priests in the US. This was eventually extended worldwide, outside of Europe and Asia. Thankfully, the Holy See reversed this injustice in 2014.)
While celibacy is a counsel of the Lord, its imposition by the Church upon clergy was and has always been a purely ecclesiastical (i.e. in this instance, man-made) requirement. It has existed in various forms—all of which are legitimate, when so recognized by the Church. While the exercise of marital continence is always meant to anticipate the coming Kingdom of God, “where men will neither marry or give-into marriage” (cf. Mt 22:30), it by no means makes clergy who are legitimately married and fully enjoy a Christian marital life any “less” than those who, for the sake of the Kingdom, do not. How could it when permitted and recognized by the Church (even if not in the Latin West) for at least two-thirds of the Christian era?
Like the Church’s disciplines, the grace of God also comes in a variety of forms. While it may be argued by some that, in one sense, the “sign value” of a celibate clergy might be “higher” than one which is not, divine grace can be fully and richly operative in both ways of life. The lives of the saints and the general experience of the Holy Church have proven it so.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
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