The Faith of Our Fathers Part 35

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Our Savior affectionately puts this question three times to Peter: "Simon, lovest thou Me?" And three times Peter answers Him, "Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee." What proof of love, then, does Jesus exact of Peter?

Does He say: If thou lovest Me, chastise thy body by fasting and stripes, prophesy, work miracles, lay down thy life for Me? No, but "feed My lambs," "feed My sheep." This was to be the closest bond of Peter's devotion to his Master, and of the Master's affection for His disciple.

And our Lord declares that the reward of His disciples would be commensurate with the dignity of their ministry: "Behold," says Peter, "we have left all things and have followed Thee. What, therefore, shall we have? And Jesus said to them, Amen, I say to you that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you shall also sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And immediately after He adds that the worthy successors of the Apostles shall share in their felicity: "And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting."(505)

I know that there are many in our days who deny that Priests possess any spiritual power-as if G.o.d could not communicate such power to men. I understand why atheists and rationalists, who reject all revelation, should deny all supernatural authority to the ministers of G.o.d. But that professing Christians who accept the testimony of Scripture should share in this unbelief my comprehension.

Has not the Almighty, in numberless instances recorded in Holy Writ, made man the instrument of His power? Did not Moses convert the rivers of Egypt into blood? Did he not cause water to issue from the barren rock? Did not the prophets predict future events? Did not the sun stand still in the heavens at the command of Josue? Did not Eliseus, the prophet, raise the dead to life? Why do we believe all these prodigies? Because the Scriptures record them. Does not the same Word of G.o.d declare that the Apostles received power to confer the Holy Ghost by the imposition of hands, to forgive sins, to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ, etc.

Is not the New Testament as worthy of belief as the Old? Has not Jesus Christ solemnly promised to be always with the ministers of His Church, "even to the consummation of the world," strengthening them to repeat those miracles of mercy that were wrought by His first disciples? Can the G.o.d of truth be unfaithful to His promises? Is He not as strong and merciful now as He was in days of the Prophets and Apostles, and are not we as much in need of the Holy Ghost as the primitive Christians were? If G.o.d could make feeble men the ministers of His mercy then, why not now?

But should a Priest consider himself greater than other men because he exercises such authority? Far from it. He ought to humble himself beneath others when he reflects to what weak hands G.o.d a.s.signs power so tremendous. He should remember what our Savior said to the seventy-two disciples, who, returning with joy from their first mission, cried out to Him: "Lord, even the devils are subject to us in Thy name." But Jesus checked their vain-glory, saying: "I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I have given you power ... but rejoice not in this, that spirits are subject to you; but rejoice in this, that your names are written in heaven."(506) The Priest does not forget that "the most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule,"(507) and that "judgment should begin at the house of G.o.d."(508) The words of the Apostle are present to his mind: "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?"(509) As well might the vessel that is filled with precious liquor boast of being superior to the vessel that is filled with water. The Priest knows full well that the powers he has received from G.o.d are given to him not to feed his own vanity, but to enrich the hearts of the faithful; and that, though instrumental in pointing out to others the way to heaven, he himself, unless adorned with personal virtues, will become a reprobate, like those unhappy Priests of Jerusalem who directed the Magi to Jesus in Bethlehem, but did not go thither themselves.

"I have planted," says the Apostle, "Apollo watered, but G.o.d gave the increase. Therefore, neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth, but G.o.d that giveth the increase."(510) We perform the outward ceremony; G.o.d alone supplies the grace.

The obligations of the minister of G.o.d are, therefore commensurate with his exalted dignity.

The Priest is required to be a man of profound learning and of solid piety. "The lips of the Priest shall keep knowledge, and they (the people) shall seek the law at his mouth."(511) The Lord denounces the Priests of the Old Law because they neglected to study the Sacred Sciences: "Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood for Me, and thou hast forgotten the law of thy G.o.d, I will also forget thy children."(512)

"To you," says our Lord to His Apostles, "it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of G.o.d, to the rest, in parables." The Priests of the New Law, like the Apostles, are the custodians of the mysteries of religion.

Now we know that the knowledge of G.o.d's Kingdom is not imparted to us by inspiration or revelation. Christ does not personally teach us as He taught His Apostles. It is by hard study that the knowledge of His law is acquired by us. He does not lift us up on Angels' wings to the spiritual Parna.s.sus. It is only by the royal road of earnest labor that we can attain those heights which will enable us to contemplate the Kingdom of heaven and describe it to others.

As physician of the soul, he must be conversant with its various distempers and must know what remedy is to be applied in each particular case. If society justly holds the unskilful physician responsible for the fatal consequences of his malpractice, surely G.o.d will call to a strict account the spiritual physician who, through criminal ignorance, prescribes injudicious remedies to the souls of the patients committed to his charge.

As judge of souls, he must know when to bind and when to loose, when to defer and when to p.r.o.nounce sentence of absolution. If nothing is so disastrous to the Republic as an incompetent judge, whose decisions, though involving life and death, are rendered at hap-hazard and not in accordance with the merits of the case, so nothing is more detrimental to the Christian commonwealth than an ignorant priesthood, whose decisions injuriously affect the salvation of souls.

The advocate in our courts of justice feels bound in conscience and in honor to study the case of his client with the utmost diligence, and to defend him before the jury with all the eloquence he can master. And yet the suit may not involve more than a brief imprisonment or even a limited fine.

But the Priest, like Moses, stands before G.o.d to intercede for His people, and before the people to advocate the cause of G.o.d. He not only ascends daily the altar to plead for the people and to cry out with the prophet, "Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thy inheritance to reproach;" but every Sunday he mounts the pulpit to vindicate the claims which G.o.d has on His subjects. Certainly, if an attorney is bound to study his client's cause before he defends it, no matter how trifling the issue, how much more imperative is the obligation of the Priest to study well his case, when he reflects that an immortal soul is on trial, and before men who are often the worst enemies of their own soul. He has to convince the people that the narrow road, which their inclinations abhor, is to be followed; and that the broad road, which their self-love and their pa.s.sions tend to pursue, is to be abandoned. Conviction in this case requires rare tact as well as eloquence and learning.

But the minister of religion has to defend the soul not only against the corruptions of the heart, but also against those doctrinal errors that are daily springing up in every direction, and which are plausibly preached by false teachers, who bring to their support the most specious arguments, couched in the most attractive language. To refute these errors often requires the most consummate skill and a profound knowledge of history and the Holy Scripture.

It is no wonder, then, that the Church insists that her clergy be educated men. Hence our ecclesiastical students are usually obliged to devote from ten to fourteen years to the diligent study of the modern and ancient languages, of history and philosophy, of the great science of theology and Holy Scripture, before they are elevated to the sacred ministry.

It is true, indeed, that, owing to the rapidly-increasing demand for clergy in the United States, our Bishops have hitherto been sometimes compelled to abridge the course of studies of the candidates for the ministry; but now that the Church is more thoroughly organized, and that seminaries are multiplied among us, they are happily enabled to extend to their young levites the advantages of a full term of literary and theological training.

If the Priest should be eminent for his learning, he should be still more conspicuous for his virtues, for he is expected to preach more by example than by precept. If in the Old Law G.o.d charged His Priests with the admonition: "Be sanctified, ye that carry the vessels of the Lord,"(513) how much more strictly is holiness of life enjoined on the Priests of the New Dispensation, who not only touch the sacred vessels, but drink from them the Precious Blood of the Lord?

"Purer," says St. Chrysostom, "than any solar ray should that hand be which divides that flesh, that mouth which is filled with spiritual fire, that tongue which is purpled with that most awful blood."

In order to foster in us the spirit of personal piety, we are constantly admonished by the Church to be men of prayer. The Priest should be like those angels whom Jacob saw in a vision, ascending to heaven and descending therefrom on the mystical ladder. He is expected to ascend by prayer and to descend by preaching. He ascends to heaven to receive light from G.o.d; he descends to communicate that light to his hearers. He ascends to draw at the Fountain of Divine grace, he descends to diffuse those living waters among the faithful, that their hearts may be refreshed. He ascends to light his torch at the ever-burning furnace of Divine love; he descends to communicate the flame to the souls of his people.

The Church, indeed, considers prayer so indispensable to her clergy that, besides the voluntary exercises of piety which their private devotion may suggest, she requires them to devote at least an hour each day to the recitation of the Divine Office, which chiefly consists of the Psalms and other portions of Holy Scripture, the Homilies of the early Fathers and prayers of marvelous force and unction.

Chapter x.x.x.


The Church requires her Priests to be pure in body as well as in soul, and to "present their bodies a living victim, holy, well-pleasing unto G.o.d."(514)

Our Savior and His Apostles, though recognizing matrimony as a holy state, have proclaimed the superior merits of voluntary continency, particularly for those who consecrate their lives to the sacred ministry. "There are eunuchs who have made themselves such for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He who can take it, let him take it."(515) Our Lord evidently recommends here the state of celibacy to such as feel themselves called to embrace it, in order to attain greater perfection.

St. Paul gives the reason why our Savior declares continency to be a more suitable state for His ministers than that of matrimony: "He who is unmarried careth for the things of the Lord-how he may please G.o.d. But he who is married is solicitous about the things of the world-how he may please his wife-and he is divided."(516)

Jesus Christ manifestly showed His predilection for virginity, not only by always remaining a virgin, but by selecting a Virgin-Mother and a virgin-precursor in the person of St. John the Baptist, and by exhibiting a special effection for John the Evangelist, because, as St. Augustine testifies, that Apostle was chosen a virgin and such he always remained.

Not only did our Lord thus manifest while on earth a marked predilection for virgins, but He exhibits the same preference for them in heaven; for the hundred and forty-four thousand who are chosen to sing the New Canticle and who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth are all virgins, as St. John testifies. (Apoc. xiv.)

The Apostle of the Gentiles a.s.sures us that he led a single life, and he commends that state to others: "I say to the unmarried, and to the widows it is good for them if they so continue, even as I."(517)

There is no evidence from Scripture that any of the Apostles were married except St. Peter. St. Jerome says that if any were married they certainly separated from their wives after they were called to the Apostolate. Even St. Peter, after his vocation, did not continue with his wife, as may be inferred from his own words: "Behold, we have left all things, and followed Thee."(518) Among "all things" must be reckoned the fellows.h.i.+p of his wife, for he could hardly say with truth that he had left all things if he had not left his wife. Our Savior immediately after enumerates the wife among those cherished objects, the renunciation of which, for His sake, will have its reward.(519)

St. Paul declares that "a Bishop must be sober, just, holy, continent."(520) And writing to Timothy, whom he had consecrated Bishop, he says: "Be thou an example to the faithful ... in charity, in faith, in _chast.i.ty_."(521) In another place, he enumerates chast.i.ty among the virtues that should adorn the Christian minister: "In all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of G.o.d in much patience, ... in chast.i.ty."(522)

Although celibacy is not expressly enforced by our Savior, it is, however, commended so strongly by Himself and His Apostles, both by word and example, that the Church felt it her duty to lay it down as a law.

The discipline of the Church has been exerted from the beginning in prohibiting Priests to marry _after_ their ordination. St. Jerome observes that "Bishops, Priests and Deacons are chosen from virgins or widowers, or, at least, they remain perpetually chaste after being elevated to the priesthood."(523) To Jovinian he writes: "You certainly admit that he cannot remain a Bishop who begets children in the episcopacy; for, if convicted, he will not be esteemed as a husband, but condemned as an adulterer."(524) Again he says: "What will the churches of the East, of Egypt and of the Apostolic See do, which adopt their clergy from among virgins, or if they have wives, they cease to live as married men."(525)

St. Epiphanius declares that "he who leads a married life is not admitted by the Church to the order of Deacon, Priest, Bishop or sub-Deacon."(526)

In the primitive days of the Church, owing to the scarcity of vocations among the unmarried, married men were admitted to sacred orders, but they were enjoined, as we learn from various canons, to live separated from their wives after their ordination.

This discipline, it is true, was relaxed to some extent in favor of a portion of the clergy of the Oriental Church, who were permitted to live with their wives if they happened to espouse them before ordination; but, like the Priests of the Western Church, the Eastern clergy were forbidden to contract marriage after their ordination. It is important also to observe that the unmarried clergy of the East are held in much higher esteem by the people than the married Priests.

It cannot, indeed, be denied that at certain epochs of the Church's history, especially in periods of disordered society, there were too many instances of the violation of clerical celibacy. But the repeated violations of a law are no evidence of its non-existence. Whenever the voice of the Church could be heard it always spoke in vindication of the law of priestly chast.i.ty.

Let me now call your attention to the propriety and advantages of clerical celibacy.

First-The Priest is the representative of Jesus Christ. He continues the work begun by his Divine Master. It is his duty to preach the word, to administer the Sacraments, and, above all, to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ and to distribute the same to the faithful. Is it not becoming that a chaste Lord should be served by chaste ministers?

If the Jewish Priests, while engaged in their turn in offering the sacrifice of animals in the Temple, were obliged to keep apart from their wives, should not the Priests of the New Law, who offer daily the sacrifice of the Immaculate Lamb, practise continual chast.i.ty?

If David and his friends were not permitted to eat the bread of Proposition till he had avowed that for the three preceding days they had refrained from women,(527) how pure in body and soul should be the Priest who daily partakes of that living Bread of which the bread of Proposition was but the type; and if the people at Mount Sinai were forbidden to come near their wives for three days before receiving the Law,(528) should not they whose office it is to preach the Law at all times abstain altogether?

Thornd.y.k.e, an eminent Protestant Divine, in his work ent.i.tled, _Just Weights and Measures_, makes the following observation: "The reason for single life for the clergy is firmly grounded, by the Fathers and canons of the Church, upon the precept of St. Paul, forbidding man and wife to depart unless for a time, to attend unto prayer (I. Cor. vii. 5). For, Priests and Deacons being continually to attend upon occasions of celebrating the Eucharist, which ought continually to be frequented; if others be to abstain from the use of marriage for a time, then they always."(529)

Second-Writers frequently discuss the secret cause of the marvelous success which marks the growth of the Catholic Church everywhere in spite of the most formidable opposition. Some ascribe this progress to her thorough organization; others to the far-seeing wisdom of her chief pastors. Without undervaluing these and other auxiliaries, I incline to the belief that, under G.o.d, the Church has no tower of strength more potent than the celibacy of her clergy. The unmarried Priest, as St. Paul observes (1 Cor. vii.), is free to give his whole time undivided to the Lord, and can devote his attention not to one or two children, but to the entire flock whom he has begotten in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel; while the married minister is divided between the cares of his family and his duties to the congregation. "A single life," says Bacon, "doth well with churchmen; for, charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool."(530)

Third-The world has. .h.i.therto been converted by unmarried clergymen, and only by them will it continue to be converted. St. Francis Xavier and St.

Francis de Sales could not have planted the faith in so many thousands of souls if they were accompanied on their journeys by their wives and children. Of all the gems that adorn the priestly diadem, none is so precious and indispensable in the eyes of the people as the peerless jewel of chast.i.ty. Without this pearl the voice of a Hyacinthe "becomes as sounding bra.s.s and a tinkling cymbal;" with it, the humblest missioner gains the hearts of mult.i.tudes.

Everybody is aware of the numerous conversions to Christianity effected by St. Francis Xavier in j.a.pan in the sixteenth century. After the lapse of many years from the death of St. Francis, when a French squadron was permitted to enter the j.a.panese ports, a native Christian, named Peter, having learned that French Priests were on board, put their faith to the test by proposing to them these three questions: "Are you followers of the great Father in Rome? Do you honor Mary, the Blessed Virgin? Have you wives?" The French priests having satisfied their interrogator on these points, and especially on the last, Peter and his companions fell at the missioners' feet, exclaiming with delight "Thanks, thanks! they are virgins and true disciples of our Apostle Francis."(531)

A contemporary writer has wittily remarked that "perhaps the most ardent admirer of hymeneal rites would cheerfully admit that he could not conceive St. Paul or St. John starting on a nuptial tour, accompanied by the latest fas.h.i.+ons from Athens or Ephesus, and the graceful brides whom they were destined to adorn. They would feel that Christianity itself could not survive such a vision as that. Nor could the imagination, in its wildest moods, picture the majestic adversary of the Arian Emperor attended in his flight up the Nile by Mistress Athanasius, nor St. John Chrysostom escorted in his wanderings through Phrygia by the wife of his bosom arrayed in a wreath of orange-blossoms. Would Ethelbert have become a Christian if St. Augustine had introduced to him his lady and her bridesmaids?"(532)

The Faith of Our Fathers Part 35

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