Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Greek Practice

Latins often criticise Greeks for being lax on celibacy and lax on remarriage, as far as celibacy is concerned. although Greeks do not allow priests to marry after ordination, they do ordain married men and yet married men may not be ordained to the episcopacy and in parish setting married clergy tend to be expected to give way to their celibate brothers. They have exactly same rules as we have for Anglican converts in general and applied to the Ordinariate in particular who although some may be married before ordination may not marry afterwards and were married men are not ordained bishop, a bit of Grecianisation through the back door?

As far as remarriage is concerned, I remember being given a paper which suggested all Orthodox marriages were invalid because the Orthodox recognise 'remarriage' within the lifetime of a divorced spouse, so therefore the writer suggested there was no sense of lifelong, exclusive commitment among Orthodox, QED: No Orthodox marriage is valid because of a lack of commitment to a lifelong exclusive union.

That is bit simplistic. It is worth remembering that in the West we recognise two levels of marriage; sacramental marriage between two baptised Christians and non-sacramental marriage between a Christian who has been baptised and someone not baptised. In the past such marriages were very much frowned upon and according to local custom were done without much ceremony, sometimes even in the sacristy, without music and just witnesses being present, still today the bishop or his delegate (normally the Parish Priest) has to give explicit permission for such a marriage to take place. In theory such marriages can be dissolved 'in favour of the faith', in favour of a sacramental marriage, should the Catholic party meet and to desire to marry a 'good Catholic' boy or girl. Nowadays no real liturgical distinction is made, except the obvious one of it being inappropriate to have a nuptial Mass, as the non-Christian, non-baptised cannot receive Holy Communion. The Rite speaks in terms of a sacrament even if no sacrament is being confected. Historically, I understand in some places, at a time when Holy Communion was rarely received, there were restrictions on when a person in such a union was permitted to receive Holy Communion.

Of course we Latins have always allowed a certain laxity towards even those in a sacramental union by allowing a declaration of annulment, our rather legalised approach to a pastoral situation of marital breakdown and the desire to remarry. Protestants used to be horrified at our allowance of such a practice and most Catholics really don't understand it. We require proofs of invalidity rather than the word of the person requesting an annulment. The problem is that the proof normally involves the co-operation of the estranged party or their friends - which is often not forthcoming. For some an annulment can be a healing experience, for others it is bruising and uncertain.  It is a legal solution not one designed for spiritual growth.

For Greeks, historically less legalised than us Latins, for a pastoral problem there is the pastoral solution of “oikonomia”, where someone might be married a second or even third time at the discretion of the local bishop and his advisers. Subsequent marriages are always marked by a much lesser degree of liturgical solemnity and often restrictions are placed on the couple's ability to receive Holy Communion, sometimes it is forbidden if sexual intimacy is taking place, that is until the couple can live as brother and sister, penitential disciplines can be placed on the couple it all depends on the Bishop or custom of the local Church but such a concession to permit an act contrary to the plain sense of scripture is a concession to human weakness and frailty, in much the same way as in the West we once regarded a non-sacramental marriage.


George said...

Father, I have a question that I hope isn't too far off topic. I'm considering moving to a new location where an Anglican-use Catholic chapel will be the best place for my family and I to receive sacraments. I asked a friend who used to live there some questions about the married priest and his wife. I was curious how many children they had. My friend told me that the priest and his wife were celibate and that celibacy was actually a rule for married Anglican priest converts to the Catholic priesthood. Is this true?

Anagnostis said...

In the first place, the Orthodox canons relating to remarriage are as ancient as anything, established contemporaneously with the Nicene Creed, I seem to remember. Secondly, these are the canons of the Orthodox Church, not a peculiarity of "the Greeks". Thirdly, the "plain sense of scripture" is evidently somewhat less plain than self-referential Roman circularity would have it; finally, the Orthodox understanding of the mystery of Holy Matrimony is quite different from the legal/ contractual model adopted by western Christianity, and its notions of "confection" and "validity".

Please forgive my slight impatience. I'm getting a little weary this week of Romans, friendly and otherwise, discussing Orthodoxy as though it were a kind of defective version of themselves, albeit with "valid sacraments"

Doodler said...

With regard to Ordinariate priests who are married before their ordination as Catholic priests - they have to take an oath before ordination that, should their wife pre-decease them, then they may not remarry and the normal rule of celibacy applies. Each married Ordinariate priest has a personal dispensation from celibacy from the Holy See. I am one such priest.

Joshua said...

A previous bishop of my diocese was praised in my hearing as having, while but a priest, managed to obtain annulments "for all his family". This to my mind did not seem quite the right sort thing for which to praise either the good man or his relatives! Too many Catholics see annulments in an incredibly legalistic way as "Catholic divorce", and the obtainment thereof as a blessing.

Then again, another bishop opined that these days, most men and women would be unable to contract a valid marriage, for want of the correct intention - the concepts of "till death do us part", to the exclusion of all other, etc. being foreign to them. O tempora, O mores.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I was using 'Greek' meaning Orthodox as you are using 'Roman' meaning Catholic, sorry if that has led to confusion.

I did not intend to be self-referential, far from criticising such 'Greek', Orthodox practices, I was comparing them with our own.

I think Charlemagne's successive marriages, and the successive marriages of medieval monarchs illustrate the change in our practice.
The immediate plain sense of scripture is marriage is for life, I don't know any other Orthodox who would disagree with me on that.

Fr Ray Blake said...

George, That is not how it is interpreted by custom.

Anagnostis said...

I certainly don't disagree that marriage is "for life" according to the Lord's own words; but He also quite "plainly" cites adultery as destroying it. Marriages can die because of sin, and the Church acknowledges this. "Whom God has joined, let no man put asunder" forbids any third party from interfering in the union of a husband and wife; it isn't a prohibition on the Church acknowledging that a marriage has "died".

Conchúr said...

I once read a comment of an Eastern priest on the progressively more sombre ritual for each successive marriage. If I recall correctly he said there was practically defunct ceremony for a fourth marriage which was positively funereal.

Chloe said...

Anagnostis says
"Lord's own words; but He also quite "plainly" cites adultery as destroying it. Marriages can die because of sin, and the Church acknowledges this."

He actually says nothing there about adultery. He says 'fornication'. The Catholic Church does not dissolve a valid marriage that has 'gone sour' it will only dissolve one which was never valid in the first place.


Pater Ignotus said...

Scripture says nowhere that adultery causes a marriage to "die", nor does it imply it.

George said...

Doodler and Fr. Ray,

Thank you. It seemed to me kind of weird to make a married, former-Anglican, Catholic priest celibate.

Thanks for clearing that up!

Deacon Augustine said...

George, I think it is important to grasp the correct terms here. A married couple cannot be "celibate", because "celibate" means not being married.

I think what your friend meant to say was that the priest and his wife were "continent" as opposed to "celibate". Continence in marriage means the couple live as brother and sister and go without their conjugal rights.

There is a minority opinion among Canon Lawyers that the Latin Church requires its married clergy to be continent. However, as Fr Ray said, custom has not interpreted the law in this way and you can be pretty sure that the married Ordinariate priests would be somewhat surprised if they subsequently found out that this was indeed required of them. It would probably be the death-knell of the Ordinariate (and the Permanent Diaconate) if it was.

Hughie said...

An interesting post which reminded me of the most controversial annulment case to come before a bishop’s court, and then the Rota, in the Twentieth Century. This, of course, was that involving the Duke of Marlborough and Consuela Vanderbilt. In the 1920s Bishop Amigo in the Diocese of Southwark (he only later became the Archbishop.Bishop and it only later still became the Archdiocese) had the legal expertise of the future William Theodore Cardinal Heard to call upon to deal with this tricky problem.

The Times of Monday, November 15, 1926 in its “Telegrams in brief” column on page 13 carried a small item which was to precipitate a great storm of controversy. And the Rev Fr Dr William Theodore Heard, Officialis, or its then equivalent, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark, was right in the eye of that storm. The item read: “Reuter’s Rome correspondent says that the Sacred Roman Rota has confirmed the decree of the Diocesan Court of Southwark annulling the marriage of the Duke of Marlborough with Miss Consuela Vanderbilt.”

Three days later, on November 18, 1926, a Leading article was published (@p15, col d) entitled “So-called marriage”. Its conclusion summed up the problem as perceived from outside the Church (and truth be told, to a lot inside as well: “A long life together, the attempt to make marriage a success, the birth of children and of grandchildren are not to count in the balance. The distinction of the procedure (canonical annulment) remains obvious enough, but so is the matter of fact resemblance of its consequences to those of a more commonplace divorce.”

Not wishing to abuse your hospitality, I have posted an extract from my unpublished biographical essay on Cardinal Heard on my own Blog, Scottish Catholic Observant at:

If there is any interest in the matter, I may add the Letters to the Editor and other bits and pieces later.

George said...

In common usage the term celibate can mean either sexually continent or unmarried. I understand the Church's definition means the latter.

I always thought the Church's traditional definition was strange. Would one refer to a fornicating priest as still a celibate, simply because he remained unmarried?

Proph said...

@Deacon Augustine --

"However, as Fr Ray said, custom has not interpreted the law in this way and you can be pretty sure that the married Ordinariate priests would be somewhat surprised if they subsequently found out that this was indeed required of them. It would probably be the death-knell of the Ordinariate (and the Permanent Diaconate) if it was."

In fact, the canonist Ed Peters argues that the custom from time immemorial was that non-celibate clergy were to practice continence, even deacons; the "custom" dictating otherwise is no more than 50 years old and, like so much else originating from that benighted age, was an innovation with no basis in Church law (which still quite forcibly dictates clerical continence).

Unknown said...

If divorce is an option then the marriage is debased at the outset. To begin with the relationship between the couple is not founded on an unbreakable bond of love – How can it be if both parties are aware that the other might be, e.g., tempted away by ‘a better offer’. This option hangs over the heads of both parties, neither can truly relax. Whereas if they were both aware that there is no possibility of divorce they have the confidence to grow in real love until they become truly one.

The indissolubility of marriage is a classic example of Grace building on Nature. There are several sound psychological and sociological reasons why divorce as a sacramental and social reality should not be allowed – Not least of all the common good. The old cry that ‘we are separating for the sake of the children’ is for the most part untrue. If they cared so much about their children they would ‘work through’ their differences, even if this means putting on a show (this ‘show’ can become a reality, I once heard a Catholic psychologist teach)

The scriptural and patristic evidence for the indissolubility of marriage, contrary to Anagnostis claim, is overwhelming. And it is this idea of indissolubility of marriage, i.e., no divorce, which is perhaps the most significant outward difference to the contemporary and opposing secular understanding of marriage. The Gospels make it strikingly clear that marriage is a contract that has deeper implications than merely a legal prescript. It is a bond of love that can never be broken:

'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery' (St. Mark 10:11-12)

I too recall reading a paper on divorce only in my case it attempted to give the argument in favour of divorce, ‘We should not heap burdens on people’s backs’. Of course this is precisely what divorce causes. In classic liberal style, as well as those who have fallen from the truth – choosing worldliness to the Gospels – a plea to false love is called upon in order to undermine true love. This true love requires utter commitment and joint suffering. This is too much for the modern world and those that have fallen from the truth. The Church however will not fail in this regard.

Unknown said...

I would need an Orthodox clergyman to verify me on this, but my understanding of remarriage in the Greek Orthodox Church is that it can only happen after an "ecclesiastical divorce" (bit of an oxymoron)- what we would call an annulment.

From what I have heard and seen in this part of the world, it is all too easy these days for the Greek Orthodox laity to obtain such an annulment. Greek weddings are big business and a huge source of income for the Orthodox Church.

Nice pic, Fr. Ray, if a bit villagey. Nobody does the money-pinning-on-clothes thing any more except perhaps in the mountains of Crete. In the fashionable districts of Kifisia and Nicosia, it's all far more discreet with little envelopes and personal business cards. Same aim though.

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