US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What is dogma? Celibacy it ain't.

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The question of whether mandatory celibacy is dogmatic is worth bringing out of the comment box. To my understanding, "dogma" is understood to be limited to the symbol of faith (Nicene Creed basically), the doctrinal decisions of the early church councils regarding the Trinity and the humanity and divinity of Christ, and, in the West, the papally-defined Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. (Though there is dispute about whether the doctrine of papal infallibility itself is dogmatic; the Orthodox do not accept it, much less the Christians of the Reformation.) Dogma is considered central to the deposit of faith--and so necessary for salvation in some sense--and "irreformable" in the sense that it cannot be contradicted, though it could be reformulated. Note that the church has always recognized a "hierarchy of truths" among its doctrines; not all church teaching--even dogma--is created equal. Some are more central than others.

Note that most of church teaching, including the documents of the Second Vatican Council, does not qualify as "dogma." It can be reformed and changed, which includes, in my opinion, the teaching found in Humanae Vitae. (Those that argue Humanae Vitae contains infallible teaching have to do some major theological gerrymandering.) That doesn't mean it is not authoritative, just that it can be reformed.

Though the Second Vatican Council did not define any dogmas, it is still the church's current most authoritative teaching because of its source: an ecumenical council convened by the bishop of Rome. Incidentally, I have never said that a teaching of Vatican II is dogma. I only argue it provides the lens through which we must currently view the tradition of the church, and there can be dispute about how that lens is applied--though some commenters here are completely uninterested in such nuance.

As for celibacy, Vatican II only affirmed the tradition of celibacy in the West for those in orders above the order of deacon (presbyter and bishop). I also affirm the tradition of celibacy, I simply argue that it should not be mandatory for a whole host of reasons. Furthermore, it cannot be argued on any solid theological ground that clerical celibacy is dogmatic; it is merely a matter of law based on the presumed practice of Jesus. It is laudable and commendable, but not inextricably joined to the order of presbyter (priest) or even bishop for that matter.