Thursday, October 2, 2008

Deacons and Marriage

Below is a thread of letters discussing Marriage and the Diaconate from Homiletics and Pastoral Review.

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, April 2007, p. 6.
No use of marriage rites after ordination
Editor: Thank you for publishing the article by Rex H. Pilger, Jr., “The Ministry of the Deacon” (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (November 2006) on the restored permanent diaconate. However, the author seems unaware of the current lively discussion of 1983 CIC 277 and the formal requirement of continence for all men in Major Orders. There has been confusion and disorder over this since the permanent diaconate was restored, and Deacon Pilger’s essay is incomplete without adverting to that canon in the Code which states that married men in Major Orders are expected to abstain from the “use of marriage rights’ after ordination. Wives have the right to refuse to consent to their husband’s ordination for this precise reason. Readers should consult Edward N. Peters, “Canonical Considerations on Diaconal Continence” published in Studia Canonica 39 (2005) 147-180.

Reverend Brian Van Hove, S. J.
White House Retreat
St. Louis, Missouri

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, November 2007 , p. 3-4
Deacons and marriage rights
Editor: I write concerning the letter by Brian Van Hove, S.J., about the permanent diaconate and marriage rights in the April 2007 issue of HPR.
HPR has so many excellent articles lately that I wondered whether this one slipped through by accident. It appears that the author read Canon 277 and forgot to do a follow-up on the Text and Commentary of the Code of Canon Law and arrived at his own conclusions. On pages 210 and 211 of the commentary a very unlively but factual and down-to-earth discussion of the two vocations of marriage and the permanent deaconate [sic] makes the whole discussion about whether allowed or not completely irrelevant and basically does not leave much room for any discussion at all.
I what the author said were true, then this would be a denial of the ends and purpose of one vocation in preference to another. I believe this would be called an oxymoron. But it certainly did lead to a lot of surprised comments and exclamations when I showed the article to several permanent deacons. Some wondered whether it was a lack of study in depth or just a bunch of sour grapes.
Fr. Richard Kosterman
Antigo, Wis.

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, November 2007 , p. 4
The Use of Marriage Rights
Editor: There is a great deal of interest in the union of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. It seems to me, that no matter how many discussions take place between Popes and Patriarchs, Metropolitans and Bishops, and clouds of theologians from both sides, everyone is overlooking the very people who will make or break any union. After all this happened once before. Almost all the hierarchy had agreed by the laity of the Eastern Church flat out rejected it and all the words meant nothing.
The letter of Brian Van Hove, S.J., in the April issue of HPR is another indication of what will prove to be the impossibility of the laity of the Orthodox Church accepting another union. The letter tells us that anyone ordained to what are called Majore Orders is “expected to abstain from the use of marriage rights after ordination.”
In Orthodix parishes, when the married priest or deacon and his wife have a child it is a time of happiness in the parish. Everyone is glad that their clergy are living a normal sort of life. The Eastern Church prizes celibacy, which is why there are so many monasteries for men and women, especially in Russia.
Orthodox people will never understand the reasoning behind the idea of having married clergy who, apparently, aren’t supposed to be married while they are married.
Father Vincent
Wayne, Penn.

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, March 2008 , p. 6-7
Between Quinisext and Canon 277: A Combined Response to Father Vincent and to Father Kosterman
The history of the ecclesiastical discipline of continence in the Eastern Churches is this. Until the 692 A.D. Quinisext Council [“In Trullo”], all married clergy in East and West practiced perfect apostolic continence. They completed their families before ordination and lived “as brother and sister in the Lord”.
The Eastern Church’s appeal to Paphnutius was demolished by Alfons Maria Stickler. “Paphnutius” was invented to persuade Council and Emperor to legitimize a return to Levitical or temporary continence for priests and deacons. The Western Church rejected that canon from Quinisext and continued the original apostolic practice. Eventually, the Western Church stopped ordaining married men altogether and ordained only celibate men. This shift made it clearer that the offering of the One Sacrifice in the Person of the Bridegroom is the unsurpassable fulfillment of masculine nuptiality. There is no remainder for a wife, and deacons are required to be celibate because their liturgical office is integrated with that offering.
The Eastern return to the Levitical discipline was never formalized. Orthodox priests and deacons abstain before and after Divine Liturgy “from the one blessing not washed away in the Flood” for one day, three days, seven days and perhaps during all of Great Lent. Temporary continence prevents the Orthodox lower clergy from celebrating “daily Mass” because such frequency would entail de facto perpetual continence. Only the bishop, because he is chosen from the celibate monks, can celebrate “daily Mass”. The Moscow Patriarchate canonized St. John of Kronstadt in 1990. After ordination to the priesthood, the saint announced that he and his matushka were living in continence. By this choice they returned to the practice of the first centuries of the undivided Church.
Some years ago I occasionally visited a Russian Orthodox priest-friend on Saturday evenings. I learned from him that he always camped out on the living room couch because his celebration of the Divine Liturgy was scheduled for the next morning. This is Levitical practice, like Zachariah who lived in the temple during the time of his service. Zachariah and the priests left their wives at home and returned to them after temple duty.
Despite Paul VI’s Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704) which presupposes apostolic continence, many on the religious left continued to promote the permanent diaconate as “a wedge in the door” opening to the real agenda: the abolition of mandatory priestly celibacy. Sacred Tradition and the canons of Western councils requiring apostolic continence for married clergy, especially Elvira and Carthage, were ignored. A noncontinent diaconate was to be the “first step”. Some bishops in Europe attempted to ordain married “viri probati” as priests, but Paul VI stopped these efforts.
As Edward N. Peters illustrated visually, the revised draft of Canon 277 for the 1983 CIC contained an exception from continence for permanent deacons. The pope, acting in his office as pope, removed the exception. There are no exceptions written into Canon 277, and commentaries on the law have no canonical standing in the church.
Father Kosterman can obtain a brief of Edward Peters’ analysis of Canon 277 at his website: The analysis is set out fully in Peters’ article “Canonical Considerations on Diaconal Continence” in Studia Canonica 39/1-2 (2005) 147-180. The earlier studies of Alfons Stickler, Roman Cholij and Christian Cochini are essential to our understanding of the tradition of apostolic continence and its relation to the Holy Eucharist. Cochini and Cholij wrote their doctoral dissertations on that subject. Henri Crouzel and Stefan Heid offer yet further documentation.
Given the chaos and incoherencies of East and West, Pope Benedict’s 2005 restriction on second marriages for permanent deacons precisely because it is apostolic tradition, assures a lively future discussion of clerical continence. The sources of the Tradition, especially before the novelty of Quinisext, will not disappear. Can we say that the Holy Spirit did not guide the early church?
Any adequate theology of the nuptial symbolism of the Eucharistic sacrifice cannot conceive of a sacred ministry other than that instituted by our Lord. This ministry is the representation in his Person of the Bridegroom’s sacrificial fidelity to his Bride, a fidelity which is unqualified and unconditioned (I Timothy 3:2).
Reverend Brian Van Hove, S. J.
White House Retreat
St. Louis, Missouri

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, July 2008, p. 5-6:
Marriage rights of deacons
Editor: I would say regarding the marriage rights of permanent deacons that one can answer in the positive only if one rejects the corpus of positive teaching on this subject. Cardinal Gibbons, in his famous book Faith of Our Fathers, quotes St. Jerome: “The churches of the East, of Egypt, and of the Apostolic See, adopt their clergy (bishops, priests, deacons) from among virgins, or if they have wives, they cease to live as married men” (Adv. Jovin., lib 3). This is the defense of clerical celibacy against the Protestants which needs to be recovered in the household of God.
Mark Gross
Boise, Idaho

Homiletic & Pastoral Review, October 2008, p. 4-5:
Continence for Married Deacons
Editor: In March 2008 HPR, Father Brian Van Hove expands his initial argument (made in HPR, April, 2007) that, according to the Code of Canon Law “married men in Major Orders are expected to abstain from the use of marriage rights after ordination.” The claim primarily rests on a 2005 paper of Edward Peters (Studia Canonica, 39, 147-180) supplemented by anecdotal information. Dr. Peters’ and Father Van Hove’s analyses appear to be flawed.
First, a minor detail: “Minor Orders” were suppressed by Paul VI. There are at present only “Orders.”
Second, consider the logical content of part of Canon, 277: The obligation of continence implies the obligation of celibacy. An equivalent, complementary, form of this statement is: the non-obligation of celibacy implies the non-obligation of continence. Married persons, then, are not obligated to continence within the state. (Of course, all persons have the obligation of continence outside of marriage, as rooted in natural and divine law.)
Third, Dr. Peters argues that because an interim schema of the Code included an explicit exemption of married deacons from obligations of continence and celibacy, although the statement was removed from the final version, therefore the obligation persists. There is another explanation; the “exemption” wasn’t necessary: Explicit provision for marital rights in marriage is already existent by virtue of the sacramental marital state (almost a tautology). Further, as part of the diaconal ordination rite, only unmarried candidates take a vow of celibacy; married candidates do not take a corresponding vow of continence. The ordination rite promulgated by Paul VI continued without change subsequent to publication of the 1983 Code. Lex orandi, lex credeni.
Finally, Father Van Hove writes “… deacons are required to be celibate because their liturgical office is integrated with that offering [of the One Sacrifice].” Is the deacon’s office integrated with the offering? In the initial version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #875, following Canons 1008-9, states, “This fact [grace must be given and offered] presupposes ministers of grace, authorized and empowered by Christ. From him, they receive the mission and faculty (‘the sacred power’) to act in persona Christi Capitis.” This could be interpreted as incorporating deacons into the priestly office. However, the definitive version of the Catechism reads: “This fact presupposes ministers of grace, authorized and empowered by Christ. From him, bishops and priests receive the mission and faculty (‘the sacred power’) to act in persona Christi Capitis; deacons receive the strength to serve the people of God in the diaconia of liturgy, word, and charity, in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate.” Deacons are not integrated into the ministerial priestly office; they serve in communion with it (might we expect a clarification within Canons 1008-9 in a future revision to the Code, to bring it into concord with the catechism?).
Certainly, the experience of the Eastern Churches helps illuminate the meaning of ordained ministry, but the Code applies only to the Latin Rite. And, whether the “religious left” want to use the restored diaconate for its own purposes is irrelevant to understanding the ministry; few deacons are involved in advocating such destructive change. Rather, in the battles being fought for orthodoxy in the Church, many, if not most, deacons are in the forefront of the struggle, believing, teaching, and practicing the Faith. Father Van Hove asks rhetorically, “Can we say that the Holy Spirit did not guide the early Church?” We can respond similarly, “Does the Holy Spirit not guide today’s Church?”
Rex H. Pilger
Arvada, Colorado
© Ignatius Press 2007, 2008

Update (11/6/2008): Dr. Peters has posted a response to the arguments in the last letter:


  1. What I don't understand is why the modern permanent married diaconate is not celibate and continent. Never before in Church history has a married deacon not been bound to continence and, if widowed, able to contract a second marriage. Before ordination, they always had to renounce the marriage privileges, although there were unfortunate deviations from this rule passed on from apostolic times, especially in the eastern Church.

  2. "Never before in Church history..." There is no evidence that married deacons in apostolic times were bound to continence.
    Yes, prior to the post-Vatican II restoration of the permanent diaconate, renunciation was required in those rare cases when a man sought ordination (and that ordination to the diaconate was in anticipation of priestly ordination). Such a requirement is no longer operable for married men destined to permanent diaconal ministry. Exercise of marital rights by married deacons is explicitly encouraged by the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons: "61. The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies conjugal love and constitutes it a sign of the love with which Christ gives himself to the Church (cf. Eph. 5:25). It is a gift from God and should be a source of nourishment for the spiritual life of those deacons who are married."
    Why is what was prohibited for fifteen hundred years now encouraged? In my humble opinion, it is a consequence of deeper reflection on the dignity of sacramental marriage that came out of Gaudium et Spes and Humane Vitae.
    Does the existence of married deacons imply married priests as normative in the future? No. Deacons are not priests; they do not share in the priesthood.
    Did the Holy Spirit speak to the Church at Vatican Council II? Did the Spirit guide Paul VI? Does the Spirit guide the Church now? Is the ministry of the married deacon bearing fruit?