Kim Haines-Eitzen is professor of ancient Mediterranean religions in Cornell’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, with a specialty in early Christianity and early Judaism. She says the diversity of views on celibacy among early Christians supports the willingness of Pope Francis to rethink this priestly practice. Haines-Eitzen says:
“Pope Francis has re-started a debate about priestly celibacy that has long flourished in Christianity. As early as the second century CE an ascetic strand of Christianity developed that emphasized various forms of renunciation (fasting and solitude in addition to celibacy) as a way to pursue the Christian faith. By the fourth century, this strand was well rooted, though in conflict with other Christians who argued for a ‘pro-marriage’ view of the biblical texts.
“In these earliest centuries, little was resolved beyond the establishment of a tradition in the West that clergy, including priests, were to be celibate. Until the Lateran councils of the 12th century, considerable variation existed in practice and philosophy in the priesthood.
“So when the Pope suggests that priestly celibacy is not ‘dogma’ and does not go back beyond 1,000 years, he is correct: there is no canon that firmly and universally mandates priestly celibacy.”
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