The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Thursday, 15 October 2009

50. The triumph of sanctity, and the terrible engine of her power

Part two of the According to the Ninth beginning of term exam will be posted shortly. To help clarify and focus your ganglionic organ, here are some considered thoughts and observations on the subject of CELIBACY.

"CELIBACY is the condition of those who are living a single life. The word is derived from caelebs, which means, not necessarily, as is very commonly supposed, a bachelor, but one who has no existing wife, whether he be a bachelor or a widower. (For authorities on this point, see Facciolati, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon.) Scaliger and Voss derive the word from *GREEK*, a bed, and *GREEK*, to leave. Some more fanciful etymologists, imagining that caelebs leads a celestial life, have suggested a derivation from coelum. the word is sometimes written coelebs, but the better authorities are in favour of the dipthong ae"

Accordingianists will of course know better than to follow the whims of fanciful etymologists.
"From the remotest times, those who have given their attention to the study of the conditions of human life in this world have deemed the married state to be a better thing both for the individual and the society to which he belongs than celibacy ; while from an equally early period those who have professed to understand man's destinies in a future world, and the most proper means of preparing for them, have, though in no wise condemning marriage, conceived that celibacy is the better, purer, nobler, and higher condition of life. Lawgivers, sociologists, statesmen, philosophers, and physiologists have held the former view ; devotees, ascetics, priests, the latter.


"Any endeavour to give a satisfactory account of the investigations of physiologists, as bearing on this subject would lead us too far afield into the discussion of topics which fall more conveniently and appropriately under other headings. But it appears from recent statistics that married persons,-women in a considerable but men in a much greater degree,-have at all periods of life a much greater probability of living than the single."

In short, celibacy may be a splendid ideal for a supposed next world, but is unscientific and ill-advised in this. The anonymous author continues his (or her) piece with "the utmost brevity" by considering the historical development of celibacy within the Christian church. With some regret (especially as the full article does not yet seem to have been previously submitted to the digital aether) I will apply a yet further degree of ut.

[...]"[I]t was a prevalent opinion among the earliest Christians that if Adam had not fallen by disobedience, he would have lived for ever in a state of virgin purity, and that a race of sinless beings would have peopled Paradise, produced by some less objectionable means than the union of the first pair of mortals. Marriage was considered by them as a consequence of the Fall, the brand of the imperfection it had entailed, and a tolerated admission of an impure and sinful nature. To abstain from it, therefore, was the triumph of sanctity and at the same time the proof and the means of spiritual perfection."

The author notes how celibacy was not originally a requirement of priesthood, and that various Popes and churchmen had argued persuasively against it.
"[...]But when the church stood at the diverging of the ways, fabled in the apologue, and at the Council of Trent decided once and forever which of the two paths open before her she should follow, whether that of progressive reformation and amelioration, or that of a sint-ut-sunt-aut-non-sint persistance in her old ways and policies, the abolition of the celibacy of the clergy was discussed among other proposed measures of reform, and more peremptorily rejected than almost any other suggestion brought forward. The church understood too well what was around her, and too little what was ahead of her ; was too clear-sighted, yet too shortsighted ; and determined to retain the terrible engine of her power, which makes of her a caste, with a gulf between her ministers and the rest of humanity."

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