Priesthood and Sexual Continence: The Origins of a Western Tradition
The question of the origins of the practice of clerical or priestly celibacy in the early church has been a notoriously controversial one. As early as in the 390s, the monk Jovinian questioned the relative value of asceticism, particularly sexual renunciation. Jovinian's principal opponents, Pope Siricius, Ambrose of Milan and Jerome of Stridon all had their own unique reasons for rejecting Jovinian's propositions, from bolstering clerical authority by enforcing the discipline of clerical celibacy to promoting the prestige of the monk-priest. Celibacy has been the subject of Protestant-Catholic debate as well as intra-Catholic discussion. In this lecture I will review some of the more recent views on the subject, placing them within the context of the current struggle over the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and its teaching on the priesthood. In order to advance the discussion, I will argue, we need more serious historical research that examines the function of the celibacy requirement within the religious and political dynamics of late antiquity.
David G. Hunter is the first occupant of the Cottrill-Rolfes Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Kentucky, where he holds a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Classical Studies division of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Hunter ’s academic interests lie in the early history of Christianity and the history of Christian thought. He has published several books and numerous articles on Greek and Latin writers of the early church. Hunter’s most recent book, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy (Oxford University Press, 2007), examines early Christian debates about marriage and celibacy. Co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (2008), Hunter has served as President of the North American Patristics Society (2006-08) and is active on the advisory boards of the Journal of Early Christian Studies, the Journal of Late Antiquity, and Augustiniana. He currently serves as the Editorial Director of the translation series, The Fathers of the Church, published by The Catholic University of America Press, and on the Editorial Board of the forthcoming Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity.