Paul and the Pope

During the last few days, Pope Benedict has spent a lot of time discussing St. Paul – bringing an end to his series of lectures dedicated to the Pauline Year.

On Monday, the pope met with members of religious congregations. In his remarks, he focused on St. Paul’s inclination towards chastity. You can watch a not-so-enthusiastic summary of the talk on the Vatican’s new Youtube channel:

From the talk:

[St. Paul’s lifestyle] expresses the substance of a consecrated life inspired by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. In the life of poverty he saw a guarantee that the Gospel would be announced gratuitously. At the same time, such a life is an expression of real solidarity towards brothers and sisters in need.

Accepting God’s call to chastity gave his heart entirely to the Lord in order to be able to serve his brethren with greater freedom and dedication. Moreover, in a world in which the values of Christian chastity enjoyed little popularity, he offered secure guidelines of behavior.

We all know that the folks over at the Vatican are crazy about chastity, but it hasn’t always been that way. And, in fact, St. Paul may not have even wanted it this way.

If you look at St. Paul’s letters in chronological order, something happens when you reach the later letters like Corinthians and Timothy. In these letters, St. Paul turns into an anti-sex misogynist. Many biblical scholars think that these later letters where not actually written by St. Paul, but by a later leader writing in Paul’s name.

And that would make sense as in the very early church, clergy were not required to be celibate. Not to mention the fact that Jesus had nothing bad to say about sex in the whole of the Gospels. It wasn’t until the Council of Elvira in the fourth century that clergy were asked to abstain from sexual intercourse with their wives—and the rules against sex have just snowballed from there.

Indeed, for those who choose to lead a celibate or chaste life in pursuit of greater closeness to God, that is their prerogative. However, for those who are called to ministry but not to chastity, they should not be prohibited from doing so. Leading a healthy sexual life does not have to distract from ministry. Jesus never said it—and St. Paul probably didn’t either.