Monday, June 1, 2009

Theodoret of Cyrus: Celibacy in the Eldership

A husband of one wife: The teaching broke new ground. Celibacy was something that Greeks did not practice or Jews permit, believing a large family a blessing. So since at that time it was not easy to find those practicing chastity, he bids them ordain married men with a respect for continence. On the other hand, some commentators strike me as having given a good interpretation of the phrase, a husband of one wife: in former times both Greeks and Jews were in the habit of living with two, three or more wives in conformity with marriage law, and even now, despite imperial laws forbidding a man to take two wives at the one time, some take concubines and mistresses. The commentators claimed, therefore, that the divine apostles means that the man living chastely with only one wife was worthy of ordination as overseer; he was not ruling out the second marriage, they claim, for the very reason that he had often given instructions for it to happen. He says, remember, "A wife is bound as long as her husband is alive; but if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord;" and again, "I am speaking to the unmarried and to widows," and treating each group alike, he applied one law. In actual fact, you see, where self-control is in force, marrying twice is not a matter of choice: if a person got rid of his former wife and took up with another, he would deserve blame and be liable to accusation; but if death ruptured the union with the first wife and natural inclination obliged him to be joined to a second wife, the second marriage happened not by choice but by force of circumstances. With this and similar considerations in mind, I accept the interpretation of those taking the text this way.

- Theodoret of Cyrus (around A.D. 393 to around A.D. 457), Commentary on 1 Timothy, Chapter 3, in Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Volume 2, p. 217-18 (2001), Robert C. Hill translator.