Did we have married bishops in the Church ? Monday, 32nd Week in ordinary time – Titus 1:1-9

Did we have married bishops in the Church ? Monday, 32nd Week in ordinary time – Titus 1:1-9

The letter of St Paul to the Titus along with the letter to Timothy have been regarded as forming a separate group of letters, different form the other letters of Paul. These along with the letter to Philemon are written to persons and not to the whole Church. In 1Tim 3:15 Paul sets down the reason for writing these letters, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” It came to be seen that these letters have an important message for the Church.

The first name given to these letters was ‘Pontifical Letters’, that is, they were written by the ‘pontifex’, the priest, the controller of the Church. Gradually they came to be called the Pastoral Epistles The letters deal with the care and organization of the flock of God; they give instructions as to how God’s house should be administered, as to what kind of leaders the pastors of the Church should be, and as to how the threats which endanger the purity of the Christian faith and life should be dealt with. What is interesting in these letters is the picture that we get of an infant Church. Caught in a ‘sea of paganism,’ the early Christians were constantly lured back to their old ways.

We know little about Titus. He had been a companion of Paul, and was a Greek whom Paul did not require to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3). Paul regarded him as “my true child, according to a common faith” (Titus 1:4). Paul had left Titus in Crete to “set in order the things that were lacking, and to appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Tradition holds that Titus became the first bishop of Crete. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and is approximately 100 miles (160 km) south of the Greek mainland.

Our text of today is part of a letter that spans three very small chapters; no more than a page and a half of our Bibles. The letter opens with Paul’s Address and greeting (1:1-4). The introduction is a disproportionately lengthy greeting. Paul begins by saying that his teaching is in continuity with the faith of all those chosen by God, to be transmitted to God’s elect, namely the Christian community. What Paul is transmitting is the clear knowledge of the truth as opposed to the knowledge of the heretics. This is a formula used in the pastorals to indicate the truth revealed by God. This knowledge of truth is in accordance with godliness or piety (eusebeia in Greek)

Paul is addressing the letter to Titus whom he address as “his loyal child ion the faith. Some translations have this as “true child or legitimate child.” Titus is a true heir because he accepts and promotes the faith as proclaimed by Paul. Titus is given a charge in verse 5. “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” This is a sole mention of a missionary visit by Paul to the island of Crete. Acts 27:8-12 records only a brief stopover at the harbour of Fair Havens. It was under Paul’s direct instructions that Titus was to establish collegial groups of elders and presbyters in each city. This structure of elders and presbyters was borrowed from Judaism.

These elders and presbyters are to have standing both morally and socially. We see the same list in 1Tim 3:1-7. The titles “bishop” (episkopos in Greek, translates as overseer) and “elder” (presbyteros) here seem interchangeable and it is highly doubtful that they represent two clearly distinct offices.

This section describes the personal qualifications of the bishop. The list suggests the importance attached to the ministerial office. By today’s standards, this list has some curious qualifications. He is to be “a husband of one wife.’ Verse 6 poses a special problem. Since
the context does not elaborate, it is possible to see this as forbidding either a second marriage after the death of the first wife, or the practice of polygamy, or remarriage after divorce. It is impossible to be sure which of these is meant. But what is implied is clear; the bishop must be free of any suspicion of loose sexual relationships and he must be above reproach as the exemplar of family integrity.

Interestingly, this makes clear that the author does not advocate celibacy for the clergy; instead it is taken for granted that the bishop has his own household and that his wise management of it demonstrates his ability to care for God’s church. Conversely, inability to do so disqualifies him for the office of bishop. Celibacy entered the church with the monastic period in the late third century but the universal requirement of celibacy was imposed upon the clergy with force in 1123 and again in 1139. Today celibacy is a ‘discipline’ that one accepts, just as one would accept the ‘discipline’ of fidelity in a marriage.

Another topic of interest is that the bishop must not be “addicted to wine.” While the pastorals often show concern for alcoholism, the author rejects the view that alcohol in itself is evil. I Timothy 5:23 advocates wine for medicinal purposes. “ No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and for your frequent illness.”

This bishop is not to be “greedy for gain” in stark contrast to the false teachers While in 1Tim 5:17-19 Paul is concerned that the Church leaders are well looked after and receive sufficient financial support, they should not be greedy for money like the sophists of the Greco Roman philosophical world.

While verse seven tells us what the elder must not be, verse eight lists what he should be. The qualities have within them the cardinal virtues of Greco Roman antiquity. He is to be hospitable, or in Greek, ‘philoxenos’ or a lover of strangers; he must be a ‘philagathos’ or a lover of good things or good people, in a sense unselfish. He must be prudent (sophron) which translates as one who is a master of himself. He must be just, upright (dikaios); that which goes beyond man made laws), he must be holy (hosios), he must be self-controlled (egkrates) or one who achieved complete self-mastery

The text of today welcomes us to encourage our bishops to be all of what scripture calls them to be and to pray for our shepherds constantly.

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One thought on “Did we have married bishops in the Church ? Monday, 32nd Week in ordinary time – Titus 1:1-9”

  • Hi father, there are two things I learned about this recently.

    First, it seems there is some precedent for having the 3 level structure in our clergy (Bishops, priests and deacons). It seems that the Essenes also had a similar structure. A study of the dead sea scrolls show that a lot of ideas we have about church structure didn’t come out of nowhere but were a natural evolution of what the Jews believed and practiced. Before the dead sea scrolls were discovered, we only had information about the Pharisees and Sadducees and some of our Catholic practices didn’t show up in their traditions. The book I read was Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Dr. John Bergsma. The line of thought here is that God prepared his people for centuries before the Incarnation.

    Second regarding celibacy, we do see both St. Paul and Jesus encouraging it. Brant Pitre, in a talk about celibacy, gives a theological reason for priestly celibacy in the Latin rite – married men are ordained in Eastern Catholic rites (but ordained men do not marry). Pitre points out that in the Eastern rites, priests are expected to practice continence for 24 hours before celebrating Divine Liturgy. This is in line with the rule for the Aaronic priesthood. In the Latin rite, priests celibrate Mass every day. So there is a practical problem in terms of marital intimacy if they need to abstain for 24 hours before Mass.

    Not saying this settles the debate for the latter, but these were perspectives I found quite interesting which I never heard of before.


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