In my earlier post, “Edwards Peters Contra the East,” I incorporated some critical remarks concerning Peters’s dismissal of the 692 A.D. Council in Trullo (otherwise known as the Quinisext Council or Penthekte Synod). It is commonplace for Latin Catholics dismissive of the Eastern practice of married clergy without the requirement of perpetual continence to claim, on the one hand, that Trullo introduced innovations into the (Eastern) Church and, on the other, has no standing in the Catholic Church. Indeed, it is not difficult to find popular and academic pieces written from a Latin perspective which dismiss Trullo tout court. This picture is not altogether accurate, as detailed in Fr. Frederick R. McManus’s article, “The Council in Trullo: A Roman Catholic Perspective,” 40 Greek Orthodox Theological Review 79 (1995). Without claiming to summarize all of the article’s contents, allow me to mention a few highlights:
- Although the disciplinary canons promulgated at Trullo were immediately rejected by Pope Sergius I at the close of the seventh century, John VIII, in the ninth century (if not also his predecessor Pope Constantine in the eighth century), accepted those canons which did not contradict the usages and disciplines of the See of Rome. At the heart of Rome’s initial rejection of Trullo was its pretense of defining disciplines and practices for the universal Church, ones which would have contracted longstanding Latin usage (e.g., Lenten fast on Saturdays and mandatory celibacy for deacons and presbyters).
- Numerous sources throughout the medieval period indicate that that Rome recognized that Trullo was binding law for the Greeks (i.e., Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics who follow the Byzantine Rite) even though it had no binding status for Latin Catholics.
- Critical editions of the canons of Trullo — in Latin and Greek — were published first under Blessed Pope Pius IX and, second, under Popes Pius XI and XII when sources were being assembled for what would eventually become the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches.
- Although the 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches leaves much to be desired in both substance and form, the manner of its promulgation is noteworthy. In his Apostolic constitution Sacri Canones, John Paul II explicitly recognizes the legitimacy of the Eastern canonical tradition, including Trullo.
These observations do not obviate the fact that Latin Catholics will likely continue to raise the false flag that Trullo’s canons concerning priestly celibacy are “an innovation” or that celibate priesthood is ipso facto superior to the married priesthood. Let me close with a reminder that that the crisis of Christianity in modern times — one which can be found in the East and the West — will not be remedied through petty polemics, triumphalism, insult, creative history, or chauvinism. The ancient Latin Catholic discipline of clerical celibacy — in my humble opinion — ought to be respected and retained, and no Easterner — Catholic, Orthodox, or Oriental — should cast aspersions upon it. Perhaps it would be good if, at some point in the future, Eastern Christians take time to reflect more deeply on the unique spiritual and practical benefits of clerical celibacy in the light of their own tradition. Eastern Christendom’s great monastic culture would never have been possible without the discipline of celibacy, nor, in the Catholic context, would the missionary work of the Redemptorists in Ukraine have been possible either. Catholics everywhere should give thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood and pray that more men take up this vocation, married or celibate.