While watching HBO's Game of Thrones, something caught my attention which I had someone missed when I had previously read George R. R. Martin's book of the same name. What follows is from the book--my thanks to someone on a forum for typing it up for me to use:
“Jon, did you ever wonder why the men of the Night’s Watch take no wives and father no children?” Maester Aemon asked...
“So they will not love,” the old man answered, “for love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.”
...The old man seemed to sense his doubts. “Tell me, Jon, if the day should
ever come when your lord father must needs choose between honor on the
one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?”
Jon hesitated. He wanted to say that Lord Eddard would never dishonor
himself, not even for love, yet inside a small sly voice whispered, He
fathered a bastard, where was the honor in that? And your mother, what
of his duty to her, he will not even say her name. “He would do whatever
was right,” he said . . . ringingly, to make up for his hesitation. “No
“Then Lord Eddard is a man in ten thousand. Most of us are not so
strong. What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against
the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a
brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and
the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our
I'm not certain that Martin had the Catholic priesthood in mind when he wrote this, though he may very well have. It certainly fits. The reason the Church insists that her priests be unmarried is not altogether different from those given by Maester Aemon; or, for that matter, those given by the Apostle Paul: "I should like you to have your minds free from all worry. The unmarried man gives his mind to the Lord's affairs and to how he can please the Lord; but the man who is married gives his mind to the affairs of this world and to how he can please his wife, and he is divided in mind."
In our first world comfort, we tend to forget that elsewhere, even now, priests are being persecuted. They require much grace from God to resist the temptation to neglect their duty and honor in order to save their very lives. But because they are unmarried, and without children, they will not be compelled to choose between these and the lives of their loved ones. This is no small thing, as fans of Martin's series well know.