Clerical celibacy

Clerical celibacy

Clerical celibacy is the discipline by which some or all members of the clergy in certain religions are required to be unmarried. Since these religions consider deliberate sexual thoughts, feelings, and behavior outside of marriage to be sinful, clerical celibacy also requires abstension from these.[1] In the Latin Catholic Church, clerical celibacy is mandated for bishops and, as a general rule, for priests and for deacons who intend to become priests. In Eastern Christianity, celibacy is mandatory for all bishops and for any priest who has been ordained while unmarried or who has lost his wife.


Meanings of "celibacy"

The word "celibacy" can mean either the state of being unmarried or abstinence, especially because of religious vows, from sexual intercourse.[2][3] In the canon law of the Latin Church, the word "celibacy" is used specifically in the sense of being unmarried. However, for its clergy this state of being unmarried is considered to be a consequence of the obligation to be completely and perpetually continent:

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.[4]

Permanent deacons, namely those deacons who are not intended to become priests, are, in general, exempted from this rule.[5] But married permanent deacons are not allowed to remarry after the death of their spouse.[6]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord", they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God. In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities. Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry.[7]

On the granting of permission, by exception, for the priestly ordination of married men in the Latin Church, see Rules, below.


In some Christian churches, such as the Latin Rite Catholic Church and some Eastern Catholic Churches, priests and bishops must as a rule remain unmarried, while in others, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the churches of Oriental Orthodoxy and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches, married men may be ordained as deacons or priests, but may not remarry if their wife dies. Since celibacy is seen as a consequence of the obligation of continence, it implies abstinence from sexual relationships. The Code of Canon Law prescribes:

Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful.[8]

In some Christian churches, a vow of chastity is made by members of religious orders or monastic communities, along with vows of poverty and obedience, in order to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth, see also Evangelical counsels. This vow of chastity, made by people not all of whom are clergy, is different from what is the obligation, not a vow, of clerical continence and celibacy

Celibacy for religious and monastics (monks and sisters/nuns) and for bishops is upheld by both the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian traditions. Bishops must be unmarried men or widowers; a married man cannot become a bishop. In Latin Rite Catholicism and in some Eastern Catholic Churches, most priests are celibate men. Exceptions are admitted and there are over 200 married Catholic priests who converted from the Anglican Communion and Protestant faiths.[citation needed] In most Orthodox traditions and in some Eastern Catholic Churches men who are already married may be ordained priests, but priests may not marry after ordination.

Neither the Catholic nor the Orthodox tradition considers the rule of clerical celibacy to be an unchangeable dogma, but instead as a rule that could be adjusted if the Church thought it appropriate and to which exceptions are admitted.

Christian churches forbid castration, and the alleged self-castration of the theologian Origen was used to discredit him.

Clerical continence in Christianity

First century

The earliest Christian leaders were largely married men. The mention in Luke 4:38, Matthew 8:14-15&src=! Mark 1:30, Luke 4:38, Matthew 8:14-15 of Saint Peter's mother-in-law indicates that he had married. Matthew 8:14-15 "when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever." According to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), Peter was married and had children and his wife suffered martyrdom. Pope Clement I wrote: "For Peter and Philip begat children" [9]

On the other hand, in Luke 18:28-30 Jesus responds to Peter's statement that he and the other disciples had left all and followed him by promising a great reward to anyone who has left wife for the sake of the kingdom of God.[10][11][12][13]

In 1 Corinthians 7:8 Paul the Apostle indicates that he was unmarried: either single or a widower.[14] In 1 Corinthians 9:5 he contrasts his situation with that of the other apostles who were accompanied by believing wives. Martin Luther held that the "loyal yokefellow" of Philippians 4:3 was Paul's wife, a view that is not without difficulties.[15] an idea already found in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History Book III, Chapter 30, which says Paul did not take his wife about with him "that he might not be inconvenienced in his ministry".

Some hold that married men who became clergy were expected to live in complete continence, refraining permanently from sexual relations with their wives.[16][17][18] They also conclude that, because of the exclusion of sexual relations, the members of the clergy were even then not entitled to marry.

George T. Dennis SJ of Catholic University of America insists "There is simply no clear evidence of a general tradition or practice, much less of an obligation, of priestly celibacy-continence before the beginning of the fourth century" [19] Peter Fink SJ agrees saying that underlying premises used in book, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, (cited above) "would not stand up so comfortably to historical scrutiny" [20] Dennis says this book provides no evidence that celibacy had apostolic origins [21]

In the New Testament, while 1 Corinthians 7:32–33 ("The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife") is a locus classicus used in favour of sacerdotal celibacy, the statement in 1 Timothy 3:2–4 that a bishop should be "the husband of one wife" and "one who ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection" indicates that at that time married men could indeed become clergy. One interpretation of "the husband of one wife" is that the man to be ordained could not have been married more than once.[22]

The 4th-century Church Fathers Ambrose and Jerome pointed out that the passage in 1 Timothy 3:2–4 did not conflict with the discipline they knew, whereby a married man who became a bishop was to abstain from sexual relations and not marry again: "He speaks of having children, not of begetting them, or marrying again";[23] "He does not say: Let a bishop be chosen who marries one wife and begets children; but who marries one wife, and has his children in subjection and well disciplined. You surely admit that he is no bishop who during his episcopate begets children. The reverse is the case—if he be discovered, he will not be bound by the ordinary obligations of a husband, but will be condemned as an adulterer."[24]

According to Epiphanius of Salamis, also of the 4th century, Nicholas, one of the Seven Deacons of Acts 6:1–6, noticed others being admired for their celibacy. To avoid seeming immoderately devoted to his beautiful wife and therefore inferior in his ministry, he renounced conjugal intercourse forever. While he was able to remain continent for a while, eventually his burning desire overpowered him. However, he did not want to be regarded as inconsistent or seen as taking his oath lightly. Instead of returning to his wife, he engaged in promiscuous sex and what Epiphanius termed "sex practices against nature". In this way, he started Nicolaism, an antinomian heresy which believed that as long as they abstained from marriage, it was not a sin to exercise their sexual desires as they pleased. Revelation 2:6 and 15 expresses hatred for the "works of the Nicolaitans".[25]

For popes who had been married and had children before becoming popes or priests, see List of sexually active popes.

Second and third centuries

The North African Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), writing of the apostles, indicated that he was obliged to believe that apart from Peter, who was certainly married, the apostles were continent.[26] In his De praescriptione contra haereticos, Tertullian mentioned continence as one of the customs in Mithraism that he claimed were imitated from Christianity, but does not associate it specifically with the clergy.[27]

The Didascalia Apostolorum, written in Greek in the first half of the 3rd century,[28] mentions the requirements of chastity on the part of both the bishop and his wife, and of the children being already brought up, when it quotes 1 Timothy 3:2–4 as requiring that, before someone is ordained a bishop, enquiry be made "whether he be chaste, and whether his wife also be a believer and chaste; and whether he has brought up his children in the fear of God".[29]

There is record of a number of 3rd-century married bishops in good standing, even in the West. They included: Passivus, bishop of Fermo; Cassius, bishop of Narni; Aetherius, bishop of Vienne; Aquilinus, bishop of Évreux; Faron, bishop of Meaux; Magnus, bishop of Avignon. Filibaud, bishop of Aire-sur-l'Adour, was the father of St. Philibert de Jumièges, and Sigilaicus, bishop of Tours, was the father of St. Cyran of Brenne.[30] No statement is made about whether they had children after becoming bishops or only before.

Fourth century

The 4th century saw instances in the West of canonical enactment of penalties for members of the clergy who did not observe continence.

The earliest known is that of the Council of Elvira (c. 306):

Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.[31]

In 387 or 390, or according to others in 400, a Council of Carthage decreed that bishops, priests and deacons abstain from conjugal relations, in accordance with a tradition dating from the Apostles:

It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep... It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.[32]

Clerical continence is said to be of apostolic origin also in the Directa Decretal of Pope Siricius (10 February 385):

We have indeed discovered that many priests and deacons of Christ brought children into the world, either through union with their wives or through shameful intercourse. And they used as an excuse the fact that in the Old Testament—as we can read—priests and ministers were permitted to beget children. Whatever the case may be, if one of these disciples of the passions and tutors of vices thinks that the Lord—in the law of Moses—gives an indistinct license to those in sacred Orders so that they may satisfy their passions, let him tell me now: why does [the Lord] warn those who had the custody of the most holy things in the following way: "You must make yourselves holy, for I am Yahweh your God" (Lev 20:7). Likewise, why were the priests ordered, during the year of their tour of duty, to live in the temple, away from their homes? Quite obviously so that they would not be able to have carnal knowledge of any woman, even their wives, and, thus, having a conscience radiating integrity, they could offer to God offerings worthy of his acceptance. Those men, once they had fulfilled their time of service, were permitted to have marital intercourse for the sole purpose of ensuring their descent, because no one except [the members] of the tribe of Levi could be admitted to the divine ministry.[33]

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315–68), a Doctor of the Church, was a married bishop and had a daughter named Apra, who was baptized together with her father, when he and his wife became Christians. Among Popes of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, the father of Pope Damasus I (366–84) was a bishop. Pope Felix III (483–92), whose father was almost certainly a priest, was the great-great-grandfather of Pope Gregory I the Great (590–604). Pope Hormisdas (514–23) was the father of Pope Silverius (536–37).[30] No statement is given on whether, among these, the children in question were born when their fathers were still laymen.

Thus, in the West, during the patristic era and into the early Middle Ages, clerical celibacy (i.e. being unmarried) was not in force; but a cleric was obliged by canon law and, it was claimed, by a custom dating from the Apostles, to be continent and have no sexual relations even with his wife.

As for the East, the Greek ecclesiastical historians Socrates and Sozomen, who wrote a century after the event, reported that the First Council of Nicaea (325) considered ordering all married clergy to refrain from conjugal relations, but the Council was dissuaded by Paphnutius of Thebes.[34]

According to Sozomen's history:

While [the bishops at Nicaea] were deliberating about this, some thought that a law ought to be passed enacting that bishops and presbyters, deacons and subdeacons, should hold no intercourse with the wife they had espoused before they entered the priesthood; but Paphnutius, the confessor, stood up and testified against this proposition; he said that marriage was honorable and chaste, and that cohabitation with their own wives was chastity, and advised the Synod not to frame such a law, for it would be difficult to bear, and might serve as an occasion of incontinence to them and their wives; and he reminded them, that according to the ancient tradition of the church, those who were unmarried when they took part in the communion of sacred orders, were required to remain so, but that those who were married, were not to put away their wives. Such was the advice of Paphnutius, although he was himself unmarried, and in accordance with it, the Synod concurred in his counsel, enacted no law about it, but left the matter to the decision of individual judgment, and not to compulsion.[35]

The Council of Nicaea, AD 325, decides in Canon 3:

The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion[36]

The term "subintroducta" refers to an unmarried woman living in association with a man in a merely spiritual marriage, a practice that seems to have existed already in the time of Hermas; in the 4th century such a woman was also referred to as an "agapeta".[37][38] Stefan Heid has argued that the pre-Nicaean acceptance of that arrangement for clerics was an indication that the clergy were expected to live in continence even with their wives.[39]

A leading participant in the Council, Eusebius of Caesarea, wrote: "It is fitting that |those in the priesthood and occupied in the service of God, should abstain after ordination from the intercourse of marriage."[40]

Epiphanius of Salamis (died 403) accused the heretics whom he called "Purists" of "mixing up everyone's duty":

They have assumed that what is enjoined upon the priesthood because of the priesthood's preeminence applies equally to everyone. They have heard, "The bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, continent; likewise the deacon and the presbyter", but not understood the limitation of the ordinances. … She (God's holy church) does not accept the husband of one wife if he is still co-habiting with her and fathering children. She does accept the abstinent husband of one wife, or the widower, as a deacon, presbyter, bishop and subdeacon, [but no other married men], particularly where the canons of the church are strictly observed. But in some places, you will surely tell me, presbyters, deacons and sub-deacons are still fathering children [while exercising their office.] This is not canonical, but is due to men's occasional remissness of purpose, and because there is no one to serve the congregation.[41]

Similar evidence of the existence in the 4th-century East, as in the West, of a rule or at least an ideal of clerical continence that was considered to be canonical is found in Epiphanius's Panarion, 48, 9 and Expositio Fidei, 21. Synesius (died c. 414), who refused to be bound by the obligation, knew that, if made a bishop, he was expected to live in continence with his wife.[42] One of the accusations against Antoninus, Bishop of Ephesus, in his trial before John Chrysostom was that "after separating from his married wife, he had taken her again".[43] In his note on this phrase, the translator Herbert Moore says: "According to the 'Apostolic Canons', only the lower orders of clergy were allowed to marry after their appointment to office; the Council in Trullo ordered that a bishop's wife should retire to a convent, or become a deaconess; that of Caesarea, that if a priest marries after ordination he must be degraded. For Antoninus to resume relations with his wife was equivalent to marriage after ordination. It was proposed at the Council of Nicaea that married clergy should be compelled to separate from their wives, but the proposal was rejected; though it was generally held that the relations of bishops with their wives should be those of brother and sister."

Fifth to seventh centuries

In saying that "in certain provinces it is permitted to the readers and singers to marry",[44] of the Council of Chalcedon (451) suggests that, in other provinces, not only bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons, but even those in the lower orders of readers and singers were at that time not permitted to marry.

Needless to say, the rule or ideal of clerical continence was not always observed either in the West or in the East, and it was because of violations that it was from time to time affirmed. Emperor Justinian I (died 565) ordered that the children of priests, deacons and subdeacons who, "in disregard of the sacred canons, have children by women with whom, according to sacerdotal regulation, they may not cohabit" be considered illegitimate on the same level as those "procreated in incest and in nefarious nuptials".[45] As for bishops, he forbade "any one to be ordained bishop who has children or grandchildren".[46]

Canon 13 of the Quinisext Council (Constantinople, 692) shows that by that time there was a direct contradiction between the ideas of East and West about the legitimacy of conjugal relations on the part of clergy lower than the rank of bishop who had married before being ordained:

Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time. Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife. Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife: lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by his presence.[47]

The canon mistakenly claims that the canon of the late-4th-century Council of Carthage quoted above excluded conjugal intercourse by clergy lower than bishops only in connection with their liturgical service or in times of fasting. The Council of Carthage excluded such intercourse perpetually and made no distinction between bishops, priests and deacons.[48]

There have been no changes since then in the discipline of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which for bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons excludes marriage after ordination, but allows, except for periods before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, conjugal relations by priests and deacons married before ordination, and requires celibacy and perpetual continence only of bishops.

Eleventh and twelfth centuries

In 888, two local councils, that of Metz and that of Mainz, prohibited cohabitation even with wives living in continence. This tendency was taken up by the 11th century Gregorian Reform, which aimed at eliminating what it called "Nicolaitism",[49] that is clerical marriage, which in spite of being theoretically excluded was in fact practised,[50] and concubinage.

The First Lateran Council (1123), a General Council, adopted the following canons:

Canon 3: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, and subdeacons to associate with concubines and women, or to live with women other than such as the Nicene Council (canon 3) for reasons of necessity permitted, namely, the mother, sister, or aunt, or any such person concerning whom no suspicion could arise.
Canon 21: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or to contract marriage. We decree in accordance with the definitions of the sacred canons, that marriages already contracted by such persons must be dissolved, and that the persons be condemned to do penance.[51]

The phrase "contract marriage" in the first part of canon 21 excludes clerical marriages, and the marriages that the second part says must be dissolved may possibly be such marriages, contracted after ordination, not before. Canon 3 makes reference to a rule made at the First Council of Nicaea (see above), which is understood as not forbidding a cleric to live in the same house with a wife whom he married before being ordained.

Sixteen years later, the Second Lateran Council (1139), in which some five hundred bishops took part, enacted the following canons:

Canon 6: We also decree that those who in the subdiaconate and higher orders have contracted marriage or have concubines, be deprived of their office and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they should be and be called the temple of God, the vessel of the Lord, the abode of the Holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they indulge in marriage and in impurities.
Canon 7: Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban, and Paschal, we command that no one attend the masses of those who are known to have wives or concubines. But that the law of continence and purity, so pleasing to God, may become more general among persons constituted in sacred orders, we decree that bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks, and professed clerics (conversi) who, transgressing the holy precept, have dared to contract marriage, shall be separated. For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony. Those who have been separated from each other, shall do penance commensurate with such excesses.[52]

This Council thus declared clerical marriages not only illicit though valid, as before, but invalid ("we do not regard as matrimony"). The marriages in question are, again, those contracted by men who already are "bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed clerics". And later legislation, found especially in the Quinque Compilationes Antiquae and the Decretals of Gregory IX, continued to deal with questions concerning married men who were ordained legally. In 1322 Pope John XXII insisted that no one bound in marriage—even if unconsummated—could be ordained unless there was full knowledge of the requirements of Church law. If the free consent of the wife had not been obtained, the husband, even if already ordained, was to be reunited with his wife, exercise of his ministry being barred. Accordingly, the assumption that a wife might not want to give up her marital rights may have been one of the factors contributing to the eventual universal practice in the Latin Church of ordaining only unmarried men.[53]

However, although the decrees of the Second Council of the Lateran might still be interpreted in the older sense of prohibiting marriage only after ordination, they came to be understood as absolute prohibitions, and, while the fact of being married was formally made a canonical impediment to ordination only with the 1917 Code of Canon Law,[54] the prohibition of marriage for all clerics in major orders began to be taken simply for granted.[30] The Second Lateran Council is thus often cited as having for the first time introduced a general law of celibacy, requiring ordination only of unmarried men. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: "The Second Lateran Council (1139) seems to have enacted the first written law making sacred orders a diriment impediment to marriage for the universal Church."[55].

Sixteenth century

While the 11th century Gregorian Reform's campaign against clerical marriage and concubinage met strong opposition,[56] by the time of the Second Lateran Council it had won widespread support from lay and ecclesiastical leaders.

New opposition appeared in connection with the Protestant Reformation, not only on the part of the Reformers, but also among churchmen and others who remained in union with the see of Rome. Figures such as Panormitanus, Erasmus, Thomas Cajetan, and the Holy Roman Emperors Charles V, Ferdinand I and Maximilian II argued against it.

In practice, the discipline of clerical continence meant by then that only unmarried men were ordained. Thus, in the discussions that took place, no distinction was made between clerical continence and clerical celibacy.

The Reformers made abolition of clerical continence and celibacy a key element in their reform. They denounced it as opposed to the New Testament recommendation that a cleric should be "the husband of one wife" (see on 1 Timothy 3:2–4 above), the declared right of the apostles to take around with them a believing Christian as a wife (1 Corinthians 9:5) and the admonition, "Marriage should be honoured by all" (Hebrews 13:4). They blamed it for widespread sexual misconduct among the clergy.[57]

Against the long-standing tradition of the Church in the East as well as in the West, which excluded marriage after ordination, Zwingli married in 1522, Luther in 1525, and Calvin in 1539. And against what had also become, though seemingly at a later date, a tradition in both East and West, the married Thomas Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533.

The Council of Trent considered the matter and at its twenty-fourth session decreed that marriage after ordination was invalid: "If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is no thing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able" (canon 9).

It also decreed, concerning the relative dignity of marriage and celibacy: "If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema."[58]


Rules on celibacy differ between different religious traditions and churches:

  • In Latin-Rite (Western) Catholic churches, married men may (since the time of the Second Vatican Council in 1965) be ordained deacons, but may not be ordained priests or bishops, nor may one marry after ordination. Since the start of the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939–1958), exceptions may be allowed for married Protestant ministers or Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and wish to become priests in the Catholic Church, provided their wives consent. The Roman Catholic Church considers Protestant and most Anglican ordinations invalid, while recognizing Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and some Anglican ordinations as valid. In some cases, laicized Catholic priests are allowed to marry by special dispensation. Additionally, dispensations can be granted for deacons whose wives have died to marry a second time.
  • In Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Eastern Catholic Churches (which latter are in full communion with Rome), married men may be ordained to any order except as bishops, and one may not marry after ordination as a subdeacon. The Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East follow the same rules that hold in the Eastern Orthodox Church, with the exception of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which permits ordained deacons to marry. While some incorrectly believe all Orthodox bishops must be monks, in fact, according to church law, they simply may no longer be living with their wives if they are to be consecrated to the episcopacy. (The canons stipulate that they must also see to their wives' maintenance, for example Canon 12 of the Quinisext Council.) Typically, the wife of such a man will take up the monastic life herself, though this also is not required. There are many Orthodox bishops currently serving who have never been tonsured (formally initiated) to monastic orders. There are also many who are tonsured monastics but have never formally lived the monastic life. Further, a number of bishops are widowers, but because clergy cannot remarry after ordination, such a man must remain celibate after the death of his wife.
  • Churches of the Anglican Communion have no restrictions on the marriage of deacons, priests, bishops, or other ministers. Early Anglican Church clergy under Henry VIII were required to be celibate (see 6 Articles), but the requirement was eliminated by Edward VI. Some Anglo-Catholic priestly orders require their members to remain celibate, as do orders of all brothers and sisters.
  • Most Protestant traditions have no restrictions on the marriage of ministers or other clergy, except that in some circles divorced persons may not serve as pastors, and in practice the majority of pastors are married.
  • In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon tradition, all worthy males can receive a priesthood office beginning with that of deacon at age 12. Regardless of whether they receive a calling to the priesthood, strict abstinence from all sexual behavior is universally applied to all men (and women) until they marry. Gay men must always be celibate and continent. Priesthood may be suspended in the event of unchaste conduct. Generally, only married men are called to be bishops (who preside over local congregations designated as wards) and to higher offices. Marriage in the temple and faithfulness to it is seen as necessary for exaltation.[59]
  • Judaism has no history of celibacy for its leaders, rabbis or kohens. Before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, priests, kohens, and Levites were required to practice continence (abstain from sexual intercourse with their wife) before and during their time of service at the temple. They were permitted to resume marital relations after completing their service. Some community functions are, as a rule, filled only by married men. Marriage is encouraged for everyone.
  • In Islam, lifelong celibacy or monasticism is forbidden. Marriage is encouraged for everyone.
  • The traditions of monasticism within Buddhism require celibacy. Several cultures, however, have revised this and now have forms of married lay teachers, who are distinct from the celibate clergy.

Modern Roman Catholic Church

See main article: Clerical celibacy (Catholic Church).

Celibacy is represented in the Roman Catholic Church as having apostolic authority. Theologically, the Church desires to imitate the life of Jesus with regard to chastity and the sacrifice of married life for the "sake of the Kingdom" (Luke 18:28–30, Matthew 19:27–30; Mark 10:20–21), and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, viewed by Catholicism and many Christian traditions as the "Bride of Christ". Also of importance are the teachings of St. Paul that chastity is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in I Corinthians 7:7–8, "I would that all men were even as myself [celibate]—but every one has his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and the widows. It is good for them if they so continue, even as I."

Practically speaking, the reasons for celibacy are given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7–8; 32–35: "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment."

I Corinthians 9:5 is sometimes cited by those opposed to celibacy, as the verse is often rendered as referring to the Apostles carrying "wives" with them. However, the Greek word for "wife" is the same word for "woman". Some Early Church Fathers including Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine state the Greek word is ambiguous and the women in I Corinthians 9:5 were women ministering to the Apostles as women ministered to Christ (cf. Luke 8:1–3), and were not wives.[60] They even went as far as to assert they left their "offices of marriage" to follow Christ and to preach.[61]

Celibacy for priests is a discipline in the Latin Catholic Church, not a doctrine: in other words, a church regulation, but not an integral part of Church teaching. St. Peter, seen as the first pope, as well as many subsequent popes, bishops, and priests during the church's first 270 years were in fact married men, and often fathers. The practice of clerical continence, along with a prohibition of marriage after ordination as a deacon, priest or bishop, is traceable from the time of the Council of Elvira. This law was reinforced in the Directa Decretal (385) and at the Council of Carthage in 390. The tradition of clerical continence developed into a practice of clerical celibacy (ordaining only unmarried men) from the 11th century onward among Latin Rite Catholics and became a formal part of canon law in 1917. This law of clerical celibacy does not apply to Eastern Catholics. Until recently, the Eastern Catholic bishops of North America would generally ordain only unmarried men, for fear that married priests would create scandal. Since Vatican II's call for the restoration of Eastern Catholic traditions, a number of bishops have returned to the traditional practice of ordaining married men to the presbyterate. Bishops are still celibate and normally chosen from the ranks of monks.

In the Latin Rite exceptions are sometimes made. After the Second Vatican Council a general exception was made for the ordination as deacons of men of at least thirty-five years of age who are not intended to be ordained later as priests and whose wives consent to their ordination.[62] Since the time of Pope Pius XII individual exceptions are sometimes made for former non-Catholic clergymen. Under the rules proposed for personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, the ordinary may request the Pope to grant authorization, on a case-by-case basis, for admission to ordination in the Catholic Church of married former Anglican clergy (see Personal ordinariate#Married former Anglican clergy and rules on celibacy).

Because the rule of clerical celibacy is a law and not a doctrine, exceptions can be made, and it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope. Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, spoke clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice is unlikely to change.

See also


  1. ^ "People should cultivate chastity in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2349
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: celibacy
  3. ^ Webster's New World College Dictionary: celibacy
  4. ^ Canon 277 §1
  5. ^ "The following are simply impeded from receiving orders . . . a man who has a wife, unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate." [1]
  6. ^ What is a Deacon? - Busted Halo
  7. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1579-1580
  8. ^ canon 277 §2
  9. ^ Clements, Stromata (book VII) / Eusebius, Church History (Book III)
  10. ^ Michael E. Giesler, Celibacy in the First Two Centuries
  11. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, "Celibacy"
  12. ^ Michael F. Hull, Responding to Objections to Priestly Celibacy
  13. ^ Pope John Paul II, General Audience 14 July 1993
  14. ^ The Story of the Early Church
  15. ^ Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod: "On the Apostle Paul"
  16. ^ Roman Cholij, Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church.
  17. ^ BONIVENTO, Cesare. Priestly Celibacy. Ecclesiastical Institution or Apostolic Tradition?; Thomas McGovern,Priestly Celibacy Today; Cochini, Christian, The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, Ignatius Press (October 1990). ISBN 0-89870-951-2, ISBN 0-89870-280-1.
  18. ^ Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West, Stefan Heid, p. 15; Anthony Zimmerman, Celibacy Dates Back to the Apostles
  19. ^ Dennis, George T. SJ on Cochini,The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (book review), Theological Studies, 52:4 (1991:Dec.) p.738
  20. ^ "Books about the priesthood," America. New York: July 4, 1992. vol 167, issue 1, pg.17, 3pgs.
  21. ^ Dennis, George T. SJ on Cochini,The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (book review), Theological Studies, 52:4 (1991:Dec.) p.738
  22. ^ Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West, Stefan Heid, trans. Michael J. Miller
  23. ^ Ambrose, Epistle LXIII, 62
  24. ^ Jerome, Against Jovinianus, I
  25. ^ Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Vol. III. trans. Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986, p. 150, "Second Topic, Concerning the Celibacy of Priests", chapter IV, "History of the Celibacy of Priests from the Time of the Apostles Down to Our Times".
  26. ^ On Monogamy, chapter VIII
  27. ^ "Habet et uirgines, habet et continentes" (It too has virgins, it too has continent people)—De praescriptione contra haereticos, XL, 5
  28. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005, art. Didascalia Apostolorum
  29. ^ Didascalia Apostolorum, chapter IV (ii, 2) (emphases added)
  30. ^ a b c John W. O'Malley, Some Basics about Celibacy
  31. ^ Council of Elvira, canon 33
  32. ^ The Canons of the CCXLII Blessed Fathers Who Assembled at Carthage, canon III
  33. ^ Epistola Decretalis Papae Siricii, VII. De clericis incontinentibus
  34. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005, art. "Paphnutius".
  35. ^ "The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen.". Retrieved 11/1/2010. 
  36. ^ "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV, The Canons of the 318 Holy Fathers Assembled in the City of Nice (sic), in Bithynia.". Early Church Fathers. Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  37. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005, art. "subintroductae".
  38. ^ "Agapetae.". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  39. ^ Stefan Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2005 ISBN 0-89870-800-1), pp. 132-135
  40. ^ Demonstratio Evangelica, book 1, chapter 9
  41. ^ Panarion, 59, 4 (English translation by Frank Williams, II, p. 105.)
  42. ^ Epistle 105
  43. ^ The Dialogue of Palladius concerning the Life of St. John Chrysostom, chapter XIII
  44. ^ Canon 14
  45. ^ Code of Justinian, 1.3.44
  46. ^ Code of Justinian, 1.3.41
  47. ^ Canon XIII
  48. ^ "What is said in this canon, that the council of Carthage orders priests to abstain from their wives at prescribed periods, is a misunderstanding of the decree, caused either by malice or by ignorance. This canon is one of those adopted by the Fifth Council of Carthage held in the year 400, and it is decreed that subdeacons, deacons, priests, and bishops shall abstain from their wives, following the ancient statutes, and shall be as though they had them not. The Greek version of this canon has rendered the Latin words priora statuta by these, idious horous, which may mean 'fixed times': for the translator read, following another codex, propria for priora. Be this as it may, the Fathers of the Trullan council supposed that this obliged the clergy only to continence at certain fixed times, and were not willing to see that it included bishops as well" (Comment by Fleury on canon 13 of the Council in Trullo)
  49. ^ Cf. Peter Damian, Letters
  50. ^ For the situation in England, see E. Deanealy, Sidelights on the Anglo-Saxon Church (1962:134–36); Nancy Partner, "Henry of Huntingdon: Clerical Celibacy and the Writing of History" Church History 42.4 (December 1973:467–475); Christopher Brooke, "Gregorian reform in action: clerical marriage in England, 1050–1200", Cambridge Historical Journal 12.1 (1956:1–21). The cases mentioned largely concern, not clerical celibacy, but clerical continence.
  51. ^ The Canons of the First Lateran Council, 1123
  52. ^ The Canons of the Second Lateran Council, 1123
  53. ^ Roman Cholij: Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church
  54. ^ Canon 987
  55. ^ New Catholic Encyclopedia (Catholic University of America: Washington, D.C. 1967) vol. 3, p. 366
  56. ^ "Otto, the bishop of Constance, refused to enforce with his own clergy Gregory VII's directives regarding clerics and women. When Bishop Altmann of Passau tried, on the contrary, to implement the reforms, the clergy attacked him and with the help of imperial troops drove him out of his diocese. A cleric, probably Ulrich, the bishop of Imola, took up his pen about 1060 in a defense of clerical marriage that assumed conjugal relations after the ordination of the spouse. Ulrich's 'Rescript' influenced other writings in the same vein that continued to appear into the 12th century" (John W. O'Malley, Some Basics about Celibacy).
  57. ^ Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV,12,23–28 .
  58. ^ canon 10
  59. ^ Marriage,
  60. ^ Tertullian, On Monogamy: "'For have we not the power of eating and drinking?' he does not demonstrate that 'wives' were led about by the apostles, whom even such as have not still have the power of eating and drinking; but simply 'women', who used to minister to them in the stone way (as they did) when accompanying the Lord."
  61. ^ Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book I: "In accordance with this rule Peter and the other Apostles (I must give Jovinianus something now and then out of my abundance) had indeed wives, but those which they had taken before they knew the Gospel. But once they were received into the Apostolate, they forsook the offices of marriage."
  62. ^ Canon 1031 §2


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Clerical celibacy (Catholic Church) — See also: Clerical celibacy Clerical celibacy is the discipline by which, in some Churches, only unmarried men are, as a rule, to be ordained to the priesthood. The same discipline holds in some other Churches for ordination to the episcopate.… …   Wikipedia

  • Celibacy of the Clergy — • The renunciation of marriage implicitly or explicitly made, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Celibacy of the… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Clerical marriage — is the practice of allowing clergy to marry. Churches such as the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox exclude this practice for their priests, while accepting already married men for ordination to priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church,… …   Wikipedia

  • Celibacy — refers to the lack of participation in sexual intercourse. A vow of celibacy is a promise not to have sex and not to enter into marriage. The term involuntary celibacy has recently appeared to describe a chronic, unwilling state of celibacy.… …   Wikipedia

  • celibacy — celibatic /sel euh bat ik/, adj. /sel euh beuh see/, n. 1. abstention from sexual relations. 2. abstention by vow from marriage: the celibacy of priests. 3. the state of being unmarried. [1655 65; < L caeliba(tus) celibacy (caelib , s. of caelebs …   Universalium

  • Celibacy — The compulsory celibacy of the *clergy was abolished in Protestant England in 1549. However, the Church of Rome had been trying for several centuries to impose it and was close to success when England defaulted. A *decretal issued by Pope… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Debate on the causes of clerical child abuse — Main article: Catholic sex abuse cases The debate on the causes of clerical child abuse is a major aspect of the academic literature surrounding Catholic sex abuse cases. Contents 1 Seminary training/admissions 2 Declining standards in the… …   Wikipedia

  • Roman Catholicism — the faith, practice, and system of government of the Roman Catholic Church. [1815 25] * * * Largest single Christian denomination in the world, with some one billion members, or about 18% of the world s population. The Roman Catholic church has… …   Universalium

  • Catholic sex abuse cases — The Catholic sex abuse cases are a series of convictions, trials and ongoing investigations into allegations of sex crimes committed by Catholic priests and members of religious orders.[1] These cases began receiving public attention beginning in …   Wikipedia

  • Criticism of the Catholic Church — This article is about the church headquartered in Vatican City, an enclave within Rome. For Criticism of the Christian Church, see Criticism of Christianity. Part of a series on …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.