« Celestius Celibacy Cell »



Celibacy in the Early Church (§ 1).

Marriage of the Clergy Still Permitted (§ 2).

In the Early Roman Catholic Church (§ 3).

The Medieval Period (§ 4).

The Council of Trent on Celibacy (§ 5).

Protestant Rejection of Celibacy (§ 6).

1. Celibacy in the Early Church.

Celibacy, in the Roman Catholic Church, means the permanently unmarried state to which men and women bind themselves either by a vow or by the reception of the major orders which implies personal purity in thought and deed. The Jewish priests and high priests were married, being restricted only in the choice of a wife (Lev. xxi. 7, 8, 14, 15). In preparation for the exercise of their office, they were to abstain from commerce with their wives, which was also required of the whole people before the reception of the Law on Sinai (Ex. xix. 15). The New Testament contains no prohibition of marriage; some of the apostles were married (Matt. viii. 14; I Cor. ix. 5), and Paul recommended marriage to the heads of churches (I Tim. iii. 1), though he considered that under some circumstances it was better not to marry (I Cor. vii. 38). Very early in the history of the Church the idea grew up that the unmarried state was preferable (Hermas, I. ii. 3; Ignatius to Polycarp, v.), and grew into a positive contempt of marriage (Origen, Hom. vi. in Num.; Jerome, Ad Jovinianum, i. 4). As early as the second century examples of voluntary vows of virginity are found, and the requirement of continence before the performance of sacred functions. By the fourth century canons began to be passed in that sense (Synod of Neocæsarea, 314 A.D., canon i.; Synod of Ancyra, 314 A.D., canon x.).

2. Marriage of the Clergy Still Permitted.

Unmarried men were preferred for ecclesiastical offices, though marriage was still not forbidden; in act, the clergy were expressly prohibited from deserting a lawfully married wife on religious grounds (Apostolic Canons, v.). The Synod of Gangra (355?) anathematized in its fourth canon, against the Eustathians, those who refused to accept the ministrations of a married priest. The stricter view prevailed so far, however, that the Council of Nicæa could speak of it as an ancient custom that priests and deacons should not marry after ordination, unless, in the case of deacons, they had expressed an intention of marrying at the time of their ordination—though both were allowed to retain wives already married, and a marriage contracted in contravention of this regulation was valid.

3. In the Early Roman Catholic Church.

The standpoint of the Roman Church was different from this. Thus Pope Siricius declared in 385 that priestly marriage had been allowed in the Old Testament because the priests could only be taken from the tribe of Levi; but that with the abandonment of that limitation this permission had lost its force, and that "obscœnæ cupiditates" (i.e., marriage) hindered the proper performance of spiritual functions. Succeeding popes adhered to this view (cf. decretals of Innocent I., 404, 405, and Leo I., 456, 458), and the rest of the Western Church came to it (Synods of Carthage, 390, 401). Candidates for the higher orders were accordingly required to take a vow of celibacy, and from the fifth century those for the subdiaconate also. A breach of this vow entailed degradation from office, but not the nullity of the marriage. Those in minor orders were still permitted to marry, but not a widow or for the second time (Fifth Synod of Carthage, 401; Gregory I., 601). Secular legislation confirmed these regulations in so far as it forbade married men, or men who had children, to be made bishops, and even went further by declaring the marriages of those in major orders void and their children illegitimate. The Eastern Church adhered to the older legislation, with the modifications introduced by the imperial decrees just referred to; prohibited marriages were now declared void, but married men could still be admitted to orders without giving up their wives, except in the case of bishops (Council of Constantinople, 692). This system the modern Roman Catholic Church still allows for the Uniat Greeks, as explained by Benedict XIV. in the constitutions Etsi pastoralis (May 26, 1742) and Eo quamvis tempore (May 4, 1745). But within its own boundaries the Latin Church has held more and more strictly to the requirement of celibacy, though not without continual opposition on the part of the clergy.

4. The Medieval Period.

The large number of canons on this subject enacted from the eighth century on shows that their enforcement was not easy. After the middle of the eleventh century the new ascetic tendency whose champion was Gregory VII. had a strong influence in this matter. Even before Hildebrand's accession to the papacy, the legislation of Leo IX. (1054), Stephen IX. (1058), Nicholas II. (1059), and Alexander II. (1063) had laid down the principles which as pope he was to carry out. In the synod of 1074 he renewed the definite enactment of 1059 and 1063, according to which both the married priest who said mass and the layman who received communion at his hands were excommunicate. Urban II. decreed in 1089 that the marriage of one in major orders should be punished by the loss of both office and benefice. The Councils of Reims (1119) and of the Lateran (1123) ordered that the parties to such a marriage should be separated and sent to places of penance. The Lateran Council of 1139 confirmed this provision, with the declaration "that such connection was not marriage." These strict principles were not extended to the minor orders. It is true that Alexander III. and Innocent III. prescribed the loss of clerical rank and privileges for even the holders of these in case they married; but Boniface VIII. (1298) and Clement V. (1311) reasserted the older law.

5. The Council of Trent on Celibacy.

After the Reformation had done its work, Charles V. endeavored by the Interim of 1548 to bring about the abolition of these rules, and with several other 466princes requested the discussion of the question at the Council of Trent. The council, however, maintained the system as a whole, and the following rules are now in force: (1) through the reception of major orders or the taking of monastic or other solemn vows, celibacy becomes so binding a duty that any subsequent marriage is null and void. (2) Any one in minor orders who marries loses his office and the right to go on to major orders, but the marriage is valid. (3) Persons already married may receive the minor orders if they have the intention of proceeding to the major, and show this by taking a vow of perpetual abstinence; but the promotion to the higher orders can only take place when the wife expresses her willingness to go into a convent and take the veil. The Council of Trent further lays down that the functions of the minor orders may be performed by married men in default of unmarried—though not by those who are living with a second wife. In the nineteenth century attempts were not lacking, even within the Roman Catholic Church, to bring about the abolition of celibacy. They were rather hindered than helped by temporal governments, and always firmly rejected by Rome.

6. Protestant Rejection of Celibacy.

Celibacy has been abolished among the Old Catholics; and modern legislation in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland authorizes the marriage both of priests and of those who have taken a solemn vow of chastity. Austria, Spain, and Portugal still forbid it. The evangelical churches at the very outset released their clergy from the obligation of celibacy, professing to find no validity in the arguments adduced in its favor on the Roman side. The question is carefully discussed and decided against the Roman practise in the Augsburg Confession (xxiii.) and the Apology (vi.). Similar ground is taken in Art. xxxvii. of the first Helvetic Confession and Art. xxix. of the second, as well as in Art. xxxii. of the Thirty-nine Articles. Likewise disapproval is expressed of binding vows of celibacy in the Augsburg Confession (xxvii.) and Apology (xi.).

(E. Friedberg.)

Bibliography: The book best worth consulting from the Protestant standpoint is H. C. Lea, Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church 3d ed., 2 vols., London and New York, 1907; for the Catholic presentation consult Migne, Encyclopédie Théologique, vol. xxv., "Célibat," Paris, 1856; Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique, "Célibat ecclésiastique," ib. 1905. Other treatises are: J. Schmitt, Der Priestercölibat, Münster, 1870; P. M. R. des Pilliers, Le Célibat ecclésiastique, Chambéry, 1886; Clerical Celibacy, Oxford, 1891; F. Chavard, Le Célibat, le prêtre et la femme, Paris, 1894; L. Bocquet, Le Célibat ecclésiastique jusqu’au concile de Trente, Paris, 1895; A. Vassal, Le Célibat ecclésiastique au premier siècle de l’église, ib. 1896; Essay on the Law of Celibacy, Worcester, n.d.; E. Carry, Le Célibat ecclésiastique devant l’histoire et devant la conscience, Paris, 1905; E. A. Sperry, An Outline of the Hist. of Clerical Celibacy in Western Europe to the Council of Trent, New York, 1906 (contains a bibliography). On the change of status in the Eng. Church consult J. Collier, Ecclesiastical History, ii. 262 sqq., London, 1714, and G. Burnet, History of the Reformation, ii. 84 sqq., ib. 1715. The subject of celibacy is treated at greater or less length in the church histories, e.g., Neander, Christian Church, consult the Index.

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