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§ 108. Celibacy of the Clergy.

G. Calixtus (Luth.): De conjug. clericorum. Helmst. 1631; ed. emend. H. Ph. Kr. Henke, 1784, 2 Parts.

Lud. Thomassin (Rom. Cath., d. 1696): Vetus et Nova Ecclesiae Disciplina. Lucae, 1728, 3 vols. fol.; Mayence, 1787, also in French. P. I. L. II. c. 60–67.

Fr. Zaccaria (R.C.): Storia polemica del celibato sacro. Rom. 1774; and Nuova giustificazione del celibato sacro. Fuligno, 1785.

F. W. Carové, (Prot.): Vollstöndige Sammlung der Cölibatsgesetze. Francf. 1823.

J. Ant. & Aug. Theiner (R.C.):Die Einführung der erzwungenen Ehelosigkeit bei den Geistlichen u. ihre Folgen. Altenb. 1828; 2 vols.; second ed. Augsburg, 1845. In favor of the abolition of enforced celibacy.

Th. Fr. Klitsche (R.C.): Geschichte des Cölibats (from the time of the Apostles to Gregory VII.) Augsb. 1830.

A. Möhler: Beleuchtung der (badischen)Denkschrift zur Aufhebunq des Cölibats. In his "Gesammelte Schriften." Regensb. 1839, vol. I. 177 sqq.

C. J. Hefele (R.C.): Beitröge zur Kirchengesch. Vol. I. 122–139.

A. de Roskovany (R.C.): Cöstibatus et Breviarium ... a monumentis omnium saeculorum demonstrata. Pest, 1861. 4 vols. A collection of material and official decisions. Schulte calls it "ein gönzlich unkritischer Abdruck von Quellen."

Henry C. Lea (Prot.): An Historical Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church. Philadelphia, 1867 2d ed. enlarged, Boston, 1884 (682 pp.); the only impartial and complete history down to 1880.

PROBST (R.C.): Kirchliche Disciplin, 1870.

J. Fried. von. Schulte (Prof. of jurisprudence in Bonn, and one of the leaders among the Old Catholics): Der Cölibatszwang und, lessen Aufhebung. Bonn 1876 (96 pages). Against celibacy.

All the above works, except that of Lea, are more or less controversial. Comp. also, on the Roman Cath. side, art. Celibacy, Martigny, and in Kraus, "Real-Encykl. der christl. Alterthümer" (1881) I. 304–307 by Funk, and in the new ed. of Wetzer & Welte’s "Kirchenlexicon;" on the Prot. side, Bingham, Book IV. ch. V.; Herzog2, III. 299–303; and Smith & Cheetham, I. 323–327.

As the clergy were supposed to embody the moral ideal of Christianity, and to be in the full sense of the term the heritage of God, they were required to practise especially rigid sexual temperance after receiving their ordination. The virginity of the church of Christ, who was himself born of a virgin, seemed, in the ascetic spirit of the age, to recommend a virgin priesthood as coming nearest his example, and best calculated to promote the spiritual interests of the church.

There were antecedents in heathenism to sacerdotal celibacy. Buddhism rigorously enjoined it under a penalty, of expulsion. The Egyptian priests were allowed one, but forbidden a second, marriage, while the people practiced unrestrained polygamy. The priestesses of the Delphic Apollo, the Achaian Juno, the Scythian Diana, and the Roman Vesta were virgins.

In the ante-Nicene period sacerdotal celibacy did not as yet become a matter of law, but was left optional, like the vow of chastity among the laity. In the Pastoral Epistles of Paul marriage, if not expressly enjoined, is at least allowed to all ministers of the gospel (bishops and deacons), and is presumed to exist as the rule.730730    The passages 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:5, where St. Paul directs that presbyter-bishops and deacons must be husbands of "one wife" (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρις), are differently interpreted. The Greek church takes the words both as commanding (δεῖ) one marriage of the clergy (to the exclusion, however, of bishops who must be unmarried), and as prohibiting a second marriage. The Roman circle understands Paul as conceding one marriage to the weakness of the flesh, but as intimating the better way of total abstinence (Comp. 1 Cor. 7:7, 32, 33). Protestant commentators are likewise divided; some refer the two passages to simultaneous, others to successive polygamy. The former view was held even by some Greek writers, Theodore of Mopstueste and Theodoret; but the parallel expression ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, 1 Tim. 5:9, seems to favor the latter view, since it is very unlikely that polyandry existed in apostolic churches. And yet Paul expressly allows without a censure second marriage after the death of the former husband or wife, Rom. 7:2, 3; 1 Cor. 7:39; 1 Tim. 5:14. For this reason some commentators Matthies, Hofmann, Huther in Meyer’s Com. understand the apostle as prohibiting concubinage or all illegitimate connubial intercourse.30 It is an undoubted fact that Peter and several apostles, as well as the Lord’s brothers, were married,731731    1 Cor. 9:5: "Have we no right (ἑξουσίαν)to lead about a wife that is a believer (ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα ), even as the rest of the apostles (οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπ.) and the brothers of the Lord (οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τ. Κυρίου), and Cephas.?" The definite article seems to indicate that the majority, if not all, the apostles and brothers of the Lord were married. The only certain exception is John, and probably also Paul, though he may have been a widower. Tertullian in his blind zeal argued that γυναῖκα is to be rendered mulierem, not uxorem (De Monog. c. 8), but his contemporary, Clement of Alex., does not question the true interpretation, speaks of Peter, Paul, and Philip, as married, and of Philip as giving his daughters in marriage. Tradition ascribes to Peter a daughter , St. Petronilla.31 and that Philip the deacon and evangelist had four daughters.732732    Acts 21:8, 9.32 It is also self-evident that, if marriage did not detract from the authority and dignity of an apostle, it cannot be inconsistent with the dignity and purity of any minister of Christ. The marriage relation implies duties and privileges, and it is a strange perversion of truth if some writers under the influence of dogmatic prejudice have turned the apostolic marriages, and that between Joseph and Mary into empty forms. Paul would have expressed himself very differently if he had meant to deny to the clergy the conjugal intercourse after ordination, as was done by the fathers and councils in the fourth century. He expressly classes the prohibition of marriage (including its consequences) among the doctrines of demons or evil spirits that control the heathen religions, and among the signs of the apostacy of the latter days.733733    1 Tim. 4:1-3.33 The Bible represents marriage as the first institution of God dating from the state of man’s innocency, and puts the highest dignity upon it in the Old and New Covenants. Any reflection on the honor and purity of the married state and the marriage bed reflects on the patriarchs, Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, yea, on the wisdom and goodness of the Creator.734734    Comp. Heb. 13:4: "Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled" (Τίμιος ὁ γάμος ἐν πᾶσι, καὶ κοίτη ἀμίαντος).34

There was all early departure from these Scripture views in the church under the irresistible influence of the ascetic enthusiasm for virgin purity. The undue elevation of virginity necessarily implied a corresponding depreciation of marriage.

The scanty documents of the post-apostolic age give us only incidental glimpses into clerical households, yet sufficient to prove the unbroken continuance of clerical marriages, especially in the Eastern churches, and at the same time the superior estimate put upon an unmarried clergy, which gradually limited or lowered the former.

Polycarp expresses his grief for Valens, a presbyter in Philippi, "and his wife," on account of his covetousness.735735    Ep. ad Phil. c. 11. Some think that incontinence or adultery is referred to; but the proper readings φιλαργυρία, avaritia, not πλεονεξία.35 Irenaeus mentions a married deacon in Asia Minor who was ill-rewarded for his hospitality to a Gnostic heretic, who seduced his wife.736736    Adv. Haer. I. 13, 5 (ed. Stieren I. 15536 Rather unfortunate examples. Clement of Alexandria, one of the most enlightened among the ante-Nicene father, describes the true ideal of a Christian Gnostic as one who marries and has children, and so attains to a higher excellence, because he conquers more temptations than that of the single state.737737    Strom. VII. 12, 1). 741.37 Tertullian, though preferring celibacy, was a married priest, and exhorted his wife to refrain after his death from a second marriage in order to attain to that ascetic purity which was impossible during their married life.738738    Ad Uxor. 1. 7: 1, Ut quod in matrimonionon valuimus, in viduitate sectemur. This clearly implies the continuance of sexual intercourse. Tertullian lays down the principle: "Defuncto viro matrimonium defungitur."38 He also draws a beautiful picture of the holy beauty of a Christian family. An African priest, Novatus—another unfortunate example—was arraigned for murdering his unborn child.739739    Cyprian, Epist. 52, cap. 2, Oxf. ed. and ed. Hartel (al. 48). He paints his schismatical opponent in the darkest colors, and charges him with kicking his wife in the state of pregnancy, and thus producing a miscarriage, but he does not censure, him for his marriage.39 There are also examples of married bishops. Socrates reports that not even bishops were bound in his age by any law of celibacy, and that many bishops during their episcopate begat children.740740    Hist. Eccl. V. 22: "in the East all clergymen, and even the bishops themselves to abstain from their wives: but this they do of their own accord, there being no law in force to make it necessary; for there have been among them many bishops who have had children by their lawful wives during their episcopate."40 Athanasius says:741741    In a letter to the Egyptian in monk Dracontius, who had scruples about accepting a call to the episcopate.41 "Many bishops have not contracted matrimony; while, on the other hand, monks have become fathers. Again, we see bishops who have children, and monks who take no thought of having posterity." The father of Gregory of Nazianzum (d. 390) was a married bishop. and his mother, Nonna, a woman of exemplary piety, prayed earnestly for male issue, saw her future son in a prophetic vision, and dedicated him, before his birth, to the service of God, and he became the leading theologian of his age. Gregory of Nyssa (d. about 394) was likewise a married bishop, though he gave the preference to celibacy. Synesius, the philosophic disciple of Hypasia of Alexandria, when pressed to accept the bishopic, of Ptolemais (a.d. 410), declined at first, because he was unwilling to separate from his wife, and desired numerous offspring; but he finally accepted the office without a separation. This proves that his case was already exceptional. The sixth of the Apostolical Canons directs: "Let not a bishop, a priest, or a deacon cast off his own wife under pretence of piety; but if he does cast her off, let him be suspended. If he go on in it, let him be deprived." The Apostolical Constitutions nowhere prescribe clerical celibacy, but assume the single marriage of bishop, priest, and deacon as perfectly legitimate.742742    This is substantially also the position of Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Chrysostom, as far as we may infer from allusions, and their expositions of 1 Tim. 3:2, although all preferred celibacy as a higher state. See Funk, l.c. p. 305. The Synod of Gangra, after the middle of the fourth century, anathematized (Can. 4) those who maintained that it was wrong to attend the eucharistic services of priests living in marriage. See Hefele I. 782, who remarks against Baronius, that the canon means such priests as not only, had wives, but lived with them in conjugal intercourse (mit denselben ehelich leben). TheCodex Ecclesiae Rom ed. by Quesnel omits this canon.42

The inscriptions on the catacombs bear likewise testimony to clerical marriages down to the fifth century.743743    Lundy (Monumental Christianity, N. Y. 1876, p. 343 sqq.) quotes the following inscriptions of this kind from Gruter, Bosio, Arringhi, Burgon, and other sources:
   "The place of the Presbyter Basil and his Felicitas.

   They made it for themselves."


   "Susanna, once the happy daughter of the Presbyter Gabinus,

   Here lies in peace joined with her father."


   "Gaudentius, the Presbyter, for himself and his wife Severa, a virtuous woman, who lived 42 years, 3 months, 10 days. Buried on the 4th after the nones of April, Timasius and Promus; being consuls."


   "Petronia, the wife of a Levite, type of modesty. In this place I lay my bones; spare your tears, dear husband and daughters, and believe that it is forbidden to weep for one who lives in God. Buried in peace, on the third before the nones of October."

   The names of three children appear on the, same tablet, and are no doubt those referred to by Petronis; hers, with the consular dates of their burial. Her own interment was a.d. 472.

   Gruter and Le Blant both publish a very long and elaborate inscription at Narbonne, a.d. 427, to the effect that Rusticus the Bishop, son of Bonosius a Bishop, nephew of Aratoris another Bishop, etc., in connection with the presbyter Ursus and the deacon Hermetus began to build the church; and that Montanus the sub-deacon finished the apse, etc.

At the same time the tendency towards clerical celibacy set in very early, and made steady and irresistible progress, especially in the West. This is manifest in the qualifications of the facts and directions just mentioned. For they leave the impression that there were not many happy clerical marriages and model pastors’ wives in the early centuries; nor could there be so long as the public opinion of the church, contrary to the Bible, elevated virginity above marriage.

1. The first step in the direction of clerical celibacy was the prohibition of second marriage to the clergy, on the ground that Paul’s direction concerning "the husband of one wife" is a restriction rather than a command. In the Western church, in the early part of the third century, there were many clergymen who had been married a second or even a third time, and this practice was defended on the ground that Paul allowed remarriage, after the death of one party, as lawful without any restriction or censure. This fact appears from the protest of the Montanistic Tertullian, who makes it a serious objection to the Catholics, that they allow bigamists to preside, to baptize, and to celebrate the communion.744744    He asks the Catholics with indignation: "Quot enim et digami praesident apud vos, insultantes utique apostolo, certe non erubescentes, cum haec sub illis leguntur? .... Digamus tinguis? digamus offers?"De Monog. c. 12.44 Hippolytus, who had equally rigoristic views on discipline, reproaches about the same time the Roman bishop Callistus with admitting to sacerdotal and episcopal office those who were married a second and even a third time, and permitting the clergy to marry after having been ordained.745745    Philosoph. IX. 12.45 But the rigorous practice prevailed, and was legalized in the Eastern church. The Apostolical Constitutions expressly forbid bishops, priests, and deacons to marry a second time. They also forbid clergymen to marry a concubine, or a slave, or a widow, or a divorced woman, and extend the prohibition of second marriage even to cantors, readers, and porters. As to the deaconess, she must be "a pure virgin, or a widow who has been but once married, faithful and well esteemed."746746    Const. Ap. VI. 17.46 The Apostolical Canons give similar regulations, and declare that the husband of a second wife, of a widow, a courtesan, an actress, or a slave was ineligible to the priesthood.747747    Can. 17, 18, 19, 27. The Jewish high-priests were likewise required to marry a virgin of their own people. Lev. 21:16.47

2. The second step was the prohibition of marriage and conjugal intercourse after ordination. This implies the incompatibility of the priesthood with the duties and privileges of marriage. Before the Council of Elvira in Spain (306) no distinction was made in the Latin church between marriages before and after ordination.748748    Admitted by Prof. Funk (R. Cath.), who quotes Innocent, Ep. ad Episc. Maced. c. 2; Leo I. Ep. XII.c. 5. He also admits that Paul’s direction excludes such a distinction. See Kraus, Real-Enc. I. 304 sq.48 But that rigoristic council forbade nuptial intercourse to priests of all ranks upon pain of excommunication.749749    Can. 33 Placuit in totum prohibere episcopis, presbyteris, et diaconibus, vel omnibus clericis positis in ministerio, abstinere se a conjugibus suis, et non generare filios; quicunque vero fecerit, ab honore clericatus exterminetur." Hefele says (I. 168): " This celebrated canon contains the first law of celibacy. "It is strange that the canon in its awkward latinity seems to prohibit the clergy to abstain from their wives, when in fact it means to prohibit the intercourse. On account of the words positis in ministerio, some would see here only a prohibition of sexual commerce at the time of the performance of clerical functions, as in the Jewish law; but this was self-understood, and would not come up to the disciplinary standard of that age. How little, however, even in Spain, that first law on celibacy was obeyed, may be inferred from the letter of Pope Siricius to Bishop Himerius of Tarragona, that there were, at the close of the fourth century, plurimi sacerdotes Christi et levitu living in wedlock.49 The Council of Arles (314) passed a similar canon.750750    Can. 6 (29, see Hefele I. 217) Praeterea, quod dignum, pudicum et honestum est, suademus fratribus, ut sacerdotes et levitae cum uxoribus satis non cogant, quia ministerio quotidiano occupantur. Quicunque contra hanc constitutionem fecerit, a cleritatus honore deponatur."50 And so did the Council of Ancyra (314), which, however, allows deacons to marry as deacons, in case they stipulated for it before taking orders.751751    Can. 10 (Hefele, Conciliengesch. I. p. 230, 2te Aufl). The canon is adopted in the Corpus juris can. c. 8. Dist. 28. The Synod of Neo-Caesarea, between 314-325, can. 1, forbids the priests to marry on pain of deposition. This does not conflict with the other canon, and likewise passed into the Canon Law, c. 9, Dist. 28. See Hefele, I. 244.51 This exception was subsequently removed by the 27th Apostolic Canon, which allows only the lectors and cantors (belonging to the minor orders) to contract marriage.752752    "Of those who come into the clergy unmarried, we permit only the readers and singers if they are so minded, to marry afterward."52

At the Oecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) an attempt was made, probably under the lead of Hosius, bishop of Cordova—the connecting link between Elvira and Nicaea—to elevate the Spanish rule to the dignity and authority of an oecumenical ordinance, that is, to make the prohibition of marriage after ordination and the strict abstinence of married priests from conjugal intercourse, the universal law of the Church; but the attempt was frustrated by the loud protest of Paphnutius, a venerable bishop and confessor of a city in the Upper Thebaid of Egypt, who had lost one eye in the Diocletian persecution, and who had himself never touched a woman. He warned the fathers of the council not to impose too heavy a burden on the clergy, and to remember that marriage and conjugal intercourse were venerable and pure. He feared more harm than good from excessive rigor. It was sufficient, if unmarried clergymen remain single according to the ancient tradition of the church; but it was wrong to separate the married priest from his legitimate wife, whom he married while yet a layman. This remonstrance of a strict ascetic induced the council to table the subject and to leave the continuance or discontinuance of the married relation to the free choice of every clergyman. It was a prophetic voice of warning.753753    This important incident of Paphnutius rests on the unanimous testimony of the well informed historians Socrates (Hist. Eccl. I. 11), Sozoinen (H. E. I. 23), and Gelasius Cyzic. (Hist. Conc. Nic. II. 32); see Mansi, Harduin, and Hefele (I. 431-435). It agrees moreover with the directions of the Apost. Const. and Canons, and with the present practice of the Eastern churches on this subject. The objections of Baronius, Bellarmine, Valesius. and other Romanists are unfounded and refuted by Natalis Alexander, and Hefele (l.c.). Funk (R.C.)says: "Die Einwendungen, die qeqen den Bericht, vorgebracht wurden, sind völlig nichtig" (utterly futile).53

The Council of Nicaea passed no law in favor of celibacy; but it strictly prohibited in its third canon the dangerous and scandalous practice of unmarried clergymen to live with an unmarried woman,754754    Euphoniously called συνείσακτος, subiatroducta (introduced as a companion), ἀγαπητή, soror. See Hefele, T. 380. Comp. on this canon W. Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils. Oxford, 1882, pp. 8, 9. A Council of Antioch had deposed Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, for this nasty practice, and for heresy. Euseb. H. E. VII. 30.54 unless she be "a mother or sister or aunt or a person above suspicion."755755    Notwithstanding this canonical prohibition the disreputable practice continued. Chrysostom wrote a discourse "against persons ἔχοντας παρθένους συνεισάκτους"and another urging the dedicated virgins not to live with them. Jerome complains of the "pestis agapetarum"(Ep. XXII. 14).55 This prohibition must not be confounded with prohibition of nuptial intercourse any more than those spiritual concubines are to be identified with regular wives. It proves, however, that nominal clerical celibacy must have extensively prevailed at the time.

The Greek Church substantially retained the position of the fourth century, and gradually adopted the principle and practice of limiting the law of celibacy to bishops (who are usually taken from monasteries), and making a single marriage the rule for the lower clergy; the marriage to take place before ordination, and not to be repeated. Justinian excluded married men from the episcopate, and the Trullan Synod (a.d. 692) legalized the existing practice. In Russia (probably since 1274), the single marriage of the lower clergy was made obligatory. This is an error in the opposite direction. Marriage, as well as celibacy, should be left free to each man’s conscience.

3. The Latin Church took the third and last step, the absolute prohibition of clerical marriage, including even the lower orders. This belongs to the next period; but we will here briefly anticipate the result. Sacerdotal marriage was first prohibited by Pope Siricius (a.d. 385), then by Innocent I. (402), Leo I. (440), Gregory I. (590), and by provincial Synods of Carthage (390 and 401), Toledo (400), Orleans (538), Orange (441), Arles (443 or 452), Agde (506), Gerunda (517). The great teachers of the Nicene and post-Nicene age, Jerome, Augustin, and Chrysostom, by their extravagant laudations of the superior sanctity of virginity, gave this legislation the weight of their authority. St. Jerome, the author of the Latin standard version of the Bible, took the lead in this ascetic crusade against marriage, and held up to the clergy as the ideal aim of the saint, to "cut down the wood of marriage by the axe of virginity." He was willing to praise marriage, but only as the nursery of virgins.756756    Ep. XXII. "Laudo nuptias, laudo conjugium, sed quia mihi virgines generant." Comp. Ep. CXXIII.56

Thus celibacy was gradually enforced in the West under the combined influence of the sacerdotal and hierarchical interests to the advantage of the hierarchy, but to the injury of morality.757757    And the Roman Church seems to care more for the power, than for the purity of the clergy. Gregory VII., who used all his unflinching energy to enforce celibacy, said openly: "Non liberari potest ecclesia a servitude laicorum, nisi liberentur clerici ab uxoribus." As clerical celibacy is a matter of discipline, not of doctrine, the Pope might at any time abolish it, and Aeneas Sylvius, before he ascended the chair of Peter as Pius II. (1458 to 1464), remarked that marriage had been denied to priests for good and sufficient reasons, but that still stronger ones now required its restoration. The United Greeks and Maronites are allowed to retain their wives. Joseph II. proposed to extend the permission. During the French Revolution, and before the conclusion of the Concordat (1801), many priests and nuns were married. But the hierarchical interest always defeated in the end such movements, and preferred to keep the clergy aloof from the laity in order to exercise a greater power over it. "The Latin church," says Lea in his History of Celibacy, "is the most wonderful structure in history, and ere its leaders can consent to such a reform they must confess that its career, so full of proud recollections, has been an error."57

For while voluntary abstinence, or such as springs from a special gift of grace, is honorable and may be a great blessing to the church, the forced celibacy of the clergy, or celibacy as a universal condition of entering the priesthood, does violence to nature and Scripture, and, all sacramental ideas of marriage to the contrary notwithstanding, degrades this divine ordinance, which descends from the primeval state of innocence, and symbolizes the holiest of all relations, the union of Christ with his church. But what is in conflict with nature and nature’s God is also in conflict with the highest interests of morality. Much, therefore, as Catholicism has done to raise woman and the family life from heathen degradation, we still find, in general, that in Evangelical Protestant countries, woman occupies a far higher grade of intellectual and moral culture than in exclusively Roman Catholic countries. Clerical marriages are probably the most happy as a rule, and have given birth to a larger number of useful and distinguished men and women than those of any other class of society.758758    Comp. this History, Vol. VI., § 79, p. 473 sqq.58

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