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Celibacy Of The Clergy And The R

The insistence upon clerical celibacy and even the mere regulation of the
marriage of the clergy contributed not a little to making a clear
distinction between the clergy and the laity which became a marked feature
in the constitution of the Church. The East and the West have always
differed as to clerical marriage. In the East the parish clergy have
always been married; the bishops formerly married have long since been
exclusively of the unmarried clergy. The clergy who do not marry become
monks. This seems to have been the solution of practical difficulties
which were found to arise in that part of the Church in connection with
general clerical celibacy. In the West the celibacy of the clergy as a
body was an ideal from the beginning of the fourth century, and became an
established principle by the middle of the fifth century under Leo the
Great, though as a matter of fact it was not enforced as a universal
obligation of the clerical order until the reforms of Gregory VII. In the
following canons and documents the division is made between the East and
the West, and the selected documents are arranged chronologically so as to
show the progress in legislation toward the condition that afterward
became dominant in the respective divisions of the Empire and the Church.

(A) Clerical Marriage in the East

(a) Council of Ancyra, A. D. 314, Canon 10. Bruns, I, 68. Cf. Mirbt,
n. 90.

The following canon is important as being the first Eastern
regulation of a council bearing on the subject and having been
generally followed long before the canons of this council were
adopted as binding by the Council of Constantinople known as the
Quinisext in 692, Canon 2; cf. Hefele, 327. For the Council of
Ancyra, see Hefele, 16.

Canon 10. Those who have been made deacons, declaring when they were
ordained that they must marry, because they were not able to abide as they
were, and who afterward married, shall continue in the ministry because it
was conceded to them by the bishop. But if they were silent on the matter,
undertaking at their ordination to abide as they were, and afterward
proceeded to marry, they shall cease from the diaconate.

(b) Council of Nicaea, A. D. 325, Canon 3. Bruns, I, 15. Cf. Mirbt,
n. 101, Kirch, n. 363.

The meaning of the following canon is open to question because of
the term subintroducta and the concluding clause. Hefele
contends that every woman is excluded except certain specified
persons. But the custom of the East was not to treat the rule as
meaning such. See E. Venables, art. "Subintroductae," in DCB; and
Achelis, art. "Subintroductae," in PRE. Hefele's discussion may be
found in his History of the Councils, 42 and 43; in the
latter he discusses the question as to the position of the council
as to the matter of clerical celibacy.

Canon 3. The great synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter,
deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta
such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.

(c) Council of Gangra, A. D. 355-381, Canon 4. Bruns, I, 107.

The canons of this council were approved at the Quinisext together
with those of Ancyra and Laodicaea and others. This canon is
directed against the fanaticism of the Eustathians.

Canon 4. If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that
it is not lawful to partake of the oblation that he offers, let him be

(d) Socrates, Hist. Ec., V, 22. (MSG, 67:640.)

That the custom of clerical celibacy grew up without much regard
to conciliar action, and that canons only later regulated what had
been established and modified by custom, is illustrated by the
variation in the matter of clerical marriage noted by Socrates.

I myself learned of another custom in Thessaly. If a clergyman in that
country should, after taking orders, cohabit with his wife, whom he had
legally married before ordination, he would be degraded.(157) In the East,
indeed, all clergymen and even bishops abstain from their wives; but this
they do of their own accord and not by the necessity of law; for many of
them have had children by their lawful wives during their episcopate. The
author of the usage which obtains in Thessaly was Heliodorus, bishop of
Tricca in that country, under whose name it is said that erotic books are
extant, entitled Ethiopica, which he composed in his youth. The same
custom prevails in Thessalonica and in Macedonia and Achaia.

(e) Quinisext Council, A. D. 692, Canons 6, 12, 13, 48. Bruns, I, 39

Canons on celibacy.

The Trullan Council fixed the practice of the Eastern churches
regarding the celibacy of the clergy. In general it may be said
that the clergyman was not allowed to marry after ordination. But
if he married before ordination he did not, except in the case of
the bishops separate from his wife, but lived with her in lawful
marital relations.

Canon 6. Since it is declared in the Apostolic Canons that of those who
are advanced to the clergy unmarried, only lectors and cantors are able to
marry, we also, maintaining this, determine that henceforth it is in
nowise lawful for any subdeacon, deacon, or presbyter after his ordination
to contract matrimony; but if he shall have dared to do so, let him be
deposed. And if any of those who enter the clergy wishes to be joined to a
wife in lawful marriage before he is ordained subdeacon, deacon, or
presbyter, let it be done.

Canon 12. Moreover, it has also come to our knowledge that in Africa and
Libya and in other places the most God-beloved bishops in those parts do
not refuse to live with their wives, even after consecration, thereby
giving scandal and offence to the people. Since, therefore, it is our
particular care that all things tend to the good of the flock placed in
our hands and committed to us, it has seemed good that henceforth nothing
of the kind shall in any way occur. But if any shall have been observed
to do such a thing, let him be deposed.

Canon 13. [Text in Kirch, nn. 985 ff.] 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 and presbyterate should promise no longer to
cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic
perfection and order, will that lawful marriage 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 season. For it is meet that they who assist at the divine
altar should be absolutely continent when they are handling holy things,
in order that they may be able to obtain from God what they ask in

Canon 48. The wife of him who is advanced to the episcopal dignity shall
be separated from her husband by mutual consent, and after his ordination
and consecration to the episcopate she shall enter a monastery situated at
a distance from the abode of the bishop, and there let her enjoy the
bishop's provision. And if she is deemed worthy she may be advanced to the
dignity of a deaconess.

(B) Clerical Celibacy in the West

(a) Council of Elvira, A. D. 306, Canon 33. Bruns, II, 6. Cf. Mirbt,
n. 90, and Kirch, n. 305.

This is the earliest canon of any council requiring clerical
celibacy. For the Council of Elvira, see Hefele, 13; A. W. W.
Dale, The Synod of Elvira, London. 1882. For discussion of
reasons for assigning a later date, see E. Hennecke, art. "Elvira,
Synode um 313," in PRE, and the literature there cited. The
council was a provincial synod of southern Spain.

Canon 33. It was voted that it be entirely forbidden(158) bishops,
presbyters, and deacons, and all clergy placed in the ministry to abstain
from their wives and not to beget sons: whoever does this, let him be
deprived of the honor of the clergy.

(b) Siricius, Decretal A. D. 385. (MSL, 13:1138.) Mirbt, nn. 122 f.;
cf. Denziger, nn. 87 ff.

Clerical celibacy: the force of decretals.

In the following passages from the first authentic decretal, the
celibacy of the clergy is laid down as of divine authority in the
Church, and the rule remains characteristic of the Western Church.
See Canon 13 of the Quinisext Council, above, 78, c. The
binding authority of the decretals of the bishop of Rome is also
asserted, and this, too, becomes characteristic of the
jurisprudence of the Western Church.

Ch. 7 ( 8). Why did He admonish them to whom the holy of holies was
committed, Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy? [Lev. 20:7.]
Why were they commanded to dwell in the temple in the year of their turn
to officiate, afar from their own homes? Evidently it was for the reason
that they might not be able to maintain their marital relations with their
wives, so that, adorned with a pure conscience, they might offer to God an
acceptable sacrifice. After the time of their service was accomplished
they were permitted to resume their marital relations for the sake of
continuing the succession, because only from the tribe of Levi was it
ordained that any one should be admitted to the priesthood. Wherefore
also our Lord Jesus, when by His coming He brought us light, solemnly
affirmed in the Gospel that He came not to destroy but to fulfil the law.
And therefore He who is the bridegroom of the Church wished that its form
should be resplendent with chastity, so that in the day of Judgment, when
He should come again, He might find it without spot or blemish, as He
taught by His Apostle. And by the rule of its ordinances which may not be
gainsaid, we who are priests and Levites are bound from the day of our
ordination to keep our bodies in soberness and modesty, so that in those
sacrifices which we offer daily to our God we may please Him in all

Ch. 15 ( 20). To each of the cases, which by our son Bassanius you have
referred to the Roman Church as the head of your body, we have returned,
as I think, a sufficient answer. Now we exhort your brotherly mind more
and more to obey the canons and to observe the decretals that have been
drawn up, that those things which we have written to your inquiries you
may cause to be brought to the attention of all our fellow-bishops, and
not only of those who are placed in your diocese, but also of the
Carthaginians, the Baetici, the Lusitani, and the Gauls, and those who in
neighboring provinces border upon you, those things which by us have been
helpfully decreed may be sent accompanied by your letters. And although no
priest of the Lord is free to ignore the statutes of the Apostolic See and
the venerable definitions of the canons, yet it would be more useful and,
on account of the long time you have been in holy orders, exceedingly
glorious for you, beloved, if those things which have been written you
especially by name, might through your agreement with us be brought to the
notice of all our brethren, and that, seeing that they have not been drawn
up inconsiderately but prudently and with very great care, they should
remain inviolate, and that, for the future, opportunity for any excuse
might be cut off, which is now open to no one among us.

(c) Council of Carthage, A. D. 390, Canon 2. Bruns, I, 117.

See also Canon 1 of the same council.

Canon 2. Bishop Aurelius said: "When in a previous council the matter of
the maintenance of continence and chastity was discussed, these three
orders were joined by a certain agreement of chastity through their
ordination, bishops, I say, presbyters, and deacons; as it was agreed that
it was seemly that they, as most holy pontiffs and priests of God, and as
Levites who serve divine things, should be continent in all things whereby
they may be able to obtain from God what they ask sincerely, so that what
the Apostles taught and antiquity observed, we also keep." By all the
bishops it was said: "It is the pleasure of all that bishops, presbyters,
and deacons, or those who handle the sacraments, should be guardians of
modesty, and refrain themselves from their wives." By all it was said: "It
is our pleasure that in all things, and by all, modesty should be
preserved, who serve the altar."

(d) Leo the Great, Ep. 14, ad Anastasium; Ep. 167, ad Rusticum.
(MSL, 54:672, 1204.)

The final form of the Western rule, that the clergy, from
subdeacon to bishop, both inclusive, should be bound to celibacy,
was expressed in its permanent form by Leo the Great in his
letters to Anastasius and Rusticus. From each of these letters the
passage bearing on the subject is quoted. By thus following up the
ideas of the Council of Elvira and the Council of Carthage as well
as the decretal of Siricius, the subdeacon was included among
those who were vowed to celibacy, for he, too, served at the
altar, and came to be counted as one of the major orders of the

Ep. 14, Ch. 5. Although they who are not within the ranks of the clergy
are free to take pleasure in the companionship of wedlock and the
procreation of children, yet, for the sake of exhibiting the purity of
complete continence, even subdeacons are not allowed carnal marriage; that
"both they that have wives be as though they had none" [I Cor. 7:29], and
they that have not may remain single. But if in this order, which is the
fourth from the head, this is worthy to be observed, how much more is it
to be kept in the first, the second, and the third, lest any one be
reckoned fit for either the deacon's duties or the presbyter's honorable
position, or the bishop's pre-eminence, who is discovered as not yet
having bridled his uxorious desires.

Ep. 167, Quest. 3. Concerning those who minister at the altar and have
wives, whether they may cohabit with them.

Reply. The same law of continence is for the ministers of the altar as for
the bishops and priests who, when they were laymen, could lawfully marry
and procreate children. But when they attained to the said ranks, what was
before lawful became unlawful for them. And therefore in order that their
wedlock may become spiritual instead of carnal, it is necessary that they
do not put away their wives(159) but to have them "as though they had them
not," whereby both the affection of their married life may be retained and
the marriage functions cease.

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