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.