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celibacy

celibacy The ideal of celibacy — abstaining from sexual activity for religious or spiritual reasons — exists within several religions. It has been an ideal within Christianity from the earliest times. Jesus spoke of those who are ‘eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19: 12), and Paul recommended celibacy as the best way of living, for it enabled a person to be free from distracting ‘worldly’ concerns, especially the household, children, and sex — and for men, the worldly was particularly represented by the female body — and therefore free to serve Christ. Thus, for many centuries, especially in the West, marriage was regarded as an inferior option for Christians, for those who needed to produce heirs or could not practice self-control because they did not have the ‘gift’ of celibacy. Only at the Reformation, when Protestant reformers began to privilege and justify marriage, was this view seriously challenged. Even in the post-Reformation period, there have been new Christian groups which have set celibacy as an ideal or rule, most notably the Shakers in nineteenth-century America, who formed communities of celibate men and women to live a simple life together. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican monastic communities retain the ideal of celibacy to this day.

In the early Church celibacy had been an individual vocation, so marriage was not incompatible with holding ecclesiastical office; but beginning with the canons of the Council of Elvira (c.306), the Church in the West increasingly moved towards clerical celibacy as the norm; married men who were ordained were urged to put aside their wives, go on living with them as sister and brother, or exchange vows of continence with them; their wives might then become deaconesses or join a monastic community. Throughout the later Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church attempted to enforce clerical celibacy, not always with great success; the second Lateran Council (1139) made clerical marriages invalid. Clerical celibacy remains the rule in the Roman Catholic despite pressures in the late twentieth century to change this. The Church of England allowed clerical marriage in 1549, as did the Protestant churches at the Reformation. The Eastern Orthodox churches have always allowed their priests and deacons to marry before ordination, though not after, and their bishops must be celibate.

Within Buddhism, celibacy is a permanent vocation for monks and nuns. Within Hinduism, celibacy is part of the fourth and final stage — samnyasa — for the Hindu who is following the Vedic way. This is the stage of renouncing all ties to family, caste, and property. Within a number of religions, reactions to celibacy are mixed. For Sikhs, it is not an ideal, for the Gurus taught that the married state (grihastha ashrama) was the ideal. But there are two Sikh groups that dissent from this: the Udasis (meaning ‘withdrawn’ or ‘dejected’) are an ascetic order, also forbidden to consume flesh, tobacco, or spirits; they wear salmon-coloured clothing and are clean shaven, though they often have long, matted hair. The Nirmalas (meaning ‘spotless’ or ‘pure’) are a learned monastic group who live in monasteries called akharas (meaning ‘wrestling arenas’) and wear saffron robes. Islam is generally hostile to celibacy, emphasizing the God-given goodness of creation, though Sufism, especially in its beginnings, has emphasized the strong control of body and spirit via ascetical practices, including celibacy. Early Sufi leaders saw lust as one of the seven gates to hell, one Sufi leader even going so far as to say that Sufism was founded on celibacy.

Judaism has generally not advocated celibacy, seeing marriage as important for the fulfilment of procreation as commanded in Genesis 1: 28. The High Priest in Temple times had to be married (Leviticus 21: 13) and the unmarried were barred from holding various public offices, though there were two important Jewish first-century Ascetic groups. The Therapeutae (Latin, ‘healers’), described by Philo, lived in Egypt in solitude, poverty, and (as far as was possible) celibacy, meditating on spiritual writings. Both men and women could be members. Every fiftieth day, they gathered for a meal and sang and danced. The all-male Essene community by the Dead Sea (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947) sought to bring Israel back to God by their own rigorous and celibate way of life. This relationship between apocalyptic beliefs and the ideal of celibacy forms the backdrop to Jesus' preaching about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was intimately entwined with his call to follow him and leave behind all family ties. Thus in Christianity, the celibate was seen to anticipate the state of the human being at resurrection — described by some as a state in which the sexes do not exist and there is no place for marriage. The celibate therefore sought to return to his or her original — that is pre-Fall — state. As Genesis records Adam and Eve as having had sexual intercourse only after the Fall, sexual renunciation was a vital component in acquiring this pre-lapsarian ‘state’. This meant the transcendence of gender, and while, for some celibates at least, it meant that the body was seen as alien to the true self, many explored the possibilities of that transcendence. Celibacy, and the ascetic way of life in general, were appealing because they allowed any Christian, regardless of gender or social status, to transcend what their body represented in this world; this was particularly appealing for women, especially élite women, whose bodies functioned primarily to produce heirs and thereby circulate wealth in the Roman world. That some writers spoke of Christian women ‘becoming male’ to indicate their great holiness illustrates the double-edged nature of this ideal of celibacy for women. Suspicion of the female body, and projection onto it of all the male celibate's fears of ‘the world’ exists within Christianity generally, and has existed particularly within the monastic communities from the fourth century onwards, and is shared by Buddhism and the early Sufis.

Jane Shaw

Bibliography

Brown, P. (1988). The body and society, men, women and sexual renunciation in early Christianity. Columbia University Press, New York.


See also asceticism; chastity; religion and the body.

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celibacy

celibacy (sĕl´Ĭbəsē), voluntary refusal to enter the married state, with abstinence from sexual activity. It is one of the typically Christian forms of asceticism. In ancient Rome the vestal virgins were celibates, and successful monasticism has everywhere been accompanied by celibacy as an ideal. Among ancient Jews the Essenes were celibates. In the Judaism of postexilic times, sexual activity in the married state was considered lawful and good; otherwise it was unlawful. This norm remained in Christianity. But the mainstream of Christian tradition from the start has interpreted the Gospels and epistles as teaching that voluntary celibacy, especially virginity, is peculiarly meritorious.

In the Orthodox Eastern churches, ordinary parish clergy are married, but monks, nuns, and bishops are celibates. In the West, celibacy was common among the parish clergy beginning the 3d cent.; as time passed, the Holy See became adamant in opposing the marriage of the secular clergy (see orders, holy). By the early Middle Ages, marriage of the clergy had fallen into disrepute; church reformers aimed at concubinage and violations of the laws of chastity rather than of marriage. In the 12th cent. the most stringent laws were enacted, and by the time of the Reformation popular opinion tolerated neither concubinage nor marriage in the clergy. Protestantism rejected voluntary celibacy as an ideal.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Roman rite allows no sacerdotal marriage, but the clergy of Eastern rites united with the Holy See are often married before ordination. Some married priests from other religions or rites have converted to Catholicism and been accepted, but not all dioceses have permitted these priests to practice. Although recent popes and various national groupings of bishops have insisted on the retention of celibacy for priests, there has been considerable pressure in the United States and Europe in support of voluntary marriage for the clergy. A standard defense of the Western discipline of celibacy for parish priests is that marriage would prevent the priest from giving his complete attention to his parish; critics complain that unmarried clergy are unfit to give counsel on marital and sexual problems. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has restored the office of deacon to a prominent place in the ministry and accepts married men into it.

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Celibacy

Celibacy. A state of life without marriage, undertaken for religious or spiritual reasons. Celibacy was not practised among the Jews.

In Christianity, celibacy rests on the demand for the renunciation of family ties ‘for the sake of the kingdom’ (Mark 10. 29, Luke 18. 29). In the early church, it was an individual vocation. In the Eastern Orthodox church, the norm became one of unmarried bishops; other clergy could be married. In the West, celibacy was increasingly imposed, until from the time of Pope Gregory VII (d. 1095) it was assumed to be the rule. The Protestant Reformation abolished mandatory celibacy.

In other religions, celibacy may also be a permanent vocation (e.g. for Buddhist monks, bhikṣus, unless their ordination is temporary), or it may be a temporary stage (e.g. the fourth āśrama for Hindus). It may be tolerated, as it is among Sikhs, though regarded as less than ideal.

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celibate

cel·i·bate / ˈseləbət/ • adj. abstaining from marriage and sexual relations, typically for religious reasons: a celibate priest. ∎  having or involving no sexual relations: I'd rather stay single and celibate. • n. a person who abstains from marriage and sexual relations. DERIVATIVES: cel·i·ba·cy / -bəsē/ n.

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celibacy

celibacy Commitment to a lifelong abstention from sexual relations. The status of celibacy as a religious obligation is found in Christianity and Buddhism. From the 4th century, it gradually became compulsory for Roman Catholic priests, monks and nuns. In some Orthodox religions, married men may become priests, but bishops must be celibate.

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celibacy

celibacy XVII. f. L. cælibātus, f. cælebs, cælib- unmarried; see -ACY.

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celibacy

celibacy •radiancy •immediacy, intermediacy •expediency • idiocy • saliency •resiliency • leniency •incipiency, recipiency •recreancy • pruriency • deviancy •subserviency • transiency • pliancy •buoyancy, flamboyancy •fluency, truancy •constituency • abbacy • embassy •celibacy • absorbency •incumbency, recumbency •ascendancy, intendancy, interdependency, pendency, resplendency, superintendency, tendency, transcendency •candidacy •presidency, residency •despondency • redundancy • infancy •sycophancy • argosy • legacy •profligacy • surrogacy •extravagancy • plangency • agency •regency •astringency, contingency, stringency •intransigency • exigency • cogency •pungency •convergency, emergency, insurgency, urgency •vacancy • piquancy • fricassee •mendicancy • efficacy • prolificacy •insignificancy • delicacy • intricacy •advocacy • fallacy • galaxy •jealousy, prelacy •repellency • valency • Wallasey •articulacy • corpulency • inviolacy •excellency • equivalency • pharmacy •supremacy • clemency • Christmassy •illegitimacy, legitimacy •intimacy • ultimacy • primacy •dormancy • diplomacy • contumacy •stagnancy •lieutenancy, subtenancy, tenancy •pregnancy •benignancy, malignancy •effeminacy • prominency •obstinacy • pertinency • lunacy •immanency •impermanency, permanency •rampancy • papacy • flippancy •occupancy •archiepiscopacy, episcopacy •transparency • leprosy • inerrancy •flagrancy, fragrancy, vagrancy •conspiracy • idiosyncrasy •minstrelsy • magistracy • piracy •vibrancy •adhocracy, aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, gerontocracy, gynaecocracy (US gynecocracy), hierocracy, hypocrisy, meritocracy, mobocracy, monocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, theocracy •accuracy • obduracy • currency •curacy, pleurisy •confederacy • numeracy •degeneracy • itinerancy • inveteracy •illiteracy, literacy •innocency • trenchancy • deficiency •fantasy, phantasy •intestacy • ecstasy • expectancy •latency • chieftaincy • intermittency •consistency, insistency, persistency •instancy • militancy • impenitency •precipitancy • competency •hesitancy • apostasy • constancy •accountancy • adjutancy •consultancy, exultancy •impotency • discourtesy •inadvertency • privacy •irrelevancy, relevancy •solvency • frequency • delinquency •adequacy • poignancy

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celibate

celibate •peart •immediate, intermediate •idiot •collegiate, intercollegiate •orgeat • Eliot • affiliate •foliate, trifoliate •aculeate, Juliet •Uniate • opiate •chariot, Harriet, Judas Iscariot, lariat, Marryat •compatriot, expatriate, patriot •heriot, Herriot •commissariat, lumpenproletariat, proletariat, salariat, secretariat, vicariate •inebriate • Cypriot •baccalaureate, laureate, professoriate •appropriate • licentiate • satiate •initiate, novitiate, patriciate •associate • cruciate • Cheviot • soviet •roseate •Byatt, diet, quiet, riot, ryot, Wyatt •inchoate •Ewart, Stewart •Verwoerd •graduate, undergraduate •attenuate • situate •abbot, Cabot •Albert • lambert • Egbert • Delbert •filbert, Gilbert •halibut • celibate • Robert • Osbert •Norbert •Hubert, Schubert •Humbert • Cuthbert •burbot, Herbert, sherbet, turbot •Frankfort • effort • comfort

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