Celibacy, Clerical, History of
CELIBACY, CLERICAL, HISTORY OF
The practice of celibacy in the Church, or the renunciation of marriage undertaken implicitly or explicitly for the purpose of practicing perfect chastity, is an almost uniquely Christian institution whose history reβects the idealism and, at times, the contradictions of Christian asceticism.
Antiquity and the Old Testament. Among ancient peoples celibacy, especially female celibacy or virginity, was given a sacral value but was not considered to be a way of life. Temporary continence was often imposed as a form of corporal purification (lustratio ), but only in relation to worship. Virgins, moreover, were consecrated to a female deity—the six Roman Vestals for 30 years—but perpetual celibacy was ordinarily not practiced. In Sparta, the unmarried lost civic rights (ἀτιμíα) and were given menial tasks. After the time of Camillus (402 b.c.), Roman bachelors had to pay special taxes (aes uxorium ); during the imperial period, they were deprived of parental inheritance (caducariae leges ).
In the Old Testament, sexual acts, even when not sinful, were considered defiling (Lv 15). Virginity in the bride was the object of high praise (Dt 22. 14–29), and, in practice, a girl who had been violated was unable to find a husband (2 Sm 13.20). But the state of virginity was not to be permanent; to be unmarried and childless was to be the object of shame (Gn 30.23; Is 4.1; 54.4; Jg 11.37–40). Marriage was considered honorable and compulsory for all, and to have many children was viewed a sign of divine favor (Gn 22.17). Thus, in Old Testament times, virginity as a state of life consecrated to God was unknown, except in the period of the essenes.
The New Testament. In the New Dispensation, on the contrary, especially in discussion of the higher aspects of morality, the New Testament emphasizes the value of virginity as a means of worshiping God. This is apparent in the example of Christ, Mary, John the Baptist, as well as in the teaching of the Lord. Virginity is presented as a state of eschatological beatitude. In heaven men will not marry because they will not die; in this respect they will be like the angels (Lk 20.36; also Mt 22.30 and Mk 12.25, texts that are still more significant for the traditional comparison of angelic life with that of the un-married). Prior to beatitude, however, celibacy is the way of consecrating oneself to God, if it is accepted freely for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.12, 19). Nevertheless, it is a special grace and vocation; "not all can accept this teaching" (Matthew 19.11–12).
Paul did not underestimate marriage, nor, with the Gnostics, did he consider it useless in view of the world's imminent destruction. He was generous in his advice to married Christians, helping them in their special vocation (Col 3.18; 4.1; Eph 5.22; 6.9; 1 Tm 4.3; 5.14). In any event, he stated that "it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor 7.2–6, 9, 27–28, 36); but for him, marriage, like all created things, is secondary if compared to the life in Christ (1 Cor 7.29–31). With this in mind, Paul praised celibacy and virginity as a more perfect state, since it is the condition for a more fervent consecration to God, avoids earthly concerns, and prepares for the possession of eschatological goods (1 Cor 7.26–35). The unmarried are able to concentrate only on God, while married persons must think on each other. Paul's teaching, however, is not a universal law. He presented it as a counsel, as a grace or as an individual charism, as a special vocation (1 Cor 7.6–7, 25). This charism, however, does not seem to have been granted to all the leaders of the Pauline churches. Besides, it is difficult to find a peremptory argument in favor of a universal law in view of 1 Corinthians 9.5 and of the matrimonial status of Peter, of the other Apostles, and of the brethren of Christ there cited. The question is controversial, but the pastoral Epistles give clear evidence that the Pauline churches were ruled by married episcopoi, presbyteroi, and diakonoi. Ministers of the New Testament were not obliged to celibacy, but only to what would traditionally be called boni mores. Duties in this regard were presented in stereotype form (1 Tm 3.2–13; Ti 1.6–9), with emphasis on three points: the bishop should be married but once; he should rule well his own household, keeping his children under control and perfectly respectful; for, as Paul asked, if a man cannot rule his own household, how is he to take care of the Church of God?
The Patristic Age. During the first three or four centuries, no law was promulgated prohibiting clerical marriage. Celibacy was thus a matter of choice for bishops, priests, and deacons. Under certain conditions, as shall be evident below, they were permitted to contract marriage and live as married men.
Clerical Marriage Permitted. clement of alexandria (c. 150–c. 215), commenting on the Pauline texts, stated that marriage, if used properly, is a way of salvation for all: priests, deacons, and laymen (Stromata 1.3.12; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 8:1189). The Synod of Gangra (c. 345) condemned manifestations of false asceticism, among others the refusal to attend divine worship celebrated by married priests (c.4; J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 2:1101). The apostolic constitutions (c. 400) excommunicated a priest or bishop who left his wife "under pretence of piety" (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 1:51). Socrates (Ecclesiastical History 1.1.11; Patrologia Graeca 67:101), Sozomen (Ecclesiastical History 1.1.23; Patrologia Graeca 67:925), and Gelasius of Cyzicus (Hist. concilii Nicaeni 1.2.32; Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 2:906) stated that new tendencies at the beginning of the 4th century had tried to prohibit clerical marriage, but until that time individual choice had been the rule. They reveal that when Bishop Hosius (Ossius) of Córdoba sought to have the First Council of nicaea (325) pass a decree requiring celibacy, the Egyptian Bishop paphnutius, himself un-married, protested that such a rule would be difficult and imprudent. He further emphasized that celibacy should be a matter of vocation and personal choice. The Council accepted this point of view and took measures to prohibit clandestine marriages with consecrated virgins (agapete; see John Chrysostom, Fem. reg., Patrologia Graeca 47:513–32; Subintr., Patrologia Graeca 47:495–514). Gregory the Elder of Nazianzus (c. 274–374) was bishop of that city when his son and successor, gregory of nazianzus the Younger, was born (c. 330). gregory of nyssa lived with his wife after his consecration (372), and the succession of gregory the illuminator (c. 240–332), the first Catholicos of Armenia, remained in his family for four generations, passing from father to son.
However, there is evidence to show that a great number of clerics in the early Church were unmarried or else left the married state after ordination. The testimony of tertullian (De exhortatione castitatis ch. 13; Patrologia Latina 2:390) and origen (In Levit. hom. 6.6; Patrologia Graeca 12:474) may be suspect in that both authors were sympathetic to the sect of the Encratites (it may be noted that Origen castrated himself); but many other authors, cited by Eusebius (Demonstratio evangelica 1.9; Patrologia Graeca 22:81) and Jerome (Adversus Vigilantium ch. 2; Patrologia Latina 23:341), testify to clerical renunciation of marriage. During the 4th century most of the bishops in Thessaly, Greece, Macedonia, Egypt, Italy, and western Europe were unmarried or left their wives after consecration. But for priests and deacons clerical marriage continued to be in vogue. A famous letter of synesius of cyrene (d. c. 414) is evidence both for the respecting of personal decision in the matter and for contemporary appreciation of celibacy. Elected bishop of Ptolemais, he noted that many Egyptian bishops were unmarried. For himself, Synesius declared that he would refuse consecration if it meant abandoning his wife and the prospect of rearing many children. He was permitted to retain his status (Epist. 105; Patrologia Graeca 66:1485).
Conditions of Clerical Marriage. Legislation concerning the marriage of bishops, priests, and deacons is a valuable source of information for these practices in the early Church. First, it was declared that marriage could precede but not follow ordination. This general rule was applied according to circumstances of age and person. If a married candidate for major orders had been baptized as an adult (as was the case with many bishops of the period), he might keep his wife; unmarried candidates were free to marry before consecration or to remain unmarried. Other candidates, however, were baptized as children. Ordinarily, they became clerics while yet quite young, and upon ordination as lector or cantor they were permitted to choose between marriage and continence. Thus, the Council of Hippo in 393 (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 3:922) declared that lectors might function until the age of puberty; "thereafter, however, unless they had married while enjoying a good reputation, or unless they vowed continence, they are not permitted to read." The condition of "good reputation" (custodita pudicitia ) was understood to mean chaste; if the young man committed a sin against chastity, he could not be accepted into the clerical state without renouncing his right to marry; for, according to innocent i (Patrologia Latina 20:477), "any baptized, but defiled[corruptus ] person wishing to become a cleric, must promise that he will never marry." The canonical reason for this decision was that the marriage of a corruptus would not have been officially blessed by the Church and would therefore become the object of popular derision. Monks, however, if they became clerics, were not permitted to marry even if they were incorrupti (Siricius, Epist. 1; Patrologia Latina 13:1137). Accordingly, the practice may be summed up as follows: generally speaking, marriage was permitted before the diaconate. One exception, however, must be mentioned. In 314 the Council of ancyra (c.10; Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 2:517) permitted deacons to marry after ordination if they had previously declared their intention to marry.
Secondly, the marriage must be monogamic, in accord with the words of Saint Paul, that a bishop be unius uxoris vir. Even though variously interpreted, these words were given at least one universal application: if a married cleric should lose his wife, he was not permitted to marry again. The Apostolic Constitutions (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 1:462), for example, declared that after ordination bishops, priests, and deacons were not permitted to contract marriage if they had no wife, nor to cohabit with another if they had one; they were to be satisfied with the wife they had had at ordination. The attitude of the early Church, which looked with disfavor upon second marriages, was a sufficient reason for this law. If second marriages were considered inexcusable even for allaying the passions of youth, for a cleric they would have been scandalous. More lenient interpretations of this Pauline text, e.g., that of theodoret of cyr (Patrologia Graeca 82:805), stated that since Saint Paul was aware of the polygamy practiced by both Jews and Gentiles, he was merely reminding clerics of the general law of monogamous Christian marriage. Consequently he forbade only simultaneous polygamy. Ordinarily, however, this interpretation was not accepted and monogamy was understood to exclude successive polygamy as well. Second marriages were considered contemptible and without blessing, and a man who had twice been married could not be accepted into the clergy. Later casuistry led many authors to distinguish between marriages contracted before and after baptism. Thus jerome (Epist. 69, ad Oceanum; Patrologia Latina 22:654) stated that several bishops and priests had been ordained after a second marriage, if the first had been performed before baptism. This distinction was no longer admitted after innocent i and leo i, when any man twice married was refused ordination. By extension, the same popes refused ordination to a man who had been married but once, whose wife, however, had lived with another man either legitimately or illegitimately.
The Eastern Church. During the 4th century, as a result of the diversity of practice, the Church felt the need for legislation in this field of clerical activity. The growth of monastic influence, moreover, promoted the cause of virginity and celibacy, as is evident in the letters and sermons of ambrose and Jerome. When the opposition of Jovinian and Vigilantius brought on a reaction to the monastic spirit, the Church was forced to take cognizance and to act decisively. Neoplatonic ideas also were at work. Laws passed in the East and in the West generally followed regional custom. Eastern practice and law were usually more liberal than those of Rome, Gaul, or Africa, and were codified by theodosius ii and justinian i, both Christian Emperors enjoying great authority in the Church. Urging national custom, both codes forbade bishops to marry; the Justinian code even denied episcopal consecration to the father of a family; if the married man were without children, he might be consecrated provided he separated from his wife. In all cases, unmarried men were preferred for episcopal consecration (Corpus iuris civilis, Codex Iustinianus, ed. P. Krueger 1.3.47; ibid. Nov 6.1; 123.1).
Priests, deacons, and other clerics, however, were permitted to live in marriage contracted before ordination but were forbidden to take another wife if the first should die. If they did so, they were to be degraded; the second marriage was judged invalid, and the children were considered illegitimate and even incestuous (Corpus iuris civilis, Codex Iustinianus 1.3.44). The Trullan Synod in 692 (see quinisext synod) passed similar laws. Bishops were to observe absolute continence; if the bishop-elect was married, his wife had to live in a remote monastery (at her husband's expense). She was permitted to become a deaconess.
For all other clerics, however, the Synod permitted marriage before ordination and the use of marriage rights afterward; it further condemned all forms of bigamy. The Synod, by indirection, criticized Latin marriage legislation: if anyone should attempt to deprive a married priest, deacon, or subdeacon of his marriage rights, or if one of the aforesaid should renounce his wife "on the pretense of piety," he was to be condemned and deposed. Several concessions, however, were made to Latin usage: sexual relations were prohibited prior to the celebration of the liturgies (in practice, on Saturday); a Greek priest was not to have relations with his wife while traveling in barbarian (Latin) countries (cc.3, 13). No further legislation on celibacy and clerical marriage was issued by the eastern church throughout its history.
From these laws varying usages grew, both before and after the eastern schism, as well as after partial reunions with Rome. In the Byzantine and Russian Church, bishops had usually been monks; if an unmarried priest was elected bishop, he ordinarily took vows similar to those of the monk, before consecration. Many priests, moreover, who were immediate assistants of the bishop, were unmarried. On the other hand, a priest attached to a country parish was required to marry. If his wife died, he was compelled to renounce his office and retire to a monastery. The Coptic Church followed canon ten of the Council of Ancyra, allowing all deacons to marry except those who explicitly promised to live as celibates. Among the Ethiopians and Chaldeans, priests were permitted to marry after ordination.
The Eastern Catholic churches, in theory, follow the legislation of 692, which has been approved by several popes (Clement III, Innocent III, and Benedict XIV); in practice, however, Latin influence has altered the situation. Priests and deacons of the syro-malabar church must remain unmarried; the same is true for the ethiopian (ge'ez) catholic church, except that the bishop might dispense in the matter. The Syrians (1888) and the Copts (1899) demand celibacy, except for a convert from Orthodoxy. Melkite, Maronite, and Armenian priests and deacons, however, may be married before ordination. Many priests stationed in towns remain unmarried after seminary training. Lacking priests for rural parishes, bishops have often ordained pious married laymen without benefit of full clerical studies. Among the Ruthenians and the Romanians priests are generally married, even in city parishes.
Legislation and Practice in the West. Celibacy became a canonical obligation for the clergy in the West through the combined efforts of popes and regional councils. It is the earliest example of general legislation based on the papal authority of decretals and the collaboration between Rome and the bishops acting collectively. About 300, a Spanish council at elvira (near Granada) required absolute continence for all its clergy under pain of deposition (c.33): "We decree that all bishops, priests, deacons, and all clerics engaged in the ministry are forbidden entirely to live with their wives and to beget children: whoever shall do so will be deposed from the clerical dignity" (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 2:11). One of the Spanish bishops, Hosius of C—rdoba, who had been present at Elvira, tried in vain for the same decision at the First Council of Nicaea. This legislation, however, did not enter the Western Church until the second half of the 4th century and was effected through the decretals of various popes: damasus i (Ad Gallos episcopos, 366–84); siricius (Ad Himerium Tarraconensem, 385; Ad episcopos Africae, 386); Innocent I (Ad Vitricium Rothomagensem, 404; Ad Exuperium Tolosanum, 405; Ad Maximum et Severum, 401–417); Leo I (Ad Anastasium Thessalonicum, 446?; Ad Rusticum Narbonensem, 458). Councils issued the same decrees for Africa (Carthage, 390, 401–19; cf. cc.3–4 of 419), France (Orange, 441; Tours, 461), and Italy (Turin, 398). No longer could priests, deacons, and (after Leo I) subdeacons be married.
The first letter of Damasus I (wrongly ascribed to Siricius in Patrologia Latina 13:1181–96; cf. Clavis patrum Number 1632) gave the classic arguments of the period urging celibacy. How can a cleric advise perfect continence to widows and virgins if he does not observe celibacy? Ministers of Christ must obey the Scriptures, which authoritatively require them to live in celibacy (cf. Rom 8.9; 1 Cor 7.29; Rom 13.14; 1 Cor 7.7). Marital acts were repugnant to the sacred ministry; pagan and Jewish priests were aware of the necessity of refraining from sexual relations. Saint Paul counseled abstinence even for laymen, whose duty it was to bear children (1 Cor 7.5). The statement of Damasus, "that since intercourse is a defilement, surely the priest must undertake his duties with heavenly aid," may appear to favor Encratism; but it seems that the pope, in alluding to Saint Paul and to the Old Testament, understood defilement (pollutio ) to mean a legal impurity and not a sin.
In practice, before ordination the candidate was required to take a vow of chastity (professio conversionis ). This conversio legally placed him in the state of public penitents who were forbidden the use of marriage. Thus, married candidates were required to promise continence in the legislation of the Councils of Orange (441, c.22), Arles (c. 450, c.2; 524, c.2), and Orléans (537, c.6). gregory i (Patrologia Latina 77:506) made this profession the general rule for the subdiaconate, and the Fourth Council of Toledo (663), presided over by isidore of seville, decreed this profession for priests and deacons assigned to parishes. Before the subdiaconate, moreover, the candidate had to declare under oath that he had not committed the four major sins of sodomy, bestiality, adultery, or the violation of consecrated virgins (Ordo Romanus 34; M. Andrieu, Les 'Ordines Romani' du haut moyen-âge, 3:549, 607).
Custom and legislation provided for the status of clerical wives. On the day of the husband's ordination, the wife received a special blessing. Such wives, known as presbyterissae (presbyterae ) and diaconissae (diaconae ), wore a distinctive garb and were not permitted to remarry, even after the death of their husbands (Orléans, c. 573, c.22; Les 'Ordines Romani' du haut moyen-âge 4:140–41). At the time of Leo I, clerics were not obliged to dismiss their wives, but could live with them in celibacy. Writing to Bishop Rusticus of Narbonne, Leo stated that married clerics should not give up their wives but should live together in wedded love, without the acts of love, so that a spiritual marriage might replace a carnal one (Patrologia Latina 54:1204). Later, however, such cohabitation appeared to be overly difficult and suspicious, and canonical legislation proceeded more cautiously. A bishop was required to provide another household for his wife. Each day she might come to the bishop's house and carefully look after its needs; but she was not to bring her servants, and, as a safeguard, the bishop was always to be attended by clerics. A priest, on the other hand, was permitted to keep his wife in his home (probably for reasons of economy), but they were not to share a common room (Orléans, 541, c.17). The archpriest was always to be attended, especially at night, by his clerics (canonici clerici ), and one of them, or if necessary a layman, was to sleep in his room. Other priests and deacons slept alone, but were expected to provide a female servant who should sleep in the wife's room to warrant her virtue. Married clerics who disregarded these precautions were branded with the heresy of Nicolaitism (Tours 557, c.20). Priests were forbidden to have other women in their household, and virgines subintroductae were especially suspect (Bordeaux, 663, c.3). In the cities, common sleeping quarters were to be provided for priests and for lesser clerics (Tours, 567, c.15).
The Gregorian Reform. The period following the decline of the Carolingian Empire was a time of crisis for clerical celibacy. The disorganization of society and the concomitant destruction of churches and monasteries by the Northmen and other invaders of the Empire, and the progressive secularization of Church lands led to the demoralization of the clergy. Councils in the 10th and 11th centuries regularly protested against the two chief vices of the clergy; simony and clerical marriage (Nicolaitism) [see H. Maisonneuve, La morale chrétienne d'après les conciles des X e et XI e siècles (Namur 1950–)]. Thus, e.g., the Council of Trosly (Soissons, 909) stated that in the monasteries enclosure had been abandoned and many priests were married. The Synod of Augsburg (952) and the Councils of Anse (994) and Poitiers (1000) all decreed the law of celibacy. burchard of worms in his Decretum (c. 1110) recalled the ancient law prohibiting the marriage of priests (Patrologia Latina 140:645–646). About 1018 benedict viii protested against the current subversion of celibacy and strengthened the legislation of the Church, especially by imposing penalties for offenders. Priests, deacons, and subdeacons were forbidden to marry or to cohabit with a woman. Their children were declared to be forever serfs of the Church and could not be freed or granted rights of property and inheritance. The purpose of these canons (similar to that, perhaps, of the Justinian Corpus ) was to prevent the secularization of ecclesiastical property by the families of priests.
Disorder existed not only in the practice of the period but even in the field of doctrine. Arguments circulated against celibacy were answered by peter damian in his Liber Gomorrhianus and in De coelibatu sacerdotum ad Nicolaum II (Patrologia Latina 145:159–90, 379–88). He in turn was answered by Ulric, Bishop of Imola (c. 1060), in his Rescriptum seu epistola de continentia clericorum (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Libelli de lite 1), a pamphlet once attributed to Saint ulric of augsburg and condemned by gregory vii (1079). Ulric appealed to the texts of Saint Paul and to the freer practices of the first several centuries, forgetting the power of the Church to initiate new laws. These errors were renewed in the Tractatus pro clericorum connubio, the enlarged Norman edition of Ulric's work, and by the An liceat sacerdotibus inire matrimonium (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Libelli de lite 3). These writings claimed that celibacy was a personal vocation, not a canonical state, and that marriage in itself was not evil. In the next century the Goliards appealed to the natural law as an argument for greater freedom.
Against these conditions, many popes in the 11th century proceeded with vigor. leo ix (1049) assigned the wives and concubines of priests to servitude as ancillae to the Lateran palace. nicholas ii (1059) deprived married priests, even in the external forum, of the right to perform liturgical acts of worship, and they were forbidden to live in the presbyterium of the churches. They were also denied all further rights to ecclesiastical prebends. To further his effort, the pope tried to enlist the support of the laity by prohibiting them to attend Mass offered by a married priest or by one who lived in concubinage. Many laymen, indeed, were gravely scandalized by clerical immorality and supported the program of papal reform. Some of these, however, belonging to the sect of the patarines, fell under the influence of manichaeism and became cathari.
gregory vii issued no new decretals on the subject, but energetically applied existing law through the action of his legates and by extensive correspondence with bishops. Writing to Otto of Constance, the pope summarized his actions and intentions: "Those who are guilty of the crime of fornication are forbidden to celebrate Mass or to serve the altar if they are in minor orders. We prescribe, moreover, that if they persist in despising our laws, which are, in fact, the laws of the Holy Fathers, the people shall no longer be served by them. For if they will not correct their lives out of love for God and the dignity of their office, they must be brought to their senses by the world's contempt and the reproach of their people" (Patrologia Latina 148:646; Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad anum post Christum natum, ed. S. Löwenfeld, 4932). By his courage and zeal, Gregory must be credited with being the true restorer of sacerdotal celibacy in those disturbed times.
The last stage in the struggle against clerical marriage, until that time considered only illicit in the Western Church, was to declare such marriages invalid. This action was taken at the First and Second lateran councils of 1123 and 1139. In the latter (cc.6–7; Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta 174), the impediment of orders was definitively declared to be a diriment impediment. In explaining this decision, canonists commonly state that the candidate for ordination to the subdiaconate tacitly takes the vow of celibacy; thus boniface viii (Corpus iuris canonici, ed. E. Friedberg, VI¡ 3.15). This theory recalls similar vows taken in the Merovingian period and in the Russian Church. Other explanations are based on the power of the Church to annul marriages contracted contrary to her laws, or on arguments that clerical marriage is contrary to the divine law (e.g., Sanchez, De sancto matrimonii sacramento 7.27). This latter explanation came up for further discussion at the Council of trent.
The Age of the Reformation. By the end of the Middle Ages the Church again experienced a period of decline in clerical morality, occasioned by the black death, the Hundred Years' War, the western schism, and the pagan spirit of the renaissance. Most historians of this period point to clerical marriage as a common practice and to the sons of priests who were legitimated, and, as in the case of erasmus, even ordained to the priesthood with a dispensation from the Roman Curia (at the cost of 12 gros tournois). In his Commentary on the Galatians (4.30; 1535), luther stated that his movement would have made little headway against the papacy if clerical celibacy had then been observed as it was in the time of Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine; that "celibacy was something remarkable in the eyes of the world, a thing that makes a man angelic."
At the time of his break with the Church (1517), Luther did not promote sacerdotal marriage, and, in a letter of Jan. 17, 1522, refused to encourage it. But by the end of that year he condemned celibacy in his De votis monasticis, and in April 1523 he officiated and preached at the wedding of Wenzeslaus Link, the late vicar general of the augustinians. Finally, Luther himself was married on the evening of June 13, 1525, to the scandal of many of his friends and the applause of many married priests of his day. Luther then attempted a doctrinal justification based on the authority of the Pauline texts, denial of the Church's authority to issue new laws (he burned the books of Canon Law in 1530 as the work of the devil), denial of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the futility of good works, and the necessity of marriage for fallen nature (cf. Luther, Werke 6:442, 550; 8:654; 10.2:276). calvin was perhaps less radical than Luther; for, while requiring marriage as the general rule, he admitted (commenting on Mt 19.12 and 1 Cor ch. 7) that celibacy may be an acceptable means of serving God. But Calvin claimed that celibacy as a personal vocation cannot be judged of greater value than the common way of life. The Geneva reformer protested against the despising of marriage, found in the writing of Saint Jerome and, in his opinion, in the average treatise on theology (cf. Calvin, Commentaires sur le Nouveau Testament 1561; Mt ch. 19 and 1 Tm 4.3).
The Council of Trent. Opposition to the Protestant position, by popes, bishops, priests, and kings, failed to agree on the methods to be used or on the nature of true reformation within the Church. Several of the princes, e.g., Emperor Ferdinand I, thought it opportune to grant Germany a married priesthood as well as Communion under both species. Duke Albert V of Bavaria suggested that only married men be ordained and that the Church be indulgent to priests who sinned. According to L. von Pastor, pius iv did not altogether refuse to examine the matter, but distinguished the possibility of practical and individual grants of dispensation (such as were given later in the case of the utraquists) from the general problem, which was submitted to the Council of Trent.
In its 24th session, the Council studied these questions together with others related to marriage. On Feb. 2, 1563, the cardinal of Mantua presented the theologians with a list of Protestant theses for their examination. Here were found (C. J. von Hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, translated and continued by H. Leclercq, 10:507; Concilium Tridentinum. Diariorum, actorum, epistularum, tractatuum nova collectio, ed. Görres-Gesellschaft, 9:376) the statements equating virginity and marriage (No. 5), and the legitimacy of marriage for priests in the Latin Church and for everyone who has not received the grace of perfect chastity; otherwise marriage would be degraded (No. 6). Discussion of No. 5 was neither difficult nor protracted. Theologians brought arguments to bear from Matthew chapter 19 and 1 Corinthians ch. 7, from the Fathers and the example of the Blessed Virgin, leading to the definition of the superiority—objectively speaking—of virginity dedicated to God (sess. 24; c.10; Conciliorum oecumeniocorum decreta 731). From the psychological point of view, however, for those who are not called to celibacy, a vow is neither proposed nor advised as something better. Many opponents of the Council's definition, both then and now, forget this distinction. To understand Tridentine thinking, reference must be made to 1 Corinthians ch. 7: the Council did not go beyond the words of Saint Paul.
Discussions on sacerdotal celibacy, however, were longer and of greater moment. In general, theologians and canonists expressed opinions that were more severe than canon 9, which was finally voted by the Fathers of the Council. Concerning the suitability of celibacy to the sacerdotal vocation, the Council cited texts from Scripture (1 Cor 7.5, 33), the Fathers (e.g., Jerome), and various papal decretals. In the first place, it was argued, celibacy is the condition of God's service in the apostolate. A married minister of religion is too preoccupied with his wife and family to give such service. Secondly, the priesthood, even in the Old Testament, requires a form of sanctity that implies the curbing of carnal desires. In the Old Testament, priests were obliged only to a limited time of worship; but now they were totally consecrated to God. These arguments were presented by Jean Peletier, Jean de Lobera, Claude de Sainctes, and Miguel de Medina. Regarding the nature of the obligation and the possibility of general or individual dispensation, two opposing views were introduced. The more rigid view, expressed by De Sainctes and De Lobera, claimed that marriage and the priesthood were incompatible. While good in itself, marriage nevertheless rendered one unfit for the ministry. Consequently, celibacy for the priest was a duty based on divine law. Since Holy Orders obliged the candidate to celibacy as Baptism did to the Christian life, a vow was unnecessary.
Such views were difficult to reconcile with historical evidence, and De Sainctes was content to gloss over such evidence. For him, the early Church had always required celibacy—only the Trullan Synod had permitted marriage for incontinent Greek priests, and Rome had tolerated its decision to avoid greater evil. But this was not a true dispensation, for none could be given by the pope.
Fortunately, other theologians were historically better informed and proposed more realistic views. The majority claimed that clerical celibacy was required by ecclesiastical law (Jean Peletier, Antonius Solisius, Richard du Pre, Lazaruss Broychot, Francisco Foriero Ferdinand Tritius, John de Ludegna, and Sanctes Cinthius). In their opinion, a priest was unable to contract marriage either by the will of the Church or by reason of an implicit vow involved in ordination to the subdiaconate. Despite the suitability of celibacy to the sacerdotal state, the pope might fundamentally dispense from the law, or, as some thought, at least dispense from the vow. At length, the debate was resolved into the question of whether it was opportune to dispense priests at that time. The Portuguese Dominican, Francisco Foriero, argued in the affirmative, stating that the Church might allow clerical marriage for such grave reasons as combating schism or heresy in a particular country. Three other Dominicans, John Valdina, Cinthius, and De Ludegna, and the Franciscan Lucius Angusiola, agreed with this opinion. Others, however, such as Broychot and Tritius, denied the utility and prudence of such a dispensation.
In voting to accept canon 9 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A Schönmetzer, 1809), the Council rejected the opinion that celibacy was of divine law. It taught, first, that the Church had the right to prohibit and invalidate sacerdotal marriage by reason of ecclesiastical law or of vow. If the Church should change its legislation or not require the vow, priests would not be obliged to celibacy. Thus, the canon did not distinguish between the Eastern and the Western Church; for both, the fundamental law was the same. Secondly, the Church taught that in holding sacerdotal celibacy in such high regard, it wished in no wise to minimize its regard for marriage. Both vocations were distinct and each had its distinctive obligations. Thirdly, the Council rejected the claim of those priests who held that celibacy was impossible. Since priests had accepted celibacy by vow, they should implore the grace of God, which would be sufficient to reinforce them in their resolve. Implicitly, therefore, the Church refused to grant a dispensation for the clergy of Germany.
Current Position. The common opinion today may be summed up as follows: clerical celibacy is considered most proper to the sacerdotal ministry; it is in no sense a depreciation of marriage, but is the condition for greater freedom in the service of God. The law of celibacy is of ecclesiastical origin and may therefore be abrogated by the Church. In the early Church and in the East the marriage of bishops, priests, and deacons was permitted for good reason. Recent popes have found similarly good reason to dispense from celibacy in the case of married Protestant pastors who converted and desired ordination. vatican council ii, at the request of the bishops from many countries, permitted a married diaconate, admitting married men of mature years.
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