Clerical celibacy

From Academic Kids

An oath of clerical celibacy is the promise of a religious or clerical official to remain unmarried, or not to remarry.

In some Christian churches, priests and/or bishops must remain unmarried; in some churches, deacons and priests may not remarry if their wives die. In conjunction with church rules prohibiting sex outside of marriage, this implies a life of sexual abstinence.

In some Christian churches, members of religious orders take a vow of chastity along with vows of poverty and obedience in order to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This vow of chastity is different from clerical celibacy because the promise is made directly to God, while the promise of clerical celibacy is made to the church alone.

Neither the Catholic nor the Orthodox church has ever considered celibacy rules to be among the infallible dogmas of the church. Rather, those rules are considered mutable by popes, ecumenical councils, patriarchs, or synods. The popes have altered the celibacy rules in the Catholic church a number of times.

Some Buddhist priests, nuns and monks also are bound by the promise of celibacy, although Zen Buddhists, in particular, are not.

Rules on celibacy differ between different religions and denomininations:

  • In Latin-Rite (Western) Catholic churches, married men may (since the time of the Second Vatican Council in 1965) be ordained deacons, but may not be ordained priests or bishops, and one may not marry after ordination. Since the Second Vatican Council, exceptions may be allowed for married Protestant ministers who convert to Catholicism and wish to be Catholic priests, provided their wives consent. (Catholics consider Protestant ordinations invalid, and recognize Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox ordinations as valid.) In some cases, defrocked (or "laicized") priests are allowed to marry by special dispensation.
  • In Eastern Orthodox churches, and in Eastern-rite Catholic churches (i.e., churches under the authority of Catholic patriarchs of the east and in full communion with the Roman Catholic church), married men may be ordained deacons or priests, but may not be ordained bishops, and one may not marry after ordination. It is believed by some that all Orthodox bishops must be monks, but canonically, they simply may no longer be living with their wives if they are to be consecrated to the episcopacy. (The canons stipulate that they must also see to their wives' maintenance.) Typically, the wife of such a man will take up the monastic life herself, though that is also not required. There are many Orthodox bishops currently serving who have never been tonsured to monastic orders. There are also many who are tonsured monastics but have never formally lived the monastic life. Further, a number of bishops are widowers, but because clergy cannot remarry after ordination, such a man becomes celibate after the death of his wife.
  • The Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East follow the same rules that hold in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
  • Anglican and almost all other Protestant denominations have no restrictions on the marriage of deacons, priests, bishops, or other ministers.
  • In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), all worthy men can become priests. Whether or not they become priests, strict abstinence from all sexual behavior is universally applied to all LDS men until they marry a woman. Gay men are bound to exactly the same rules as other men. Priesthood may be suspended in the event of unsanctioned inchaste conduct.
  • Judaism has no history of celibacy for its leaders, rabbis or kohens. Some community functions are, as a rule, filled only by married men.

Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church

The given reasons for clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church are both theological and practical. Foremost in the theological realm are the desire to follow the teachings of Jesus with regard to chastity and the sacrifice of married life for the "sake of the Kingdom" (Luke 18:28-30, Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:20-21), and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in being "married" to the Church, which is seen in Catholic theology as the "Bride of Christ". Also of import are the teachings of Paul of Tarsus that chastity is the superior state of life, and his desire expressed in I Corinthians 7:7-8, "I would that all men were even as myself- but every one has his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and the widows. It is good for them if they so continue, even as I."

On a more practical level, the reasons for celibacy are given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7-8, 32-35: "But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of this world how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit, not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord without impediment."

Roman Catholics allege that, from the Church's beginnings, Christian priests were to abstain from sexual contact, even from sexual contact with their wives. On the other hand, no such teaching or historical claim appears among the Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox. Catholics see their doctrine as foreshadowed by the periodic abstinence of the Old Testament Levites before they approached their altars. What Catholics see as the perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ, and in the examples of the Apostles, called for a much greater sacrifice. Their belief is that what the Old Testament priests offered at their altars was not salvific, but the bread and wine that is offered by New Testament priests becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself, Who is then "offered to the Father" as the perfect oblation.

It is further claimed that many married priests failed, though, to remain sexually continent from their wives, so celibacy was introduced, although this does not explain why celibacy is not imposed upon priests of those Catholic churches that follow the Eastern Rite but are still in communion with the Pope.

Among the early Church statements on the topic of sexual continence and celibacy are "Decreta" and "Cum in unum" of Pope Siricius c. 385, which claimed that clerical sexual abstinence was the apostolic practice that must be followed by ministers of the Church. However, this claim was never given credence at any Ecumenical Council, even in the 4th century. Two Canons from the following Councils also help us understand the Roman Catholic position regarding continence and celibacy of the early Church's priests:

  • Council of Elvira (300-306)
Canon 33: It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.
  • Council of Carthage (390)
Canon 3: It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep... It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.

These canons are purely local to Latin-rite Roman Catholics, as the prohibitions are not even extended to the Eastern-Rite Catholics in communion with Rome.

Celibacy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), pastors, or "ordained ministers" are allowed to be married to opposite-sex spouses. According to the ELCA's guidelines for pastors (called "Vision and Expectations" [1] (, however:

"Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

Therefore, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered pastors are required to take a vow of celibacy.

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