Is Priestly Celibacy Biblical or Historically Correct?

In case anyone is interested I have done the following on Priestly Celibacy for my church. Thought some of you might be interested in the history of where the idea comes from so am sharing it here. If there are any Roman Catholic who are members of our group this is not a put down of your church but to show the difference between my church which does allow priests to marry and the RC doctrine on the same.

Dear family,

Recently I posted an article on Pope Francis being willing to entertain the thought of ordaining married men to the priesthood under certain circumstances especially in areas where there are a shortage of priests. The Roman Catholic Church has maintained that priestly celibacy is commanded by scripture and a tradition passed down from apostolic times. Other like the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches believes that biblically and historically the church has always allowed its priests to marry and also ordained women to the priesthood. I would like to look at the history of where clerical celibacy comes from and why then look at the biblical foundation for allowing priests to marry.

First let me state that for the first 300 years of church history married men and women were ordained to the priesthood without any problems. In the early church it has been argued by some, that early Christian practice was that married men who became priests were often older men “elders” and were to live in complete continence. They were to refrain permanently from sexual relations with their wives. When at a later stage it was discovered that not all priests were abstaining or refraining the Western Church limited ordination to unmarried men and required a commitment to lifelong celibacy.

This was the rule in theory from as we shall see from 305 AD but was generally ignored with popes marrying and having children up through the reign of Pope Felix V (1439-1449) who had one son. Popes would continue to have illegitimate children for another 100 years after Pope Felix lasting through the reign of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1583) who had one son.

So let’s have a look and see where the idea of priestly celibacy comes from. From 305-306 AD the first pronouncements concerning priestly celibacy are made. At the Council of Elvira in present Granada Spain two pronouncements were made concerning priestly celibacy. They are as follows:

1: Council of Elvira (c. 305)
(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.

2: Council of Elvira, Spain, decree #43
A priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.

These were the first pronouncements against priestly celibacy. They were reaffirmed at the council of Carthage in 390 AD where it was proclaimed that

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 endeavor 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 .

In 325 AD at the Council of Nicea it was decreed that after ordination a priest could not be married. However this does not prohibit a priest from marrying prior to his ordination as it is, I understand, in parts of the Eastern Church today.

In 352 AD the Council of Laodicea forbade the ordination of women. Prior to then this would suggest there was ordination of women.

In 385 AD Pope Siricius leaves his wife to become pope and decrees that priests may no longer sleep with their wives. In the Directo and Cum in Unum decretals of Pope Siricius (c.385) he asserts that clerical sexual abstinence was an apostolic practice that must be followed by ministers of the church.

St Ambrose prior to his death in 397 AD noted:

“…that the requirement that priests, whether married or celibate, should be continent was the established rule. To the married clergy who, “in some out-of-the-way places”, claimed, on the model of the Old Testament priesthood, the right to father children, he recalled that in Old Testament times even lay people were obliged to observe continence on the days leading to a sacrifice, and commented: “If such regard was paid in what was only the figure, how much ought it to be shown in the reality ” He also sternly writes:

  “(Saint Paul) spoke of one who has children, not of one who begets children.”

In 567 AD the 2nd Council of Tours declared

“any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year and reduced to the lay state.”

Then in 580 AD Pope Pelagius II said his policy was not to bother married priests as long as they did not hand over church property to wives or children. This was the beginning of priests being required to give up all worldly possessions to the church and upon death deed any property or assets they might have to the church. The church became very wealthy through this practice as well as gained much prestige and political and religious power through it.

590-604-Pope Gregory the Great said that all sexual desire is sinful in itself.

Meanwhile major scandal was rocking the church. In 836 AD the Council of Aix la Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up activities of uncelibate clerics. St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry. His advice was ignored.

In 1045 Pope Benedict IX dispenses himself from celibacy, then resigns from the papacy in order to marry.

In 1074 Pope Gregory VII says that anyone wishing to be ordained must first pledge celibacy and must first escape from the clutches of their wives.

In 1095 Pope Urban II had all priests' wives sold into slavery and their children were abandoned.

In 1123-Pope Calistus II: at the First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid.

In 1139-Pope Innocent II at the : Second Lateran Council confirmed the previous councils decree

In spite of all pronouncements, however, in the 14th Century Bishop Pelagio complained that women were still being ordained and hearing confessions. In the 15th century it was estimated that 50% of priests were married and accepted.

1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage and that is the current understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as regards celibacy for priests today.

That is as what I have been able to find out on the origins of priestly celibacy

In case someone either doubts what I have said or wants to see documentation I offer the following.

Popes who were married
St. Peter, Apostle
St. Felix III 483-492 (2 children)
St. Hormidas 514-523 (1 son)
St. Silverus (Antonia) 536-537
Hadrian II 867-872 (1 daughter)
Clement IV 1265-1268 (2 daughters)
Felix V 1439-1449 (1 son)

Popes who were the sons of other popes, other clergy
Name of Pope Papacy Son of
St. Damascus I 366-348 St. Lorenzo, priest
St. Innocent I 401-417 Anastasius I
Boniface 418-422 son of a priest
St. Felix 483-492 son of a priest
Anastasius II 496-498 son of a priest
St. Agapitus I 535-536 Gordiaous, priest
St. Silverus 536-537 St. Homidas, pope
Deusdedit 882-884 son of a priest
Boniface VI 896-896 Hadrian, bishop
John XI 931-935 Pope Sergius III
John XV 989-996 Leo, priest

Popes who had illegitimate children after 1139
Innocent VIII 1484-1492 several children
Alexander VI 1492-1503 several children
Julius 1503-1513 3 daughters
Paul III 1534-1549 3 sons, 1 daughter
Pius IV 1559-1565 3 sons
Gregory XIII 1572-1585 1 son

This is not intended as a put down of the Roman Catholic Church but to show that in spite of its pronouncements popes and priests have married in the past and bore children

As far as I know all popes in recent years have been celibate.

As for priests, I believe the majority of priests are faithful to celibacy. However there are some bad apples that have been involved with abusing children under their care and women and they should be arrested, and if convicted, in my opinion, be removed from active priest hood, be sent to prison to serve their times for the crimes they have committed. If released, then put somewhere where there are strictly men and they can minister there without endangering any children or women.

Why does the Roman Catholic Church insist on celibate priests?

The following was written by Father Colin Wen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, STL

“History recognizes that there have been celibates in the Catholic Church from the beginning, think Paul the Apostle. Not all priests were celibate but many were. And the Church moved towards a stricter policy over time. The argument that celibacy is basically the result of wanting to keep the money and land in the Church has no real truth to it. As Bergstrom noted, Scripture and also the Church Fathers give great evidence that celibacy was around and practiced long before this false theory of keeping the money in the “family” was developed.

Why celibacy? Given, of course, the reasons above, there are a couple more that are definitely worth attention. First, celibacy is the sign of the future Kingdom. Jesus says in Mk 12:25 that the dead do not marry. Why? Because there is no need for marriage in heaven because we have come into complete relationship with God, which marriage pointed us towards. And celibacy, even more so, points towards God, because it anticipates this state in heaven where we are not married. Celibacy reminds us of our ultimate goal, heaven itself. It becomes a reminder, often a sign of contradiction for people who do not believe, that there is a God and there is heaven.

Another is availability. A priest today must be available for his people. If you have ever followed around a priest for a day, you realize there is little time for family, let alone for himself. Imagine the scene where a priest has one of his children sick in the hospital and a couple sick calls come in the middle of the night. Does he go to his parishioners in the hospital or stay at home with his sick children? Ultimately, his heart is divided. Though a married priesthood is not impossible, it is not the ideal for the parish of today nor the parish of yesterday.

Modern Times

In 1869 the First Vatican Council adopts the dogma of the infallibility of the pope leading to the secession of many delegates who formed the Old Catholic Church from which many Independent Catholic churches claim apostolic succession from. The doctrine has been used twice in 1854 in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and again in 1950 in regards to the Bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven.

Twentieth Century
1930-Pope Pius XI: sex can be good and holy.
1951-Pope Pius XII: married Lutheran pastor ordained catholic priest in Germany.
1962-Pope John XXIII: Vatican Council II; vernacular; marriage is equal to virginity.
1966-Pope Paul VI: celibacy dispensations.
1970s-Ludmilla Javorova and several other Czech women ordained to serve needs of women imprisoned by Communists.
1978-Pope John Paul II: puts a freeze on dispensations.
1983-New Canon Law.
1980-Married Anglican/Episcopal pastors are ordained as catholic priests in the U.S.; also in Canada and England in 1994.

In closing, I mentioned that we, in the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, do ordain married men as well as ordaining women. I have shown that for the first 300 years of church history the church ordained married men and for at least 1400 years ordained women to the priesthood. I have also shown that, that practice could be supported biblically. The following is a list of verses which supports priests being allowed to marry from apostolic tradition both by the example of the apostles themselves and off rules they gave for the ordinations of elders/priests.

First, for general information, let us recognize that the priests in the Old Testament were required to be married and have sons. This was because the priesthood was passed from father to son.

In the Gospels, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. To have a mother-in -aw you have to have a wife. There is also a tradition that Peter had a wife who accompanies him to Rome and is martyred with him there.
The Apostle Paul, commenting on Peter’s marriage and of the other apostles says,

“Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”

Cephas is another name for Peter. Thus shows us that Peter was married, as were some of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord, which would include James the Great, one of the first heads of the church in Jerusalem before being killed by Herod.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, speaks of both married Bishops as well as married deacons.

In Titus, Paul writes to Titus that he left him behind Crete to appoint elders in every city that would be the husband of one wife.

Elders would be the close equivalent of priests in the modern church, and here again we see they were married.

In Acts 18th chapter we see a married couple Aquila and Priscilla meeting Apollos of Alexandria who was a preacher of the gospel of Christ as he understood it. Aquila and Priscilla take him aside and teach him a more excellent way.

Much more could be said but for brevity’s sake I will close. As always would love to hear any comments on this and what I have shared.

Brother Lawrence Damien Cos

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