- Part 1. Natural Family Planning, the Marital Sexual Act, and Procreation
- Part 2. Sexual Pleasure, Lust, and the Various Sexual Acts in Marriage
- Part 3. Chastity: The Angelic Virtue
- Part 4. The Biblical and Apostolic Foundation for Priestly Chastity
Note: None of the teachings on our site must be deemed absolutely infallibly or true, and the reader must be advised to follow his own conscience. Even if our teachings proclaim this or that position to be true (according to our own interpretation), the reader must understand that this is our own private interpretation of saint quotes and church teachings: dogmas and encyclicals. Whatever the case may be, always follow what you think the church teaches on any matter; and do not trust blindly on what is taught on our site – even if our position may seem true and infallible (you may, however, follow what we teach blindly if you think this is the true position). If you have worries about any position, ask a knowledgeable friend or priest for guidance; and if you have further concerns, ask another priest or even several priests to see what he thinks about this or that position. No one can be forced to believe in any position that is uncertain, and the reader must be advised to follow his conscience. So if you think any position is uncertain according to your own conscience, make a reasonable judgment, and then ask for advice or continue to study the issue until you have made a right judgment – according to your conscience.
Even though Natural Family Planning, Sensual Kisses and Touches are condemned in this article as a mortal sin, this position is false, and I do no longer adhere to it. Both pre-and-post Vatican II theologians teach that such acts (Natural Family Planning & kisses and touches that arouses lust) are licit in marriage and the marriage act, and as a preparation for the marriage act, provided the acts are made with a good conscience and for the sake of love.
McHugh and Callan's Moral Theology (vol. II): A Complete Course, sec. 2510 e, p. 522: "Hence, the rule as to married persons is that venereal kisses and other such acts are lawful when given with a view to the exercise of the lawful marriage act and kept within the bounds of decency and moderation; that they are sinful, gravely or lightly according to the case, when unbecoming or immoderate; that they are venially sinful, on account of the inordinate use of a thing lawful in itself (85 a), when only pleasure is intended; that they are mortally sinful, when they tend to pollution, whether solitary or not solitary, for then they are acts of lewdness."
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Moral Theology, Books 2-3, Kindle Locations 1151-1167: "25.—Quaeritur: II. Whether spouses are permitted to take delectation in the conjugal act, even if the other spouse were not present? The Salamancans (de matr. c. 15, p. 6, n. 90) with Navarre, Sa, Roncaglia, etc., (cited by Croix, l. 6, p. 3, n. 537) reject this when the delectation takes place with a commotion of the spirits, because they say such a commotion is not licit for spouses unless it were ordered to copulation. But Roncaglia and the Salamancans do not speak congruently, for they themselves admit (ibid. n. 84; Roncaglia tr. 12, p. 296, q. 6, r. 11 with St. Antoninus, Conc. Diana, and it is a common opinion, as we will say in book 6, de matrimonio, n. 933), that unchaste touches (which certainly cannot be done without a great deal of arousal) among spouses, provided the danger of pollution is absent, are licit, at least they are not gravely illicit, even if they are done only for pleasure and hardly ordered to copulation. I say, therefore, why is it not the same thing to speak about delectation? This is why I regard Busembaum’s opinion as probable, which says it is permitted for spouses to take delectation, even carnally, from carnal relations they have had or are going to have, as long as the danger of pollution is always absent. The reason is, because (exactly as the Salamancans say in tr. 9, c. 15, p. 6, n. 84 when speaking about unchaste touches) the very state of matrimony renders all these things licit; otherwise the matrimonial state would be exposed to excessive scruples. Besides, Bonacina, Sanchez, Lessius and Diana hold this opinion, with Busembaum (as above, n. 23, in fine), St. Antoninus (p. 1, tit. 5, c. 1 §6.), Cajetan, (1.2. q. 74, art. 8 ad 4), Coninck (d. 34, dub. 11, concl. 1), Croix (l. 6, p. 5, num. 337) with Gerson, Suarez, Laymann and a great many others; likewise Vasquez, Aversa, etc., cited by the Salamancans (ibid. n. 89 and 90), who think it is probable. St. Thomas also favors this opinion in question 15 of de malo, art. 2, ad 17, where he says that for spouses, just as sexual relations are licit, so also delectation from them."
One concerned reader wrote: "If your prior position really was that any and all kissing/touching between husband and wife was mortally sinful, that was clearly wrong and overly scrupulous, but the two excerpts cited make it clear that unchaste behavior between husband and wife isn't good. I suppose you were being bombarded with questions from unchaste people who became very worried about their sorry states, but you should clarify to them that just because something has become licit doesn't mean that it is now good. It is definitely possible to still commit mortal sin through kissing and fondling between husband and wife! You should make the danger of venial sin more clear to your readers. The husband is supposed to love his wife like Christ loves the Church. In making corrections you should not fall into the trap of human respect, you should correct your over-scrupulosity without catering to the lust-filled lecherous couples that may pester you."
Short answer: "I agree with that lustful kisses and touches can lead to lust and sinful behavior that goes against honorable love and a good conscience, and I will update the articles in the future to better express all concerns. However I do not agree with that it is a mortal sin since the Church explicitly teaches us these acts are lawful. Can something that is lawful become mortal? Only with a bad conscience, I suppose. (But even with a bad conscience, there may be no sin.) Otherwise, they should remain free of sin even if there is lust involved."
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The Holy Bible and the Popes, Fathers and Saints of the Catholic Church unanimously teach that all Bishops, Priests and Deacons of the Lord must be totally “chaste” and abstain from all sexual intercourse with their wives during all times
From the very beginning of the Christian Church, it was taught by the Bible and the Holy Apostles that all ministers of God had to remain in chastity even though they were married when they entered the clerical state. We see this both in the earliest Church councils, Apostolic Tradition as well as the teachings of the Popes, Saints and Fathers of the Church. It is also clear from the Bible that the Catholic teaching on priestly celibacy and that a minister of the Lord must live totally “chaste” (1 Tim 3:2) after becoming a minister and holy servant of Our Lord, is the only true teaching. This teaching, of course, refutes and destroys the protestant and eastern “orthodox” schismatic position on this matter.
Indeed, the fact that Holy Scripture teaches that all Bishops, Priests and Deacons are forbidden to get married again after their spouse have died, (1 Tim 3:12; Tit 1:5-6) shows us that Our Lord taught the Apostles that all priests must be completely chaste in order to become and work as a priest; for if this were not so, God would certainly have allowed a man who was a priest to marry a second time after his spouse died, but since we see that God directly forbids this, it is clear that God from the very beginning of the Church commanded all priests – married as well as unmarried – to live in perfect chastity, holiness and purity after their ordination. This is also exactly how the Apostles themselves lived according to the teachings, history and tradition of the Church. In truth, “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife... ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee: If any be without crime, the husband of one wife...” (1 Tim 3:12; Tit 1:5-6) Note, however, that the Church does not teach that only unmarried men can be accepted to the priesthood, but that both the married and unmarried are accepted as long as they vow to never have sex again. In the case of a married man, however, the man can only enter the priesthood if his wife agrees to it.
In the beginning, the Church allowed men to enter the priesthood who were already married since the very concept of chastity were practiced by so few at that time because the world had fallen into such a degraded state when Our Lord entered the world, but there was never any Church teaching that taught that it is allowed to perform the sexual act after one becomes a priest. In truth, we see that St. Peter himself declares in The Gospel of Luke that he and all the Apostles “have left all things [which includes marital life], and have followed thee [Jesus],” and Jesus answering him: “Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” (Luke 18:28-30) Mark 10:29 records the same incident, but while “wife” is mentioned among the things “left,” no “wife” is found among the things gained. Thus Our Lord Himself in the context of St. Peter’s confession that he and the other Apostles had left “all things” for His sake, showed them that “all” really meant that they “left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake”. In truth, “If any man come to me [Jesus], and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27) And so, “The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.” (Mark 10:24-25)
Jesus was celibate, and the priest stands in his place (“in persona Christi” as we call it). The Twelve Apostles left their spouses, if they were married, as well as all their property and possessions (cf. Matthew 19:27; Mark 10:28 and especially Luke 18:28–30), with Christ’s explicit approval. The apostle Paul set a personal example in this matter when he exhorted all to “be as I am,” that is, celibate. Indeed, contrary to many of our times who imagine or claim that the Apostles were married, the only one of the Apostles that is recorded to have been married at one time in his life, according to Holy Scripture, is Saint Peter, since his mother in law is mentioned in the holy text, but even in his case, there is no evidence that he lived as a married man during his ministry.
The Book of Exodus also shows us that God directly commanded the priests of the Old Law (which was the prophetic symbol and sign of the priesthood of the New Law) to “sanctify” themselves when they served the Lord, which, as we have seen in The Book of Exodus, meant that they had to be chaste (Exodus 19:10-22). And so important is this matter of priestly chastity to God, that Our Lord directly threatens to strike priests who refuse to follow His commandment concerning this matter: “He [God] said unto him [Moses]: Go down, and charge the people: lest they should have a mind to pass the limits to see the Lord, and a very great multitude of them should perish. The priests also that come to the Lord, let them be sanctified, [that is, chaste] lest he strike them.” (Exodus 19:21-22)
The sacrificial aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy and the real presence of Our Lord’s Body is directly taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Apostles as we can read in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and this is also one of the main reasons why the Church was united against all those who dared to contradict God’s commandment for all clerics to be chaste. In truth, the dignity of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord in the most Holy Eucharist demands that the priest is pure and chaste when he consecrates and partakes of the Sacrament. God also commanded the Jews in the Old Testament and the Old Law to perform a kind of rite similar to the Eucharistic liturgy in order for it to be a sign of the future Eucharist. For as we have already seen, all priests of the Old Law had to be totally chaste in order to be able to perform the rite of the Old Law and eat of the bread that signified the future Eucharist, “If any one that is defiled shall eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which is offered to the Lord, he shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:20) The words “the flesh of the sacrifice” signifies Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Holy Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that is offered up for our sins as a “peace offering” in the Eucharist in order to appease the just wrath of God. This very flesh is also offered up by the priests of the Church every time they perform the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church.
Since the Old Law teaches that both the priests as well as the laymen must be completely clean from all sexual activity for three days in order to be able to receive the prophetic sign of the Eucharist, it is obvious that it is also the Lord’s will for all to be completely chaste for a minimum of three days in the New Law (if not more by the grace of God) when they receive the real and actual Body of Our Lord. David said, “Now therefore if thou have any thing at hand, though it were but five loaves, give me, or whatsoever thou canst find. And the priest answered David, saying: I have no common bread at hand, but only holy bread, if the young men be clean, especially from women? And David answered the priest, and said to him: Truly, as to what concerneth women, we have refrained ourselves from yesterday and the day before, when we came out, and the vessels of the young men were holy. Now this way is defiled, but it shall also be sanctified this day in the vessels.” (1 Kings 21:3-5)
A key biblical passage that proves that all who have sex are defiled comes from the book of Leviticus: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The man that hath an issue of seed, shall be unclean…. The man from whom the seed of copulation goeth out, shall wash all his body with water: and he shall be unclean until the evening. The garment or skin that he weareth, he shall wash with water, and it shall be unclean until the evening. The woman, with whom he copulateth, shall be washed with water, and shall be unclean until the evening.” (Verses 15:1-2,16-18).
In truth, the Old Law does not only forbid the reception of the figure and sign of the future Eucharist for three days for those who have had sexual relations, but it also teaches that even those who have had a sensual or sinful dream during their sleep are banned from taking the Eucharist since they became defiled by the dream, thus showing us the height of purity and virtue that Our Lord and God expects from us when we are to receive (or in the case of priests, distribute) the most Holy Eucharist. “... thou shalt keep thyself from every evil thing. If there be among you any man, that is defiled in a dream by night, he shall go forth out of the camp. And shall not return, before he be washed with water in the evening: and after sunset he shall return into the camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:9-11)
The requirement of practicing chastity for three days before receiving the Word of God and the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, is also a symbol and sign of the future Holy Eucharist which is truly God “come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (Exodus 19) and it concerns both the priests as well as the laymen and is found in the Old Testament Bible: “So, too, we read in the Old Testament that, when the Jewish people were about to approach Mount Sinai, it was said to them in the Lord’s teaching: ‘Be sanctified, and be ready against the third day, [to receive God’s Word] and come not near your wives,’ [Exodus 19:15] and: ‘if any man be defiled in a dream by night, let him not eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of salvation, lest his soul be cut off from his people.’ [Deuteronomy 23:10; Leviticus 7:20] If after defilement which happens to us even unwillingly [in the sleep] we may not communicate [receive the Eucharist] unless compunction and almsgiving come first, and fasting, too, if infirmity does not prevent it, who can say that there is no sin if we do such things intentionally when we are wide awake?” (St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 44)
Exodus 19:9-11,14-15 “The Lord said to him [Moses]: Lo, now will I come to thee in the darkness of a cloud, that the people may hear me speaking to thee, and may believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. And he [God] said to him [Moses]: Go to the people, and sanctify them today, and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments. And let them be ready against the third day: for on the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. … And Moses came down from the mount to the people, and sanctified them. And when they had washed their garments, He said to them: Be ready against the third day, and come not near your wives.”
In comparison to the Christian priests of the New Law, however, Jewish priests in the Old Law rarely served at the altar of sacrifice. But Christian priests are different since they must offer up the “peace offering” every day. In the Old Law – which was only a shadow of the New Law to come (Hebrews 10:1) – sexual relations rendered a man ritually unclean and that meant he could not participate in Israel’s cultic life for a prescribed period of time. The Old Law clearly teaches that a person could not receive the shadow or sign of the future Eucharist unless one abstains from the sexual act for three days, and so, in the New Law it is obvious that the Bible teaches that all priests must be completely chaste since they are to perform the Eucharistic sacrifice every day.
The other sacraments of the Church, however, also implies transmitting Christ’s Blood to other people, such as in the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, which washes away the sins of the penitent by the help of the Blood of Our Lord. And so, since the priest must always supply the sacraments for the benefit of himself and his Church in order to alleviate the wrath of God, it is a biblical fact that a priest can never be allowed to exercise the sexual act after he becomes a priest.
In addition, The Old Testament and the Old Law prophesied the laws and practices of the future Christian Church, but all the predicted types and symbols of the Old Law, is always fulfilled in a greater way than the Old Testament type or symbol. If what was predicted was not substantially better and more holy than what was predicted, then it would make little sense to prophetically foretell something which is not even better than what people already had in the Old Law. Thus, this fact shows us that the priesthood of the New Law must be more virtuous and chaste since even the Old Law obligated the priests to remain chaste while they served the Lord.
Our Lord Himself stands as the primary sign and example for the necessity of a chaste priesthood. In truth, He is the High Priest and Example that we all must live and die with if we want to be saved. Our Lord lived and died completely chaste, and from beginning to end, tried to help and inspire his followers as well as everyone else to adopt the more meritorious life of chastity and virginity: “Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us hold fast our confession... Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly vocation, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus: Who is faithful to him that made him, as was also Moses in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that hath built the house, hath greater honor than the house. For every house is built by some man: but he that created all things, is God.” (Hebrews 3:1-4, 4:14)
Christ Our Lord, the High Priest, made the way clear for all priests of the Church by the example of his own life and suffering. The servant of Christ should not expect less than some suffering if he perfectly wants to follow Our Lord in this life. Just as Christ was glorified in eternity for his suffering, so also his sons, the priests, must follow him in suffering in order to be glorified in eternity. There is no other way but the cross of Our Lord: “And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) If Christ who suffered the most horrible torture imaginable is our example, is it strange that his special sons, the priests, should follow him in small penances and chastity that are as nothing compared to His suffering on the Cross? Not at all! In truth, anything else would have been completely unacceptable and directly inspired by the devil of voluptuousness and sensuality. For “The disciple is not above his master: but every one shall be perfect, if he be as his master [Our Lord Jesus Christ].” (Luke 6:40) Thus, “Where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech,” (Hebrews 6:20) it obviously follows that his beloved sons, the priests, must follow Him in the way of penance and chastity in order to perfectly resemble the one and only High Priest – Our Lord Jesus Christ. In truth, “So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest” (Hebrews 5:5).
Hebrews 7:11-28 “If then perfection was by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchisedech, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being translated [to the New Law], it is necessary that a translation also be made of the law. For he, of whom these things are spoken, is of another tribe, of which no one attended on the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprung out of Juda: in which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And it is yet far more evident: if according to the similitude of Melchisedech there ariseth another priest, Who is made not according to the law of a carnal commandment, but according to the power of an indissoluble life: For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
“There is indeed a setting aside of the former commandment, because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof: (For the law brought nothing to perfection,) but a bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God. And inasmuch as it is not without an oath, (for the others indeed were made priests without an oath; But this with an oath, by him that said unto him: The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever.) By so much is Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And the others indeed were made many priests, because by reason of death they were not suffered to continue: But this, for that he continueth for ever, hath an everlasting priesthood, Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily (as the other priests) to offer sacrifices first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, in offering himself. For the law maketh men priests, who have infirmity: but the word of the oath, which was since the law, the Son who is perfected for evermore.”
Douay Rheims Bible Commentary explains the words “many priests” in Hebrews 7:23, saying that: “The apostle notes this difference between the high priests of the law, and our high priest Jesus Christ; that they being removed by death, made way for their successors; whereas our Lord Jesus is a priest for ever, and hath no successor; but liveth and concurreth for ever with his ministers, the priests of the new testament, in all their functions. Also, that no one priest of the law, nor all of them together, could offer that absolute sacrifice of everlasting redemption, which our one high priest Jesus Christ has offered once, and for ever.” (Challoner) --- The words “make intercession” in verse 25 means that “Christ, as man, continually maketh intercession for us, by representing his passion to his Father” (Challoner) whose merit is applied to humanity by the priesthood and its distribution of the sacraments of the Church to the faithful. In truth, it is fitting that the priests of the New Law should not daily “offer sacrifices first for his own sins, and then for the people’s... For the [Old] law maketh men priests, who have infirmity: but the word of the oath, which was since the law, the Son who is perfected for evermore.” (Hebrews 7:27-28)
From the very beginning, all the Councils, Popes, Saints and Fathers of the Church rejected the heretical and unbiblical teaching of those impure and selfish heretics and schismatics who reject the biblical Church teaching that all ministers must be totally chaste and that the high and pure office of being a minister of the Lord obligates a man to abstain from all sexual relations, even with a wife. There are many reasons why the Church teaches this doctrine.
First, it is an obvious fact of the Natural Law that the sexual act makes a person intoxicated and deprives people of the ability to reason, which are truly defects that inflict men after the fall of Adam and Eve, and which have made marriage infirm. The Angelic Doctor explains “Now there is a loss of reason incidental to the union of man and woman, both because the reason is carried away entirely on account of the vehemence of the pleasure, so that it is unable to understand anything at the same time [as in the case of intoxication of drugs], as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 11); and again because of the tribulation of the flesh which such persons have to suffer from solicitude for temporal things (1 Corinthians 7:28). Consequently the choice of this union cannot be made ordinate except by certain compensations whereby that same union is righted, and these are the goods [procreation, sacrament and fidelity] which excuse marriage and make it right.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 1)
The fact that the current state of marriage after the fall is defective and infirm is something that most so called Christians totally reject or ignore, but anyone with even a little sense of decency knows in his heart that intoxication is truly an evil defect and a sign that something is wrong.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 1, 5: “Whether certain blessings are necessary in order to excuse [marriage and sexual intercourse in] marriage? Wherever there is indulgence [as St. Paul states], there must needs be some reason for excuse. Now marriage is allowed in the state of infirmity "by indulgence" (1 Corinthians 7:6). Therefore it needs to be excused by certain goods. … [and] the aforesaid [marital sexual] act does not differ from the act of fornication... But the act of fornication is always evil. Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused...”
As a matter of fact, sensual lusts (both for the married and the unmarried people alike) actually “gives rise to blindness of mind, which excludes almost entirely the knowledge of spiritual things, while dulness of sense arises from gluttony, which makes a man weak in regard to the same [spiritual] intelligible things.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II:II, Q. 15, Art. 3) Lust, in all its forms, is undoubtedly the greatest reason why people have a “blindness of mind” concerning spiritual things. The truth that lust is the most powerful of all human acts in inducing spiritual death, can even be understood from reason alone, since the sexual or lustful pleasure is the one pleasure of all who induces in man a kind of inability to reason. “...lust applies chiefly to venereal pleasures, which more than anything else work the greatest havoc in a man’s mind”. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II:II, Q. 153, Art. 2) “And truly, the concupiscence of the flesh, beyond all other passions, doth greatly hinder us from being ready to meet Christ; whilst, on the other hand, nothing makes us more fit to follow our Lord, than virginal chastity.” (St. Robert Bellarmine, The art of dying well, Chapter IV)
This proves that lust and sexual pleasure is the biggest cause why people in the end are damned, and it also shows us about what sins one should speak about when one tries to convert a sinner or a heretic. And this of course also applies to married people and their sexual acts, and St. Augustine also confirms the fact that “he who is intemperate in marriage, what is he but the adulterer of his own wife?” by quoting the great St. Ambrose’s teaching concerning the necessity for married people to practice moderation in even their normal, natural and lawful marital acts. Indeed, Our Lady of Fatima directly teaches that “The sins of the world are too great! The sins which lead most souls to hell are sins of the flesh! … Many marriages are not good; they do not please Our Lord and are not of God.” Spouses who overindulge in the sexual act are doing the exact same thing as gluttons, acting unreasonably and being attached to a fleeting pleasure, but as sexual pleasure is very similar to intoxication, a married man will always be forced to fight against the urge to overindulge in the sensual pleasures of the flesh, which directly proves that the Church’s teaching concerning clerical celibacy is grounded not only in Church teaching, but also in common sense and natural reason.
Sexual pleasure works very much the same as any pleasure in this world, but some good examples of pleasures that can be compared to it is the pleasure that people get from alcohol or drugs. Now, if a man has never taken drugs or alcohol he cannot know anything about their effects, and thus, he cannot desire these pleasures at all. The consequence of this lack of desire is that there is no desire to abuse either alcohol or drugs at all. Sexual pleasure affects a man in a similar way. If a man have not had a venue to act on his sexual desire, nor looked longingly and with desire on a woman, always choosing to turn his eyes down in humility every time a woman came near him, his sexual desire will remain more of an abstract or theoretical pleasure. But a man who marries a woman and starts having sexual relations with her (allowing his eyes to fixate on a woman with sensual desire) does not have this advantage of having sexual pleasure remain an abstract or theoretical pleasure, and consequently, the possibility of him getting tempted to commit sins of impurity with either his own wife or with some other woman, is immediately increased. And as always, the sensual fire almost always begins through the eyes when a person is not careful enough to control or consider where he or she is looking.
St. Peter also confirms that “carnal desires” “war against the soul” in the Holy Bible, thus showing us that lust in all its forms blinds our spiritual eyes and understanding: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) It is important to notice that St. Peter does not single out only sinful lust here, but instead, he tells us that “carnal desires” in general “war against the soul”. All sexual acts, even lawful ones, “war against the soul” since they all are intoxicating like a drug, or as St. Thomas Aquinas describes it, “because the reason is carried away entirely on account of the vehemence of the pleasure, so that it is unable to understand anything at the same time... the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused...” (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 49, Art. 1, 5) The sexual pleasure is very similar to the effect of a strong drug, and drugs as we all know are very easy to become addicted to by abusing them or overindulging in them. The stronger a drug is, the more is also our spiritual life hindered, and that is why the angelic life of chastity will always be more spiritually fruitful than the marital life according to the Bible and God’s Holy Word. And so, it is clear that Holy Scripture infallibly teaches that marriage and the marital life is an impediment to the spiritual life, while the chaste and pure life “give you power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment.” (1 Corinthians 7:35)
This is also why the Holy Bible urges people to remain unmarried and in a life of chastity since the married man “is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided” (1 Corinthians 7:33). St. Paul in the Bible also warns those who intend to marry and perform the marital sexual act that they “shall have tribulation of the flesh”: “But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned: nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh. But I spare you.” (1 Corinthians 7:28)
Indeed, even lawful sexual acts tempts a man to be “intemperate in marriage,” and if a man gives in to this temptation and perform unlawful sexual acts with his wife, such as sensual kisses and touches “what is he but the adulterer of his own wife?” The more a person, whether married or unmarried, seeks or indulges himself with venereal pleasures in his life, the more detrimental in effect will this “blindness of mind” concerning spiritual things be, “since if one consent to them this increases the force of concupiscence and weakens the strength of the mind” and this proves that even the married must be very careful to never exceed the limits set by nature for the procreation of children.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 153, Art. 2: “Venereal pleasures are more impetuous, and are more oppressive on the reason than the pleasures of the palate: and therefore they are in greater need of chastisement and restraint, since if one consent to them this increases the force of concupiscence and weakens the strength of the mind. Hence Augustine says (Soliloq. i, 10): ‘I consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heights as the fondling of women, and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.’”
St. Augustine, for example, explains that “in intercourse man becomes all flesh” (St. Augustine, Sermons 62.2) and that the sexual act degrades the masculine soul. “For I know that nothing so debases a man’s soul as the charms of a woman and that bodily contact which is so much a part of having a wife.” (St. Augustine of Hippo, Soliloquies 1.10) Thus, it is not hard to understand based on just these two arguments of St. Augustine why the Church directly condemns the heretical teaching that ministers of God are allowed to have marital relations. Since the act of abstaining from the sexual act is highly extolled in Holy Scripture by the Holy Ghost and praised as a more meritorious and virtuous life, it is obvious why the Catholic Church teaches that all Her priests must abstain from all kinds of sexual acts.
Simply said, the pure Catholic priest who is wholly dedicated to serving God in mind and body – and that is not disturbed by the marital life nor by raising fleshly children – will always be more effective in saving and bringing sinners back from the clutches of the devil than those people who choose to live in a more sensual lifestyle. Since their life is exclusively dedicated to God and His Holy Church, they will be more closer to God than those who are married and have children. That is also exactly why almost exclusively all canonized saints in the Catholic Church have been either ecclesiastics, monks, nuns, virgins or ascetics. And the Holy Bible is clear on why this happens, since “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 in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:32-34)
Thus, we see that Holy Scripture itself teaches that the chaste servants of Christ are more “holy both in body and in spirit” and more “solicitous” for the things of the Lord than those who marry. As a result of this holiness, the pure servants of Christ will always be more effective in their prayers and intercessions for sinful souls, "snatching them out of the fire" (Jude 1:23) and in bringing the lost sheep back into the fold of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only will a man become more blessed in the afterlife if he chooses the angelic life of chastity, but he will also receive more spiritual gifts from Our Lord to the benefit of himself and others in this life since he has chosen to welcome Our Lord into his heart with a more perfect and pure love.
From The Life of Fr. De Smet, Apostle of the Rockies:
“[Pg 176] How is the phenomenal success of these missions to be explained? Many of the Indians possessed admirable natural virtues; they but needed to know Christianity to embrace it. Even the most degraded had preserved a high ideal of the greatness of the power of God. Blasphemy was unknown among them: not presuming to address the “Great Spirit,” they entreated their manitous to intercede for them. Superstition if you will, but beneath it was a religious sentiment which the missionary had only to enlighten and direct. None held back through false pride or prejudice. Even the Sioux, the proudest of the Western tribes, compared themselves to children bereft of a father’s guiding hand, and to the ignorant animals of the prairie, and with touching humility begged the missionary to “take pity on them.”
“Such elevated, upright souls could, moreover, appreciate the chastity of the Catholic priesthood. With rare discernment, the Indian understood that, belonging as he does to all men, a priest cannot give himself to one person, and not for an instant did they hesitate to choose the Black Robe, who had consecrated his life to them, rather than the minister in lay dress, installed in a comfortable home with wife and children, devoted to the interests of his family, giving only the time that remained to distributing Bibles”.
“[Pg 52] The Indians, meanwhile, were not overlooked. Dispossessed of their lands and driven west by the whites, they now found refuge and support in the Catholic Church. A considerable number of them, whose fathers had been instructed and baptized by the Jesuits, were well disposed toward Catholicity. Protestant ministers made repeated attempts to gain their confidence, but were always coldly received.” “What had they to do,” asked the Indians, “with married preachers, men who wore no crucifix, and said no rosary? They wanted only the Black Robes to teach them how to serve God. They even went so far as to appeal to the President of the United States, asking that the married ministers might be recalled and Catholic priests sent in their place.”
“[Pg 117] I was given the place of honor in the chief’s tent, who, surrounded by forty of his braves, addressed me in the following words: ‘Black Robe, this is the happiest day of our lives, for to-day, for the first time, we see in our midst a man who is near to the Great Spirit. These are the principal warriors of my tribe. I have invited them to the feast I have prepared for you, that they may never forget the great day.’”
“It seems strange that with the savages the fact of being a Catholic priest merited a triumphal reception for the lowly missionary, while in other times, and to men proud of their civilization, he would have been the object of suspicion. During the repast the great chief showered attentions on his guest, even to giving him a mouthful of his own food to chew, a refined usage among his tribe.
“At night, after the missionary had retired and was about to fall asleep, he saw the chief who had received him with so much honor, enter his tent. Brandishing a knife that gleamed in the light of the torch, he said: “Black Robe, are you afraid?” The missionary, taking the chief’s hand, placed it on his breast and replied: “See if my heart beats more rapidly than usual! Why should I be afraid? You have fed me with your own hands, and I am as safe in your tent as I would be in my father’s house.” Flattered by this reply, the Blackfoot renewed his professions of friendship; he had wished only to test the confidence of his guest.
“[Pg 86] Protestant ministers tried to compete with the Catholic priests; but between a salaried official who distributed tracts to inquisitive members of the tribe, and the missionary, devoted body and soul to their interests, the Indians did not hesitate to make a choice.” They refused the most alluring offers from Protestants and came from all directions to ask for a Black Robe to show them the way to heaven.
“After five years’ residence with the Otoes, the Protestant minister has not yet baptized one person, and the greater part of the Protestant missionaries who overrun the Indian Territory make no better showing.” (Letter of Father De Smet to Father Verhaegen, June, 1838)
In truth, one can accurately say that only the Catholic priest is entirely “solicitous” for the Lord’s Church when he is compared to the other servants of all the other “Churches” and that he is the father to all in his congregation, his family being spiritual rather than fleshly and temporal. And because good, virtuous and pious priests, religious, monks and nuns of the Church are so effective in saving souls from hell and the devil’s grip, the devil labors mightily to get them under his control. The Holy Fathers of the Church, as we have seen, also agree with the teaching of the Bible and the Apostles that the chaste are more spiritually advanced and wise, teaching that people who are pure and chaste are more apt to receive and understand the spiritual truths of God since they are not busy or distracted with the temporal concerns of this world.
We also see that the Holy Bible directly teaches that the meritorious penance and abstinence of a virtuous person directly effects and draws down graces to the benefit of other souls, contrary to what many protestants nowadays teach who claim that nothing we say or do can effect our own or other people’s spiritual welfare. However, The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows us that a certain kind of demon can only be exorcised “by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).
Matthew 17:14-20 “And when he [Jesus] was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.”
Now, it is obvious that if a demon is successfully exorcised by the virtue and power of a good deed (in this case, by the mortification of the flesh for a charitable cause), it is also exorcised by a virtue of a higher and greater degree of merit, such as holy chastity. And so, it is a biblical fact that chastity and virginity in this life not only affects our own eternal blessedness and spiritual well-being in this life and in the next to come, but that it also affects and helps the spiritual well-being of our beloved brothers and sisters. “For there are two ways in life, as touching these matters. The one the more moderate and ordinary, I mean marriage; the other angelic and unsurpassed, namely virginity. Now if a man choose the way of the world, namely marriage, he is not indeed to blame; yet he will not receive such great gifts as the other. For he will receive, since he too brings forth fruit, namely thirtyfold [Mark 4:20]. But if a man embrace the holy and unearthly way, even though, as compared with the former, it be rugged and hard to accomplish, yet it has the more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit, namely an hundredfold.” (St. Athanasius the Great, The Letters of St. Athanasius, Letter XLVIII, To Amun, c. 353 A.D.)
“How many men, therefore, and how many women, in Ecclesiastical Orders, owe their position to continence, who have preferred to be wedded to God; who have restored the honor of their flesh, and who have already dedicated themselves as sons of that future age, by slaying in themselves the concupiscence of lust, and that whole propensity which could not be admitted within Paradise! Whence it is presumable that such as shall wish to be received within Paradise, ought at last to begin to cease from that thing from which Paradise is intact [i.e., sexual intercourse].” (Tertullian, On Exhortation to Chastity, Chapter 13, c. 204 A.D.)
The chaste servant of Christ stands as a spiritual warrior against the temptations and deception of the world and the devil. His sword is his chastity and purity by which he slays the devil and acquires spiritual knowledge and grace for himself and his friends. “But so far is this true and spiritual knowledge removed from that worldly erudition, which is defiled by the stains of carnal sins... And therefore if you are anxious to attain to that never-failing fragrance, you must first strive with all your might to obtain from the Lord the purity of chastity. For no one, in whom the love of carnal passions and especially of fornication still holds sway, can acquire spiritual knowledge. For "in a good heart wisdom will rest;" and: "He that feareth the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness." [Prov. 24:33; Ecclus. 32:20].” (Holy Abbot and Ascetic Nesteros (c. 420), From The Conferences of John Cassian, Conference 14, Chapter XVI)
Pope St. Damasus I (366-384) confirmed the teaching of the Holy Bible and the Holy Apostles on the necessity of a chaste priesthood, and declared that marital intercourse was incompatible with presiding at the Eucharistic sacrifice. Pope St. Siricius (384-399) who taught that “those who are in the flesh cannot see God” stated in A.D. 392 that “Jesus would not have chosen birth from a virgin, had he been forced to look upon her as so unrestrained as to let that womb... be stained by the presence of male seed.” Pope St. Siricius also declared that the only persons worthy of serving at the altar were those who were forever free of “the stain” of intercourse. Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) carried on this uninterrupted Apostolic Tradition. Thus deacons were to remain married, but they were instructed to avoid marital intercourse in order to grow in holiness. Referring to First Corinthians 7:29, Pope Leo declared: “Therefore, so that a spiritual bond may grow from the physical marriage, [deacons] may not send their spouses away and must live as though they had none, whereby the love of the married couple remains intact and the conjugal acts cease.” (Pope Saint Leo the Great, Epistles)
Pope St. Leo the Great, To Rusticus (c. 442-459 A.D.): “Concerning those who minister at the altar and have wives, whether they may lawfully cohabit with them? Reply. The law of continence is the same for the ministers of the altar as for bishops and priests, who when they were laymen or readers, could lawfully marry and have offspring. But when they reached to the said ranks, what was before lawful ceased to be so. And hence, in order that their wedlock may become spiritual instead of carnal, it behoves them not to put away their wives but to "have them as though they had them not," whereby both the affection of their wives may be retained and the marriage functions cease.” (The Letters of St. Leo the Great, Letter 167, Question III)
The Early Councils of the Church unanimously forbids Bishops, Priests and Deacons from having marital sexual relations with their wife
From the very earliest times, lustful and impure men have tried to reject or ignore the biblical, Apostolic and patristic teaching that all priests must be perpetually chaste. Because of this, many councils of the Church through the ages have also been forced to reaffirm this dogmatic and infallible teaching of the Church. The first recorded council that confirmed this requirement of celibacy upon all clerics is The Council of Elvira that took place in c. 306-311 A.D. Canon 33 declared that married priests and bishops were obligated to permanently refrain from all marital sexual relations. It stated that “Bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics having a position in the ministry are ordered to abstain completely from their wives and not to have children. Whoever, in fact, does this, shall be expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.” This canon clearly ordered higher clerics to observe perfect continence with their wives under the pain of deposition from their ministry. Canon 27 of the same Council prohibited women living with ecclesiastics, except for a sister or a daughter who was a consecrated virgin: “A bishop or other cleric may have only a sister or a daughter who is a virgin consecrated to God living with him. No other woman who is unrelated to him may remain.”
From these primitive and important legal texts, it can be deduced that many of the ecclesiastics in the Spanish church were viri probati, that is, men who were married before becoming ordained deacons, priests or bishops. All, however, were obliged, after receiving Holy Orders, to renounce completely the use of marriage, that is to live in total continence.
Although some erroneously claim that Elvira was a departure from an earlier tradition which did not require married clerics to remain continent, the fact of the matter is that the council codified an already existing but unwritten rule of continence for all clerics. Indeed, in no way can one see in canon 33 a statement of a new law. The Council of Elvira was, on the contrary, a reaction to the extended lack of observance of a traditional and well-known obligation, to which at this time the Council confirmed and imposed a sanction to the biblical law concerning priestly chastity: either the delinquent ecclesiastics accepted the obligation of the law of continence (lex continentiae) by living their lives in perfect conformity to it or they became “expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.” The fact that the legislation of Elvira was pacifically accepted confirms that no juridical novelty was being introduced, but that it was concerned primarily with maintaining an already existing teaching of the Church. This is what Pius XI taught when, in his encyclical on the priesthood, he affirms that this written law implied a previous law and practice that “made obligatory what the gospels and the apostolic preaching had already shown to be something like a natural requirement”, thus showing us that this law of clerical celibacy came directly from Our Lord and the teaching of the Apostles as well as that it was taught by the many generations of Christians before the 4th century.
Pope Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (# 43), Dec. 20, 1935: “The earliest trace of a law of ecclesiastical celibacy – based, however, on long established custom – is found in the 33rd canon of the Council of Elvira, held at the beginning of the fourth century when Christians were still being actively persecuted. This law only made obligatory what the gospels and the apostolic preaching had already shown to be something like a natural requirement.” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 28  25)
To suggest, therefore, that Elvira is the origin of the law of celibacy in the Church, and that there is, consequently, a discontinuity in the Church’s moral teaching concerning this matter between its introduction and what was the practice beforehand, is, for the reasons already given, a fundamentally erroneous conclusion. The persecution suffered by the early Church during the first three centuries made it difficult for it to write down most of its laws by convoking councils of Bishops and Priests, and just like in the case of many of the Church’s dogmas and doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Church only defined them when a greater necessity arose that needed it. Yet it is very unlikely that when the Church did begin to write down its laws in the fourth century, that it would have ignored its earlier, unwritten rules and composed brand new ones, especially one such as the Elvira canon, since, if such was the case, such laws would have deprived clerics of a long-established so-called “right” and if so, it is highly unlikely, as even reason itself dictates, that no one would have objected to this if a new teaching concerning clerical celibacy would have sprung up without any earlier foundation; and this fact is much more obvious since we are dealing with an issue that regards sensual pleasure, and most men in this world are directly intent on satisfying their sexual desire. Thus, even though this teaching denied priestly men their sensual appetites, there was no objections, which in a striking manner confirms the fact that all priests of the Church must be perpetually chaste and that this fact was well known and understood by the Church’s members of this time. It is therefore very clear that the tradition of clerical continence dates back to apostolic times.
The Council of Arles (314) also required clerics to observe perfect continence, citing ritual purity as the reason. Canon 29 reads, “Furthermore, with a care for what is worthy, pure and honest, we exhort our brothers [in the episcopate] to act in such a way that priests and deacons have no [sexual] relations with their spouses, given that they are engaged each day in the ministry. Whoever acts contrariwise to this decision will be deposed from the honor of the clerical state.” (Corpus Christianorum, 148.25)
The Synod of Neocaesarea (314-325) confirmed this ancient teaching of the Church that priests were obligated to remain free from the stain of marital sexual intercourse. “If a priest marry, he shall be removed from the ranks of the clergy; if he commit fornication or adultery, he shall be excommunicated, and shall submit to penance.” (Canon 1)
The wording of these canons does not immediately suggest that an innovation is being introduced, and it would be an error in historical procedure to maintain beforehand that such was the case. The seriousness of the implications for the life of the clergy, the absence of justification for the strictness of the discipline and the canonical penalty attached, would suggest, on the contrary, that the Church authorities were concerned with the maintenance and not the introduction of this rule. The important papal decretals of the fourth century, which show the rule for the Universal Church — Directa (385) and Cum in unum (385-86) of Pope St. Siricius; Dominus inter of Pope St. Innocent I, and the Synod of Carthage (390) — were in fact emphatic that clerical continence belonged to immemorial, even apostolic, tradition (as we shall also see further down).
Pope St. Siricius, Cum in unum, A.D. 385: “The question is not one of ordering new precepts, but we wish through this letter to have people observe those that either through apathy or laziness on the part of some have been neglected. They are, however, matters that have been established by apostolic constitution, and, by a constitution of the Fathers.” (Cum in unum (Ad episcopos Africae); PL 13, 11 56a. P. Coustant, Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum, Paris, 1721, p. 562)
The writings of the Church Fathers are often explicit in considering the apostles as models of the priesthood. Yet those who might have been married were thought not to have lived other than in continence. (Cf. St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata. III, 6; Tertullian, De Monogamia, 8, 4; St. Jerome, Apologeticum ad Pammachium, Ep. 49(48), 2, 21; Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratlo evangelica, 111, 4, 37; St. Isidore of Pelusium, Ep. 111, 176.)
In 325 A.D., The First Council of Nicaea, which was the first of the infallible and Ecumenical Councils in Church history, decreed in Canon 3 that a cleric is absolutely forbidden to keep a woman to live with him: “This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.”
The pre-Nicaean acceptance of that arrangement for clerics was a clear indication that the clergy were expected to live in continence even with their wives. For instance, a leading participant in the Council of Nicaea, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340), wrote: “It is fitting, according to Scripture, ‘that a bishop be the husband of an only wife.’ But this being understood, it behoves consecrated men [those in the priesthood], and those who are at the service of God’s cult, to abstain thereafter from conjugal intercourse with their wives.” (Demonstratio Evangelica, Book 1, Chapter 9)
Commentators on this passage confirms that it really is a law concerning clerical celibacy. The Ancient Epitome of Canon III explains that Nicea teaches that “No one shall have a woman in his house except his mother, and sister, and persons altogether beyond suspicion.” Fuchs in his Bibliothek der kirchenver sammlungen confesses that this canon shews that the practice of clerical celibacy had already spread widely. And finally, Hefele explains that “It is very certain that the canon of Nicea forbids such spiritual unions, [of certain women living in the same house as a priest] but the context shows moreover that the Fathers had not these particular cases in view alone; and the expression συνείσακτος should be understood of every woman who is introduced (συνείσακτος) into the house of a clergyman for the purpose of living there. If by the word συνείσακτος was only intended the wife in this spiritual marriage, the Council would not have said, any συνείσακτος, except his mother, etc.; for neither his mother nor his sister could have formed this spiritual union with the cleric. The injunction, then, does not merely forbid the συνείσακτος in the specific sense, but orders that “no woman must live in the house of a cleric, unless she be his mother,” etc. This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratian’s Decretum, Pars I., Distinc. XXXII., C. xvj.
Similarly, The Council of Carthage (in 390) confirmed the same teaching concerning clerical chastity and decreed that higher clerics observe perfect continence because they act as mediators between God and man. They stressed particularly in Canon 3 the antiquity and apostolic origin of this law: “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. The bishops declared unanimously: 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.” Subsequent councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (401 and 419) repeated these requirements.
At that time most, though not all, of the clergy were married men. They are directed by the African Synod to give up all conjugal intercourse, because of the fact that this would prevent them from properly carrying out their mediatory function. The import of the canon is that those who by consecration have now become sacred persons must in the future manifest by their lives this new reality by adopting the more perfect and blessed life of perfect chastity. The specific reasons for the continence they are asked to observe, is in order that they may be effective mediators between God and man, and because of the commitment to service at the altar.
The ancient summary of Canon 3 above emphatically declared: “Let a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon be chaste and continent.” As can be seen, The Council of Carthage declared obligatory continence to be “...what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed...”, thus showing us that the practice of clerical chastity is an ancient and apostolic teaching. In this context of historical study, the important study by author Christian Cochini should be noted: “The Apostolic origins of priestly celibacy” (original French version: Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotale, Lethielleux/Paris 1981).
St. Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage and patron to St. Augustine, was head of The Council of Carthage in A.D. 419 in union with “217 Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage”. They reaffirmed the previous Canon 3 in their own Canon 3, stating that: “When at the past council [of 390] the matter on continency and chastity was considered, those three grades, which by a sort of bond are joined to chastity by their consecration, to wit bishops, presbyters, and deacons, so it seemed that it was becoming that the sacred rulers and priests of God as well as the Levites, or those who served at the divine sacraments, should be continent altogether, by which they would be able with singleness of heart to ask what they sought from the Lord: so that what the apostles taught and antiquity kept, that we might also keep.” Canon 4 of the same Council also spoke of the different orders that should abstain from their wives: “It seems good that a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon, or whoever perform the sacraments, should be keepers of modesty and should abstain from their wives. By all the bishops it was said: It is right that all who serve the altar should keep pudicity from all women.”
The ancient summary of Canon 3 of The Council of Carthage in 419 declared: “Let a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon be chaste and continent. This canon is taken from Canon ii., of Carthage 387 or 390.” More specifically, the canon was probably referring to Canon 3 from the council held in Carthage in 390.
As we have seen, the law that was promulgated during the synod of 390 would remain valid and be officially inserted in the great legislative record of the African Church, the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae, compiled and promulgated in the Council of Carthage in 419 (in the time of St. Augustine). We also see in this law the biblical fact that we have already discussed, that is, that the prayer and spiritual intercession of a pure and chaste priest or ecclesiastic is better and more effective to help save souls than a priest or ecclesiastic who performs the marital act and is distracted by worldly cares, the keeping of a house, and wife, and children, etc. Thus, “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...”
Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae, A.D. 419: “Epigonius, Bishop of the Royal Region of Bulla, says: ‘The rule of continence and chastity had been discussed in a previous council. Let it [now] be taught with more emphasis what are the three ranks that, by virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e., the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep their purity.’”
“Bishop Genethlius says: ‘As was previously said, 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.’”
“The bishops declared unanimously: ‘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.’” (The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini, pages 4-5)
In saying that “in certain provinces it is permitted to the readers and singers to marry”, Canon 14 of the Council of Chalcedon (451) suggests that, in other provinces, not only bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons, but even those in the lower or minor orders of readers and singers were at that time not permitted to marry.
In Gaul in the middle of the 5th century, a synod of sixteen bishops held a council at Orange in 441 under the presidency of St. Hilary of Arles, that made an explicit public declaration of the commitment to continence, emphasizing the duty of celibacy for those belonging to the clerical state, especially deacons and widows, forbidding married men to be ordained as deacons, and digamists, that is, those who contract a second marriage after the death of their spouse, to be advanced beyond the sub-diaconate. (cf. First Council of Orange (441), c. 8, 21. CC 148,84). This was to prevent excuses of ignorance of the obligation which previously had been implicit in the reception of orders. The wife (who in the Gallic Church was termed a presbytera, diaconissa, subdiaconissa or even episcopia according to the status of her husband) was to live as a ‘sister’ in a brother-sister relationship. (cf. Girona (517), c. 6. H.T. Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum saeculorum IV-VII, Berlin, 1839,11, 19. Clermont (535), c. 13. CC 148 A, 108. Tours (567), c. 13. Ibid., 180-1). Her rights were protected as ordination could not go ahead without her agreement. Her promise to live in continence was also an impediment to future marriage.
Continent cohabitation expressed trust in the nobility of human love to combine marital affection with the values of the consecrated clerical state. St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) and St. Jerome (ca. 417) indicate a warm spirituality for those embracing this new life. (cf. Ep. 44. CSEL 29,372-7. De Septem Ordinibus Ecclesiae. PL 30,1 59c-d.) However, because of the real possibilities of incontinence, total physical separation would be recommended (Arles IV A.D. 524) or even sometimes required (Toledo III A.D. 589). A return to conjugal relations, after all, was considered to be as serious a sin as adultery (cf. Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I, 34), the cleric being punished by reduction to the lay state.
In Gaul in the early sixth century, councils held under the reforming and energetic St. Caesarius of Arles (c. 468-542) reaffirmed legislation for the restoration of priestly celibacy, a discipline which had suffered as a result of the Visigoth invasions during the previous century. The Council of Agde held in 506, in Gaul, in the South of France under the presidency of St. Caesarius of Arles, had 47 genuine canons that dealt with such subjects as clerical celibacy, the canonical age for ordination, the relations of a bishop and his diocesan synod, church property, public peace, and the religious obligations of the faithful. The same council also forbade subdeacons to marry, and such synods as those of Orléans in 538 and Tours in 567 prohibited even those already married from continuing to live with their wives.
In 541 The Fourth Synod of Orleans ordered that “the bishop must treat his wife as his sister” and added that “the people must not respect but scorn the priest who cohabits with his wife, for in the place of being a doctor of penitence he is a doctor of libertinage.” Again, we see that the priest’s job in the eyes of the Church is to practice penitence, and to thus draw down a shower of grace for himself as well as for his flock, and that all priests who perform the marital act “in the place of being a doctor of penitence he is a doctor of libertinage.” Meeting in 583, The Synod of Lyon’s first canon decreed that married priests could not live together with their spouses. In 589 The Synod of Toledo issued canon 5, that also was a declaration that married clerics may not live with their wives.
Indeed, so fervent were the early church to hinder Her clerics from performing the marital act, that in 530 the Emperor Justinian declared null and void all marriages contracted by clerics in Holy Orders, and the children of such marriages to be spurious by ordering that the children of priests, deacons and subdeacons who, “in disregard of the sacred canons [of clerical continency], have children by women with whom, according to sacerdotal regulation, they may not cohabit”, or according to another translation: “they are not permitted to have relations” be considered illegitimate on the same level as those “procreated in incest and in nefarious nuptials” (Code of Justinian, 1.3.44). As for bishops, he forbade “any one to be ordained bishop who has children or grandchildren” (Code of Justinian, 1.3.41).
The Breviatio Ferrandi was a digest of Church legislation in Africa assembled about 550 which reaffirms earlier norms of priestly celibacy. In summary the main points were as follows:
bishops, priests and deacons were to abstain from relations with their wives;
any priest who got married was to be deposed; if he commits the sin of fornication he is to do penance;
in order to safeguard the reputation of ministers of the Church and to help them observe chastity, clerics were not to live with women other than close family relations.
It is worth noting that this was a period of merciless persecution for the Church in North Africa when the Vandals invaded and eliminated the leaders of many of these Christian communities (cf. Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, pp. 324-26).
The Third Council of Toledo (589) was convoked to remedy abuses that had penetrated the clergy arising from the Arian heresy. Bishops, priests and deacons, returning to the Catholic faith after abandoning Arianism, no longer considered continence an obligation of the priestly state. So called matrimonial “rights” had reasserted themselves and, therefore, although Arianism had been officially defeated at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the negative effects of this heresy, as far as priestly chastity was concerned, were still being felt two centuries later. Canon 5 of Toledo III renewed the traditional discipline, indicating the sanctions which attended its infraction.
Third Council of Toledo, Canon 5, A.D. 589: “It has come to the knowledge of the Holy Council that bishops, priests, and deacons, who were once heretics but returned to Catholicism, still gave in to carnal desire and united with their wives; so that it does not happen again in the future, we have ordered as follows, which had already been decreed by previous canons: that it not be permitted to these [clerics and their wives] to lead a common life favouring incontinence, but that while keeping conjugal fidelity toward each other, they watch to what is mutually beneficial to them both and not share the same room. With the help of virtue, it would be even better that the cleric find for his wife a new home, so that their chastity enjoy a good witnessing before both God and men. But if, after this warning, someone prefers to live in incontinence with his wife, let him be considered a lector; as to those who are still subject to the ecclesiastical canon, if they live in their cells, contrary to the elders’ orders, in the company of women apt to raise suspicions harmful to their reputation, let those be struck with severe canonical penalties.” (Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, p. 331)
The reader will be interested in reading the answer on this point made by King Henry VIII (1491-1547), to the letter sent him by the German ambassadors. For those who don’t know, King Henry VIII was the apostate King of England who created his own sect (the Anglican sect) after the Catholic Church and the Pope would not grant him a divorce with a right to remarry. (This letter is found in full in the Addenda to the Appendix at the end of the seventh volume of Burnet’s History of the Reformation (London. Orr & Co., 1850, p. 148).
Note that even the apostate king himself upheld the ancient church tradition of clerical celibacy; although his own sect later came to contradict it: “Although the Church from the beginning admitted married men, as priests and bishops, who were without crime, the husband of one wife, (out of the necessity of the times, as sufficient other suitable men could not be found as would suffice for the teaching of the world) yet Paul himself chose the celibate Timothy; but if anyone came unmarried to the priesthood and afterwards took a wife, he was always deposed from the priesthood, according to the canon of the Council of Neocaesarea (315) which was before that of Nice (325). So, too, in the Council of Chalcedon (451), in the first canon of which all former canons are confirmed, it is established that a deaconess, if she give herself over to marriage, shall remain under anathema, and a virgin who had dedicated herself to God and a monk who join themselves in marriage, shall remain excommunicated. … No Apostolic canon nor the Council of Nice contain anything similar to what you assert, viz.: that priests once ordained can marry afterwards. And with this statement agrees the Sixth Synod (Third Council of Constantinople in 649), in which it was decreed that if any of the clergy should wish to lead a wife, he should do so before receiving the Subdiaconate, since afterwards it was by no means lawful; nor was there given in the Sixth Synod any liberty to priests of leading wives after their priesting, as you assert. Therefore from the beginning of the newborn Church it is clearly seen that at no time it was permitted to a priest to lead a wife after his priesting, and nowhere, where this was attempted, was it done with impunity, but the culprit was deposed from his priesthood.”
Hence if a priest were at any time to attempt to marry, he would be attempting to do that which from the earliest times of which we have no record, and which no priest has ever been allowed to do, but which always has been punished as a grave sin of immorality.
The Directa and Cum in unum decretals of Pope St. Siricius
Among the many statements of the early Church on the topic of sexual continence and celibacy, the Directa and Cum in unum decretals of Pope St. Siricius (c. 385) stands out among them all, since it directly confirmed that clerical sexual abstinence was an apostolic practice that must be followed by the ministers of the universal church.
In the Directa, the Pope dealt with clerics (deacons, priests, and bishops) that were still living with their wives and having children. Priests were justifying this by referring to the traditions of the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. Pope St. Siricius was emphatic that clerical continence belonged to immemorial, even apostolic, tradition. He declared that the priests of the Old Law had been under a duty to observe temporary continence when serving in the Temple, but that the coming of Christ had brought the old priesthood to completion, and by this fact the duty of temporary continence had become an obligation to perpetual continence.
Pope St. Siricius (384-398) epistle “Directa ad Decessorem” was promulgated in the year 385 A.D. This epistle dealt with the Celibacy of the Clergy, and it excommunicated all priests who dared to defile themselves with sexual acts with their wives, and prescribed that they all were banned from celebrating the heavenly mysteries of Our Lord:
Pope St. Siricius, Directa (# 7), February, A.D. 385: “Let us talk now about the very holy clerical Orders. As your Charity advises us, we see that in your provinces they are trampled underfoot and confused, with great prejudice to the honor due to religion. It has come to the point where we must say with Jeremiah: "Who will turn my head into a fountain, and my eyes into a spring for tears, so that I may weep all day, all night for all the dead out of the daughter of my people?" (Jer 8:23) … We have indeed discovered that many priests and deacons of Christ brought children into the world, either through union with their wives or through shameful intercourse. And they used as an excuse the fact that in the Old Testament—as we can read—priests and ministers were permitted to beget children.
“Whatever the case may be, if one of these disciples of the passions and tutors of vices thinks that the Lord—in the law of Moses—gives an indistinct license to those in sacred Orders so that they may satisfy their passions, let him tell me now: why does [the Lord] warn those who had the custody of the most holy things in the following way: "You must make yourselves holy, for I am Yahweh your God" (Lev 20:7). Likewise, why were the priests ordered, during the year of their tour of duty, to live in the temple, away from their homes? Quite obviously so that they would not be able to have carnal knowledge of any woman, even their wives, and, thus, having a conscience radiating integrity, they could offer to God offerings worthy of his acceptance. Those men, once they had fulfilled their time of service, were permitted to have marital intercourse for the sole purpose of ensuring their descent, because no one except [the members] of the tribe of Levi could be admitted to the divine ministry.
“This is why, after having enlightened us by his coming, the Lord Jesus formally stipulated in the Gospel that he had not come to abolish the law, but to bring it to perfection; this is also why he wanted the beauty of the Church whose Bridegroom he is to shine with the splendor of chastity, so that when he returns, on the Day of Judgment, he will find her without stain or wrinkle (Eph 5:27), as his Apostle taught [Apostolic Tradition]. It is through the indissoluble law of these decisions that all of us, priests and deacons, are bound together from the day of our ordination, and put our hearts and our bodies to the service of sobriety and purity; may we be pleasing to our God in all things, in the sacrifices we offer daily. "People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God", says the Chosen Vessel. "Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you" (Rom 8:8-9).
“But those, who contend with an excuse for the forbidden privilege, so as to assert that this has been granted to them by the Old Law, should know that by the authority of the Apostolic See they have been cast out of every ecclesiastical office, which they have used unworthily, nor can they ever touch the sacred mysteries, of which they themselves have deprived themselves so long as they give heed to impure desires. And because existing examples warn us to be on our guard for the future should any bishop, priest, or deacon be found such, which henceforth we do not want let him now understand that every approach to indulgence is barred through us, because it is necessary that the wounds which are not susceptible to the healing of warm lotions be cut out with a knife.” (St. Siricius 384-398, The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff, From the epistle "Directa ad decessorem" Feb. 10, 385, On The Celibacy of the Clergy; Denzinger 89)
The circumstance leading the Roman Pontiff to write about clerical continence, as this document shows, was the news coming from Spain: many clerics belonging to major Orders in those provinces went on living with their wives and having children. He was distraught by such news because they were grave violations of what was the indisputable teaching of the Church. Hence his intervention, the purpose of which was not to promulgate new regulations, but to reinstate those that should never have been broken. Siricius also learned from Himerius that those clerics were attempting to justify their behavior through Scripture, which is why he also uses Scripture. Some people are saying that the Old Testament, in particular the rules of Leviticus, authorized marriage for the Levites. Yes, indeed, he retorts, but married priests were under the obligation of temporary continence when serving in the temple. Now the priesthood of Christ brought the old priesthood to perfection. And by this very fact the obligation of continence became an obligation to perpetual continence. If the priests of the Old Law had to abstain periodically from intercourse with their wives “so that, with a conscience radiating integrity, they could present to God offerings worthy of his acceptance”, as Pope St. Siricius affirms, the ministers and priests of Jesus Christ in the New Law who offer sacrifice daily, a sacrifice far superior to that of the Old Law, can only be pleasing to God through perfect and perpetual chastity.
According to Wikipedia: “The Directa… became the first of a series of documents published by the Magisterium that claimed apostolic origin for clerical celibacy and reminded ministers of the altar of the perpetual continence required of them. It is known that the First Ecumenical Council which took place at Nicaea included in its legislation a discipline of the priesthood known as clerical ‘continence’ or celibacy. This was the requirement of all priests and bishops to refrain from sexual contact with their wives or with any other woman. Thus, for a married man to become a priest, his wife had to agree to abstain from all sexual relations. This discipline added to the legislation of various councils, particularly the Council of Elvira, the date of which cannot be determined with precision, but believed to have been in the first quarter of the fourth century, in Spain.”
In the Cum in unum decretal, sent to the different ecclesiastical provinces in 386, Pope St. Siricius refers to the various Pauline texts (cf. Tit 1:15; 1 Tim 3:2; 1 Cor 7:7; Rom 8:8-9) as the scriptural foundation for the Church’s teaching on ecclesiastical celibacy, and in doing so gives an authoritative interpretation of the Pauline phrase, unius uxoris vir, or unius uxoris virum “a husband of one wife” found in 1 Timothy 3:2. Besides, Pope St. Siricius himself later presented the norms of this text at the Council of Rome of A.D. 386. If Timothy and Titus are to choose bishops, priests or deacons among “men married once only”, this does not mean that after ordination they can continue with their conjugal life.
Here the Pope first formulated an objection that the expression unius uxoris vir of 1 Timothy 3:2, some said, specifically guaranteed the bishop the right to use marriage after sacred ordination. Pope St. Siricius answered by giving the stipulation’s correct interpretation: “He (Paul) was not speaking of a man who might persist in the desire to beget children (non permanentem in desiderio generandi dixit); he was speaking about continence which they had to observe in future (propter continentiam futuram).” It is thus interpreted as a requirement to guarantee the future continence that the candidate for orders will be asked to practice. In other words, a man who had remarried after his first wife died could not be considered as a candidate for ordination, since the fact of his remarriage would indicate an inability to live the life of perpetual continence required of clerics in major orders. This fundamental text was repeated a number of times subsequently. For the decretal Cum in unum of Pope Siricius, cf. Ep. V. c. 9 (PL 13, 1161 A); it is also found in the African Council of Theleptis (A.D. 418): Conc. Thelense (CCL 149, 62): French trans.: Cochini, op. cit., p. 32; see also the two letters of Pope St. Innocent I (A.D. 404-405) to the bishops Victricius of Rouen and Exuperius of Toulouse: Ep. II, (PL 20, 476 A. 497 B; Cochini, op. cit., pp. 284-286). Africa, Spain and the Gauls thus take direction as indicated by the Popes.
The legislation of Pope St. Siricius in 385 and 386, and the canons of the Council of Carthage (390), claim apostolic origin for the lex continentiae (law of continence). It is worth noting that these are not the claims of mere individuals but are the view of those who carried hierarchical responsibility in the Church. In Carthage it was the unanimous view of the whole African episcopate which declared “ut quod apostoli docuerunt, et ipsa servavit antiquitas nos quoque custodiamus” (what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep). In Rome Pope St. Siricius was conscious of placing himself in the line of the same living tradition with his predecessors as bishops of the See of St. Peter.
The Fathers and Early Writers of the Church confirms that priests must be completely chaste
The Fathers of the Church also insisted that clerics remain chaste. Theologically, in the first four centuries of the Church’s history, the validation of clerical continence is grounded on the Pauline teaching, linking it to the perpetual availability for service at the altar and a greater freedom for prayer. Being permanently in God’s presence, and because of the importance given to prayer, praise and adoration, the minister of the New Covenant ought not to care for the things of the world nor have the leisure needed to fulfill the responsibilities of married life.
In his treatise, On the Duties of the Clergy (c. 391), St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397) vehemently rejected the idea that married clerics should be allowed to have conjugal relations just because the priests of the Old Testament did. 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!” (De officiis ministrorum or On the Duties of the Clergy, I, 258). Yet more sternly he wrote: “He [Saint Paul] spoke of one who has children, not of one who begets children.” “habentem filios dixit, non facientem” (St. Ambrose, Epistle LXIII, 62; Ep. extra coll).
One can clearly see in the writings of St. Ambrose that the requirement that priests, whether married or celibate, should be continent was the established law of the Church. Priests “should live in a state of perpetual continence” since they served at the altar all their lives. Ambrose admonished his priests to “continue in a ministry which is unhampered and spotless, one which should not be profaned by conjugal intercourse.” (On the Duties of the Clergy, I, 50)
The Didascalia Apostolorum, written in Greek in the first half of the 3rd century, mentions the requirements of chastity on the part of both the bishop and his wife, as well as the requirement that he brings up his children in the fear of God, when it quotes 1 Timothy 3:2-4 as requiring that, before someone is ordained a bishop, enquiry be made “whether he be chaste, and whether his wife also be a believer and chaste; and whether he has brought up his children in the fear of God”.
The specific tradition of the Church also confirms that the Apostles lived in this way. St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) who thus lived very near in time to the Apostles, taught that the Apostles, after their calling by Our Lord to the ministry, took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters in purity and honesty: “But the latter [the Apostles], in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused.” (The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book III, Chapter VI, Section 71)
When we come to the question of what was the practice of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s first followers in this matter of clerical chastity, there would likewise be but little if any reasonable doubt. For while of the Apostles we have it recorded only of Peter that he was a married man, we have it also expressly recorded that in his case, as in that of all the rest who had “forsaken all” to follow Our Lord, the Lord himself said, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive an hundred fold and shall inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29; Lk. 18:29) Mark 10:29 records the same incident, but while “wife” is mentioned among the things “left,” no “wife” is found among the things gained.
St. Jerome, referred in Against Jovinianus to marriage prohibition for priests when he argued that Peter and the other apostles had been married, but had married before they were called and subsequently gave up their marital relations (Aduersus Jovinianum I, 7. 26 (PL 23, 230C; 256C).
There can be no doubt that St. Paul in his epistles allows and even contemplates the probability that those admitted to the ranks of the clergy will have been already married, but distinctly says that they must have been the “husband of one wife,” (1 Tim. 3:2 and 12; Titus i., 6) by which all antiquity and every commentator of gravity recognizes that digamists (more than once married) are cut off from the possibility of ordination, but there is nothing to imply that the marital connexion was to be continued after ordination. For a thorough treatment of this whole subject from the ancient and Patristic point of view, the reader is referred to St. Jerome. (Cf. Hieron, Adv. Jovin. Lib. I. Confer also the In Apolog. pro libris Adv. Jovin.) We will be quoting only a few passages from St. Jerome further down.
Commenting on the “husband of one wife” clause, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340) writes: “It is fitting, according to Scripture, ‘that a bishop be the husband of an only wife.’ But this being understood, it behooves consecrated men, and those who are at the service of God’s cult, to abstain thereafter from conjugal relations with their wives.” (Demonstratio Evangelica, I, 9)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386), in his Catechetical Lectures XII:25, writes: “For it became Him who is most pure, and a teacher of purity, to have come forth from a pure bride-chamber. For if he who well fulfils the office of a priest of Jesus abstains from a wife, how should Jesus Himself be born of man and woman? "For thou," says He in the Psalms, "art He that took Me out of the womb" (Psalm 22:9; 21:10). Mark that carefully, He that took Me out of the womb, signifying that He was begotten without man, being taken from a virgin’s womb and flesh. For the manner is different with those who are begotten according to the course of marriage.”
Several popes of the patristic era also issued decrees upholding clerical continence. Pope St. Siricius (384-99), who wrote the earliest extant papal legislation on this matter, insisted that bishops, priests, and deacons must practice perpetual rather than periodic continence since they must be ready to say the liturgy or perform the sacraments at any time. He affirmed that continence had an eschatological dimension, “pointing to the completion of the kingdom, to a time when marriage will be no more.” Similarly, Pope Leo I (440-61) upheld the rule that married clerics observe continence after ordination while Pope St. Gregory I (590-604) prohibited bishops from ordaining subdeacons who would not vow to live in perpetual chastity. The decrees of these popes show two things. The first is that clerical continence, or celibacy defined in its broad sense, was the law and practice of the universal Church and was not just a law of some of the local churches. The second is that some clerics were not obeying the law. Even at this early time in the Church’s history, it was becoming apparent that clerical continency was of apostolic origin.
St. Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-403), born in Palestine and consecrated bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, condemns all forms of encratism (the "Encratites", which means the "self-controlled", were an ascetic 2nd century sect who forbade marriage and counseled abstinence from meat) but the Saint nonetheless insists that priests themselves are required to live continently, as regulated by the apostles. Priestly continence is observed, he maintains, wherever the ecclesiastical canons are adhered to, human weakness and the shortage of vocations being inadequate reasons for clergy to contravene the law of the Church.
St. Epiphanius, the monk-bishop well known for his “zeal for the monastic life” and who had close ties with the Church of Rome, was thus in agreement with the other Fathers who promoted priestly continency for clerics, including subdeacons: “Holy Church respects the dignity of the priesthood to such a point that she does not admit to the deaconate, the priesthood or the episcopate, nor even to the subdeaconate, anyone still living in marriage and begetting children. She accepts only him who if married gives up his wife or has lost her by death, especially in those places where the ecclesiastical canons are strictly attended to.” (Panarion, 59, 4; cf. The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Celibacy of the Clergy", Vol. 3, 1908). St. Epiphanius, Father of the Church, further wrote: “It is the Apostles themselves who decreed this law [of celibacy].” (Panarion, 48, 9; cf. The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Celibacy of the Clergy", Vol. 3, 1908)
Similar evidence of the existence in the 4th-century East, as in the West, of a law of clerical continence that was considered to be canonical is found in Epiphanius’ Expositio Fidei, 21.
In Against Vigilantius (406), St. Jerome condemned bishops who refused to ordain unmarried men as deacons, pointing out that this contradicted the practice of the churches of Egypt and Rome, which ordained only unmarried men or married men who had taken a vow of continence:
“What would the Eastern Churches do? What would (those of) Egypt and the Apostolic See do, they who never accept clerics unless they are virgins or continent men, or if they had had a wife, (accept them only) if they give up matrimonial life...” (Adversus Vigilantium, 2)
He also said:
“What do the churches of Egypt and the Orient do? They choose clerics who are virgins or continent; and if they have a wife, they cease to be husbands.” (Adversus Vigilantium, 2)
St. Jerome states a well-known fact: a married man was not ordained unless the two spouses had mutually consented to a life of perpetual continence.
Similarly, in Against Jovianius (393) he upheld the superior dignity of celibacy and virginity. Here he argued that allowing clerics to have conjugal relations would mean that marriage was on par with virginity, but since the latter was clearly superior, it could not be lawful for priests to touch their wives:
“Nor did they lay down rules for continence, nor hint at virginity, nor urge to fasting, nor repeat the directions given in the Gospel to the Apostles, not to have two tunics, nor scrip, nor money in their girdles, nor staff in their hand, nor shoes on their feet. And they certainly did not bid them, [Matthew 19:21] if they wished to be perfect, go and sell all that they had and give to the poor, and "come follow me." For if the young man who boasted of having done all that the law enjoins, when he heard this went away sorrowful, because he had great possessions, and the Pharisees derided an utterance such as this from our Lord’s lips: how much more would the vast multitude of Gentiles, whose highest virtue consisted in not plundering another’s goods, have repudiated the obligation of perpetual chastity and continence, when they were told in the letter to keep themselves from idols, and from fornication, seeing that fornication was heard of among them, and such fornication as was not "even among the Gentiles." But the very choice of a bishop makes for me. For he does not say: Let a bishop be chosen who marries one wife and begets children; but who marries one wife, and has his children in subjection and well disciplined. You surely admit that he is no bishop who during his episcopate begets children. The reverse is the case— if he be discovered, he will not be bound by the ordinary obligations of a husband, but will be condemned as an adulterer. Either permit priests to perform the work of marriage with the result that virginity and marriage are on a par: or if it is unlawful for priests to touch their wives, they are so far holy in that they imitate virgin chastity. But something more follows. A layman, or any believer, cannot pray unless he abstain from sexual intercourse. Now a priest must always offer sacrifices for the people: he must therefore always pray. And if he must always pray, he must always be released from the duties of marriage. For even under the old law they who used to offer sacrifices for the people not only remained in their houses, but purified themselves for the occasion by separating from their wives, nor would they drink wine or strong drink which are wont to stimulate lust. That married men are elected to the priesthood, I do not deny: the number of virgins is not so great as that of the priests required. Does it follow that because all the strongest men are chosen for the army, weaker men should not be taken as well? All cannot be strong.” (St. Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book I, Section 34, A.D. 393)
In his Letter to Pammachius, Ep. 48.10 (c. 393), St. Jerome further wrote: “A mother before she was wedded, she remained a virgin after bearing her son. Therefore, as I was going to say, the virgin Christ and the virgin Mary have dedicated in themselves the first fruits of virginity for both sexes. The apostles have either been virgins or, though married, have lived celibate lives. Those persons who are chosen to be bishops, priests, and deacons are either virgins or widowers; or at least when once they have received the priesthood, are vowed to perpetual chastity. Why do we delude ourselves and feel vexed if while we are continually straining after sexual indulgence, we find the palm of chastity denied to us? We wish to fare sumptuously, and to enjoy the embraces of our wives, yet at the same time we desire to reign with Christ among virgins and widows. Shall there be but one reward, then, for hunger and for excess, for filth and for finery, for sackcloth and for silk? Lazarus (Luke 16:19-25), in his lifetime, received evil things, and the rich man, clothed in purple, fat and sleek, while he lived enjoyed the good things of the flesh but, now that they are dead, they occupy different positions. Misery has given place to satisfaction, and satisfaction to misery. And it rests with us whether we will follow Lazarus or the rich man.” (The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 48, To Pammachius, Section 21)
St. Jerome, one of the Four Great Western Doctors of the Church, also testified: “Priests and deacons must be either virgins or widowers before being ordained, or at least observe perpetual continence after their ordination... If married men find this difficult to endure, they should not turn against me, but rather against Holy Writ and the entire ecclesiastical order.”
St. Jerome, To Pammachius (c. 393 A.D.): “See my express declaration that marriage is allowed in the Gospel, yet that those who are married cannot receive the rewards of chastity so long as they render their due one to another. If married men feel indignant at this statement, let them vent their anger not on me but on the Holy Scriptures; nay, more, upon all bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and the whole company of priests and levites, who know that they cannot offer sacrifices if they fulfill the obligations of marriage.” (The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 48, To Pammachius, Section 10)
So, while some priests did break their vow of celibacy the Church never approved of that. It was considered a disgrace for a man that was married before he became a priest to beget children with his wife after ordination.
Also consider that all of the most important figures in the church were celibate, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, (Peter after his ordination) Paul, and the rest of the Apostles in accordance to the Tradition of the Church, etc.
Pope St. Innocent I (401-417 A.D.) wrote in the same vein: “This is not a matter of imposing upon the clergy new and arbitrary obligations, but rather of reminding them of those which the tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers has transmitted to us.”
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), adds: “If then "he who is married cares for the things of the world" [1 Corinthians 7:33], and a Bishop ought not to care for the things of the world, why does he say the husband of one wife? Some indeed think that he says this with reference to one who remains free from a wife. But if otherwise, he that has a wife may be as though he had none [1 Corinthians 7:29]. For that liberty was then properly granted, as suited to the nature of the circumstances then existing. … "Having his children in subjection with all gravity" [1 Timothy 3:4]. This is necessary, that an example might be exhibited in his own house. For who would believe that he who had not his own son in subjection, would keep a stranger under command? "One that rules well his own house" [Ibid]. Even those who are without say this, that he who is a good manager of a house will be a good statesman. For the Church is, as it were, a small household, and as in a house there are children and wife and domestics, and the man has rule over them all; just so in the Church there are women, children, servants. And if he that presides in the Church has partners in his power, so has the man a partner, that is, his wife. Ought the Church to provide for her widows and virgins? So there are in a family servants, and daughters, to be provided for. And, in fact, it is easier to rule the house; therefore he asks, "if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?" [1 Timothy 3:5]” (Homily X on First Timothy, 1 Timothy 3:1-7)
St. Augustine participated in the Council of Carthage (419) where the general obligation to continence for major clerics had been repeatedly affirmed and traced back to the apostles and to a constant tradition. In his treatise De conjugiis adulterinis (396) he asserted that even married men who were unexpectedly called to enter the ranks of the major clergy, and were ordained, were obliged to continence. In this they became an example to those laymen who had to live separated from their wives and who therefore were more liable to be tempted to commit adultery (no. 2, 22: PL, 40, 486).
Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais (died c. 414), of the Libyan Church, knew that he is expected to live in continence with his wife if made a priest-bishop (Epistle 105 ca. 410) (he was still a layman at the time of his ordination), and Palladius the historian reports that a synod presided over by St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the year 400, condemned Antoninus, Bishop of Ephesus, for doing what was forbidden by the ‘holy laws’ including resuming common life with his wife: “after separating from his married wife, he had taken her again” (The Dialogue of Palladius concerning the Life of St. John Chrysostom, chapter XIII). In his note on this phrase, the translator Herbert Moore says: “According to the ‘Apostolic Canons’, only the lower orders of clergy were allowed to marry after their appointment to office; the Council in Trullo ordered that a bishop’s wife should retire to a convent, or become a deaconess; that of Caesarea, that if a priest marries after ordination he must be degraded. For Antoninus to resume relations with his wife was equivalent to marriage after ordination. It was proposed at the Council of Nicaea that married clergy should be compelled to separate from their wives... though it was generally held that the relations of bishops with their wives should be those of brother and sister.”
Church laws and writings of this era not only affirm the requirement of clerical continence, even if it was not always followed in practice, they also reflect a sophisticated theology of the priesthood. Ritual purity requires only periodic abstinence, which was sufficient for the priests of the Old Testament, who offered animals in sacrifice to God. However, since the priests of the New Testament offer the Holy Victim, Jesus Christ, in sacrifice to the Father, they are, as St. Ambrose pointed out, called to a more radical and perfect purity than that of their Hebrew predecessors. Furthermore, the holiness of the clerical office demanded absolute purity. Their daily ministry included not only the Mass, which was offered every day in many places, but also the administration of the sacraments and the practice of praying constantly on behalf of the Church. Finally, celibacy gave an eschatological dimension to the priesthood, pointing to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Tertullian at the beginning of the third century, reminds the clergy that monogamy (marriage with only one person at a time) is not only the teaching of the Church but also a precept of the Apostle (Ad uxorem, 1, 7, 4 (CCL 1, 381)). It thus dates back to apostolic times. Furthermore, he insists on the fact that, in the Church, not a few believers are not married, that they live in continence and that some of them belong to ‘ecclesiastical orders’ (De exhort. cast., 13, 4 (CCL 2, 1035)). Now, the men and women who live like this, Tertullian goes on, “have preferred to marry God” (Deo nubere maluerunt); (Ibid., cf Ad uxorem, 1, 4, 4).
While Tertullian commented with admiration upon the number of those in sacred orders who have embraced continence, Origen seems to contrast the spiritual offspring of the priests of the New Law with the natural offspring begotten in wedlock by the priests of the Old (In Levit. Hom. vi, no. 6).
Other testimonies to be taken into special account include Origen (d. ca. 253) (23rd homily on Numbers, 6th homily on Leviticus), Ephraem Syrus (Carmina Nisibena, 18 and 19 (ca. 363)), and the Syriac Doctrina Addei (ca. 400).
Origin (c. 185-254), Homily 23 on Numbers 28:1-29:39, 3:1-2: “Since therefore we have the laws for feasts in hand and the present words concerns this subject, let us diligently investigate the order of the feasts in order to be able to conclude from these orders and from the rite of sacrifices how each one can prepare a feast for God by his own actions and by his holy manner of life. Well, the first feast of God is the one called "perpetual." (cf. Num 28:6) For a command is given concerning these morning and evening sacrifices, which are offered perpetually and without any interruption whatsoever. Thus, when he commands the rites of the feasts, he does not come first of all and immediately to the Passover feast, nor to the feast of Unleavened Bread, nor to that of Tabernacles, nor to the others about which commandments are given; but he has recorded this one first, in which he commands a perpetual sacrifice to be offered. The reason for this is so that each one who wants to be perfect and holy may know that it is not merely now and then that one must celebrate a feast for God, but at other times, there is no need to celebrate a feast. On the contrary, always and perpetually the just person should celebrate the feast day. For the sacrifice that is commanded to be offered perpetually, both in the morning and in the evening, indicates this, that in the law and the prophets, which point to the morning time, and in the teaching of the gospel, which points to the evening time, that is, to the evening of the world, it points to the coming of the Savior, it persists with a perpetual intention. So it is of these kinds of feasts that the Lord says: "And you will observe my feast days." Thus it is a feast day of the Lord, if we offer him a sacrifice perpetually, if "we pray without intermission," (1 Thess 5:17) so that "our prayer may ascend like incense in his sight in the morning, and the lifting up of our hands may become an evening sacrifice to him." (Ps 141:2) So this is the first celebration of a perpetual sacrifice, which must be fulfilled by worshipers of the gospel in this manner that we have explained above.
“… I fear to say something that is given to be understood based on the apostolic sayings, least I seem to cause grief in some people. For if "the prayer of the just is offered like incense in the sight of God, and the lifting up of hands is his evening sacrifice," (cf. Ps 141:1-2) but the apostle says to those who are married: "Do not deprive one another, except by consent for a time, that you may be free for prayer, and again be unto this very thing," (1 Cor 7:5) it is certain that the perpetual sacrifice is impeded in those who serve conjugal needs. This is why it seems to me that the offering of a perpetual sacrifice [such as in the priesthood and the religious life] belongs to that one alone who has pledged himself to perpetual and continual chastity.”
Origin, Homily 6 on Leviticus, 2-3: “But let us see, perhaps, since we said in the preceding this kind of clothing (Lev 6:10-11; 16:4) was seen as a sign of chastity, where they seem either to cover the tights or to restrain the kidneys and loins (Eph 6:14), I say, perhaps, not always in those, who then [in the Old Law] were priests, does it say these parts are restrained. For sometimes concessions were granted concerning the posterity of the race and the succession of offspring. But I would not introduce such an understanding for the priests of the Church [in the New Law], for I see something else suggested in the mystery.
“For in the Church, the priests and teachers can beget sons [in a spiritual sense], just as that one [St. Paul] who said, "My little children, for whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you." (Gal 4:19) And again in another place he says, "Although you have myriad teachers in Christ, but not many fathers. For I begat you in Christ Jesus for the gospel." (1 Cor 4:15) Therefore, these teachers of the Church, in procreating such generations, sometimes use the binding of the thighs and abstain from begetting [spiritual] generations, since they find such hearers in whom they know they could not have fruit [by their preaching]. Finally, also in the Acts of the Apostles, it is related concerning some of these that "we could not speak the word of God in Asia." (cf. Acts 16:6) That is, they had put on the tight covering and preserved themselves that they not beget sons, for certainly these were such hearers in whom both the seed would die and could not have offspring. Thus therefore, the priests of the Church, when they see incapable ears or when they encounter counterfeit hypocritical hearers, let them put on "the apron," let them use "the thigh covering," (cf. Exod 28:42)...”
St. Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306-373), The Nisibene Hymns, Hymn XVIII: “1. O thou who art made priest after thy master, the illustrious after the excellent, the chaste after the grave, the watchful after the abstinent, thy master from thee has not departed; in the living we see the deceased: for lo! in thee is his likeness painted; and impressed upon thee are his footprints, and all of him shines from all of thee. R., Blessed be He Who in His stead has given us thee!
“2. The fruit wherein its tree is painted, bears witness concerning the root. Hitherto there has not failed us, the savour of his sweetness. His words thou showest forth in bodily act, for thou hast fulfilled them in deed. In thy conversation is painted his doctrine, in thy conduct his exposition, in thy fulfilment his interpretation. R., Blessed be He Who has made thy lustre to excel!
“… 12. That he should purge his mind, and cleanse also his tongue; that he should purify his hands, and make his whole body to shine; this is too little for the priest and his title, who offers the Living Body. Let him cleanse all himself at all hours; for he stands as mediator, between God and mankind. R., Blessed be He Who has cleansed His ministers!”
St. Ephrem the Syrian, The Nisibene Hymns, Hymn XIX: “1. Thou who answerest to the name of Abraham, in that Thou art made father of many; but because to Thee none is spouse, as Sarah was to Abraham,—lo! Thy flock is Thy spouse; bring up her sons in Thy truth; spiritual children may they be to Thee, and the sons be sons of promise, that they may become heirs in Eden. R., Blessed be He Who foreshowed Thee in Abraham!
“2. Fair fruit of chastity, in whom the priesthood was well pleased, youngest among Thy brethren as was the son of Jesse; the horn overflowed and anointed Thee, the hand alighted and chose Thee, the Church desired and loved Thee; the pure altar is for Thy ministry, the great throne for Thy honour, and all as one for Thy crown. R., Blessed be He Who multiplied Thy crowning!
“3. Lo! thy flock, O blessed one, arise and visit it, O diligent one! Jacob ranged the flocks in order; range Thou the sheep that have speech, and enlighten the virgin-youths in purity, and the virgin-maids in chastity; raise up priests in honour, rulers in meekness, and a people in righteousness. R. Blessed be He Who filled Thee with understanding!
“… 13. Hearken to the Apostle when he saith, to that virgin whom he had espoused; I am jealous over you with jealousy, with a jealousy verily of God, not of the flesh but of the spirit. Be jealous therewith thou also in pureness, that He may know what she is and whose she is. In thee may she cherish, and in thee may she love, Jesus the Bridegroom in truth. R., Blessed is he whose zeal is holy!
“14. As are her masters, so are her manners: for with the teacher that lags a laggard is she, and with him that is noble, excellent is she. The Church is like unto a mirror, for according to the face that gazes into it, thus does it put on the likeness thereof. For as is the king so also his host, and as is the priest so also his flock; according as these are it is stamped on them. R., Blessed be He Who stamped her in His likeness!
“15. Without a testament they departed, those three illustrious priests; who in Testaments used to meditate, those two Testaments of God. Great gain have they bequeathed to us, even this example of poverty. They who possessed nothing the blessed ones, made us their possessions; the Church was their treasure. R., Blessed is he who possessed in them his possessions!”
In the East, this tradition of exalting virginity over marriage was exemplified by St. John Chrysostom: “Marriage was not instituted for wantonness or fornication, but for chastity.” He also said: “That virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I will add that it is as much better than marriage as Heaven is better than Earth, as much better as angels are better than men.” (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2: 1116)
In this context of exalting chastity, St. Athanasius the Great in his Apologia ad Constantium 33 (c. 357) writes: “The Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, having become man for our sakes, and having destroyed death, and delivered our race from the bondage of corruption, in addition to all His other benefits bestowed this also upon us, that we should possess upon earth, in the state of virginity, a picture of the holiness of Angels. Accordingly such as have attained this virtue, the Catholic Church has been accustomed to call the brides of Christ. And the heathen who see them express their admiration of them as the temples of the Word. For indeed this holy and heavenly profession is nowhere established, but only among us Christians, and it is a very strong argument that with us is to be found the genuine and true religion.”
Tertullian, speaking of women who, instead of choosing a husband, have preferred a virginal life: “They prefer to be wedded to God. To God their beauty, to God their youth (is dedicated). With Him they live; with Him they converse; Him they "handle" by day and by night; to the Lord they assign their prayers as dowries; from Him, as oft as they desire it, they receive His approbation as dotal gifts. Thus they have laid hold for themselves of an eternal gift of the Lord; and while on earth, by abstaining from marriage, are already counted as belonging to the angelic family.” (CCL 1, 377; Ad uxorem, 1, 4); and speaking about virgins, he says that they are “brides of Christ” (De virg. vel., 16, 4: “Nupsisti enim Christo, illi tradidisti carnem tuam, illi sponsasti maturitatem tuam,” (CCL 2, 1225); De res., 61, 6: “virgines Christi maritae” (CCL 2, 1010).
The reforms of the Middle Ages
Although it has already been proven that absolute and perpetual priestly chastity is a biblical, apostolic and patristic teaching that cannot be denied by any Christian, the Catholic Church from the time of Christ had to confirm this teaching from time to time since impure factions of heretics or fallen away Catholics tried to reject or neglect this teaching in order to live out their unlawful lusts.
From the fifth century through the eleventh century, the Catholic Church firmly held to its law that all clerics in major orders were to observe perfect continence after ordination. In fact, over the course of these centuries, the Church actually increased its restrictions on married clerics. In 567, the Second Council of Tours ruled that any priest found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year, and reduced to the lay state. In 653 the Council of Toledo prohibited clerics from having any type of public relationship with their wives or concubines. When the Frankish Church held its first reform synod in 743, it forbade any priest or deacon to live in the same house with any woman, including his wife. The Irish Penitentials of the sixth century, which were one of the earliest collections of disciplinary norms on clerical life of the middle ages or the medieval period, imposed strict penalties upon clerics who committed fornication or who engaged in conjugal activity after ordination. Similar ordinances for Anglo-Saxon lands could be found in penitential books of the eighth century. Bishop Chrodegang of Metz (d. 766) issued the Regula canonicorum, which required that his cathedral clergy, or canons, live in a community governed by a rule similar to those of religious orders. This practice, which was eventually adopted by many other dioceses, provided a practical alternative to the existing custom of allowing married clerics to live with their wives, making it easier for priests to live celibately.
It is therefore true to say that, during those centuries of crisis for clerical morals, the Church never lost sight of the ancient tradition concerning the law of celibacy. From her memory she constantly affirmed the prohibition of marriage for clerics in major orders and the duty of a vow of perpetual continence for those married before ordination, even at times when these laws were being flagrantly violated. Apart from evidence in the collections of disciplinary norms, this commitment is also attested to by the efforts of regional councils and diocesan synods. In France, for example, the Council of Metz (888) forbade priests to keep a woman in their homes; the Council of Rheims (909), noting the decadence in clerical conduct as regards continence, urged that association with women should be forbidden, and also cohabitation with them, both norms being related to the precept of continence. In Germany, the Council of Mainz (888) recalled that the prohibition on cohabitation with women prohibited cohabitation even with a wife living in continence whom the cleric had previously married, that is, it confirmed the prohibition of canon 3 of the Council of Nicea (325); the Council of Rheims (909), noting the decadence in clerical conduct as regards continence, urged that association with women should be forbidden, and also cohabitation with them, both norms being related to the precept of continence. This tendency was taken up by the 11th-century Gregorian Reform, which aimed at eliminating what it called “Nicolaitism” (the widespread violation of clerical celibacy and the practice of priests being married or having a mistress or concubine). It was one of the twin evils to be overthrown in the eyes of the reform movement of 11th century Rome, inspired by Pope St. Gregory VII. (The second evil practice was simony.)
In 893, the ‘Statutes of Riculph, Archbishop of Soissons and his bishops’ state: “Neither bishop, priest, deacon, nor any cleric shall have a woman in his house...” Indeed, during the following centuries, the decrees of the Catholic Church on this matter maintained the biblical and apostolic teaching of clerical celibacy when compared to other “Churches” who tried to reject or ignore this teaching of the Church. In some dioceses, men could not receive Orders unless they made a formal vow of perfect chastity first. In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, several councils prohibited clerics from living with any women, including their wives.
Sadly, in the Middle Ages, abuses of clerical celibacy arose, which incited a strong reaction from the Church. The Synod of Augsburg (952), and the local Councils of Anse (994) and Poitiers (1000) all affirmed the rule of celibacy. In 1009, the Church Council of Egham in England cautioned: “We beg and admonish all ministers of God, especially priests, to cultivate chastity... They must surely know that a priest must not have a wife...”
The Council of Pavia (1022), which was convened by Pope Benedict VIII and St. Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, mandated strict celibacy, banning clerical marriage and forbidding clergy to live with any women, including their wives. Clerics refusing to separate from their wives, including bishops, were to be laicized (to be deprived of their clerical ministry, although they remain ordained priests forever). The Council of Burgess (1031) ordered the wives of clerics to leave the towns where their clerichusbands lived. They also struck a blow against the hereditary priesthood by declaring that any children fathered after ordination were illegitimate and, therefore, ineligible to receive Orders. During the pontificate of Pope St. Leo IX (1049-54), synods in Rome and Mainz banned clerical marriage. Pope Victor II (1055-1057) continued Leo’s policy and on 4 June 1055 anathematized clerical marriage and unchastity. Pope Nicholas II (1059-61) convened a synod at the Lateran, which ordered the laity not to attend Masses said by priests who were living with their wives or concubines and which ordered the excommunication of clerics who had not yet complied with Leo IX’s directives. More importantly, the synod established the College of Cardinals and vested it with the authority to elect popes. By stripping the Holy Roman Emperor and his nobles of their power to appoint popes, this synod ended the most egregious example of lay investiture and greatly increased the power and authority of the papacy.
Nicholas II also made effective use of his legates, Cardinal Humbert of Silva, Archdeacon St. Hildebrand of Rome, and the indomitable monk, St. Peter Damian, in enforcing the decrees of his councils. Humbert crusaded tirelessly against clerical incontinence or “nicolaitism,” which had been condemned as a heresy in 1059. At the pope’s behest, Damian, who was also the Cardinal of Ostia, wrote several works that praised celibacy and that condemned unchaste clerics and their consorts. St. Hildebrand used his authority as the Archdeacon to reform the clergy of Rome and he also made trips abroad on behalf of the pope. Nicholas held other councils that repeated the decrees of the synod of 1059 and he wrote an encyclical on celibacy.
Nicholas II was succeeded by Alexander II (1061-73), who had to contend with the claims of the anti-pope Honorius II, and who did little to advance his predecessor’s agenda on clerical chastity. When Alexander died, Archdeacon St. Hildebrand was elected pope and took the name Gregory VII (1073-1085). The new bishop of Rome wasted no time in restarting the engine of reform. Although his bitter struggle over lay investiture with Emperor Henry IV took up much of his energy and ultimately resulted in his exile from Rome in 1080, Pope St. Gregory VII effectively combated clerical marriage up until then. He held several synods at the Lateran, including one in 1074, which required all clerics to make a vow of celibacy upon ordination and which prohibited lay people from attending Masses or receiving the sacraments from unchaste clerics. The synod of 1078 put the burden of enforcing clerical chastity upon the bishops, who would be suspended if they tolerated the behavior of unchaste clerics. The pope even enlisted the aid of abbots and nobles in bringing reluctant bishops to heel.
Gregory VII’s motives were threefold. First and foremost, they were moral, since he rightly considered that clerical marriage was adultery. Secondly, they were material – a celibate clergy would not have possessions to pass on to their children and thus property would be inherited by the Church. Thirdly, they were political: a celibate clergy would be subject only to the Pope and would therefore not have dealings with the world.
During the struggle to gain control over the priesthood, Pope St. Gregory VII finally gave his ultimatum in 1074 by declaring that no man could be ordained without first pledging himself to celibacy: “The Church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape from the clutches of their wives.” (Citing the authority of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:33-34). Thus, if a married clergyman did not separate from his wife, he was to be deposed. After this ultimatum other synods and local councils passed similar legislation. By the year 1080, when St. Gregory VII was forced into exile, strict clerical celibacy was becoming the accepted practice throughout the Catholic Church. In 1089 Pope Urban II (1088-1099) ordered that married priests who ignored the celibacy laws was to be imprisoned for the good of their souls and that all clerics who continued to live with their wives were to be removed from office. If, after being warned by a bishop, clerics did not comply, the pope gave secular rulers permission to make slaves of clerical wives. In 1095, the Council of Piacenza passed a resolution outlawing the marriage of priests. Pope Callistus II (1119-1124) presided over the First Lateran Council which decreed that clerical marriages were invalid, fought simony and concubinage of the clergy, ended the lay investiture crisis, and decreed that it was adultery for bishops to forsake their see for marriage.
These decrees culminated in the reforms of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which reaffirmed the holy law of clerical celibacy as the undisputed law and practice of the Catholic Church. Although Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-85) is credited with carrying out the reforms that effected this change, the popes and councils who preceded him laid the groundwork of his program, which also included ending the abuses of simony and lay investiture.
Still, the Gregorian programme for reform was not without opposition. The opponents of reform presented their own arguments, not only at the practical but also at the theoretical level. Their main argument was a scriptural one drawn from the Old Testament, which not only allowed priests to marry but mandated marriage to perpetuate the priestly caste. They also drew on the episode of Paphnutius whom, they claimed, opposed the idea of requiring absolute continence from married clerics at the Council of Nicea (325). As for the East, the Greek ecclesiastical historians Socrates (c. 380-439) and Sozomen (c. 400-450), who wrote a century after the event, reported that the First Council of Nicaea considered ordering all married clergy to refrain from conjugal relations, but the Council was dissuaded by Paphnutius of Thebes. As the story goes, he is alleged to have risen during the Council to protest any plan to impose a discipline of total continence on married clerics, suggesting that it be left to the decision of the particular Churches. The argument runs that his advice is supposed to have been accepted by the assembly. The well-known Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340), who was present at the Council and sympathetic to the Arians, does not make any reference to this episode. It is first recorded by the 5th century Greek historian Sozomen. There are several arguments against the authenticity of this episode, but the most telling one is that the Eastern Church itself, which should have had a great interest in it, either did not know of it or, because the Eastern Church leaders were convinced that it was false, did not have a record of it in any official document it used. None of the polemical writers on clerical celibacy made use of it, nor did the Council of Trullo (691) refer to it. And given the polemical tone of Trullo it would have served its purpose well to have referred to it if it was true. The story of Paphnutius was used against the Gregorian reform, and this was why Pope St. Gregory VII, at the Synod of Rome in 1077, condemned the episode as one of the two most important falsifications used by the opponents of the reform (cf. Cholij, Clerical Celibacy in East and West, pp. 78-92, and Stickler, The Case for Clerical Celibacy, pp 62-65). This means that the historical value of the Paphnutius incident at Nicea is rejected by Rome.
Subsequent Later Reforms and the History and Reason Behind the Great Western Schism
St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), Doctor of the Church and cardinal-bishop of the diocese of Ostia, Italy, said that, since the Virgin Mary delivered the infant Jesus, only virgin priests ought to bring Him forth on the Eucharistic altar (Peter Damian, On the Dignity of the Priest). Damian taught that any married priest who had marital intercourse with his wife “became impure and his impurity contaminated every liturgical action he performed, sullied the sacred vessels that he touched, and defiled the sacred words that he spoke.” (Peter Damian, Against the Intemperate Clerics, Chapter 4). While some who refuse to accept the Church’s teaching in this regard might object that St. Peter the Apostle himself was married, (although there is nothing in the Bible or Tradition that says that he performed the marital act after his ordination) Peter Damian affirms St. Jerome’s condemnation of forbidden sexual activity of the clergy, declaring that, “Peter washed away the filth of marriage with the blood of his martyrdom.” (St. Peter Damian, On the Perfection of Bishops)
In truth, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us in The Revelations of St. Bridget that St. Peter Damian’s teaching is perfectly right in this regard and that the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul was conformed to how they lived and how much they loved their flesh in this life: “Peter and Paul died for the sake of righteousness, although Peter died a more painful death than Paul, for he loved the flesh more than Paul; he also had to be more conformed to me through his painful death since he held the primacy of my church. Paul, however, inasmuch as he had a greater love of continence and because he had worked harder, died by the sword like a noble knight, for I arrange all things according to merit and measure. So, in God’s judgment it is not how people end their lives or their horrible death that leads to their reward or condemnation, but their intention and will.” (Our Lord speaking to St. Bridget, The Revelations of St. Bridget, Book 3, Chapter 19)
Peter Damian showed that married priests betrayed their high calling because “they lived as married men, amid the reek and screams of sniveling brats, side by side with a smirking, randy wife, [and] bedeviled by daily temptations to unclean thoughts, words, and deeds.” (St. Peter Damian, Against the Intemperate Clerics, Chapter 7)
Cardinal Humbert, one of St. Peter Damian’s contemporaries, was Pope St. Leo IX’s apostolic delegate to the Eastern Church in Byzantium (present-day Istanbul). Condemning the Eastern Church for allowing the impurity of a married priesthood, Humbert depicted the Eastern Rite priests in these words: “Young husbands, just now exhausted from carnal lust, serve the altar. And immediately afterward they again embrace their wives with hands that have been hallowed by the immaculate Body of Christ. That is not the mark of true faith, but an invention of Satan.” Because of various reasons (in addition to the impious practice mentioned above by Cardinal Humbert), on 16 July 1054, during the celebration of the liturgy, Humbert excommunicated his host, Eastern Patriarch Michael, by placing a Papal Bull of excommunication of the Patriarch on the high altar of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. Michael reciprocated by “excommunicating” Latin Church leaders for permitting “irregularities” such as prohibiting the marriage of priests. The tragic split between the Eastern “Orthodox” Church – which is a sensual, condemned and heretical sect as we have seen from the Bible and Apostolic Tradition – and the Western (and Eastern) Catholic Church, which is the one and only true Christian Faith, dates from that year, and it has never been healed since that time. So because of the Eastern Schismatics’ obstinacy and inordinate love of this fleeting fleshly pleasure, in addition to their other obstinate rejections of various other doctrines of the Catholic Church, they have sadly denied and rejected Christ and the faith in the process.
The reforms of the eleventh century were finalized in the twelfth century by the
Ecumenical and infallible First Lateran Council (1123), which proclaimed that after a cleric was ordained a subdeacon, deacon, or priest, he could not validly marry or live with his wife, and that the marriages of all higher clerics were invalid. The First Lateran Council was held during the pontificate of Pope Callistus II, and was “for various important matters of the church”, as Callistus himself says in the letter of convocation. Canon 7 declared: “We absolutely forbid priests, deacons or subdeacons to live with concubines and wives, and to cohabit with other women, except those whom the Council of Nicaea permitted to dwell with them solely on account of necessity, namely a mother, sister, paternal or maternal aunt, or other such persons, about whom no suspicion could justly arise.” Canon 21 declared that any marriages contracted of clerics and the chaste servants of Christ were void: “We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons and monks to have concubines or to contract marriages. We adjudge, as the sacred canons have laid down, that marriage contracts between such persons should be made void and the persons ought to undergo penance.”
At the Synod of Clermont in 1130 Pope Innocent II decreed that marital intercourse was incompatible with holy men and their holy actions. The pope said that: “since priests are supposed to be God’s temples, vessels of the Lord and sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit… it offends their dignity to lie in the conjugal bed and live in impurity.”
Repeating the decrees of the First Lateran Council, the Ecumenical Second Lateran Council (1139) decreed in Canon 6: “We also decree that those who in the subdiaconate and higher orders have contracted marriage or have concubines, be deprived of their office and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they should be and be called the temple of God, the vessel of the Lord, the abode of the Holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they indulge in marriage and in impurities.” Canon 7: “Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban, and Paschal, we command that no one attend the masses of those who are known to have wives or concubines. But that the law of continence and purity, so pleasing to God, may become more general among persons constituted in sacred orders, we decree that bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks, and professed clerics (conversi) who, transgressing the holy precept, have dared to contract marriage, shall be separated. For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony. Those who have been separated from each other, shall do penance commensurate with such excesses.”
Thus the infallible decrees of the First and Second Lateran Councils made it clear once and for all—and especially to those contraveners in the Christian world that opposed and still oppose the Apostolic and Biblical teaching of clerical celibacy in the New Testament and in the New Law—that this teaching indeed was true and biblical and that henceforth, all clerics had to remain perfectly chaste if they wished to be spotless and lawful and pure ministers of Our Lord Jesus Christ. While it has already been proved that all deacons, priests and bishops of the Church must live totally and perpetually chaste from the time of their ordination and that this is indeed the teachings of the Bible and the Apostles, from that time onward, the law and practice of the Church concerning strict celibacy was made more firm.
And later legislation, found especially in the Quinque Compilationes Antiquae and the Decretals of Gregory IX, continued to deal with questions concerning married men who were ordained legally. In 1322 Pope John XXII insisted that no one bound in marriage—even if unconsummated—could be ordained unless there was full knowledge of the requirements of Church law. If the free consent of the wife had not been obtained, the husband, even if already ordained, was to be reunited with his wife, exercise of his ministry being barred. Accordingly, the assumption that a wife might not want to give up her marital rights may have been one of the factors contributing to the eventual universal practice in the Latin Church of ordaining only unmarried men.
One further word on the canonical legislation of the Middle Ages. On various occasions, in penitential books, it is said that for a married priest to go on having sexual relations with his wife after ordination would be an act of unfaithfulness to the promise made to God. It would be an adulterium since, the minister now being married to the Church, his relationship with his own wife “is like a violation of the marriage bond” (Stickler, L’évolution... (ut supra), p. 381). This weighty accusation against a lawfully wedded man only makes sense if something is left unexpressed because it is well-known, i.e., that the sacred minister, from the moment of his ordination, now lives in another relationship, also of a matrimonial type — that which unites Christ and the Church in which he, the minister, the man (vir), represents Christ the bridegroom; with his own wife (uxor) therefore “the carnal union should from now on be a spiritual one”, as St. Leo the Great said. (Ep. ad Rusticum Narbonensem episc. Inquis. III: Resp. (PL 54, 1204 A): «ut de carnali fiat spirituale coniugium».)
The universal law of clerical celibacy confirmed by the Council of Nicaea applied, and still applies, to the Eastern Church as well as the Western. It is noteworthy that at that Council, the Easterners (Greeks) made up the overwhelming majority. Previously, the Council of Neo-Caesarea (c. 314) had reminded all Eastern clerics in major orders of the inviolability of this law under pain of deposition: “If a presbyter marry, let him be removed from his order.” (Canon 1) And of course, we must nor forget to cite earliest canon law on the subject: “None of the clergy, except readers and singers may marry after ordination.” (The Apostolic Canons, Canon 26)
We may then take it for a general principle that in no part of the ancient Church was a priest allowed to contract holy matrimony; and in no place was he allowed to exercise his priesthood afterwards, if he should dare to enter into such a relation with a woman.
The Eastern Church began at a late date to violate its own law of celibacy. The Quinisext Council of 692, also called Council in Trullo, which St. Bede the Venerable (673-735) called “a reprobate synod,” breached the Apostolic Tradition concerning the celibacy of clerics by declaring that “all clerics except bishops may continue in wedlock” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Council in Trullo, vol. 4, 1908). This reprobate synod taught: “Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife...” (Canon 13) The popes refused to endorse the conclusions of the Council in the matter of celibacy, and the Eastern Church planted the seeds of its schism.
It is abundantly clear that the fathers in The Quinisext Council thought the discipline they were setting forth to be the original discipline of the Church in the matter, and the discipline of the West an innovation, but that such was really the case is an innovation itself. Thomassinus (1619-1695), French theologian and Oratorian, treats this point with much learning, and I shall cite some of the authorities he brings forward. Of these the most important is St. Epiphanius (c. 310-403), bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, of whom we have already cited some verses before, who as a Greek would be certain to give the tradition of the East, had there been any such tradition known in his time. I give the three great passages:
“It is evident that those from the priesthood are chiefly taken from the order of virgins, or if not from virgins, at least from monks; or if not from the order of monks, then they are wont to be made priests who keep themselves from their wives, or who are widows after a single marriage. But he that has been entangled by a second marriage is not admitted to priesthood in the Church, even if he be continent from his wife, or be a widower. Anyone of this sort is rejected from the grade of bishop, presbyter, deacon, or subdeacon. The order of reader, however, can be chosen from all the orders these grades can be chosen from, that is to say from virgins, monks, the continent, widowers, and they who are bound by honest marriage. Moreover, if necessity so compel, even digamists may be lectors, for such is not a priest, etc., etc.” (Epiph. Exposit. Fid. Cath., c. xxi)
“Christ taught us by an example that the priestly work and ornaments should be communicated to those who shall have preserved their continency after a single marriage, or shall have persevered in virginity. And this the Apostles thereafter honestly and piously decreed, through the ecclesiastical canon of the priesthood.” (Epiph. Hæresi. 48, n. 7)
“Nay, moreover, he that still uses marriage, and begets children, even though the husband of but one wife, is by no means admitted by the Church to the order of deacon, presbyter, bishop, or subdeacon. But for all this, he who shall have kept himself from the commerce of his one wife, or has been deprived of her, may be ordained, and this is most usually the case in those places where the ecclesiastical canons are most accurately observed.” (Epiph. Hæresi, 59, n. 4)
Nor is the weight of this evidence lessened, but much increased, by the acknowledgment of the same father that in some places in his days the celibate life was not observed by such priests as had wives, for he explains that such a state of things had come about “not from following the authority of the canons, but through the neglect of men, which is wont at certain periods to be the case.” (Ibid. ut supra.)
The witness of the Western Fathers, although so absolutely and indisputably clear on this subject already, yet one more passage from St. Jerome should be quoted: “The Virgin Christ and the Virgin Mary dedicated the virginity of both sexes. The Apostles were chosen when either virgins or continent after marriage, and bishops, presbyters, and deacons are chosen either when virgins, or widowers, or at least continent forever after the priesthood.” (Hieron. Apolog. pro. lib. adv. Jovin.)
It cannot be more clearly stated. And there is a reason for the tradition. The main reason why clerical celibacy is doctrinal and not disciplinary, is because the cleric in major orders, by virtue of his ordination, contracts a marriage with the Church, and he cannot be a bigamist (the crime of marrying a person while one is still legally married to someone else). As our fathers in the Faith still explain it, these clerics are virgins in order to be true disciples and ministers of Christ, a virgin consecrated to His Spouse. St. Jerome, in his treatise, Adversus Jovinianum, bases clerical celibacy on the virginity of Christ. Thus as early as 306 the Council of Elvira in Spain imposed sanctions on virgins who had been unfaithful to their consecration to God and their vow of virginity. At the same time the Council of Ancyra (314) declared that consecrated virgins who marry were guilty of bigamy, since they were espoused to Christ. In 364 the civil law, under Valens, declared that anyone who married a consecrated virgin was subject to the death penalty. Canon 16 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) states that: “It is not lawful for a virgin who has dedicated herself to the Lord God, nor for monks, to marry; and if they are found to have done this, let them be excommunicated.” St. Peter Damian adds: “No one can be ignorant of the fact that all the Fathers of the Catholic Church unanimously imposed the inviolable rule of continence on clerics in major orders. The Body of the Lord in the sacrament of the altar is the same as the one carried by the immaculate hands of the Virgin at Bethlehem. To be able to touch It, it is necessary to have pure hands, sanctified by perfect continence.”
This is also why there is a connection between monogamous marriage (the state or practice of having only one husband or wife over a period of time) on the one hand and continence on the other. Tertullian speaking clearly about this invokes the example set by Christ who, according to the flesh, was not married and lived in celibacy (he was not, therefore, “a husband of one wife”); yet, in the spirit, “he had one bride the Church” (De monog., 5,7 (CCL 2, 1235)). This doctrine of Christ’s spiritual marriage to the Church, here inspired by the Pauline text of Ephesians 5:25-32, was common in early Christianity; Tertullian saw this spiritual marriage as one of the main theological bases for the law of monogamous marriage: “because Christ is one and his Church is one” (De exhort, cast., 5, 3 (CCL 2, 1023); hence, Tertullian goes on, the law of single marriage is also founded on ‘Christi sacramentum’). But it does not follow from this that Tertullian had already made the connection between this doctrine and the formulae unius uxoris vir or unius yin uxor of the Pastoral Letters (1 Timothy; 2 Timothy; Epistle to Titus), where monogamous marriage is explicitly referred to.
Besides, Ephesians 5:25-32 dealt not precisely with monogamous marriage but, in principle, the relationship of every Christian marriage with the covenant. Here Paul is speaking of all married members of the Church. When, referring to Genesis 2:24, the Apostle says that husband and wife “will be one flesh” (v. 31), he is justifying the use of marriage for them. The formula unius uxoris vir of the Pastoral Letters, however, is not used for all married men but only for ministers of the Church (this fact has been too little noted); yet subsequently it came to be regarded as the biblical basis of the law of continence for clerics. This is the point that still needs to be cleared up.
With St. Augustine we take a step forward. He, having taken part in the deliberations of the African synods, was certainly aware of the ecclesiastic law (based on divine law) governing the ‘continence of clerics’ (St. Augustine speaks of this in the De coniugiis adulterinis, II, 20, 22: «solemnus eis proponere continentiam clenicorum» (PL 40, 486)). But how does Augustine then explain the stipulation unius uxoris vir which is used by Paul for married clerics? In De bono conjugali (written in about A.D. 420), he advances a theological explanation for it, and asks himself why polygamy was accepted in the Old Testament, whereas “in our own age, the sacrament has been restricted to the union between one man and one woman; and consequently it is only lawful to ordain as a minister of the Church (ecclesiae dispensatorem) a man who has had one wife (unius uxoris virum).” And here is Augustine’s answer: “As the many wives (plures uxores) of the ancient Fathers symbolized our future churches of all nations, subject to the one man, Christ (uni viro subditas Christo), so the guide of the faithful (noster antistes, our bishop), who is the husband of one wife (unius uxoris vir) signifies the union of all nations, subject to the one man, Christ (uni viro subditam Christo).” (De bono coniugali, 18, 21 (PL 40, 3 87-388))
In this text, where we find the formula unius uxoris vir being applied to the bishop, the whole accent falls on the fact that he, ‘the man’, in his relations with his ‘wife’, symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church. An analogous use of the phrase ‘man and wife’ occurs in a passage of De continentia (c. 418-420): “The Apostle invites us to observe so to speak three pairs (copulas): Christ and the Church, husband and wife, the spirit and the flesh” (De continentia, 9, 23 (PL 40, 364)). The suggestion these texts offer us for interpreting the stipulation unius uxoris vir applied to the (married) minister of the sacrament is that he, as minister, not only represents the second pair (husband and wife) but also the first: henceforth he personifies Christ in his married relationship with the Church. Here we have the basis for the doctrine which was later to become a classic one: Sacerdos alter Christus. Like Christ, the priest is the Church’s bridegroom. From this, it has become abundantly clear that, for married ministers, their ordination implied an invitation to live in continence thereafter.
At the Council of Trent, the discussions of the theological commission led to the approval of the following canon by the Fathers of Trent on November 11, 1563. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) considered the matter and at its twenty-fourth session decreed that marriage after ordination was invalid: “If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is no thing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.” (Session 24, Canon 9, A.D. 1563)
It also decreed, concerning the relative dignity of marriage and celibacy: “If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.” (Canon 10)
In relation to the Apostles who were married before being called by Christ, all the theologians affirmed unhesitatingly that afterwards they gave up conjugal life with their wives in line with their own declaration: “We have left everything and followed you...” (Matthew 19:27).
So not only would it be a violation of Sacred Tradition to blot out a constant teaching decreed for 2,000 years to be absolutely obligatory, but also one must recognize that clerical celibacy is to be seen not merely as of ecclesiastical institution, but part of what is more broadly known in Catholic moral theology as “divine positive law,” initiated by Christ and His Apostles. That is, it is not merely disciplinary in nature, as many assert.
Against the long-standing tradition of the Church in the East as well as in the West, which excluded marriage after ordination, the “reformer” Zwingli married in 1522, Luther in 1525, and Calvin in 1539. And against what had also become, though seemingly at a later date, a tradition in both East and West, the married Thomas Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 (Cranmer was not yet a priest when he entered into marriage; he was also a widower before his ordination). Once his appointment was approved by the pope, Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine “void”, and four months later “married” him to Anne Boleyn; thus was the seeds of the Anglican schism sown.
Barely nine months after the king’s death Convocation voted in December 1547 to abolish the laws which made the marriages of clerks in Holy Orders null and void ab initio, and a Bill to this effect was passed in the House of Commons in the 1548-49 session. All such marriages hitherto contracted, involving as many as eight or nine thousand clerics, were rendered good and lawful by the same Bill. Three years later a second Act was passed which legitimated the children born of such unions. In 1553 the new code of Canon Law for the Church of England condemned as heresy the belief that Holy Orders were an invalidating impediment to marriage.
Following the elimination of celibacy in different countries, it is not surprising that many priests, diocesan as well as religious, abandoned their obligations. Sadly this was often the prelude to the abandonment of the faith as well.
As Stickler incisively comments in The Case for Clerical Celibacy, pp. 50-51: “This demanding commitment, which involves a life of constant sacrifice, can only be lived out if it is nourished by a living faith, since human weakness is a constant reminder of its practical implications. It is only through a faith that is constantly and consciously sustained that the supernatural reasons underlying the commitment can be truly understood. When this faith grows weak, the determination to persevere fades; when faith dies, so does continence.” He goes on to point out that “a constant proof of this truth is to be found in the various heretical and schismatic movements that have arisen in the Church. One of the first institutions to be attacked is clerical continence. Therefore we should not be surprised that one of the first things that was rejected by the heretical movements that broke away from the unity of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century – Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians, Anglicans – was in fact clerical celibacy.” (ibid., p. 51) It is also significant that the Old Catholics, when they seceded after Vatican I, abolished celibacy and reverted to a married clergy.
The revolutionary dimension of the opposition to celibacy at first evinced a political response from many civil authorities. The emperors Charles V (1519-56), Ferdinand I (1558-64) and Maximillian II (1564-76) all counselled a mitigation of the law at different stages during the Council of Trent. Humanists like Erasmus advised the same course. A change was admissible, even desirable they said, if it did not touch on the substance of the faith.
Some theologians and bishops rowed in with the humanists and were prepared for any accommodation which did not undermine their flawed and false understanding of what “the essentials of the faith” is. Still, the majority of bishops, convinced of the doctrinal and ascetical arguments for celibacy, refused to be railroaded into change. Since many of the priests who were living in compromised situations were already committed to heterodox theological positions, the bishops judged that a change in the law of celibacy would do little to win back these men to orthodoxy. They were also convinced that tolerating marriage for priests would completely undermine the radical reform of the clergy which was necessary if they were to become exemplary ministers of Christ.
Despite powerful political pressures Rome refused to legislate for a compromise solution. Priests who desired to be readmitted to the ministry could do so only on condition that they separated from their concubines and showed an authentic spirit of repentance. These were the dispositions which were offered to Germany. Through Cardinal Pole, Rome made a similar arrangement with England during the period of the Catholic restoration under Mary (1553-58) to facilitate those married priests who wanted to return to orthodoxy. From 1917, all cases of dispensation from the impediment of marriage were reserved to the Holy See. But those receiving dispensation were not authorized by that fact to continue with marital relations. (cf. B. Ojetti, Commentarium in Codicem luris Canonici, Rome/P.U.G., 1930), 11, pp. 103-109; M.C. a Coronata, Compendium luris Canonici (Turin/Rome, Marietti, 1949 III, pp. 327-8; F. Capello, Summa luris Canonici Rome/P.U.G. 1951,), II, pp. 277-8.)
The decrees and reforms of the Council of Trent were not immediately followed in all Catholic nations but with time they did bring about a general observance of the law of celibacy, thanks in no small measure to their provisions for the better training of the clergy. The “Enlightenment” brought fresh assaults against clerical celibacy and after the First Vatican Council, the Old Catholics, as already noted, separating themselves from Rome, abolished the rule. Despite the pressures on the Catholic Church to relax the law of celibacy, it has always resisted. Pope Benedict XV declared, in his Consistorial Allocution of 16 December 1920, that the Church considered celibacy to be of such importance that it could never abolish it: “We once more affirm, solemnly and formally, that this Apostolic See will never in any way lighten or mitigate the obligation of this holy and salutary law of clerical celibacy, not to speak of abolishing it.” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 12 (1920), p. 585)
In the early nineteenth century an association was formed in Germany to advocate a change in the law, but Gregory XIV rejected this move in his encyclical Mirari Vos (1834). Fourteen years later Pius IX defended the discipline in his Qui Pluribus. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Modernism provoked a new attack on the law of celibacy, but its effects were limited, due largely to the decisive measures taken by St. Pius X. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Priesthood, Haerent animo, published on August 4, 1908 to mark the Golden Jubilee of his ordination, the pope refers to celibacy as “the fairest jewel of our priesthood.” Pope Pius XI, in his detailed encyclical on the priesthood, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, reaffirmed St. Pius X’s appropriateness of the Church’s teaching on clerical celibacy, where he refers to celibacy as “the most precious treasure of the Catholic priesthood.”
As always, since lustful men tried to deny and reject the biblical and apostolic teaching on clerical chastity, Pope Pius XI, in Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (#’s 40-43), of Dec. 20, 1935, had to reaffirm the Church’s position once again concerning this matter: “It is impossible to treat of the piety of a Catholic priest without being drawn on to speak, too, of another most precious treasure of the Catholic priesthood, that is, of chastity; for from piety springs the meaning and the beauty of chastity. Clerics of the Latin Church in higher Orders are bound by a grave obligation of chastity; so grave is the obligation in them of its perfect and total observance that a transgression involves the added guilt of sacrilege. … In the Old Law, Moses in the name of God commanded Aaron and his sons to remain within the Tabernacle, and so to keep continent, during the seven days in which they were exercising their sacred functions. But the Christian priesthood, being much superior to that of the Old Law, demanded a still greater purity. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy, whose first written traces pre-suppose a still earlier unwritten practice, dates back to a canon of the Council of Elvira, at the beginning of the fourth century, when persecution still raged. This law only makes obligatory what might in any case almost be termed a moral exigency that springs from the Gospel and the Apostolic preaching. For the Divine Master showed such high esteem for chastity, and exalted it as something beyond the common power; He Himself was the Son of a Virgin Mother, Florem Matris Virginis, and was brought up in the virgin family of Joseph and Mary; He showed special love for pure souls such as the two Johns – the Baptist and the Evangelist. The great Apostle Paul, faithful interpreter of the New Law and of the mind of Christ, preached the inestimable value of virginity, in view of a more fervent service of God, and gave the reason when he said: "He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God." All this had almost inevitable consequences: the priests of the New Law felt the heavenly attraction of this chosen virtue; they sought to be of the number of those "to whom it is given to take this word," and they spontaneously bound themselves to its observance. Soon it came about that the practice, in the Latin Church, received the sanction of ecclesiastical law. The Second Council of Carthage at the end of the fourth century declared: "What the Apostles taught, and the early Church preserved, let us too, observe." [Council of Carthage, Canon 3 A.D. 390]”
Indeed, the Son of God Himself in The Revelations of Saint Bridget also reveals to us that the Apostles “had every intention of remaining chaste, and living continently in every way” at the time of Pentecost, which was in the very start of the Church, which shows us that the necessity of priestly chastity was well known to the Apostles at the very start of the Church at the time of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and their few followers in the shape of tongues of fire.
Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to Saint Bridget, saying: “I who am speaking with you am he who on a day like today sent my Holy Spirit to my apostles and disciples. He came to them in three ways: first, as a forceful wind; second, as fire; third, in the shape of tongues. He came to them through closed doors, for they were alone, and they had three good qualities. First, they had every intention of remaining chaste, and living continently in every way; second, they possessed outstanding humility; third, all their desire was for God, for they desired nothing but him. They were like three clean but empty vessels—therefore the Holy Spirit came and filled them. He came like a forceful wind, for he filled their every joint and limb with divine delight and solace. He came like fire, for he so set their hearts aflame with the fire of divine love that they loved none but God, feared none but God. Third, he came in the shape of tongues, for, just as a tongue is inside the mouth without harming it but, rather, helping it to speak, so too the Holy Spirit was inside their souls, making them desire nothing but me and making them eloquent with divine wisdom. By his power, as if it were functioning as a tongue, they spoke the whole truth.
“Thus, because these vessels were empty of desire, it was fitting that the Holy Spirit should come to them. Indeed, he cannot enter those people who are already filled and full. Who are ‘filled’ if not those who are full of all sin and filth? Such people are like three foul vessels. The first is full of stinking human excrement with a stench so foul that no one can bear to smell it. The second is full of the most disgusting semen with so bitter a taste that no one can bear to sip it. The third is full of diseased blood and pus so repulsive that no one can bear to see it. Likewise the wicked are full of worldly ambition and greed that stinks to me and my saints worse than human excrement. What are all temporal things if not excrement? The wretches find pleasure in this foul excrement that will soon disappear. The second vessel contains excessive lust and unchastity in every deed. This is as bitter to my taste as semen. I cannot endure such people; still less can I enter into them with my grace. How can I, true purity, enter into such impure beings? How can I, the fire of true love, inflame those whom the base fire of lust inflames? The third is their pride and arrogance. This is like diseased blood and pus. It corrupts people both within and without in their pursuit of the good, removes God’s given grace and renders them repulsive to God and neighbor. Someone filled with that cannot be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (The Revelations of Saint Bridget, Book 6, Chapter 36)
The conspiracy against the perpetual chastity of the Bishops, Priests and Clerics of the Church by the enemies of the Church and purity is revealed by the Popes of the Catholic Church
Since most people on this earth are impure, selfish and lustful, there currently exists a conspiracy against clerical chastity. Indeed, there have always been lustful men, and thus, there have always been heretics who have tried to pervert or reject this biblical teaching of clerical celibacy, but today this conspiracy is much more powerful and influential since almost all in the world are controlled by their sensuality. The Eastern “Orthodox” and the Protestants are prime examples of this, for both of these sects allow their believers to divorce and remarry even during the lifetime of their spouse, which is a mortal sin of adultery according to Our Lord in the Holy Scripture who says that “he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Both the Eastern “Orthodox” and the Protestants also allow their “ministers” to perform sexual relations, which is directly condemned by the Holy Bible and Apostolic Tradition, as we have seen. It is a fact of history that the impure and lustful protestants “carried away by the enticements of pleasure” are especially guilty of this conspiracy against clerical chastity since (as we have seen) they reject both the Holy Bible as well as the Church’s teaching on this matter in order to satisfy their abominable and unlawful sexual desires.
Pope Gregory XVI condemned this “conspiracy against clerical celibacy” that were made by the lustful through the direct inspiration of their father, the Devil, in his encyclical Mirari Vos, which also firmly condemned modernism and exposed the insidious plans of the heretics to pervert the Church and society: “Now, however, We want you to rally to combat the abominable conspiracy against clerical celibacy. This conspiracy spreads daily and is promoted by profligate philosophers, some even from the clerical order. They have forgotten their person and office, and have been carried away by the enticements of pleasure. They have even dared to make repeated public demands to the princes for the abolition of that most holy discipline. But it is disgusting to dwell on these evil attempts at length. Rather, We ask that you strive with all your might to justify and to defend the law of clerical celibacy as prescribed by the sacred canons, against which the arrows of the lascivious are directed from every side.” (Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos (#11), August 15, 1832)
Pope Pius IX carried on this papal tradition of confirming the reality of this conspiracy against clerical celibacy in his encyclical Qui Pluribus, where he showed very clearly that the evil people behind this conspiracy “make men fly in terror from all practice of religion, and they cut down and dismember the sheep of the Lord” (#17) and that as “a result of this filthy medley of errors which creeps in from every side, and as the result of the unbridled license to think, speak and write, We see the following: morals deteriorated,” (#18) and once morals is lost, faith is lost, and sin abounds and spirals out-of-control producing the resultant evil fruits. In truth, as “Augustine was wont to say ‘When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin.’” (Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos #14)
Pope Pius IX, Qui Pluribus (#’s 16-18), November 9, 1846: “The sacred celibacy of clerics has also been the victim of conspiracy. Indeed, some churchmen have wretchedly forgotten their own rank and let themselves be converted by the charms and snares of pleasure. This is the aim too of the prevalent but wrong method of teaching, especially in the philosophical disciplines, a method which deceives and corrupts incautious youth in a wretched manner and gives it as drink the poison of the serpent in the goblet of Babylon. To this goal also tends the unspeakable doctrine of Communism, as it is called, a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow.
“To this end also tend the most dark designs of men in the clothing of sheep, while inwardly ravening wolves. They humbly recommend themselves by means of a feigned and deceitful appearance of a purer piety, a stricter virtue and discipline; after taking their captives gently, they mildly bind them, and then kill them in secret. They make men fly in terror from all practice of religion, and they cut down and dismember the sheep of the Lord. To this end, finally—to omit other dangers which are too well known to you—tends the widespread disgusting infection from books and pamphlets which teach the lessons of sinning. These works, well-written and filled with deceit and cunning, are scattered at immense cost through every region for the destruction of the Christian people. They spread pestilential doctrines everywhere and deprave the minds especially of the imprudent, occasioning great losses for religion.
“As a result of this filthy medley of errors which creeps in from every side, and as the result of the unbridled license to think, speak and write, We see the following: morals deteriorated, Christ’s most holy religion despised, the majesty of divine worship rejected, the power of this Apostolic See plundered, the authority of the Church attacked and reduced to base slavery, the rights of bishops trampled on, the sanctity of marriage infringed, the rule of every government violently shaken and many other losses for both the Christian and the civil commonwealth. Venerable brothers, We are compelled to weep and share in your lament that this is the case.”
Indeed, since the devil knows that all the chaste, pure and humble servants of the Lord are more spiritually wise as well as more effective and powerful in helping to save souls, (as we have seen from the Holy Bible and Tradition), the Devil also labors mightily to get them under his control in order to make them fall away from religion and purity since he knows that much more people will be damned if he can remove the holy and good examples of virtuous priests and churchmen. Pope Pius IX and Gregory XVI expressly warned about this in their encyclicals, and now, today, we have all sorrowfully seen this, in fact, become prophetically fulfilled to the letter, especially when one considers the great evils of the Vatican II hierarchy, its sexual perversions, pedophilia and innumerable other sexual abuse scandals. Indeed, when even those people who should represent holiness and stand as the highest moral example to the world refuse to adopt a good and virtuous lifestyle and are unimaginably impure, then one can know with a certainty that the whole world and its “morals” has fallen into the complete control of the Devil. Indeed, the Vatican II sect’s sex abuse scandals and their handling of it is just another proof that shows why they are not the Catholic Church but the end times “Whore of Babylon” prophesied in the Bible that would lead souls astray by her filth and impurities.
In an interview with Sr. Lucia of Fatima, (the visionary who foretold that the Miracle of the Sun would occur on the 13th of October in the year 1917 – and that was witnessed by approximately 70,000 people – is undoubtedly one of the greatest miracles ever given from Heaven in Catholic history outside of the Resurrection) Father Agustin Fuentes who, at the time, was the postulator of the Cause of Beatification of the two little Seers, Francisco and Jacinta, revealed Our Lady’s words that was given in a revelation to Sr. Lucia, which prophesied that the widespread apostasy and sensuality that now fills the world would soon occur in even more widespread terms (than what was already happening in their time), even among those people who dare to call themselves chaste servants of Our Lord or by the name of Catholic:
“I bring you a message of extreme urgency: the Holy Father has permitted me to visit Lucia. She received me sadly. She was very thin and quite afflicted. Upon seeing me she said: "Father, our Lady is very unhappy because they have not taken her message of 1917 seriously. Neither the good nor the bad have paid any attention to it. The good continue their way without preoccupying themselves with it, they do not heed Her celestial requests. The bad walk through life swollen with perdition, not taking into account the punishment that threatens them. Believe me, Father, God will chastise the world very soon. Think, Father, about all the souls who will fall into Hell. This will happen because no one prays, because they do not do penance.
“All this is the reason why the Blessed Virgin is sad. Father, tell everyone that our Lady has, frequently, announced to me that many nations will disappear off the face of the earth. Russia is the scourge chosen by God to punish mankind [with war and communism], if we, through prayer and the sacraments, do not obtain the grace of their conversion. Tell them, Father, tell them that the devil has begun a decisive battle against our Lady, because what most afflicts the Immaculate heart of Mary and the Sacred heart of Jesus is the fall of the souls of religious and priests. The devil knows that when religious and priests fail in their beautiful vocations they carry along with them many souls into hell.
“And now, precisely, is the moment to stop the chastisement of Heaven. We have at our disposition two very efficacious means of doing this: prayer and sacrifice. The devil does everything he can to distract us and take away our liking for prayer; we shall save ourselves or condemn ourselves together. Furthermore, Father, it is now necessary to tell the people that they should not wait for a call to penitence and to prayer from the Holy Father, nor from the Bishops, nor the pastors, nor the Superiors. It is the right moment for them to use their own initiative in fulfilling good and holy works and reform their lives as the Holy Virgin desires.
“The devil desires to strengthen himself through consecrated souls; he tries to corrupt them so he can deceive others into a final impenitence. He uses many tricks even the ruse of suggesting tardiness in entering a religious life. The results are a sterility of interior life and a coldness among the laity keeping them from renouncing pleasures and from offering a total immolation of themselves to God.
“Tell them, Father, that two things are the basis of the sanctification of Jacinta and Francisco, the sorrow of our Lady and the vision of Hell. It is as if our Lady were between two swords: On one side She sees humanity obstinate and indifferent facing the announced chastisements and on the other side She sees how we profane the Sacraments and ignore the punishment which is coming ever nearer and nearer, remaining incredulous, sensuous and materialistic. Our Lady has said: "We are on the border of the last times."
“Our Lady has told me three times: First: She has affirmed that the devil has begun a decisive battle, that is to say, from which one or the other will win or lose. We are with God or we are with the devil. Second: She repeated to me that the last remedies given to the world are the Holy Rosary and the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Third: She told me that other means of salvation have been despised by men many times. In Her anguish She offers us the last anchor of salvation which is Herself (perhaps the other means were Her numerous apparitions, signs of tears, messages of various seers scattered throughout the world).
“Our Lady has also said that if we will not listen and continue to offend God, we will not be pardoned. Father, it is urgent to understand this terrible reality, we do not wish to frighten souls, but it is an urgent call to humanity.
“Since the Blessed Virgin has given such a great remedy as the Rosary, there does not exist a single material, spiritual, national or international problem that cannot be solved through the Holy Rosary and our sacrifices. To pray the Rosary with love and piety will console Mary and erase the numerous tears of Her Immaculate Heart." (Taken from the "Messagero del Cuore di Maria" No. 8-9 August–September, 1961, Rome, Italy)
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, by Teresa of Avila herself confirms the fact that the chaste servants of God will not only strengthen their own chances of reaching heaven but that they will help “many others also” into heaven, which says a lot about why the devil concentrates so much to bring down consecrated and chaste souls from the height of purity and blessedness that they inhabit: “He [God] showeth great mercy unto him to whom He gives the grace and resolution to strive for this blessing [the religious life] with all his might; for God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres. He will by little and little strengthen that soul, so that it may come forth victorious. I say resolution, because of the multitude of those things which Satan puts before it at first, to keep it back from beginning to travel on this road; for he knoweth what harm will befall him thereby—he will lose not only that soul, but many others also. If he who enters on this road does violence to himself, with the help of God, so as to reach the summit of perfection, such a one, I believe, will never go alone to Heaven; he will always take many with him: God gives to him, as to a good captain, those who shall be of his company.”
Galatians 5:16-25 “I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury [lust], idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
The presence of the Kingdom of Christ on the earth and in the heart of men can in no more drastic way be proved to the world than by observing the establishment of perpetual virginity and monastic life. St. John Chrysostom describes this redemptive-historical movement, and its expression in human sexuality, with the beautiful illustration of a mother bird and her nestlings (Hom. XIII in Jn.; PG 59.88; Hom. XXI in Jn.; PG 59.128). Initially, the mother rears her young. Then, she nudges them into the air, escorting them from the nest. If they are too weak, they are permitted to remain in the nest until they are able to gather sufficient strength to fly off with security. Christ, the mother bird, has come to escort us all from the nest of the world. Those who remain in the nest do so because of their “plodding nature,” and “deep sleep,” and because they are “attached to worldly things” (Virg., XVII. 2.18-20; SC 125, p. 150). Those who are truly noble “quit the nest with great ease and fly high in the air and skim the heavens” (Virg., XVII. 2.20-22; SC 125, p. 150).
Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary revealed in The Revelations of St. Bridget the truth that clerical celibacy has always been the will of God since the beginning of the New Law
Contrary to the many lustful heretics of today’s world, Our Lord and Our Lady revealed to St. Bridget in her Revelations that it “seemed very abominable and hateful to all the heavenly court and to me [the Blessed Virgin Mary]” that the priests of the New Law who touched the Holy Eucharist should have wives or be contaminated by the sexual act, adding that the Popes are banned from allowing priests to marry, and that if any Pope at any time would dare to change this eternal law, “God will condemn him to a sentence as great” that literally defies human understanding.
Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke, saying: “I honored the priests [in the New Law] with a sevenfold honor, as it were, on seven steps. On the first step, they should be my standard-bearers and special friends by reason of the purity of their mind and body, for purity is the first position near to God, whom nothing foul can touch nor adorn. It was not strange that marital relation was permitted to the priests of the [old] law during the time in which they were not offering sacrifice, for they were carrying the shell, not the nut itself. Now, however, with the coming of the truth and the disappearance of the figure, one must strive all the more fully for purity by as much as the nut is sweeter than the shell. As a sign of this kind of continence, first the hair is tonsured, so that desire for pleasure does not rule over spirit or flesh.” (The Revelations of St. Bridget, Book 4, Chapter 58)
Comparing the priests of the Old and New Law, Our Lady also revealed that although many of the priests in the New Law for a long time observed matrimony according to the Old Law through their misunderstanding of God’s will in the New Law, this practice of theirs was in fact hated and abominable before all the heavenly court and to God: namely, that Christian priests with their defiled hands touched and handled the New and Immaculate Sacrament of the Most Holy Body of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
The Revelations of St. Bridget, Book 7, Chapter 10: “It happened that a person who was absorbed in prayer heard then a voice saying to her: “O you to whom it has been given to hear and see spiritually, hear now the things that I [the Mother of God] want to reveal to you: namely, concerning that archbishop who said that if he were pope, he would give leave for all clerics and priests to contract marriages in the flesh. He thought and believed that this would be more acceptable to God than that clerics should live dissolutely, as they now do. For he believed that through such marriage the greater carnal sins might be avoided; and even though he did not rightly understand God’s will in this matter, nonetheless that same archbishop was still a friend of God.
“But now I shall tell you God’s will in this matter; for I gave birth to God himself. You will make these things known to my bishop and say to him that circumcision was given to Abraham long before the law was given to Moses and that, in that time of Abraham, all human beings whatsoever were guided according to their own intellect [according to natural reason] and according to the choice of their own will and that, nevertheless, many of them were then friends of God. But after the law was given to Moses, it then pleased God more that human beings should live under the law and according to the law rather than follow their own human understanding and choice. It was the same with my Son’s blessed Body.
“For after he instituted in the world this new sacrament of the Eucharist and ascended into Heaven, the ancient law [the Old Law that had just been abrogated] was then still kept [and observed by them]: namely, that Christian priests lived in carnal matrimony [according to the Old Law]. And, nonetheless, many of them were still friends of God because they believed with simple purity that this was pleasing to God [in the New Law]: namely, that Christian priests should have wives and live in wedlock just as, in the ancient times of the Jews, this had pleased him in the case of Jewish priests. And so, this was the observance of Christian priests for many years.
“But that observance and ancient custom seemed very abominable and hateful to all the heavenly court and to me, who gave birth to his body: namely, because it was being thus observed by Christian priests who, with their hands, touch and handle this new and immaculate Sacrament of the most holy Body of my Son. For the Jews had, in the ancient law of the Old Testament, a shadow, i.e., a figure, of this Sacrament; but Christians now have the truth itself – namely, him who is true God and man – in that blessed and consecrated bread.
“After those earlier Christian priests had observed these practices for a time, God himself, through the infusion of his Holy Spirit, put into the heart of the pope then guiding the Church another law more acceptable and pleasing to him in this matter: namely, by pouring this infusion into the heart of the pope so that he established a statute in the universal Church that Christian priests, who have so holy and so worthy an office, namely, of consecrating this precious Sacrament, should by no means live in the easily contaminated, carnal delight of marriage.
“And therefore, through God’s preordinance and his judgment, it has been justly ordained that priests who do not live in chastity and continence of the flesh are cursed and excommunicated before God and deserve to be deprived of their priestly office. But still, if they truthfully amend their lives with the true purpose of not sinning further, they will obtain mercy from God.
“Know this too: that if some pope concedes to priests a license to contract carnal marriage, God will condemn him to a sentence as great, in a spiritual way, as that which the law justly inflicts in a corporeal way on a man who has transgressed so gravely that he must have his eyes gouged out, his tongue and lips, nose and ears cut off, his hands and feet amputated, all his body’s blood spilled out to grow completely cold, and finally, his whole bloodless corpse cast out to be devoured by dogs and other wild beasts. Similar things would truly happen in a spiritual way to that pope who were to go against the aforementioned preordinance and will of God and concede to priests such a license to contract marriage.
“For that same pope would be totally deprived by God of his spiritual sight and hearing, and of his spiritual words and deeds. All his spiritual wisdom would grow completely cold; and finally, after his death, his soul would be cast out to be tortured eternally in hell so that there it might become the food of demons everlastingly and without end. Yes, even if Saint Gregory the Pope had made this statute, in the aforesaid sentence he would never have obtained mercy from God if he had not humbly revoked his statute before his death.”
Objection: The Church does not teach that a priest or a deacon must remain chaste after their ordination since the Quinisext Council in A.D. 692 declared that they were allowed to continue in the normal marital state.
Answer: The erroneous and fallible Quinisext Council (A.D. 692), also called Council in Trullo, which was mainly an eastern council presided over by eastern authorities, is the council the Eastern “Orthodox” Churches mainly bases their authority and false conclusion on regarding conjugal relations by priests and deacons married before ordination. Indeed, even though this fallible council clearly contradicted the ancient, unanimous, constant, teaching tradition of the Church and the Bible on the necessity of priestly celibacy before or after ordination in the New Law and the New Testament (as has been clearly documented above), this council nevertheless also claimed apostolic credentials for its repudiation of this ancient teaching of the Universal Church:
The Quinisext Council, Canon 13, A.D. 692: “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 or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages 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 time. Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife. Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife… But we know, as they who assembled at Carthage [in 390] (with a care for the honest life of the clergy) said, that subdeacons, who handle the Holy Mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters should abstain from their consorts according to their own course [of ministration]. So that what has been handed down through the Apostles and preserved by ancient custom, we too likewise maintain, knowing that there is a time for all things and especially for fasting and prayer. 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 sincerity. If therefore anyone shall have dared, contrary to the apostolic Canons, to deprive any of those who are in holy orders, presbyter, or deacon, or subdeacon of cohabitation and intercourse with his lawful wife, let him be deposed. In like manner also if any presbyter or deacon on pretence of piety has dismissed his wife, let him be excluded from communion; and if he persevere in this let him be deposed.”
This canon shows that by that time there was a direct contradiction between the teaching of the East and West about the legitimacy of conjugal relations on the part of clergy lower than the rank of bishop who had married before being ordained.
The canon also mistakenly claims that the canon of the late-4th-century Council of Carthage excluded conjugal intercourse by clergy lower than bishops only in connection with their liturgical service or in times of fasting. The Council of Carthage (390), however, made no such distinctions and excluded such intercourse perpetually and made no distinction between bishops, priests and deacons. In fact, the canon decreed that higher clerics observe perfect continence because they act as mediators between God and man. They stressed particularly the antiquity and apostolic origin of this law:
The Council of Carthage (390): “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. The bishops declared unanimously: 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.” (Canon 3)
There have been no changes since the Quinisext Council in the teaching of the Eastern “Orthodox” Church, which for bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons excludes marriage after ordination, but allows, except for periods before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, conjugal relations by priests and deacons married before ordination, and requires celibacy and perpetual continence only of bishops. This Council, of course, was never approved by the Catholic Church.
Pope Sergius I, who was of Syrian origin, rejected the council, preferring, he said, “to die rather than consent to erroneous novelties”. Meanwhile, in Visigothic Spain, the council was ratified by the Eighteenth Council of Toledo at the urging of the king, Wittiza, who was, of course, condemned by later chroniclers for his decision. It is also interesting to note that this false council was the last of the councils of Toledo held in Visigothic Spain before the Moorish invasion in 711. The council was held probably around 703. Fruela I of Asturias reversed the decision of Toledo sometime during his reign (757-768). The Eastern “Orthodox” churches hold this council to be part of the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils, adding its canons thereto. In the West, Bede calls it (in De sexta mundi aetate) a “reprobate” synod, and Paul the Deacon calls it an “erratic” one. The Catholic Church has never accepted the council as authoritative or ecumenical.
The Holy Bible teaches that only St. Peter (among all the other apostles) was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which thus means that him and his valid successors are the only ones who can make infallible proclamations in the Church, and this of course excludes the Quinisext Council from being an ecumenical and authoritative council since the Pope never approved of it.
Matthew 16:18-19 “And I [Jesus] say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
WHY THE EASTERN ORTHODOX POSITION, WHICH IS SCHISMATIC AND HERETICAL ACCORDING TO CATHOLIC TEACHING, IS COMPLETELY ILLOGICAL AND FALSE
Jesus Christ gave the keys to the Kingdom to St. Peter (Mt. 16), and gave him jurisdiction over his flock (John 21:15-17). St. Peter was the Bishop of Rome, and his followers (i.e., the members of the Church in Rome) elected his successor, or he appointed his own successor as the Bishop of Rome and head of the universal Church. This process continued through the ages, with the pope being able to change the process of election (such as by instituting a college of cardinals) if he so decided, since the pope has supreme authority in the Church from Christ (Mt. 16). All individuals not elected in this fashion (e.g., one who was elected after the Bishop of Rome had already been chosen in the tradition thus described, or one who was appointed by an outside source, such as an emperor, after the pope had already been chosen, or one who was elected as a non-member of the community, such as a manifest heretic) wouldn’t be true popes, but (logically) antipopes. This logical framework holds true for all of history, and has allowed one to see which are the true popes and which are not – even if at some of the most difficult periods of Church history, such as the Great Western Schism, ascertaining the facts to correctly apply these principles was difficult enough that some mistakes were made by certain individuals.
I have thus described the consistent, logical framework of the succession of the authority given to St. Peter by Jesus Christ to the popes down through the ages. This shows that the Catholic Faith is consistent. (The authority given to St. Peter and his successors is the backing of the dogmatic councils; this is the authority which anathematizes those who deny the dogmatic councils’ teaching.)
ILLOGIC AT THE HEART OF EASTERN “ORTHODOXY”
On the other hand, Eastern “Orthodoxy,” since it rejects the supreme authority of the Bishop of Rome and considers all bishops equal, cannot even put forward a framework or criteria by which one could logically distinguish those councils which it says are dogmatic and binding, from those which it says are false and heretical. Ephesus II (the heretical monophysite council in 449) had almost exactly the same number of bishops as Constantinople I (150 bishops). Eastern “Orthodoxy” would say one must accept Constantinople I under pain of heresy, while one must reject Ephesus II! But if we apply the principles of Eastern “Orthodoxy,” the two councils are on the same level, both being backed by the authority of equal bishops. Unless there is a supreme bishop to make one council binding, it’s a farce to say that one council is definitely dogmatic while the other with the same number of bishops is definitely heretical! Equal vs. Equal results in a draw….
Furthermore, if Christ said He would be with His Church all days until the end of the world (Mt. 28), why did the Church suddenly stop having councils in 787? Doesn’t it strike as a bit ridiculous that many other councils were held after 787, which the Eastern “Orthodox” arbitrarily reject as “not accepted by the Church,” even though these councils which they reject had more bishops than those which they accept? What about the Council of Florence (1438-1442), which saw reunion of the East with the Catholic Church when Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople accepted Florence, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, and Florence’s teaching against all who would deny it? How on Earth could one logically say that Florence was not accepted “by the Church,” while other councils were? What are the criteria? I’ve asked many Eastern “Orthodox” this very question and received no answer simply because they have none. Whatever criteria they pick to use as the justification for accepting a particular council as dogmatic, and rejecting another council as non-dogmatic, can be used against them to prove that, on that very basis, they would have to accept later Roman Catholic councils.
Yes, Eastern “Orthodoxy” cannot logically hold any council to be dogmatic and binding, as one will see if one honestly and deeply think about it. In Eastern “Orthodoxy” there is nothing which backs the anathemas of Ephesus or another council other than the word of bishops, who are equal to other bishops who many times taught the opposite. According to the Eastern “Orthodox” position, if the “Church” spoke at Constantinople I because 150 bishops came to it and pronounced authoritatively on faith, then the “Church” spoke at many other false councils in the early Church which had similar numbers of bishops! It is inescapable, therefore, that according to the Eastern “Orthodox” position the Church of Christ has defected (i.e., officially fallen into error) many times at the various false councils. This contradicts the promises of Christ that the gates of Hell cannot prevail and that God would be with His Church always (Mt. 16). Eastern “Orthodoxy” is an illogical farce, which rejects the clear teaching of Scripture and the fathers on the Papal Primacy, and which causes those who accept it to truly wind up believing in no dogma at all. That’s why Pope Leo XIII says those who reject one dogma reject all Faith. Because of the fact that Eastern “Orthodoxy” does not – and cannot – really believe in any dogmatic councils (as shown above) is why it’s so appealing to so many: it provides the comfort of Protestantism, yet the appearance of ancient tradition, at the same time the feel of liturgical piety, with the illusion of hierarchical authority.
Matthew 16:17-18 “And I say to thee: That thou are Peter: and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”
Our Lord made St. Peter the first Pope, entrusted to him His entire flock, and gave him supreme authority in the Universal Church of Christ.
John 21:15-17 “Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him a third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.”
Regarding the objection that papal infallibility wasn’t established until the Council of Trent, that’s not correct. It was defined as a dogma at Vatican I in 1870, but the truth of it was believed since the beginning. We find the promise of the unfailing faith for St. Peter and his successors referred to by Christ in Luke 22.
Luke 22:31-32 “And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have all of you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”
Satan desired to sift all the Apostles (plural) like wheat, but Jesus prayed for Simon Peter (singular), that his faith fail not. Jesus is saying that St. Peter and his successors (the popes of the Catholic Church) have an unfailing faith when authoritatively teaching a point of faith or morals to be held by the entire Church of Christ.
Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, 1870, ex cathedra: “SO, THIS GIFT OF TRUTH AND A NEVER FAILING FAITH WAS DIVINELY CONFERRED UPON PETER AND HIS SUCCESSORS IN THIS CHAIR…”
Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, 1870, ex cathedra: “… the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord the Savior made to the chief of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not...’”
And this truth has been held since the earliest times in the Catholic Church.
Pope St. Gelasius I, epistle 42, or Decretal de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, 495: “Accordingly, the see of Peter the Apostle of the Church of Rome is first, having neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor anything of this kind (Eph. 5:27).”
The word “infallible” actually means “cannot fail” or “unfailing.” Therefore, the very term Papal Infallibility comes directly from Christ’s promise to St. Peter (and his successors) in Luke 22, that Peter has an unfailing Faith. And it was also believed in the early Church, as we see here. Though this truth was believed since the beginning of the Church, it was specifically defined as a dogma at the First Vatican Council in 1870.
Interestingly enough, it is also very important to notice that it was almost exactly during the time of the erroneous and fallible Quinisext Council that the Muslims started to gain a real foothold in their wars against the Eastern Byzantine Empire as well as in their attempts to occupy Spain. As we already have seen in the The Book of Judith, (Judith 15:11) The First Book of Kings, (1 Kings 21:2-5) and the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 23:9-11) from the Holy Bible, military success is directly and intimately connected to the virtue of chastity; and it is highly probable that this teaching of the Eastern “Orthodox” Church that rejected the necessity of priestly celibacy and purity was the very teaching that angered God and left them to the wrath and control of the Muslim infidels. This is not to say that there were not other problems with the eastern church during this time as well as after it, but this teaching of a chaste priesthood is, as we have seen, very dear to God, and it is thus obvious that their rejection of the Church’s teaching concerning this matter played a great role in why God allowed the infidel Muslims to gain a victory over them. Over and over in the Old Testament, we see that God punished a rebellious nation, and God likewise punishes such nations in the New Testament time when justice requires it. But not only the eastern Byzantine Empire was attacked by the Muslims at this time, but also Spain who had chosen to allow the novelty of an impure priesthood. As a perfect fulfillment and sign of God’s vengeance over those nations who try to defile the holy priesthood of Our Lord and God with impure sexual relations, Our Lord also allowed Spain to be struck with the scourge of the Saracen or Muslim, since in Visigothic Spain, the Quinisext Council was ratified by the Eighteenth Council of Toledo at the urging of the king, Wittiza.
Even in the time of St. Ambrose in the 4th century, lustful priests had begun to disobey the clear teaching of the Bible and Apostolic Tradition concerning the necessity for a completely chaste priesthood. St. Ambrose, in his work On the Duties of the Clergy tells us that “in some out-of-the-way places” some priests had begun to defile themselves with sexual intercourse already in the 4th century: “But ye know that the ministerial office must be kept pure and unspotted, and must not be defiled by conjugal intercourse; ye know this, I say, who have received the gifts of the sacred ministry, with pure bodies, and unspoiled modesty, and without ever having enjoyed conjugal intercourse. I am mentioning this, because in some out-of-the-way places, when they enter on the ministry, or even when they become priests, they have begotten children. They defend this on the ground of old custom [of the Old Testament Law], when, as it happened, the sacrifice was offered up at long intervals. However, even the people had to be purified two or three days beforehand, so as to come clean to the sacrifice. As we read in the Old Testament, [Exodus 19:10] they even used to wash their clothes. If such regard was paid in what was only the figure, how much ought it to be shown in the reality! Learn then, Priest and Levite, what it means to wash your clothes. You must have a pure body wherewith to offer up the sacraments.” (On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, Chapter 50, Section 258, A.D. 391)
Objection: Saints Peter, Paul and Barnabas is confirmed by Paul himself to have had women with them during their travels. This proves that God does not approve of priestly or clerical chastity since the Apostles was not living in complete chastity.
1st Corinthians 9:3-7 “This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?”
Answer: The word “Wife” in the English translation is more rightly translated in the Greek as, “a woman, a sister.” It cannot be deduced from this text that the Apostles were married, nor is there a single text in the whole New Testament that affirms that any of the Apostles were married during their ministry, or that anyone of them performed the marital sexual act during this time, although we do know that St. Peter, for one, was married at one time during his life since the Gospels mentions his mother in law (cf. Mk 1:29-31; Mt 8: 14-15; Lk 4:38-39). There is no evidence in the New Testament, however, that indicates that St. Peter’s wife was living during the time of Jesus’ ministry as well as after it when the Apostles started to minister to the nations, spreading the Christian Faith. Concerning the more right translation of the Greek as “a woman, a sister” the Gospels mention certain women as accompanying our Lord and his disciples, providing for them out of their resources and ministering to them (cf. Lk 8:1-3; 23:55). To meet their material needs some Apostles counted on the help of women, but Saints Paul and Barnabas did not avail of this right. A more correct translation shows us the correct meaning of this passage.
1st Corinthians 9:5-6 “Have we not power to carry about a woman, a sister, as well as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to do this? (Douay Rheims Bible)
Douay Rheims Bible Commentary explains verse 5 in further detail: “A woman, a sister: Some erroneous translators have corrupted this text by rendering it, a sister, a wife: whereas, it is certain, St. Paul had no wife (chap. 7 ver. 7, 8) and that he only speaks of such devout women, as, according to the custom of the Jewish nation, waited upon the preachers of the gospel, and supplied them with necessaries.”
According to a prominent tradition among the Church Fathers, Paul speaks, not of marriage, but of his right to be helped by a traveling female assistant (the word translated “wife” can also be translated “woman”). Precedent for such an arrangement can be traced back to the ministry of Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3).
Haydock Commentary: “Ver. 5. It appears certain, from the testimony of the fathers, that St. Paul was not in the state of wedlock. St. Jerome informs us that the apostle is here speaking of such holy women who, according to the Jewish custom, supplied their teachers with the necessaries of life, as we see was done to Christ himself. It is evident from ancient records that this was a very prevalent custom in Judea, and therefore a cause of no scandal; but to the Gentiles this custom was unknown, and therefore lest it might prove a cause of scandal to any, St. Paul did not allow any woman to follow him as a companion. Tertullian denies, with St. Augustine and St. Jerome, that St. Paul is here speaking of his wife.”
Finally, note the context: Paul is not talking about marriage, but about receiving monetary compensation and help with daily chores and needs in return for his evangelizing work. As a note says in the Knox version, “‘Sister’ does not imply any relationship, physical or spiritual; it only means that the woman was a Christian. St. Paul is not claiming credit here for avoiding the society of women; he only claims credit for living at his own expense, when other apostles supported not only themselves, but the women who waited on their needs, out of offerings made by the faithful.” See also Luke 18:25-30 and Matthew 19:12 for further background. Thus, this biblical passage (1st Cor. 9:5-6) does not show that the Apostles or their successors were allowed to perform the marital act during their life as priests. The teaching of clerical celibacy, as we have seen, was taught from the very start of the Church by Our Savior Himself as well as the Bible, the Holy Apostles and the Fathers of the Church.
The specific tradition of the Church also confirms that the Apostles lived in chastity. St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) who lived very near in time to the Apostles, taught that the Apostles, after their calling by Our Lord to the ministry, took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters in purity and honesty: “But the latter [the Apostles], in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused.” (The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book III, Chapter VI, Section 71)
When we come to the question of what was the practice of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s first followers in this matter of clerical chastity, there would likewise be but little if any reasonable doubt. For while of the Apostles we have it recorded only of Peter that he was a married man, we have it also expressly recorded that in his case, as in that of all the rest who had “forsaken all” to follow Our Lord, the Lord himself said, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive an hundred fold and shall inherit eternal life.” (Matt. xix. 29; Lk. xviii. 29) Mark 10:29 records the same incident, but while “wife” is mentioned among the things “left,” no “wife” is found among the things gained.
St. Jerome, referred in Against Jovinianus to marriage prohibition for priests when he argued that Peter and the other apostles had been married, but had married before they were called and subsequently gave up their marital relations (Aduersus Jovinianum I, 7. 26 (PL 23, 230C; 256C).
In his Letter to Pammachius, Ep. 48.10 (c. 393), St. Jerome further wrote: “The apostles have either been virgins or, though married, have lived celibate lives. Those persons who are chosen to be bishops, priests, and deacons are either virgins or widowers; or at least when once they have received the priesthood, are vowed to perpetual chastity.” (The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 48, To Pammachius, Section 21)
And in his Letter XXII, To Eustochium (A.D. 384), St. Jerome says the following concerning virginity,
“… I will say it boldly, though God can do all things He cannot raise up a virgin when once she has fallen. He may indeed relieve one who is defiled from the penalty of her sin, but He will not give her a crown. Let us fear lest in us also the prophecy be fulfilled, "Good virgins shall faint." Notice that it is good virgins who are spoken of, for there are bad ones as well. "Whosoever looketh on a woman," the Lord says, "to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." So that virginity may be lost even by a thought. Such are evil virgins, virgins in the flesh, not in the spirit; foolish virgins, who, having no oil, are shut out by the Bridegroom.
“… Do you wish for proof of my assertions? Take examples. Sampson was braver than a lion and tougher than a rock; alone and unprotected he pursued a thousand armed men; and yet, in Delilah’s embrace, his resolution melted away. David was a man after God’s own heart, and his lips had often sung of the Holy One, the future Christ; and yet as he walked upon his housetop he was fascinated by Bathsheba’s nudity, and added murder to adultery. Notice here how, even in his own house, a man cannot use his eyes without danger. Then repenting, he says to the Lord: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight." Being a king he feared no one else.
“… It is hard for the human soul to avoid loving something, and our mind must of necessity give way to affection of one kind or another. The love of the flesh is overcome by the love of the spirit. Desire is quenched by desire. What is taken from the one increases the other. Therefore, as you lie on your couch, say again and again: "By night have I sought Him whom my soul loveth." "Mortify, therefore," says the apostle, "your members which are upon the earth." Because he himself did so, he could afterwards say with confidence: "I live, yet not I, but Christ, liveth in me." He who mortifies his members, and feels that he is walking in a vain show, is not afraid to say: "I am become like a bottle in the frost. Whatever there was in me of the moisture of lust has been dried out of me." And again: "My knees are weak through fasting; I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin."
“… Some one may say, "Do you dare detract from wedlock, which is a state blessed by God?" I do not detract from wedlock when I set virginity before it. No one compares a bad thing with a good. Wedded women may congratulate themselves that they come next to virgins. "Be fruitful," God says, "and multiply, and replenish the earth." He who desires to replenish the earth may increase and multiply if he will. But the train to which you belong is not on earth, but in heaven. The command to increase and multiply first finds fulfillment after the expulsion from paradise, after the nakedness and the fig-leaves which speak of sexual passion. Let them marry and be given in marriage who eat their bread in the sweat of their brow; whose land brings forth to them thorns and thistles, and whose crops are choked with briars. My seed produces fruit a hundredfold. "All men cannot receive God’s saying, but they to whom it is given." Some people may be eunuchs from necessity; I am one of free will.
“… In paradise Eve was a virgin, and it was only after the coats of skins that she began her married life. Now paradise is your home too. Keep therefore your birthright and say: "Return unto thy rest, O my soul." To show that virginity is natural while wedlock only follows guilt, what is born of wedlock is virgin flesh, and it gives back in fruit what in root it has lost. "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots." The rod is the mother of the Lord--simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself: "I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys." In another place He is foretold to be "a stone cut out of the mountain without hands," a figure by which the prophet signifies that He is to be born a virgin of a virgin. For the hands are here a figure of wedlock as in the passage: "His left hand is under my head and his right hand doth embrace me.
“… I praise wedlock, I praise marriage, but it is because they give me virgins. I gather the rose from the thorns, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell. "Doth the plowman plow all day to sow?" Shall he not also enjoy the fruit of his labor? Wedlock is the more honored, the more what is born of it is loved. Why, mother, do you grudge your daughter her virginity? She has been reared on your milk, she has come from your womb, she has grown up in your bosom. Your watchful affection has kept her a virgin. Are you angry with her because she chooses to be a king’s wife and not a soldier’s? She has conferred on you a high privilege; you are now the mother-in-law of God. "Concerning virgins," says the apostle, "I have no commandment of the Lord." Why was this? Because his own virginity was due, not to a command, but to his free choice. For they are not to be heard who feign him to have had a wife; for, when he is discussing continence and commending perpetual chastity, he uses the words, "I would that all men were even as I myself." And farther on, "I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I." And in another place, "have we not power to lead about wives even as the rest of the apostles?" Why then has he no commandment from the Lord concerning virginity? Because what is freely offered is worth more than what is extorted by force, and to command virginity would have been to abrogate wedlock. It would have been a hard enactment to compel opposition to nature and to extort from men the angelic life; and not only so, it would have been to condemn what is a divine ordinance.
“… In those days, as I have said, the virtue of continence was found only in men: Eve still continued to travail with children. But now that a virgin has conceived in the womb and has borne to us a child of which the prophet says that "Government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father," now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. And thus the gift of virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women, seeing that it has had its beginning from a woman. As soon as the Son of God set foot upon the earth, He formed for Himself a new household there; that, as He was adored by angels in heaven, angels might serve Him also on earth. Then chaste Judith once more cut off the head of Holofernes. Then Haman - whose name means iniquity - was once more burned in fire of his own kindling. Then James and John forsook father and net and ship and followed the Savior: neither kinship nor the world’s ties, nor the care of their home could hold them back. Then were the words heard: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." For no soldier goes with a wife to battle.
“… In the same strain, the apostle writes: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married careth for the things of the world how she may please her husband.” (Letters of St. Jerome, Letter XXII, To Eustochium)
St. Jerome in his “Against Jovinianus” continues to explain the perfection of chastity. He writes,
“Among other things the Corinthians asked in their letter whether after embracing the faith of Christ they ought to be unmarried, and for the sake of continence put away their wives, and whether believing virgins were at liberty to marry. And again, supposing that one of two Gentiles believed on Christ, whether the one that believed should leave the one that believed not? And in case it were allowable to take wives, would the Apostle direct that only Christian wives, or Gentiles also, should be taken? Let us then consider Paul’s replies to these inquiries.
“Let us turn back to the chief point of the evidence: "It is good," he [St. Paul] says, "for a man not to touch a woman." If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness. But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, the reason for the concession is to prevent worse evil. But surely a thing which is only allowed because there may be something worse has only a slight degree of goodness. He would never have added "let each man have his own wife," unless he had previously used the words "but, because of fornications." Do away with fornication, and he will not say "let each man have his own wife." Just as though one were to lay it down: "It is good to feed on wheaten bread, and to eat the finest wheat flour," and yet to prevent a person pressed by hunger from devouring cow-dung, I may allow him to eat barley.
“Does it follow that the wheat will not have its peculiar purity, because such an one prefers barley to excrement? That is naturally good which does not admit of comparison with what is bad, and is not eclipsed because something else is preferred. At the same time we must notice the Apostle’s prudence. He did not say, it is good not to have a wife: but, it is good not to touch a woman: as though there were danger even in the touch: as though he who touched her, would not escape from her who "hunteth for the precious life," who causeth the young man’s understanding to fly away. "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals and his feet not be scorched?" As then he who touches fire is instantly burned, so by the mere touch the peculiar nature of man and woman is perceived, and the difference of sex is understood, Heathen fables relate how Mithras and Ericthonius were begotten of the soil, in stone or earth, by raging lust.
“Hence it was that our Joseph, because the Egyptian woman wished to touch him, fled from her hands, and, as if he had been bitten by a mad dog and feared the spreading poison, threw away the cloak which she had touched. "But, because of fornications let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." He did not say, because of fornication let each man marry a wife: otherwise by this excuse he would have thrown the reins to lust, and whenever a man’s wife died, he would have to marry another to prevent fornication, but "have his own wife." Let him he says have and use his own wife, whom he had before he became a believer, and whom it would have been good not to touch, and, when once he became a follower of Christ, to know only as a sister, not as a wife unless fornication should make it excusable to touch her. "The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife."
“The whole question here concerns those who are married men. Is it lawful for them to do what our Lord forbade in the Gospel, and to put away their wives? Whence it is that the Apostle says, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." But inasmuch as he who is once married has no power to abstain except by mutual consent, and may not reject an unoffending partner, let the husband render unto the wife her due. He bound himself voluntarily that he might be under compulsion to render it. "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer." What, I pray you, is the quality of that good thing which hinders prayer? which does not allow the body of Christ to be received? [Here St. Jerome refers to the biblical teaching from the Book of 1st Kings 21:4 which teaches that one are to remain chaste for three days before receiving the Eucharist.] So long as I do the husband’s part, I fail in continency. The same Apostle in another place commands us to pray always. If we are to pray always, it follows that we must never be in the bondage of wedlock, for as often as I render my wife her due, I cannot pray.
“The Apostle Peter had experience of the bonds of marriage. See how he fashions the Church, and what lesson he teaches Christians: "Ye husbands in like manner dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered." Observe that, as St. Paul before, because in both cases the spirit is the same, so St. Peter now, says that prayers are hindered by the performance of marriage duty. When he says "likewise," he challenges the husbands to imitate their wives, because he has already given them commandment: "beholding your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel: but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."
“You see what kind of wedlock he enjoins. Husbands and wives are to dwell together according to knowledge, so that they may know what God wishes and desires, and give honor to the weak vessel, woman. If we abstain from intercourse, we give honor to our wives: if we do not abstain, it is clear that insult is the opposite of honor. He also tells the wives to let their husbands "see their chaste behavior, and the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit." Words truly worthy of an apostle, and of Christ’s rock! He lays down the law for husbands and wives, condemns outward ornament, while he praises continence, which is the ornament of the inner man, as seen in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit. In effect he says this: Since your outer man is corrupt, and you have ceased to possess the blessing of incorruption characteristic of virgins, at least imitate the incorruption of the spirit by subsequent abstinence, and what you cannot show in the body exhibit in the mind. For these are the riches, and these the ornaments of your union, which Christ seeks.
“But you will say: "If everybody were a virgin, what would become of the human race"? Like shall here beget like. If everyone were a widow, or continent in marriage, how will mortal men be propagated? Upon this principle there will be nothing at all for fear that something else may cease to exist. To put a case: if all men were philosophers, there would be no husbandmen. Why speak of husbandmen? There would be no orators, no lawyers, no teachers of the other professions. If all men were leaders, what would become of the soldiers? If all were the head, whose head would they be called, when there were no other members? You are afraid that if the desire for virginity were general there would be no prostitutes, no adulteresses, no wailing infants in town or country. Every day the blood of adulterers is shed, adulterers are condemned, and lust is raging and rampant in the very presence of the laws and the symbols of authority and the courts of justice. Be not afraid that all will become virgins: virginity is a hard matter, and therefore rare, because it is hard: "Many are called, few chosen." Many begin, few persevere. And so the reward is great for those who have persevered.” (Against Jovinianus, Book 1, Section 7, A.D. 393)
- Natural Family Planning is sinful birth control (NFP)
- What is Natural Family Planning?
- Why is NFP wrong?
- The Teaching of the Catholic Papal Magisterium
- God’s Word
- People Know that NFP is a Sin
- Planned Parenthood and NFP of the Same Cloth
- NFP has eternal and infinite consequences
- Sexual Pleasure and Lust
- Quieting vs inflaming concupiscence
- The Demon of Lust
- Prayer before Marital Relations
- The importance of Loving God during intercourse and at all times
- Love is necessary for Salvation
- Relations during pregnancy should be avoided
- The evil of concupiscence
- Chastity: The Angelic Virtue
- Mortally sinful media!
- TV-series, films, cartoons
- 'Avatar' driving us to suicide, say fans
- How to control your eyes
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- Ouija board a controversial toy for tots
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- Vanity, Immodest dressing, and makeup
- Padre Pio on modern-day fashions
- On bad thoughts
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- Keep holy thy Sabbath day or Sunday
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- Explaining the Laws of fast and abstinence, for days of fast and abstinence
- Natural Family Planning (NFP)
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