Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


Obligation not to marry or to use marriage rights. The idea that celibacy was more perfect and holy than marriage may have roots in Jewish (Essenes,* Therapeutae*) and pagan conceptions. The notion is present in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Tekla. Many Christians soon looked for this “perfection” in their pastors and gave preference to unmarried pastors. The first Council of Nicaea* refused to prohibit the marriage of clergy. The Syn. of Gangra* raised its voice against those who refused to accept the ministrations of married clerics. In the W the Syn. of Elvira* required bps., priests, and all who served the altar to live in continence even if married. Siricius forbade the marriage of priests 386. Later popes and councils of the W confirmed this edict. For 600 yrs. the priesthood struggled openly and in secret against celibacy. Rome regarded clerical wives as concubines and their children as bastards. The Syn. of Pavia* 1018 (1022 passed severe judgment against them. Gregory VII took decisive action against the marriage of priests. (See Popes, 7). He upheld the principle that a married priest who said mass and a layman who took Communion from him be excommunicated. When married priests opposed Gregory's enactments, he incited the nobility and people against them. Severe penalties were imposed on those who did not conform.

The Reformation called attention to the vicious results of celibacy (AC XXIII; Ap XXIII). Emp. Ferdinand and the rulers of Fr., Bavaria, and Poland asked the Council of Trent* to consider the repeal of celibacy. It decreed: “If anyone says that clerics constituted in sacred orders … can contract marriage, and that, contracted, it is valid … let him be anathema” (Sess. XXIV, canon 9); “If anyone says … that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema” (ib. canon 10). It made special rules regarding “illegitimate sons of clerics” (Sess. XXV, Decree Concerning Reform, ch. 15). RC arguments for celibacy were based on Mt 19:11, 12; 1 Co 7:25, 26, 38, 40.

See also Asceticism.

H. C. Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church (New York, 1957); O. Hardman, The Ideals of Asceticism (New York, 1924); E. C. Butler, “Monasticism,” in Cambridge Medieval History, ed. H. M. Gwatkin and J. P. Whitney, I (New York, 1924), 521–542.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

Stay Connected! Join the LCMS Network:

Contact Us Online
(Staff Switchboard)
(Church Info Center)
1333 S Kirkwood Rd
Saint Louis, MO 63122-7226 | Directions


Featured Publication

The Lutheran Witness

LCMS Communications

Interpreting the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Visit TLW Online