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Celibacy – History and Doctrine

by Brother Lawrence Damien

Note from Mary: This is taken from a letter by Brother Lawrence Damien (aka Rev John Brown) to the Social Group during a discussion on celibacy:

I am Catholic (though not Roman - I am from the California Diocese of The American Catholic Church which is an Independent Catholic Church) and have spent several years studying Catholic theology including the basis for their belief in celibacy for priests.

The church would claim that Jesus was single, taught celibacy, as did the Apostle Paul. They would also claim that all the apostles were single so they could devote themselves fully to God. They would say that Paul taught that celibacy was better than marriage and a higher calling. So those following celibacy were believed to have a higher calling and to be holier than those who didn't, and were closer to perfection. So what is the truth here?

Does the Bible teach celibacy as mandatory for priests, or anyone else for that matter? Were there ever married priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and are there married priests in the church currently?

What about the apostles? Were any of them married? If so did their wives share in their ministry with them?

In this study we will look at those questions and see what history and the Bible actually say, as opposed to man-made doctrine. This is not an attack on the Roman Catholic Church or its priests, religious, monks, nuns, etc, most of whom I believe are decent people, doing their best to follow God and fulfill their vocation that they feel God has called them to. It is, however, intended to look at the record, and determine what the record says on the subject so you can then judge for yourselves what is true.

1. History of the Doctrine of Celibacy

First I would like to take a look at where the doctrine of celibacy originated and whether there is any apostolic basis for their claim. In Roman Catholic theology Peter is named to be the first pope by Jesus. Interesting because as we shall see Peter was a married man, as were all the apostles except for Paul. Marriage had been required for priests in the Old Testament and it would seem that Jesus accepted that part of the tradition in His choice of a married man Peter to be the first leader/pope of the church.

It was also taught that Saint Paul highly endorsed celibacy as it was easier for a man who didn't have a family to provide for, to spread the Gospel. However as we shall see Paul mandates that bishops, elders, and deacons all have only one wife so therefore apparently allowing for priests to be married. In spite of that polygamy persisted among all ranks of the priests till finally in the third century when bishops alone were required to be monogamous.

The first change towards celibacy for priests was at the Council of Elvira in Spain in 306. Bishops, priests and deacons were prohibited from marrying, and those who were married were prohibited from having sex with their wives or producing any children. Within a short time, the early church fathers began to stigmatize sex as sinful in much of their writings. St. Ambrose (340-397) writes "The ministerial office must be kept pure and unspoiled and must not be defiled by coitus." St. Augustine (354-430) went so far as to consider an erect penis a sign of man's insubordination.

With the coming of the Dark Ages around 500 there was a major upheaval in society. There was also a decline in clerical discipline, with priests marrying once again and even keeping concubines (mistresses). During this time the church was getting much wealth, and many priests were getting wealthy, which was not lost on Rome. Many of the wealthy priests were leaving church lands to their heirs, and other lands got handed down because of primogeniture (the idea that the eldest son was entitled to double of his father's property when the father died, and before anyone else got anything.

Rome was jealous and the Holy See believed that a return to celibacy rule would result in a huge real estate bonanza for the church as well as increase its wealth.

About 1018 Pope Benedict VIII forbade descendants of priests from inheriting property. From then on, all property left by a priest when he died would go to the church.

In the late 11th century Pope Gregory VII declared himself the supreme authority over all souls, and went on to forbid married priests from saying mass, as well as forbidding parishioners from attending any masses said by them. Finally at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 the first written law forbidding the clergy to marry was handed down.

However that didn't settle the question and dissent persisted. Twice at church councils in the 15th century supporters of Clerical marriage tried to reintroduce the practice, but were defeated by hardliners who, I believe, were bent on rewriting history. By asserting that the doctrine of celibacy was of apostolic origin the law of celibacy finally became official doctrine at the Council of Trent in 1563 and has remained the teaching up to the present day.

This then gives a brief history of where the doctrine came from and how it came to be a major doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and the requirement for clergy celibacy. Through this practice of celibacy the power of the church became absolute. Since a priest is not allowed to marry or own property, he becomes dependent upon the local church and bishop for everything. They provide his clothing, housing, job, food, salary, retirement, thus making the priest totally dependent on them. Since the church is a private institution they don't have to pay Social Security or unemployment benefits to their priests. Should a priest leave or be defrocked (kicked out) he loses everything, and is left with nothing, as I understand it. Therefore there is a need to totally submit, agree with whatever the bishop or pope says so he can keep his job and everything he has. This also encourages blind obedience, never asking questions, looking the other way so as not to be seen as a trouble maker, and possibly be forced to leave.

Other churches have adopted variations on this teaching. In the Orthodox Church a priest can marry but not a bishop. In other churches a priest may marry prior to ordination but not afterwards.

So what do the scriptures say about celibacy? Is it taught there, and if so what Scriptures would the Roman Catholic use to support their position?

Is there other scripture which might cast a different light or give us another way of looking at things? Let's have a look and see.

2. Old Testament Scriptures on Celibacy

First lets look at two scriptures from the Old Testament.

A. God says it is not good for a man to be alone, and therefore a companion was made for him.1 We were made to need companionship and to work together for a common purpose. Being alone was not in God's original plan for man who says it was not good. This would seem to fly in the face of celibacy since celibacy requires you to be alone and not have a wife or spouse, so that the priest can give everything - himself, all his time and energy, to serving the church and its people.

B. Marriage was required in order to be a priest in the Old Testament church.2 This was for the raising up of males, as the priesthood was passed from father to son. However it also shows God had no problem with married priests with families. He even provides laws for them and their families to be provided for, both while they were ministering as well after their retirement.

3. New Testament Scriptures on Celibacy

The church maintains that celibacy is of apostolic origin as well as taught by Jesus. Is there a good biblical case for celibacy for priests or could it be simply picking certain verses that seem to support their teaching, while ignoring others which might contradict their conclusions?

Matt. 19:11-12 - Jesus says celibacy is a gift from God and whoever can bear it should bear it. Jesus praises and recommends celibacy for full-time ministers in the Church. Because celibacy is a gift from God, those who criticize the Church's practice of celibacy are criticizing God and this wonderful gift He bestows on His chosen ones. This is the Roman Catholic position on those verses.

Let's take a look at the verses and see what the verses actually say and what we can learn from them. "But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

The term eunuch used here can refer to a gay person, as I have shared previously in other of my writings and in my book "I'm Gay And It's OK". Jesus said then that some are born gay. However taking the church's argument that these are celibate, they are right that it applies to them very much.

Jesus says some eunuchs would be made that way by man. That is, they would have no choice in the matter. The Roman Catholic Church, in making it mandatory for its priests to be celibate, forces them to become eunuchs/celibates, or give up the priesthood. Though this is supposed to be a voluntary surrender for the cause of Christ it becomes a must if you want to be priest. In other words give up sex, marriage, family, companionship, wealth and you can become a priest. Hold on to them in any form and you can forget about being a priest.

When taken in context this is a part of a teaching on marriage and divorce. In this passage Jesus says: "And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"3 Here we see Jesus teaching in favor of marriage and companionship/wife. Nothing against it at all. He then goes into a teaching on divorce and then on eunuchs, essentially arguing that all have their own calling, either as married or as a eunuch. Also note that Jesus says nothing about a requirement for priests or anyone else.

Matt. 19:29 - Jesus says that whoever gives up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for the sake of His name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. Jesus praises celibacy when it is done for the sake of His kingdom. (Roman Catholic position)

While the Roman Catholic position is possible it can also read that whoever gives up anything for Christ will receive more as well as eternal life. In other words you can't out give God. He will keep on blessing you until you have so much abundance it overflows to others.4 While it will work for priests it will also work for anyone else willing to put it to practice. It is also a teaching, I believe, on giving, and what happens when we do. Therefore I don't feel it is necessarily a treatise or encouragement of celibacy.

Matt. 22:30 - "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven." Jesus explains that in heaven there are no marriages as we know them. Instead we will be married to our Bridegroom Jesus forever. Nothing prohibits marriage here on earth for anyone, laity or priest. This verse has nothing to do with priesthood, let alone celibacy.

To bring about Jesus' kingdom on earth, priests live the heavenly consecration to God by not taking a wife in marriage. This way, priests are able to focus exclusively on the spiritual family, and not have any additional pressures of the biological family (which is for the vocation of marriage). This also makes it easier for priests to be transferred to different parishes where they are most needed without having to worry about the impact of their transfer on wife and children. (Roman Catholic belief)

Roman Catholics say that they are continuing the examples of Jesus and the apostles, who, according to them were all single, except that we know from scripture that the apostles were not all single.

"Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter)?"5

"Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his (Peter's) wife's mother lying sick with a fever."6

Paul says that Peter, the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord all had wives. Paul was the lone exception. There is also a legend that Peter had a wife named Concordia or Perpetua, who was martyred for her faith. Her husband St. Peter encouraged her to be faithful to death and to "Remember dear our Lord". Another tradition is that they traveled together as a husband and wife team, preaching and converting souls, and that both went to Rome and were martyred together. This shows Peter was not single, and we can believe from Paul's testimony that none of the others were either.

Another fact to look at is that Jesus and his disciples traveled with women in their company.

"There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem."7

Who were these women who traveled with Jesus, ministering to Him? Could they have been the wives of the apostles traveling with them, sharing their life and ministry with them? There is no way to know for certain at this late date but if so, then married apostles accompanied Jesus, including Peter.

The Bible is silent about Jesus' sexual practices and beliefs. He may have been gay, heterosexual, bi sexual, asexual with no interest in sex whatever, maybe married or maybe single. The scriptures don't say.

Some may think the Apostle Paul taught celibacy as a better calling than marriage, and which he wished all men to follow. However, is that what Paul really taught or meant?

1 Cor 7:1 - Paul teaches that it is well for a man not to touch a woman. This is the choice that Catholic priests of the Roman rite freely make.

1 Cor. 7:7 - Paul acknowledges that celibacy is a gift from God and wishes that all were celibate like he is.

1 Cor. 7:27 - Paul teaches men that they should not seek marriage. In Paul's opinion, marriage introduces worldly temptations that can interfere with one's relationship with God, specifically regarding those who will become full-time ministers in the Church.

1 Cor. 7:32, 33, 38 - Paul recommends celibacy for full-time ministers in the Church so that they are able to focus entirely upon God and building up His kingdom. He "who refrains from marriage will do better." (Roman Catholic writings)

Here we see what happens when you start picking at scriptures in order to support your doctrine. While all of the above are correct, in context, Paul is writing about marriage, contrasting the pros and cons for being married versus unmarried, and though he has a preferred way for himself he realizes not all are called to be celibate, and argues for each to do as they feel led to do. If one marries they have not sinned, and if they don't marry they have not sinned. Each has the call and place. Again there is nothing about priests, or requiring celibacy of them.

I Tim. 3:2 - Paul instructs that bishops must be married only once. Many Protestants use this verse to prove that the Church's celibacy law is in error. But they are mistaken because this verse refers to bishops that were widowers. Paul is instructing that these widowers could not remarry. The verse also refers to those bishops who were currently married. They also could not remarry (in the Catholic Church's Eastern rite, priests are allowed to marry; celibacy is only a disciplinary rule for the clergy of the Roman rite). Therefore, this text has nothing to do with imposing a marriage requirement on becoming a bishop.

In my opinion this is funny that they would use this one in support of celibacy as it says flat out there were married bishops in the early church. The scripture says

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;

Here Paul is establishing rules for bishops basically to make sure they were not polygamists. While it doesn't require a bishop to have a wife it doesn't require him to be celibate either, and does allow for married priests and bishops.

1 Tim. 4:3 - in this verse, Paul refers to deceitful doctrines that forbid marriage. Many non-Catholics also use this verse to impugn the Church's practice of celibacy. This is entirely misguided because the Catholic Church (unlike many Protestant churches) exalts marriage to a sacrament. In fact, marriage is elevated to a sacrament, but consecrated virginity is not. The Church declares marriage sacred, covenantal and lifegiving. Paul is referring to doctrines that forbid marriage and other good when done outside the teaching of Christ and for a lessor good. Celibacy is an act of giving up one good (marriage and children) for a greater good (complete spiritual union with God).

Let's get this in context; Paul says:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."8

In context it says there would be those who would depart from the faith in some way, one of which is forbidding to marry. There is nothing about the elaborate exclamation that the Roman Catholic Church gives this verse. Also, it doesn't say they are not Christian, not going to heaven, or that they are going to hell, but in this one respect they have departed (somewhat) from the faith.

1 Tim. 5:9-12 - Paul recommends that older widows take a pledge of celibacy. This was the beginning of women religious orders.

"Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. "

Paul is setting the standard for widows to be admitted into the church to be cared for. It says nothing about celibacy or being a requirement for priests, let alone women religious/nuns or anybody else. These are rules for a particular church in regard to its widows, and nothing more.

Rev. 14:4 - unlike our sinful world of the flesh, in heaven, those consecrated to virginity are honored.

In context this refers to the 144,000 only who are in heaven following the Lamb wherever he goes. A nice goal for priests to shoot for maybe, but again there is nothing about celibacy or requirement for priests.

Jeremiah 16:1-4 - God tells Jeremiah not to take a wife or have children. This is a message to one man and a situation he was in at the time, which was not conducive to having a wife and children. Again there is nothing about priesthood, celibacy for everyone, being an example for anyone or anything else. Isaiah 56:3-7 - the eunuchs who keep God's covenant will have a special place in the kingdom of heaven. (Roman Catholic teaching)

Refer back to my earlier notes on eunuchs at the beginning of this study, One possibility I mentioned was that eunuch is a biblical name for a homosexual/gay person. I say hallelujah! God has a special place and reward for those of us who are gay. Let's hear what He has to say about us.

"Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, "The Lord has utterly separated me from His people"; Nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree." For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.9

That, I believe, is God's promise to all gay, queer, lesbian or whatever you might call yourselves.

Father Edward Deimeke, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, acknowledged that the institution of celibacy was a "human rule" which could be altered, as opposed to a moral absolute (like the church's stance on abortion). He also allowed that a majority of the priesthood, as well as the laity in America, favored the right of priests to wed.

Perhaps it would be better to do as Paul suggests "It is better to marry than to burn." Then maybe they wouldn't have to worry about pedophiles in their ranks and priests having children out of wedlock.

I love the Catholic church, its liturgy, ceremonies and many other things about her. However I can't turn a blind eye to error as I see it, or ignore all that is happening to it at present. She is in my prayers daily that she will do a thorough housecleaning, deal openly and transparently with the current abuse cases now facing her, and when done, come though refined and pure for Christ's use.

God Bless You All Family

As always comments welcomed and you can disagree with me and still be my brother or sister in Christ,

Brother Lawrence Damien


1 Genesis 2: 18:25
2 Leviticus 11:8
3 Matthew 19:4,5
4 John 10:10b
5 I Corinthians 9:5
6 Matt 8:14 See also Luke 4:38
7 Mark 15:40,41 See also Luke 8:1-5
8 I Timothy 4:1-3
9 Isaiah 56:3-5