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Celibacy is the avoidance of all forms of sexual intimacy, often for religious reasons.
- Celibacy is not merely unknown to Islam, it is unintelligible.
- Early sixteenth-century Europe was an era very different from ours. The late medieval Church claimed about one of every four adults in celibate orders, serving either as priests, nuns, or monks or in celibate military and trading groups such as the Teutonic Knights.
- Allan Carlson, (May 2007;. "Children of the Reformation". Touchstone. 20 (4), (2007).
- [T]he great Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus, while always loyal to Rome, complained: “Let them prate as they will of the status of monks and virgins. Those who under the pretext of celibacy live in [sexual] license might better be castrated. . . . [T]here is a horde of priests among whom chastity is rare.”
[[w:Philip of Burgundy|Philip of Burgundy], the Catholic bishop of Utrecht, admitted that chastity was nearly impossible among clerics and monks who were “pampered with high living and tempted by indolence.” This problem festered until the reform-minded Council of Trent convened in 1545.
- Allan Carlson, (May 2007;. "Children of the Reformation". Touchstone. 20 (4), (2007).
- Addressing the celibate Teutonic Knights, the Reformer also emphasized Genesis 2:18: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper who shall be with him.” Setting himself squarely against the Papacy and the Church Councils here, Luther declared: “[w]hoever would be a true Christian must grant that this saying of God is true, and believe God was not drunk when he spoke these words and instituted marriage.” Except among those rare persons ”not more than one in a thousand” Luther said at one point-who received true celibacy as a special gift from God, marriage and procreation were divinely ordained. As he wrote: “For it is not a matter of free choice or decision but a natural and necessary thing, that whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.”
The Geneva-based reformer John Calvin put an even greater emphasis on Genesis 1:28. He argued that these words represented the only command of God made before the Fall that was still active after God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden. This gave this phrase a unique power and importance. Calvin added that this “pure and lawful method of increase, which God ordained from the beginning, remains firm; this is that law of nature which common sense declares to be inviolable.”
While occasionally acknowledging in unenthusiastic fashion St. Paul’s defense of the single life, the Reformers were far more comfortable with the social order described in Luther’s Exhortation to the Knights of the Teutonic Order. ““We were all created to do as our parents have done, to beget and rear children. This is a duty which God has laid upon us, commanded, and implanted in us, as is proved by our bodily members, our daily emotions, and the example of all mankind.” Marriage with the expectation of children, in this view, represented the natural, normal, and necessary form of worldly existence.
- Allan Carlson, “Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973”, p.8
- 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...
- Council of Trent, 11 November 1563, in G. E. Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions
- Although Christian "clergy," such as bishops and deacons, begin to appear around the year A.D. 100 in early Christian communities, priests emerge as Christian leaders only much later. Priests came to be the ordained clergy tasked with officiating rituals like the Eucharist or Lord's Supper, also known as Communion.
And what about their celibacy? Even here, evidence is both unclear and late: there were reports that some bishops at the Council of Nicea, called by Emperor Constantine in A.D. 325 to address the problem of heresies, argued for a consistent practice of priestly celibacy. This, however, was voted down at the conclusion of the council. The debate resurfaced a couple of hundred years later, but still without uniform agreement.
Over time, priestly celibacy became a serious point of disagreement between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Roman Catholic churches and contributed to the Great Schism between the two in A.D. 1054. Pope Gregory VII attempted to mandate priestly celibacy, but the practice was contested widely by Christians in the Orthodox Eastern Mediterranean world.
Five centuries later, the issue was once again at the forefront of debate when it became a significant factor in the Protestant split from Catholicism during the Reformation.
- Kim Haines-Eitzen, "The Surprisingly Complicated History of Celibacy and Priesthood", News Week, (3/27/17).
- The fact is for a long time the Catholic Church struggled with its interpretation of Scriptures on priestly celibacy. It wasn’t until the 12th century that priestly celibacy became mandatory.
- Kim Haines-Eitzen,“How views on priestly celibacy changed in Christian history“, The Conversation, (Sep 5, 2018).
- Divergent views on mandatory celibacy for priests contributed to the reform movements in the 16th century. Martin Luther, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, argued that allowing priests to marry would prevent cases of sexual immorality. He drew upon Paul’s letters for support of his views.
On the other hand, leaders of the Catholic Church’s “Counter-Reformation,” a reform and renewal movement that had begun before Martin Luther, did not advocate marriage, but sought to address corrupt practices among the clergy.
Desiderius Erasmus, for example, a 16th century Catholic scholar, wrote a powerful critique of corruption in the Catholic Church. His views may well have been shaped by the fact that he himself was the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest.
One of the most important developments in this period was the creation of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, which sought to reform the priesthood in the face of accusations of sexual relations and corruption by, in part, improving the education of priests. In the founding rules of the Jesuit order, emphasis was placed on the importance of celibacy, training and preparation for missionary work, and serving the directives of the pope.
- Kim Haines-Eitzen, “How views on priestly celibacy changed in Christian history“, The Conversation, (Sep 5, 2018).
- For now the discipline of celibacy remains firm. Some say, with a certain pragmatism, we're losing manpower. If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism revises the issue of celibacy, I think it would be for cultural reasons (as in the East), not as a universal option. For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with the pros and cons it has, because there are 10 centuries of good experiences rather than failures....
- What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity. Catholic ministers chose celibacy little by little. Up until 1100, some chose it and some did not. After, the East followed the tradition of non-celibacy as personal choice, while the West went the opposite way. It is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.
- The long period of the dark ages... is due... in a very considerable degree, to the celibacy enjoined by religious orders on their votaries. Whenever a man or woman was possessed of a gentle nature that fitted ... deeds of charity, to meditation, to literature, or to art... they had no refuge elsewhere than in the bosom of the Church. But the Church chose to preach and exact celibacy. The consequence was that these gentle natures had no continuance, and thus, by a policy so singularly unwise and suicidal that I am hardly able to speak of it without impatience, the Church brutalized the breed of our forefathers. She acted precisely as if she had aimed at selecting the rudest portion of the community to be alone the parents of future generations. She practised the arts which breeders would use, who aimed at creating ferocious, currish, and stupid natures. ...
The Church, having first captured all the gentle natures and condemned them to celibacy, made another sweep of her huge nets ... to catch those who were the most fearless, truth-seeking, and intelligent ...and therefore the most suitable parents of a high civilization, and put a strong check, if not a direct stop, to their progeny. Those she reserved... to breed the generations of the future, were the servile, the indifferent, and again, the stupid. Thus, as she ... brutalized human nature by her system of celibacy applied to the gentle, she demoralised it by her system of persecution of the intelligent, the sincere, and the free.
- Virginity is better than marriage, however good. ... Celibacy is ... an imitation of the angels. Therefore, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man. But why do I say angel? Christ, Himself, is the glory of virginity.
- St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, book 4, chapter 24.
- Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.
- Everyone agrees the celibacy rule is just a Church law dating from the 11th century, not a divine command.
- Hans Kung, Newsweek interview, (July 8, 1991).
- If Genesis 1:28 were a ‘command’ that applied to every individual, then Paul would have been disobedient in his apostolic singleness. Paul and everyone else would be obligated to pursue marriage and to order their marriages to produce many descendants.
- Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, "“Be Fruitful and Multiply” Is This a Command or Blessing?", Christianity Today, (November 12, 2001).
- According to Islamic tradition (sunnah), marriage has been deemed to be an essential requirement. Celibacy has been regarded as a malevolent condition fraught with evils.
- On the preferred place of committed celibacy, there was complete continuity with the doctrine of patristic times so vigorously set forth by writers like Jerome and Chrysostom. In the new European world, where the monasteries had preserved the remains of Roman culture where the clergy had organized the universities, where the reformers or moral life came from the religious orders, the emphasis on celibacy received an institutional impetus it had lacked in the Roman era. Celibacy was now the established norm for the Western secular clergy. Much of the work of social and intellectual leadership was performed by men who, as secular priests, or monks, or brothers, were bound to observe complete sexual continence. Almost all of the theorizing on marriage and sexuality was done by men both personally and institutionally committed to the ideal of lifelong continence.
- John T. Noonan, Jr., “Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists”, (1986), ”The Preferred Status of Celibacy”
- Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
- All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."
- Marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horsepond.
- Thomas Love Peacock, Melincourt (1817), ch. 7