Priestly Celibacy

Taking a look at the Catholic Teaching on Celibacy


If there is a distinct priesthood whereby a man is ordained and set aside for the service of God, it should also follow that he is totally set aside from all things of the world and not just in part. For this reason the Church from the earliest of centuries has required her clergy to be celibate.


Priestly Celibacy, is one of the Pillars of the Church and for this reason it is under so much attack. And yet the Catholic faith is hardly the only religion to expect celibacy of its priests. Both ancient and modern religions have had that as a natural requirement in whole or in part for the various ministers of their religions. i.e.  Vestal Virgins of Pagan Rome and some of the various pagan priests. IT is no small thing, that so vigorous an attack is being waged against priestly celibacy, in a time were impurity and fornication is rampant. In every age in which the Church begins to diminish in dignity and respect, simultaneously along with it we find that priestly celibacy is undermined. This was the case in pontificate of the Saintly Pope Gregory VII who zealously fought against the German clergy who wanted to make light the Church’s demand for clerical celibacy. The same rings true today 


Attack against Celibacy:


Pope Gregory XVI, in his Encyclical Mirari Vos which was written in 1832 asks us 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."


If these words were written more than a century ago, what might be said today? Nevertheless in heeding the Popes  request  I will  simply set forth the firm reasons of our faith for the Church's teaching on clerical celibacy while also exposing a number of the current errors on the issue, which should enable us  to understand why the Church insists so zealously on her clergy maintaining clerical celibacy .


What is Celibacy?


If I might use the words celibacy and virginity interchangeably strictly speaking they are not the same thing since virginity refers to consecrated abstinence in a women, while celibacy refers to the consecrated abstinence in a man. Also the term “virginity” implies that the state of abstinence has been preserved in tact while celibacy does not necessarily suppose this.

Celibacy is the second of the three great evangelical councils which are  - Poverty, Chastity and obedience (Matt 19:12). But Celibacy differs from Chastity in that by the word “Celibacy” is indicated a permanent state of chastity, while chastity refers more to the purity of actions in with regards to other and applies both to married and religious persons.


Reasons for clerical Celibacy:


With this distinction, I can begin to set forth the Church’s teachings and motives for clerical celibacy. The reasons for priestly and religious celibacy are so numerous that while I will not be able to enumerate them all, will at least set forth the major reasons, which range from theological, spiritual, psychological, practical, philosophical and biblical motives.


Primary priestly celibacy rests primarily on the fact that a priest must be closely united to God by holiness of life not only because of his proximity to the holy things which he offers but also to in order to make for the shortcomings in the worship, petition, reparation, and thanksgiving of the faithful.


Celibacy and the teaching of the Popes:


The Devil knows only to well that Holy virginity and that perfect chastity which is consecrated to the service of God is without doubt among the most precious treasures which Our Lord has left in heritage to the Church. Although it stands as an obstacle to the world, not only in this age but in every age, since human nature has not changed.


In fact it was precisely this virtue which the enemies of the Church attack that had allowed the great saints of antiquity to make so much progress in the conversation of the Barbaric peoples they met. When these barbarians were confronted with men who didn’t want their goods, their weapons, or their women, they were often somewhat confounded and were more willing to listen to these men who had venture from other parts of the world with only the desire of preaching some doctrine about a God-Man called Christ. That is why the Popes have always been the staunchest defenders of celibacy sine they know only to well the blessings that the Church has obtained by this virtue.


I think I could quote volumes of Popes on this issue to give you an insight on how high an ideal they had of priestly celibacy but I will limit by self mainly to the words of Pope Pius XII who summed the mind of the Church on this matter in his brilliant Encyclical Sacra Virginitatis in which he states concerning the life of celibacy that :

" Indeed, right from Apostolic times this virtue has been thriving and flourishing in the garden of the Church. When the Acts of the Apostles say that Philip the deacon was the father of four virgins, the word certainly refers to their state of life rather than to their age. And not much later Ignatius of Antioch salutes the virgins, who together with the widows, formed a not insignificant part of the Christian community of Smyrna. In the second century, as St. Justin testifies, "many men and women, sixty and seventy years old, imbued from childhood with the teachings of Christ, keep their integrity." Gradually the number of men and women who had vowed their chastity to God grew; likewise the importance of the office they fulfilled in the Church increased notably. Further, the Fathers of the Church, such as Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and many others, have sung the praises of virginity. … "

Those words clearly some up the mind of the Church. In fact the entire encyclical is so well done that all one needs to do today is simply to restate it.


Motives for priestly celibacy


First what must be understood is that this teaching of the Church on priestly celibacy in no way undermines the  fact marriage is a holy or good thing but rather it only sets out more clearly the order of things as set forth by God .


Motive 1. Scripture – Perfection: Old Testament Priesthood


In the Old Testament  God commands the Levites to be Holy because they served the Alter. Because of their close proximity to the vessels that were used for the Old Testament  sacrifice and worship that was offered to God (Leviticus 21), they were required to keep themselves from any defilement. Leviticus 21:6 "They shall be holy to their God, and shall not profane his name."

Now if this was true in the Old Testament  when the instruments and vessels used for the worship of God were used in a worship that in reality and dignity can not compare with the New Testament worship, how much more holiness is indeed required of the New Testament Priest who touches not only mere instruments but God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament of the Alter.


In fact on the Liturgical vestments of the high priest of the Old Law were inscribed the words: "Holy to the Lord" – To signify that this man was sanctified for God and set apart from the rest of men.


While it's true that the Old Testament  priests were permitted to Marry this was not only because it was only a preparation for the New Testament priesthood, but because as you might well know the Old Testament  priesthood was passed on by birth. All the male Children of the Levitical tribe were by that very fact destined to become priests of the Old Law. But what is interesting about this is that during the term of their priestly functions the Levites had to live in the Temple precincts, separated from their wives. Commenting on this fact, Pope Siricius (384-99 AD) states that is was “quite obviously so that they would not be able to have carnal knowledge of any woman, even their wives, and , thus having a conscience of integrity, they could offer to God offerings worthy of acceptance.” - Directa to Himerus, chapt. 7. cf also Migne, P.L., LVI, 558 and 728


This same point is illustrated again the Old Testament when David asks bread from the Priest Achimalech for himself and his men when he had fled from King Saul (1 Kings 21). Achimalech reply’s to David that he only has ‘holy bread’ and that he was only willing to allow David and his men to eat of this bead if they had abstained from any sexual relations with women. If this is true of mere earthly bread which been placed before the Tabernacle, how much more sexual purity is required for those who offer the bread of the New Law, the priests who bring down Our Lord Himself into the world.  


What’s more is that even though they were permitted to marry to continue their priesthood, they could not just marry any Jewish woman - God makes it clear to them : (Leviticus 21:7) “They shall not take to wife a harlot or a vile prostitute, nor one that has been put away from her husband: because they are consecrated to their God ". Again he says to them: (Leviticus 21:13) “He shall take a virgin unto his wife. But a widow or one that is divorced, or defied, or a harlot, he shall not take: but a maid of his own people.  He shall not mingle the stock of his kindred with the common people of this nation: for I am the Lord who sanctify him." - What is interesting here, is that for these priests God does not distinguish between a widow and harlot, to show precisely the holiness the Priest is called to . Further the priest was not to marry anyone from other tribes to signify that the Priest was something separated/distinct from the rest of the people.


Again, even in the Old Testament , God expressly commands some men like the prophet Jeremias not to take a wife and have children (Jer. 16:1-4) since doing so would be inconsistent with the (turbulent) ministry to which God was calling him.

These things of the Old Testament  St. Paul says were all written for our instruction - they had their purpose and meaning from which we can learn (1 Corith 10: 11). And so the reason I mention these things of the Old Testament  because they gives us in many respects the blue print for understanding the New Testament priesthood and priestly celibacy. In this regard, St. Ambrose states that if the pre-figuration of the truth demanded so much temporal continence, how much more does the reign of the full truth demand its full measure?

 In fact that is what St. Paul shows us in his epistle to the Hebrews . He brings up the Old Testament  priesthood in order to show that although it had its purpose it ultimately was only a pre-figurement of the New Testament priesthood, which is far superior in every respect to that of the Priesthood of the Old Law. Now if this is the case, then the New Testament priest is also called to a far superior holiness and a far superior union to God. He ought to have no obstacles between him and God. His concerns ought to be all that pertains to God and His Altar.


New Testament Priesthood and perfection


St. Paul himself makes it clear that celibacy in Gods serves is superior state of life as he points out that: " 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.” – Cor 7:32

St. Paul is not condemning that lawful concern of the spouses for one another but simply saying that marriage keeps the soul from being fully abandoned to the service of God, because unless the priest dedicates himself completely to God he will always have something reserved for himself. St. Jerome (ca. 342-420) in basing himself on these words of St. Paul states that the: "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." - Adversus Jovinianum,

Again basing itself on the words of St. Paul and Catholic tradition, the Council of Trent solemnly proclaimed that the life of Celibacy was superior to that of the married state and anathematized anyone who dared to declare the contrary (Session 24, Canon. 10). The reason for this is that Celibacy objectively has a higher aim and is more conducive to salvation and perfection since it is oriented to the union of Charity with God. While marriage as a state is ordered to the spouses, the Children, the family. Further, that it’s a holier state is also affirmed by Our Lord when he alludes to the fact that some renounce marriage in the hope of attaining a more noble prize, “the kingdom of heaven”  (Matt 19:12).

St. Thomas Aquinas on this issue states points out the same thing in saying that the consecrated life is per se a state more holy than the lay or married state. Not that all priest are by their ordination all of a sudden more holy than any laymen, but that they are by their very ordination called to a higher degree of holiness. A higher degree of holiness is now demanded of from them – “To him who is given much, much is demanded,” says Our Lord. 

This seems only logical since in the hierarchical Church that Christ founded, the hierarchy should not only have a hierarchy of power and authority, but also hierarchy of sanctity. In other words, they should not only lead by words but holiness of life and example (Tim 6:10).

"If any man come to me, 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." - Luke 14:26


Motive 2.  A Zeal that is “totaly dedicated to God”


How else could a zealous priest more readily risk his life or his health in helping the sick and the needy? How, for example, could a missionary such as the wonderful St. Francis Xavier, a father of the poor such as the merciful St. Vincent de Paul, a zealous educator of youth like St. John Bosco, have accomplished such gigantic and painful labors, if each had to look after the corporal and spiritual needs of a wife or husband and children? In there case it is more evident that on their fidelity to the life of celibacy depended the salvation of souls. If it was true their case it like wise stands true in the case of all priests who by their very vocation are also bound to labor with zeal for souls.


I think the real problem today is not so much that men are weaker but rather that they have lost the faith and so ultimately the motive for celibacy since without the faith it's true to say that celibacy would simply be a constraining shackle - since to be celibate is do violence to nature.


Motive 3 –Mary Ever Virgin – Imitation of Mary.


A good parallel regarding the virginity of the Priest is that of the Blessed Virgin, for if it took a virgin to bring down almighty God by means of the incarnation. God chose not just any virgin, he chose a virgin that was immaculate/pure - free from all stain of sin. Should it not then require the hands of another virgin to bring down almighty God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? The Priest Brings down the same God before us. The only difference is that the Christ is longer possessed of a passable body but of an impassible body. But Nevertheless His infinite dignity is still the same. St. Peter Damian, brings out this parallel with better expression saying: "If Our Redeemer so loved the flower of unimpaired modesty that not only was He born from a virginal womb, but was also cared for by a virgin nurse even when He was still an infant crying in the cradle, by whom, I ask, does He wish His body to be handled now that He reigns, limitless, in heaven?"

From this we can draw another motive but this time from the angels.


Motive 4: likened to the Angels


It is by this virtue of celibacy/virginity the priests are made in some way to resemble the angels who are neither married nor marry (Mt 22:30, Mk 12:25, Lk 20:35) on this St. Cyprian states that "In preserving virgin chastity, you (virgins) are the equals of the angels of God." In fact, scripture its self refers to priests at times as "angels" (Malach 2:7, Apoc 3) in order to show us not only what esteem these men of God have in the sight of God but also the high dignity of their calling which only logically demands a high degree of Sanctity.


Motive 5:  Paternity out of this world – With a spouse out of this world!


While it's true that celibacy the priest abdicates his right to a carnal paternity, yet by that very same act he can look foreword to the immensity of Children he will beget not for an earthly and transitory life but for the heavenly and eternal one. On this point Pope Siricius aptly states “How would a bishop or a priest dare preach continence and integrity to a widow or a virgin, or yet how would he dare exhort spouses to the chastity of the conjugal bed, if he himself is more concerned about begetting children for the world than begetting them for God?” (Dominus inter).

Furthermore what does is does it mean to be a Father if not to beget or communicate life to another. That is what the priest does, he communicates to us the divine life of grace, which  is superior to the natural life which perishes.  This is why St. Paul says to the Corinthians (4:15) "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you."  To the Catholic this language should not be strange since it is for this reason we call the priest "Father" for it is he who begets in us the life of grace, beginning with baptism. In this we can see the beauty of not only celibacy but of Priesthood since by means of His priesthood Christ wishes to guide us to heaven from moment of our birth right up to the moment of our last breath by the sacrament of extreme unction. - God is more closer than you might have thought!

The priest by becoming celibate for the love of God takes to himself a spouse that is not of this world, he takes as his special spouse, the Church, which he promises to defend and remain faithful to for life. This is why some Church Father's go so far as to compare breaking the vow of celibacy with adultery. Since it is seen as Union of the Priest with Church. In fact most people are instinctively uncomfortable when their clergyman not being celibate. They seem to think instinctively that he should be "married" to his flock, not to a wife. St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) confirms this by saying that: "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. There is a reason for this Tradition. The cleric in major orders, by virtue of his ordination, contracts a marriage with the Church, and he cannot be a bigamist."


Motive 6:  – The Priestly consecration


From reading the Old Testament  we clearly get the idea that any sanctified object - any object that is consecrated to God is a rule no longer to have any sort of profane usage and nor was it permitted that such an object should come in direct contact with anything that would profane it. The Ark of the Covenant is probably the most prominent example of this, when for example for when Oza touched the Ark of the Covenant to save it from falling, because he was not a priest consecrated to God, he was immediately struck dead by God (2 Kings 6:7).

Now, point is, if the Ark of the covenant was regarded as "holy" because it contained some tablets of the law, the Rod of Aaron and what ever else. How much more holiness are we to suppose is to emanate from the priest who brings forth, not some stone tablets but God himself at Holy Mass.

Our Lord Himself in the New Testament brings out the same point when he rebukes with great rigor those who made common use of those things which were holy, when he throw out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:13-16). What seemed in this instance acceptable to the Sanhedrin was clearly not acceptable to Our Lord. A holy Place or thing which has been consecrated to God, is not to be abused by using it for purely human pursuits when its purpose is to glorify God in a special and unique way. The implications of this fact can clearly be applied to the Priesthood, since the priest by his ordination is consecrated to God. He is not “a career man” but a Man of God - set aside by God and ordained for men in the things that appertain to God - (Hebrews 5:1). For this reason even the Apostles who were married before their calling, no longer lead a married life after their calling (Acts 6:1).


Motive 8. – “For the sake of the Kingdom of heaven”


When speaking of the life of Celibacy our Lord’s would have undeniably seemed a little hard to swallow at first since as Our Lord points out “Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given.” Yet what is interesting about our Lords words here is that he goes on to explicitly states that “There are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let him accept it that can.” (Mk 19:11). So the ultimate motive that Our lord appeals to is “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”. The Church in asking of her priests to make this sacrifice also appeals to the same supernatural motive “For the same of the Kingdom of Heaven”.

The Church does not require clerical celibacy for the sake of it as though in and of itself without the faith it were something worthy of praise. No, that is far from being the case. Both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, supported by the authority of Augustine, teach that virginity does not possess the stability of virtue unless there is a vow to keep it forever intact for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Opponents of celibacy often simply assume, like Luther, that a life without sex is utterly impossible, whereas as I pointed out, our Lord Jesus (Matthew 19:12) and St. Paul (1 Cor 7) undeniably teach the contrary, and even speak preferably of celibacy for those so called to it. If sexual abstinence is impossible and "unnatural," as the modern world would have us believe, then men and women are reduced to the level of mere beasts, devoid of God's image and strengthening power, unable to control their appetites and passions. This absurd claim is not only an affront to priests who have faithfully preserved chastity but also to those unmarried laymen and lay women living in world and who faithfully preserve this virtue of Chastity. We must remember we are not animals but rational creatures made to the living image of God and destined for eternal life with God if we persevere in his grace.

The reduction of man to an animal has meant that unrestrained sex has often replaced the quest for God and righteousness, and become an idol. The "god" of the Modern world. Nevertheless nobody denies that priests are human beings and have natural inclinations like the rest of men, but as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, it is by regulating the inclinations of our nature and by dominating them that we precisely ennoble them.


Motive 8. –  Love of Wisdom


The Love of wisdom ought to be another motive to for celibacy. What I mean by this is not so much that the priest can in being celibate dedicate his life to the service of God, which I mentioned before, but that he can intensity that his love for wisdom and truth by abandoning any carnal love and seeking that which purely heavenly. I think a good example of what I mean of this can be found in the live of a great number famous men who were not even priests. For example Kant and Descartes both these men never married because they were so imbued with their pursuit of a worldly wisdom. They dedicated their lives to perusing Philosophy. In fact when a women did propose to Descartes, he simply responded to her saying something along the lines that “wisdom is far more beautiful than you could ever hope to be” and so he chose to dedicate his life seeking after a wisdom. The wisdom he sought after was only purely a natural wisdom, it was the wisdom of the highest things, but yet still natural wisdom, the wisdom philosophy. Yet if he was willing to give marriage and a family to pursue the treasures that can be found in the wisdom of this world, how more readily should the priest be willing to give up all things to pursue that eternal and heavenly wisdom. The Science of all sciences – Theology. No philosophy or philosophical systems can even being to compare with the grandeur of the truths that are found in the theological truths of our faith.


The book of Wisdom itself expresses the same idea to us (Wisdom 7: 7) “I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me: And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out. Now all good things came to me together with her, and innumerable riches through her hands, And I rejoiced in all these: for this wisdom went before me, and I knew not that she was the mother of them all”. 

Every priest should make these words his own since the love for the truth in the Man of God, whose lips shall keep knowledge (Malachi 2:7), ought to be so intense that he should be willing without hesitation to give up all he has to pursue it (Matt 13:45), since in comparison with the science of the saints all the sciences of this world are but a drop of water in comparison with the entire ocean.

Remember that Christ tells us that he is the “Way, the TRUTH, and the Life”. If that is the case should not the priest, be the first to posses that truth in an intensity that is far superior to that of any laymen? If so, how better can a priest increase his love for the things of God than to despise the carnal things of this world, which includes marriage, since let face it : “He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided” – 1Cor 7:25.


Motive 9 – Mediator between God and Men to draw men to God.


As a mediator between God and Men, no priest is ordained solely for his own salvation, he is rather ordained as St. Paul put it “for men in the things that appertain to God” (Hebrews 5:1). This is why the old code of Canon Law stipulated that the bishop was only to ordain men to the priesthood only to the extent that they are necessary or useful for the Church (Canon 964). 

The priest therefore is called to lead others, to be their mediator but he must first be where he is called to lead others. He is called to lead men to a union with God, but to do that he must already have as it were a foot in heaven. He must imitate the good the Good Shepard in this regard who leads his sheep while he walks ahead of them (John 10:11).

As mediator between God and men to those souls entrusted to him, the priests love for souls must transcend that of mere carnal love. This means that he must renounce having a special love for any one person in a carnal manner in imitation of Christ who belongs to all men and not to anyone individual alone.

The priest must have a heart that is big enough to encompass all men, and this he can only do if he begins to love all with a supernatural love since the mere carnal love is not enough to communicate to others the divine life of grace. And so by celibacy the priest acknowledges not only by word but also by deed that the supernatural love of God infinitely transcends any natural love.


Motive 10– A greater reward


Celibacy is so exalted is by the saints because by it the Priest is no longer a Man of this world but is made a man of eternity, one who no longer seeks the things of earth but the things that are above. He delights no longer in the things of this life but in the things heaven.

St. John of whom it is often said was most loved by Christ on account of his purity for he had never married, tells us in his Apocalypse that those men "who were not defiled with women, being virgins, they follow the Lamb wherever he goes." (Apocalypse 14).   He tells us this in order affirms that those who have observed this virtue of celibacy faithfully have a special place amongst the blessed. This is because the more generous were with God, the more generous God will be with us. God is never out done in generosity. Since it takes generous souls to live a life of celibacy, so like wise these souls are generously rewarded by God.

In this sense the celibacy of the priest embodies in it the sign/teaching that we are not of this world and that we are destined to a greater inheritance. This sign itself speaks volumes. It reminds us that we “have not here a lasting city: but we seek one that is to come (Heb 13:14).

"For thus saith the Lord to the eunuchs, They that shall keep my sabbaths, and shall choose the things that please me, and shall hold fast my covenant: I will give to them in my house, and within my walls, a place, and a name better than sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name which shall never perish." - Isaias 56:4-5


Motive 11 – Sacrifice of Christ with Christ and by Christ (Alter Christus)


Our Lord offered His life as a sacrifice for our sins on Calvary, but that sacrifice did not only begin on Calvary as his whole life was a sacrifice. We only need to call to mind his birth in a stable at Bethlehem to understand this. While it’s true that Our Lord died for our sins on Calvary once and for all, but the story doesn’t end there. Our Lord Himself tells us that we have a part to play in salvation“: If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  Hence, we are called to imitate Christ in going to Calvary. If this is a general command for all Christians, the obligation is all the more so binding on the priests who by their ordination become an “Alter Christus" - Another Christ.

The priest is thus called to share in the sufferings and Cross of Christ. For this reason, St. Paul affirms that that he desires  to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinth 2:2, cf. Also Gal 6:14).

While its true that marriage also entails a life of difficulties and of carrying the cross. But this is of a different nature, since marriage as a state  is not a participation in the cross of Christ, but the satisfaction of a natural human inclination, while celibacy as a state signifies the renunciation of this natural satisfaction, and with that a sharing in Christ cross, for the love of God and the love of the cross go together. They are inseparable.

Also By this title “Alter Christus”, the Church teaches us that the Priest ought to be a replica, a living image of his Our Lord who was, is, and shall forever remain, a virgin. For the virginity of Our lord is continued on in his Mystical body, the Church which is most eminently represented by the hierarchy.

It would probably be worth adding that if someone who wishes to become a priest cannot even make the sacrifice of celibacy, giving up wife and children, how will he hold up when it comes to other sacrifices? Can he give his life for his flock? If the priest is not willing to give up wife and children, just how serious is he about his vocation? How will he be the best possible servant he can be if he is not willing to dedicate his life wholly to God? If God calls you, God will give you the graces necessary to be a good and holy priest. Hence, if you feel you have a vocation but also feel that you could not be celibate for the rest of your life, this is an indication that you do not have a calling to the priesthood or religious life after all.

If the Church were rescinded on her discipline of requiring priests and religious to be celibate, she would be opening the doors to many unworthy vocations, filling the seminaries, monasteries, with people who are not willing to make this great sacrifice of celibacy in order to serve God totally. A vocation to the religious life -- whether it be that of a priest, monk, or nun -- must be willing to give everything to God, including one's life, to be shared with no one and nothing other than Him. Obligatory celibacy is thus a good test for the presence of a true vocation, of a complete dedication to Christ, of a readiness to take up the Cross. Since to take on the vow of Chastity demands strong and noble souls, souls ready to do battle and conquer "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." That is why St. Gregory the Great goes as far as saying that a life of celibacy substitutes for martyrdom: ("Now, though the era of persecution is gone, yet our peace has its martyrdom, because though we bend not the neck to the sword, yet with a spiritual weapon we slay fleshly desires in our hearts."  - PL LXXVI, 1089


Motive 12. – Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church


The Church's teaching on celibacy is far from an innovation. It was not only clearly taught by Our Lord and the Apostles but it was also firmly stressed and taught by the early Church Fathers and Councils. While Today the Orthodox Schismatics  contend with the Church's teaching on clerical celibacy, yet they do have monks who maintain clerical celibacy, although their secular clergy are not bound to celibacy.


However long before the Eastern Schism of 1054 this tradition of clerical celibacy was solemnly proclaimed by the Council of Nicaea, in 325 (Canon No. 3), with unanimous approved by the Fathers, who admitted of no exceptions whatsoever. The Council considered that the prohibition imposed thereby on all bishops, priests, and deacons against having a wife was absolute. It is noteworthy that at that Council, the Easterns (Greeks) made up the overwhelming majority. But even before the Council of Nicaea, the Council of Neo-Caesarea (314) had reminded all Eastern clerics in major orders of the inviolability of this law under pain of deposition. Even shortly prior to this, the Council of Elvira (c. 300 AD) in Spain passed a law enforcing clerical celibacy (canon 33). And so all that Nicea did was confirm what had previously been affirmed. All subsequent councils that have addressed the subject have also simply affirmed the same. In fact at the famous Council of Carthage in 390, the Catholic Bishop Epigonius (bishop of the Royal region of Bulla, in Africa) openly states that “Let it now with more emphasis be taught what are the three ranks that by virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e., the the bishop, the priest, the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep their chastity.” (cf. also Council of Carthage, Canon 3).


This is confirmed by the Catholic Encyclopedia which states “that by the time of St. Leo (440 -461),  the Great the law of celibacy was generally recognized in the West. "(The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III Copyright ©© 1908 by Robert Appleton Company).


That this is an apostolic tradition which can be traced to the apostles I could quote a volume of Fathers in testimony of this, for example:  St. Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 315-403): "It is the Apostles themselves who decreed this law."

Pope Siricius (384-99)  states “ All of us, priests and deacons, are bound together from the day of our ordination, and held to put our hearts and our bodies to the service of sobriety and purity; may we be pleasing to God in all things, in the sacrifices we offer daily” - Directa to Himerus


Pope St. Innocent I (401-417) that : "This is not a matter of imposing upon the clergy new and arbitrary obligations, but rather of reminding them of those (obligations) which the tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers has transmitted to us."


St. Jerome (ca. 342-420): "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."

(For more proofs from the fathers, see. Sacra Virginitas by Pius XII).


In fact it would not only be a violation of Sacred Tradition to blot out a custom 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.

While it’s true that some  Eastern Rite Catholic Priests are married, but this is only because the eastern rites allow a married man to become a priest but they do not allow a priest to get married. And so  the Eastern Rite Catholic Priests can not marry if they are already a priest. Yet despite this allowance, it is clearly not the mind of the Church that they marry. The fact they do not allow any of their married clergy to become bishops confirms this.  And as the saying goes "the exception only confirms the rule"!




It is true that the their is on a global scale a shortage of priests, but this is by no means the first time in history that the Church has had this problem. In every age the Church has always affirmed that it is better to have fewer priests than to have plenty of bad priests. St. Thomas Aquinas states that “God never abandons His Church that apt ministers are not to be found sufficient for the needs of the people. And although it were impossible to find as many ministers as there are now, it is better to have few good ministers than many bad ones.” – Summa Theologica, Supplement, Part III, Q. 36. Art. 4

Further, I have no doubt that the situation of the Church and of the secular world would be far worse if the heroic virtue of the celibate clergy did not exist. One only has to look around one to see the consequences of a sex-crazed society -- obscenity, pornography, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, rape, etc. As the natural respect for celibacy has declined, sexual crimes, sins, and perversions have skyrocketed. Yet people deep down know that celibacy is right, as they are captivated by the idea (as they should be).


The spiritual and temporal benefits that are at the priests advantage in the life of celibacy far out weigh any material gains since the graces and heavenly gifts of God are far above measure for any earthly things to even begin to compare with them. Thus it seems evident that celibacy is far more adequate to the priesthood than marriage.  The world we can say is indebted to the Church on account of her firm stance on clerical celibacy since it is by means of this vow of perpetual chastity that priests have been able to dedicate their lives tirelessly to the missionary work and conversion of pagan lands as such as the USA, Mexico, India, China etc. In every century, the Church has carried the light of her Gospel throughout the world by means of her clergy who have given themselves without reserve for the salvation of Souls and Glory of God and this will only continue in the same measure to which men are wiling to offer their lives in sacrifice to God, not in half measure but completely and totally to God.  

This will only continue to the extent that men are willing to continue doing the same.


I think though from what I shown it should now seem clear that both the Catholic Priesthood and priestly celibacy both have their firm basis in Catholic theology.