Celibacy Definition and Meaning

The dictionary of the DigoPaul recognizes the term celibacy as a synonym for singleness, which is the state of being single. A single man is, on the other hand, one who is not married.

Celibacy (from the Latin caelibatus), in any case, is associated with a choice of life. The concept is often linked to the way of life of religious who choose not to have sexual relations. In the case of Catholic priests, celibacy is an indispensable and unavoidable condition for being ordained.

The strong influence of the Catholic Church regarding celibacy means that, at a general level, the term is associated exclusively with religion. However, celibacy can be a philosophical or social choice, and it can even be forcibly compelled (as was the case with slaves).

The mandatory priestly celibacy in Catholicism was established at the Council of Trent (XVI century). This condition is usually justified by the need for the priest to consecrate himself exclusively to God. Among the detractors, there are those who assure that celibacy is the cause of the numerous cases of sexual abuse committed by members of the Church.

The notion of celibacy can be compared to chastity, which is the voluntary restraint of behavior to regulate pleasures and sexual acts. Christianity believes that chastity involves the ability to direct sexual desire toward moral goals. In the case of singles, chastity translates into sexual abstinence, while in married couples, chastity implies fidelity.

Brief history of religious celibacy

Against what many scholars try to make us believe celibacy is a modern invention, even the secondary role of women within the church is.

It is known that the First Christian Community (headed by the disciples of Jesus) was made up of several married men, including many of them with children and in it it was women who presided over the Eucharistic meal in the 1st century.

From the second century on, an ideology known as Gnosticism began to develop, characterized by repelling all those questions that had to do with material things and the pleasures of the body; what had to do with the spirit and with material things, darkness and everything bad was considered as good. It was believed, then, that a married person could not be perfect, because he was diverting his true work in the world. Despite this, it was not until the fourth century that the marriage of priests was prohibited. At the Council of Elvira, held in the year 306, a decree was determined that said that the priest who the night before giving a mass slept with his wife, would lose his job.

In the next Council, of Nicaea, it was decreed that no man who had already been ordained could marry and in the next, in 325, it was determined that women could not be ordained; This leads us to understand that previously, women could be ordained and exercise the priesthood.

In 385 Siricius left his wife to be consecrated Pope and decreed that priests could no longer sleep with their wives and a time later celibacy clung to the words of Saint Augustine who said that nothing was more powerful to debase the spirit that the caresses of a woman and determined that those priests who were found in bed with his wife, would be excommunicated.

In the year 590, the Pope known as Gregory the Great, affirmed that all sexual desire was intrinsically diabolical and recommended that priests leave their families and give themselves definitively to the Church. Despite this, there was still no unanimity in this regard and in the 8th century, Pope Boniface wrote that no bishop or priest in Germany was celibate.

The imposition of celibacy is considered one of the main causes of atrocious acts committed by members of the Church; so much so that as it was reflected in certain documents, in 836, this institution had to openly accept that in many convents and monasteries abortions and infanticides had been carried out to cover up the actions of certain clerics who could not remain firm in this mandate.

Despite all these horrific acts, in 1123 Pope Callisto II decreed that clerical marriages were not valid and later this mandate was not touched again, becoming a strict norm for anyone who felt the call to the priesthood. It is worth mentioning that in 1095 Pope Urban II ordered that the priests’ wives be sold as slaves and that their children be abandoned.

As of today, it is believed that the Church should revise this rule, because the call to the priesthood has greatly diminished and possibly one of the reasons is this imposed sexual abstinence.


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