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At the Second Lateran Council in 1139, the Catholic Church implemented a rule requiring all priests to remain celibate. Although the Church has already talked about being celibate for the previous 1000 years or so, it was not a required or enforced rule for everyone. What caused this to change in 1139? To clarify, I am looking for reasons outside of scriptural reasons, as the scriptural reasons are fairly cut and dry, that would influence the catholic church to re-address/solidify the rules on celibacy.

Some things I've seen from just googling are ideas that the priests were favoring there children in church appointments, or that the churches land was being given out to priests children, but I cant find any reliable sources on these matters.

I already understand the religious aspect of why the rule was implemented, that is why I'm focusing on any non-biblical reasons that the church specifically in this time period is stressing its stance on celibacy, and what changed in 900 years since they first stated that priests should be celibate. having a rule saying priests should be celibate based on these bible verses is cut on dry, the fact that they have to continually readdress this issue, leads me to believe there are other issues at play, which is what I'm looking for.

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    Didn't this rule get implemented at a much earlier council?
    – Joe
    Sep 9 '15 at 0:20
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    @A.K, if it was already a rule, the question really should reference that, as it's very important to the context.
    – Joe
    Sep 9 '15 at 3:37
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    @Joe It's a bit more complicated than that. Celibacy evolved over time; for instance the first councils refused to make total celibacy obligatory, but instead bound the lower clergy in sexless marriages. Of course this is also depends on which meaning of celibacy is used. Re question, you can't really rule out biblical reasons completely when ideology is often a huge reason in history.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 9 '15 at 6:55
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    @Himarm, so you're asking why the church implemented the rule, but you don't want to know the reasons the church claims they implemented the rule?
    – Joe
    Sep 9 '15 at 7:15
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    @Joe i already understand the religious aspect of why the rule was implemented, thats why im focusing on any non-biblical reasons that the church specifically in this time period is stressing its stance on celibacy, and what changed in 900 years since they first stated that priests should be celibate. having a rule saying priests should be celibate based on these bible verses is cut on dry, the fact that they have to continually readdress this issue, leads me to believe there are other issues at play, which is what im looking for.
    – Himarm
    Sep 9 '15 at 13:03
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Celibacy was part of the Church's identity, as well as a strategy for keeping wealth within the Church. The American historian and Vanderbilt Professor Katherine Crawford writes that:

Celibacy set the clergy apart, and instantiated patristic suspicions about sexuality as weakness and distraction from God within the moral architecture of the Church. The Church benefited practically from denying clerics the right to pass on property to their offspring: the property of the Church did not diminish. As with the laity, sexuality for the clergy had pragmatic elements at its core.

- Crawford, Katherine. European Sexualities, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2007.


Although the question sought to set aside biblical reasons, realistically, people's actions throughout history have been influenced by their belief system. In this case, Christian scriptures provide ample ideological reasons for celibacy, and moreover treats chastity as a virtue.

Quite logically, therefore, clerical celibacy was adopted as a badge of the church's spiritual superiority over the civil society at large. The late Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx states, for example:

Continence among the clergy demonstrated the church's distinction from society.

- Edward Schillebeeckx. Celibacy. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968.

And:

Sexual continence was difficult to maintain, so the Catholic Church hit upon the idea of utilizing the celibacy of the clergy to mark both their separation from and their spiritual superiority to the laity ... Christians in Late Antiquity valorized sexual absitnence to such an extent that this became a marker of the spiritual elite.

- Crawford, Katherine. European Sexualities, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

By the 4th century, the chastity of the priesthood was enough of a universal concern that it was a topic at the first ecumenical council, held in Nicaea.


However, the requirements for celibacy in that council did not forcibly invalidate the unions of married clergy. Instead, their wives were regarded to be above suspicion. The University of Reading Professor Helen Parish describes the Eastern interpretation following Nicaea to be:

[R]eferences to the third canon in the East, including fifth century Theodosian Code, tended to make explicit reference to clerical wives in the list of women with whom clergy could be permitted to reside ... At the second Council of Nicaea in 787, and in the views of later canonists, it was assumed that the third canon of 325 referred only to unmarried bishops, celibates and monastics, and was not intended in any way to limit the activity of married clergy and their wives.

- Parish, Helen. Clerical Celibacy in the West: c. 1100-1700. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2013.

For obvious reasons, expecting married clergy to abstain from sex with their wives was unenforceable and widely ignored. This was particularly problematic because the Church had established celibacy as a core element of its identity. Although Eastern, and later Orthodox, Christianity continued down a moderate path, in the West reform-minded theologians were sufficiently troubled to be galvanised into action during the High Middle Ages.

That chaste marriage attained some popularity among the laity made claims for clerical superiority murky ... Recurrent complaints that clerics had failed to maintain celibacy (usually the children were the big tip off) led to efforts under the Carolingians to enforce it, but many priests lived openly with their wives or concubines.

Because the Church staked so much on celibacy, clerical sexual transgressions were a source of criticism.

- Crawford, Katherine. European Sexualities, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Sexual transgressions of the priesthood were thus, in modern terms, a public relations disaster. It was the need to address this situation that (with ample help from ideological biases) helped fulled a renewed push for strict clerical celibacy in the 11th century and later.

Gregory's actions against the married clergy did not come from concerns surrounding the purity of those who celebrated the sacraments alone. Gregory's rhetoric was laden with references to obedience and obligation, and the eradication of clerical incontinence, like the eradication of simony, was part of a more general attack on a base manner of life that undermined the reputation of the church.

- Parish, Helen. Clerical Celibacy in the West: c. 1100-1700. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2013.

Married clergy were an obvious target for the reformers, who thus imposed increasingly forceful measures against clerical marriages in a bid to ensure clerical celibacy. Contrary to the impression of the question, however, clerical celibacy was not eliminated over night. The reforms were deeply and bitterly resented, and it took centuries for clerical marriages to go out of fashion.

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    great answer, i saw this alot in googling, "The Church benefited practically from denying clerics the right to pass on property to their offspring: the property of the Church did not diminish." but i could never find anything other then passing reference to this, would it be prudent to ask about this issue in a separate question?
    – Himarm
    Sep 9 '15 at 13:45
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    @Himarm Follow up questions should always be asked in a separate thread, though I'm not sure what/how you want to ask about it.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 9 '15 at 14:00
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    "a strategy for keeping wealth within the Church"..? doubtful since if church property would never have been given to the priests in the first place there would not have been a "need" to supposedly block them from passing it to their offspring. Anyway there would have been other mechanism to block the anyone inheriting such property rather than making draconian religious rules as this became (it could have been made a non-religious contract principle, for example). As it is now the church is unable to remove celibacy because it is perceived as coming from God rather than a human tradition.
    – alec
    Jun 19 '19 at 3:49
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It's wrong to ignore the biblical reasons (e.g. In Matthew 19:11-12) for celibacy but it's true that there were worldly ones.


The celibacy rule wasn't the only thing passed during that council.

Canon 2: Anyone who has bought a honor or office, shall be deprived of that. The person illegitimately dispensing that honor also shall be punished.

Canon 4: Injunction to bishops and ecclesiastics not to cause scandal by wearing ostentatious clothes but to dress modestly.

CANON 5 The Property of Dead Bishops Stays With the Chuch

Canons 6, 7, 11: Repeated the First Lateran Council's condemnation of marriage and concubinage among priests, deacons, subdeacons, monks, and nuns. It also deprives them of their income.

CANON 16 Ecclesiastical Office is Given According to Merit

CANON 21 Sons of Priests Must Be Debarred

CANON 24 Sacraments Shall Be Provided Free of Charge

(As evidenced by the gaps in numbering there were even more rules)

All those rules have a common theme: It should be really hard for anyone to personally profit from their position.
A motive for the wish to gain wealth (apart from the obvious one: greed) is to make your family and kin better off - which would take the money from the Catholic Church.

Lawrence Cunningham, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, said the mandatory celibacy rules were adopted for many reasons, both theological and practical. Among the latter, he said, was the need to avoid claims on church property by priests’ offspring. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/nyregion/22egan.html

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Terminological precision:

  • Celibate = unmarried (cælebs = single, unmarried)
    • The Church has allowed married men to become priests. St. Peter, for example, was married.
  • Continent = not having sexual relations
    • The Church has
      • always required all (married or celibate) clerics to be 100% continent and
      • never allowed priests to marry after their ordinations.

The earliest condemnation of clerical incontinence is canon 33 of the Spanish Council of Elvira (ca. 305 A.D.):

  1. We decree that all bishops, priests and deacons in the service of the ministry are entirely forbidden to have conjugal relations with their wives and to beget children; should anyone do so, let him be excluded from the honour of the clergy.

Quoted in Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church by Roman Cholij

Prior to Lateran II, clerics could contract valid marriages, but they were illicit (illegal). Lateran II made such marriages also invalid:

  1. Adhering to the path trod by our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban and Paschal, we prescribe that nobody is to hear the masses of those whom he knows to have wives or concubines. Indeed, that the law of continence and the purity pleasing to God might be propagated among ecclesiastical persons and those in holy orders, we decree that where bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed lay brothers have presumed to take wives and so transgress this holy precept, they are to be separated from their partners. For we do not deem there to be a [valid] marriage which, it is agreed, has been contracted against ecclesiastical law. Furthermore, when they have separated from each other, let them do a penance commensurate with such outrageous behaviour.

Historical context of Lateran II

Pope Innocent II, who convened Lateran II, was a strong reformer pope who had been in hiding the prior 8 years of Antipope Anacletus II's anti-papacy. Anacletus II came from a rich family who bought him the anti-papacy with a fortune made off economic crimes like usury.

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  • "The Church has allowed married men to become priests. St. Peter, for example, was married." I think it is ahistorical to call St Peter a "priest', as the role/function of the priesthood wasn't established until much, much later.
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 27 at 9:41
  • @TheHonRose I could've chosen myriads of examples; married men have become priests all throughout Church history.
    – Geremia
    Aug 27 at 20:28
  • @Gerenia Indeed, which is why I found the example of St Peter rather strange.
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 27 at 21:00
  • @TheHonRose He's a famous example, known to have been married: Matt 8:14 "And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother lying, and sick of a fever". Also, Acts 14:22 recounts the apostles' priestly ordination.
    – Geremia
    Aug 27 at 21:03
  • Your reference is to a translation of the Douai-Rheims Bible, which is incredibly out of date and, AFAIK, not even used by the RC Church nowadays. The NSRV - considered the most scholarly translation - has 14.22 "23 And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe." This was Paul and Barnabas, no indication Peter was not still in Jerusalem, and I find equating the early "leaders" of the churches with a fully-developed priesthood quite anachronistic.
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 28 at 21:00
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What caused the imposition of strict celibacy for Catholic priests during the 11th century ? [...] I am looking for reasons outside of scriptural reasons [...] that would influence the catholic church to re-address/solidify the rules on celibacy.

I'm focusing on any non-biblical reasons that the church specifically in this time period is stressing its stance on celibacy, and what changed in 900 years since they first stated that priests should be celibate.

Changes in geopolitics:

The rise of Roman-style Catholicism under the Carolingian empire two centuries earlier, marking the end of its de facto dependence on the Byzantine east, and its continuous resistance to imposing local Roman customs (such as mandatory, as opposed to optional, clerical celibacy) as binding on the entire Christian world; at long last, after centuries of dark ages following the downfall of Rome under Arian invaders, the Romans finally got the chance shape the world in their image, for a change, without being beholden to anybody else, or having anything hold them back, or deterring, let alone stopping, them from materializing their vision of Christianity.

To state matters plainly, in both (pre-Vatican II) Catholicism and Orthodoxy, one must abstain from intercourse so as to be able to take part in church services, which is easier for laymen, who only go to church once or twice a week; but the priest's duties towards his parishioners stretch well beyond the day(s) in which he serves at the altar, since baptisms, weddings, funerals, house blessings, exorcisms, and other rare occasions in an average person's life are a matter of weekly routine for a city priest; less so for a village priest, due to rural areas being less populated than urban ones. In the Christian East, as in the Old Testament, married priests serve their city parishes by rotation, thus mandatory celibacy is a non-issue.

As such, it's not as if Rome's constant lobbying, to employ a modern term, throughout the preceding centuries, starting with the very first ecumenical council, for imposing mandatory and universal clerical celibacy on all priests comes in a vacuum, or out of the blue; there is nothing even remotely surprising or left field about it; on the contrary, it is quite understandable; as is also the fact that they naturally jumped at the first opportunity to make their perennial dream come true.

Some things I've seen from just googling are ideas that the priests were favoring there children in church appointments, or that the churches land was being given out to priests children, but I cant find any reliable sources on these matters.

Married people, generally, have (a duty) to provide for their families; as such, this significantly increases the risk for simony to occur among the married clergy; for this reason even the east chose to ordain bishops only from among monastic ranks, since bishops, unlike ordinary priests, which number in the (tens of) thousands, are comparatively few (one in each major city, or large region), thus their (low) numbers, unlike those of regular clergy, can be easily supplemented even from the (relatively few) monks each such region or country has to offer.

the fact that they have to continually readdress this issue, leads me to believe there are other issues at play, which is what I'm looking for

One is forced, by virtue of sheer necessity, to constantly readdress a certain issue, if the topic under consideration, or the decision in question, is not obeyed or followed as expected, either satisfactorily or at all; since humans are sexual beings, many enslaved by their own desires, to wax poetically, it is not entirely surprising to see the sky-rocketing tall order of legions upon legions of celibate priests, issued or demanded by the decrees of the Roman curia, to repeatedly fall flat on its face, and thus in perpetual need of incessant reinforcing.

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