Clerical Celibacy - Clerical Continence in Christianity - Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

“Despite six hundred years of decrees, canons, and increasingly harsh penalties, the Latin clergy still did, more or less illegally, what their Greek counterparts were encouraged to do by law—they lived with their wives and raised families. In practice, ordination was not an impediment to marriage; therefore some priests did marry even after ordination” “The tenth century is claimed to be the high point of clerical marriage in the Latin communion. Most rural priests were married and many urban clergy and bishops had wives and children.” "A terrible picture of the decay both of clerical morality and of all sense of anything like vocation is drawn in the writings of St. Peter Damian, particularly in his Liber Gomorrhianus. The style, no doubt, is rhetorical and exaggerated, and his authority as an eyewitness does not extend beyond that district of Northern Italy, in which he lived, but we have evidence from other sources that the corruption was widespread… Undoubtedly during this period the traditions of sacerdotal celibacy in Western Christendom suffered severely but even though a large number of the clergy, not only priests but bishops, openly took wives and begot children to whom they transmitted their benefices, the principle of celibacy was never completely surrendered in the official enactments of the Church."

In 888, two local councils, that of Metz and that of Mainz, prohibited cohabitation even with wives living in continence. This tendency was taken up by the 11th century Gregorian Reform, which aimed at eliminating what it called "Nicolaitism", that is clerical marriage, which in spite of being theoretically excluded was in fact practised, and concubinage.

The First Lateran Council (1123), a General Council, adopted the following canons:

Canon 3: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, and subdeacons to associate with concubines and women, or to live with women other than such as the Nicene Council (canon 3) for reasons of necessity permitted, namely, the mother, sister, or aunt, or any such person concerning whom no suspicion could arise.
Canon 21: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or to contract marriage. We decree in accordance with the definitions of the sacred canons, that marriages already contracted by such persons must be dissolved, and that the persons be condemned to do penance.

The phrase "contract marriage" in the first part of canon 21 excludes clerical marriages, and the marriages that the second part says must be dissolved may possibly be such marriages, contracted after ordination, not before. Canon 3 makes reference to a rule made at the First Council of Nicaea (see above), which is understood as not forbidding a cleric to live in the same house with a wife whom he married before being ordained.

Sixteen years later, the Second Lateran Council (1139), in which some five hundred bishops took part, enacted the following canons:

Canon 6: We also decree that those who in the subdiaconate and higher orders have contracted marriage or have concubines, be deprived of their office and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they should be and be called the temple of God, the vessel of the Lord, the abode of the Holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they indulge in marriage and in impurities.
Canon 7: Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban, and Paschal, we command that no one attend the masses of those who are known to have wives or concubines. But that the law of continence and purity, so pleasing to God, may become more general among persons constituted in sacred orders, we decree that bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks, and professed clerics (conversi) who, transgressing the holy precept, have dared to contract marriage, shall be separated. For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony. Those who have been separated from each other, shall do penance commensurate with such excesses.

This Council thus declared clerical marriages not only illicit though valid, as before, but invalid ("we do not regard as matrimony"). The marriages in question are, again, those contracted by men who already are "bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed clerics". And later legislation, found especially in the Quinque Compilationes Antiquae and the Decretals of Gregory IX, continued to deal with questions concerning married men who were ordained legally. In 1322 Pope John XXII insisted that no one bound in marriage—even if unconsummated—could be ordained unless there was full knowledge of the requirements of Church law. If the free consent of the wife had not been obtained, the husband, even if already ordained, was to be reunited with his wife, exercise of his ministry being barred. Accordingly, the assumption that a wife might not want to give up her marital rights may have been one of the factors contributing to the eventual universal practice in the Latin Church of ordaining only unmarried men.

However, although the decrees of the Second Council of the Lateran might still be interpreted in the older sense of prohibiting marriage only after ordination, they came to be understood as absolute prohibitions, and, while the fact of being married was formally made a canonical impediment to ordination only with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the prohibition of marriage for all clerics in major orders began to be taken simply for granted. The Second Lateran Council is thus often cited as having for the first time introduced a general law of celibacy, requiring ordination only of unmarried men. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: "The Second Lateran Council (1139) seems to have enacted the first written law making sacred orders a diriment impediment to marriage for the universal Church.".

Read more about this topic:  Clerical Celibacy, Clerical Continence in Christianity

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