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Celibacy refers either to being unmarried or to sexual abstinence. Celibacy is sometimes used as a synonym for "abstinence" or "chastity". A vow of celibacy is a promise not to enter into marriage or engage in sexual intercourse. The term involuntary celibacy has recently appeared to describe a chronic, unwitting state of celibacy.



Celibacy is viewed differently by various Christian denominations. It includes clerical celibacy, voluntary lay celibacy, and celibacy outside of marriage.

The Bible teaches in Matthew 19 that Jesus taught his apostles about being "eunuchs" for the Kingdom of God but that not all people are able to take that. The Apostle Paul writes in Corinthians 7, "Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But, because of sexual immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." (verses 1–2); "I wish that all men were like me. However each man has his own gift from God, one of this kind, and another of that kind. But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn with passion." (verses 7–9); "But I desire to have you to be free from cares. He who is unmarried is concerned for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife. There is also a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world – how she may please her husband. This I say for your own profit; not that I may ensnare you, but for that which is appropriate, and that you may attend to the Lord without distraction." (verses 32–35)

Celibacy as a vocation may be independent from religious vows. Traditionally though, most celibate persons have been religious and monastics (brothers/monks and sisters/nuns). In all pre-Protestant - Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox - traditions, bishops are required to be celibate. In the Eastern Christian traditions, priests and deacons are allowed to be married, yet have to remain celibate if they are unmarried at the time of ordination.

The Protestant Reformation initially rejected celibate life as a whole and even sexual continence for priests, though especially from the 19th century on, Protestant celibate communities have emerged, especially from Anglican and Lutheran backgrounds.

A few minor Christian sects even advocated celibacy as a better way of life for everyone. These groups included the following: the Shakers, the Harmony Society, and the Ephrata Cloister.

Celibacy not only for religious and monastics (brothers/monks and sisters/nuns) but also for bishops is upheld by the Roman Catholic Church traditions. In late 16th-century Venice, nearly 60% of all patrician women joined convents, and only a minority of these women did so voluntarily.

Catholic perspective

In the Roman Catholic Church the apostles were considered the first priests in the Church and the call to be eunuchs in Matthew 19 referred to above is considered to be a call to be sexually continent. This developed into mandatory celibacy for priests who are believed to be the successors of the apostles.

The view of the Roman Catholic Church remain that celibacy is more than a reflection of life in Heaven, a source of detachment from the material world, which aids in one's relationship with God. Celibacy is designed to "consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to men. It is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God." Catholic priests are called to be espoused to the Church itself, and espoused to God, without overwhelming, exclusive commitments interfering with the relationship. Catholics understand celibacy as the calling of some, but not of all. Celibacy was generally required of the bishop in the early church. A married man could be made bishop, but after his ordination, he was generally required to live apart from his wife. Celibacy was also practiced by many presbyters, especially in the West, but was not universally required. It became obligatory for all priests in the west in the 12th century at the First Lateran Council (1123), Second Lateran Council (1139), and the Council of Trent (1545–64).

Usually, only celibate men are ordained as priests in the Latin Rite. Married men may become deacons, and married clergy who have converted from other denominations may become Catholic priests without becoming celibate. Mandatory priestly celibacy is not a doctrine of the Church but a church rule or discipline. As such, it can change at any time. The Eastern Catholic Churches ordain both celibate and married men. All rites of the Catholic Church maintain the ancient tradition where marriage is not allowed after ordination. Men with transitory homosexual leanings may be ordained deacons following three years of prayer and chastity, but homosexual men who are sexually active, or those who have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies cannot be ordained.

The Catholic view on celibacy is based on the Christ's example, on his teaching as given in Matthew 19:11-12 and on the writings of Paul, who wrote of the advantages celibacy allowed a man in serving the Lord, Celibacy was "held in high esteem" from the Church's beginnings. It is considered a kind of spiritual marriage with Christ, a concept further popularized by the early Christian theologian Origen. Clerical celibacy began to be demanded in the 4th century, including papal decretals beginning with Pope Siricius. Mandatory celibacy was typically expected of priests in the 11th century, as part of efforts to reform the medieval church, and became universal in the 12th.

Another possible explanation for the origins of obligatory celibacy revolves around more practical reason, "the need to avoid claims on church property by priests' offspring". It remains a matter of Canon Law (and oftentimes a criteria for certain religious orders, especially Franciscans) that priests do not own land and therefore cannot pass it on to legitimate or illegitimate children. The land belongs to the Church through the local diocese as administered by the Local Ordinary, or Bishop.

Universal celibacy

This characterization by Jesus Christ (in Matthew 22:30) of the future status of all persons (in heaven) is officially designated "universal celibacy" by the Roman Catholic Church : "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Celibacy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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