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The Early Church Fathers on the Clerical celibacy in the Priesthood.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Eusebius of Vercelli, (A.D. 283-371)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403)
    Pope St. Siricius, (A.D. c.334-398)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
St. Eusebius of Vercelli, (A.D. 283-371), Sardinian; bishop.

"The Word says: It seems fit that a bishop be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). Besides, it seems proper that those who have been consecrated, and who are engaged in the ministry of God, restrain themselves for the future from all matrimonial commerce; whereas, all they who have not been found worthy of so high and sacred office, the Lord allows, and well-nigh proclaims to all, that marriage (is) honorable, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God judges."

Dem. Evang. L. i. c. ix. p. 33.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 228

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386), Palestinian; ordained by Maximus, he was made bishop of Jerusalem in A.D. 345; scholar and Doctor of the Church. None of his writings have been preserved to us, except eighteen catechetical instructions addressed to catechumens, and five mystagogic discourses addressed to neophytes.

"For it behooved the purest, and the teacher of purity, to come forth from a pure bed-chamber; for if he, who fulfills well the office of a priest of Jesus, refrains himself from woman, how was Jesus Himself to be born of man and woman?"

Catech. xii. n. 25, p. 176.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 228

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403), Palestinian; bishop, abbot, scholar.

"He (Christ) honors one wedlock, and in a special manner adorned, as a pattern, with the gifts of the priesthood, those who, after being once married, were continent or who had preserved their purity spotless ; even as His Apostles becomingly and holily established, as a law of the Church, for the priesthood"

T. i. Adv. Hæres. (48) p. 410
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 228-229

"Him that is living in wedlock and begetting children, even though the husband of one wife, the holy Church of God does not receive, as deacon, priest, or bishop, but him only who refrains from that one wife, or is a widower; and this especially where the canons of the Church are strictly observed."

Ib. Hæres. 59, p. 496.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 229

Pope St. Siricius, (A.D. c.334-398), an active Pope, involved in the administration of the Church and the handling of various factions and viewpoints within it; author of two decrees concerning clerical celibacy. The decree of A.D. 385 stated that priests should stop cohabiting with their wives.

"For it behooved the purest, and the teacher of purity, to come forth from a pure bed-chamber; for if he, who fulfills well the office of a priest of Jesus, refrains himself from woman, how was Jesus Himself to be born of man and woman?"

Catech. xii. n. 25, p. 176.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 228

"Let us now come to the most sacred orders of clerics, whom, from the intimation of your friendliness, we find so despised arid in such confusion, that we must say with the mouth of Jeremias, who will give water to my head, mid a fountain of tears to my eyes f and I will weep day and night for this people (ix. 1). ... For we have learnt that many priests and Levites, for a long period after their consecration, have begotten offspring, both from their own wives, and also from shameful connection ; and that they defend their crime on this plea, that in the Old Testament we read that liberty was granted to the priests and ministers to beget children. [Having replied to this he continues :] The Lord Jesus, when He had enlightened us by His coming, proclaims in the Gospel that He came not to destroy but to fulfill (Matthew 5.) And therefore would He have the Church, whose spouse He is, to shine with the splendor of chastity, that, in the day of judgment, when He shall come again, He may find it, as by His Apostle He instituted it, without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5.) By the indissoluble law of which ordinances, all we priests and Levites are bound, that, from the day of our ordination, we yield up our hearts and bodies to sobriety and chastity, if we would, in all things, be pleasing to our God in those sacrifices which we daily offer. . . . And because some few of those concerning whom we are speaking, lament, as your holiness has reported, that they have fallen through ignorance, to such we say that mercy is not to be denied, on this condition, that, without any increase of honor, they continue, as long as they live, in that office in which their crime was detected, if so be, however, that they have since been careful to show themselves continent. Whereas, those who rest on the excuse of an unlawful privilege, so as to assert that this is allowed them by the old law, let them know that they are deposed, by the authority of the apostolic see, from every ecclesiastical honor, which they have unworthily used, and never can handle the venerable mysteries, of which they have deprived themselves, while longing after obscene pleasures (appetites). And for that the present examples warn us to take precautions for the future : If any bishop, priest, and deacon (which we would not have) shall be henceforward found such, let him even now understand that every access to mercy is closed by us ; for it is necessary that wounds be cut out with the knife, when the remedy of fomentations has not affected them."

Ep. ad Himer. Tarrac. Episc. n. 7, col. 1019-20.
T. ii. Labbe. See also Ep. Episc. per Afric. n. iv. col. 1029-30. Ibid.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 229-23

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

"You who virgins in body, of modesty untainted, aliens even from the conjugal fellowship are fully aware that the ministry is to be exhibited blameless, and spotless, and not to be violated by any marital commerce, have received the grace of the ministry."

T. ii. L. i. de Offic. Ministr. c. 50, p. 66.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 229



The clerical celibacy in the Catholic priesthood is a discipline. Therefore may it be changed, based on the times and circumstances of current generations in accordance with what our present pope and bishops believe is best of the faithful.


In the Greek and Latin churches the discipline is not the same: but in both, the advice of St. Paul served to establish the principle of the expediency of clerical celibacy. With the Greeks, no one, after Holy Orders, is now allowed to marry; but they that already have wives, they may receive Holy Orders, except the bishop, who must always be a single man.

Again, clerical celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine.


The Church's Scriptures that support Clerical Celibacy:


If possible, Paul recommends living the single life.

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.

1 Corinthians 7:8

Paul gives his advice to those who are single.

25 Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28

Paul recommends being true to your vocation, whether one is living a married life or single life.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

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