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After five years’ residence with the Otoes, the Protestant minister has not yet baptized one person, and the greater part of the Protestant missionaries who overrun the Indian Territory make no better showing.” (Letter of Father De Smet to Father Verhaegen, June, 1838)

In truth, one can accurately say that only the Catholic priest is entirely “solicitous” for the Lord’s Church when he is compared to the other servants of all the other “Churches” and that he is the father to all in his congregation, his family being spiritual rather than fleshly and temporal. And because good, virtuous and pious priests, religious, monks and nuns of the Church are so effective in saving souls from hell and the devil’s grip, the devil labors mightily to get them under his control. The Holy Fathers of the Church, as we have seen, also agree with the teaching of the Bible and the Apostles that the chaste are more spiritually advanced and wise, teaching that people who are pure and chaste are more apt to receive and understand the spiritual truths of God since they are not busy or distracted with the temporal concerns of this world.

We also see that the Holy Bible directly teaches that the meritorious penance and abstinence of a virtuous person directly effects and draws down graces to the benefit of other souls, contrary to what many protestants nowadays teach who claim that nothing we say or do can effect our own or other people’s spiritual welfare. However, The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows us that a certain kind of demon can only be exorcised “by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

Matthew 17:14-20 “And when he [Jesus] was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Now, it is obvious that if a demon is successfully exorcised by the virtue and power of a good deed (in this case, by the mortification of the flesh for a charitable cause), it is also exorcised by a virtue of a higher and greater degree of merit, such as holy chastity. And so, it is a biblical fact that chastity and virginity in this life not only affects our own eternal blessedness and spiritual well-being in this life and in the next to come, but that it also affects and helps the spiritual well-being of our beloved brothers and sisters. “For there are two ways in life, as touching these matters. The one the more moderate and ordinary, I mean marriage; the other angelic and unsurpassed, namely virginity. Now if a man choose the way of the world, namely marriage, he is not indeed to blame; yet he will not receive such great gifts as the other. For he will receive, since he too brings forth fruit, namely thirtyfold [Mark 4:20]. But if a man embrace the holy and unearthly way, even though, as compared with the former, it be rugged and hard to accomplish, yet it has the more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit, namely an hundredfold.” (St. Athanasius, The Letters of St. Athanasius, Letter XLVIII, To Amun, c. 353 A.D.)

“How many men, therefore, and how many women, in Ecclesiastical Orders, owe their position to continence, who have preferred to be wedded to God; who have restored the honor of their flesh, and who have already dedicated themselves as sons of that future age, by slaying in themselves the concupiscence of lust, and that whole propensity which could not be admitted within Paradise! Whence it is presumable that such as shall wish to be received within Paradise, ought at last to begin to cease from that thing from which Paradise is intact [i.e., sexual intercourse].” (Tertullian, On Exhortation to Chastity, Chapter 13, c. 204 A.D.)

The chaste servant of Christ stands as a spiritual warrior against the temptations and deception of the world and the devil. His sword is his chastity and purity by which he slays the devil and acquires spiritual knowledge and grace for himself and his friends. “But so far is this true and spiritual knowledge removed from that worldly erudition, which is defiled by the stains of carnal sins... And therefore if you are anxious to attain to that never-failing fragrance, you must first strive with all your might to obtain from the Lord the purity of chastity. For no one, in whom the love of carnal passions and especially of fornication still holds sway, can acquire spiritual knowledge. For "in a good heart wisdom will rest;" and: "He that feareth the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness." [Prov. 24:33; Ecclus. 32:20].” (Holy Abbot and Ascetic Nesteros (c. 420), From The Conferences of John Cassian, Conference 14, Chapter XVI)

Pope St. Damasus I (366-384) confirmed the teaching of the Holy Bible and the Holy Apostles on the necessity of a chaste priesthood, and declared that marital intercourse was incompatible with presiding at the Eucharistic sacrifice. Pope St. Siricius (384-399) who taught that “those who are in the flesh cannot see God” stated in A.D. 392 that “Jesus would not have chosen birth from a virgin, had he been forced to look upon her as so unrestrained as to let that womb... be stained by the presence of male seed.” Pope St. Siricius also declared that the only persons worthy of serving at the altar were those who were forever free of “the stain” of intercourse. Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) carried on this uninterrupted Apostolic Tradition. Thus deacons were to remain married, but they were instructed to avoid marital intercourse in order to grow in holiness. Referring to First Corinthians 7:29, Pope Leo declared: “Therefore, so that a spiritual bond may grow from the physical marriage, [deacons] may not send their spouses away and must live as though they had none, whereby the love of the married couple remains intact and the conjugal acts cease.” (Pope Saint Leo the Great, Epistles)

Pope St. Leo the Great, To Rusticus (c. 442-459 A.D.): “Concerning those who minister at the altar and have wives, whether they may lawfully cohabit with them? Reply. The law of continence is the same for the ministers of the altar as for bishops and priests, who when they were laymen or readers, could lawfully marry and have offspring. But when they reached to the said ranks, what was before lawful ceased to be so. And hence, in order that their wedlock may become spiritual instead of carnal, it behoves them not to put away their wives but to "have them as though they had them not," whereby both the affection of their wives may be retained and the marriage functions cease.” (The Letters of St. Leo the Great, Letter 167, Question III)

The Early Councils of the Church unanimously forbids Bishops, Priests and Deacons from having marital sexual relations with their wife

From the very earliest times, lustful and impure men have tried to reject or ignore the biblical, Apostolic and patristic teaching that all priests must be perpetually chaste. Because of this, many councils of the Church through the ages have also been forced to reaffirm this dogmatic and infallible teaching of the Church. The first recorded council that confirmed this requirement of celibacy upon all clerics is The Council of Elvira that took place in c. 306-311 A.D. Canon 33 declared that married priests and bishops were obligated to permanently refrain from all marital sexual relations. It stated that “Bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics having a position in the ministry are ordered to abstain completely from their wives and not to have children. Whoever, in fact, does this, shall be expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.” This canon clearly ordered higher clerics to observe perfect continence with their wives under the pain of deposition from their ministry. Canon 27 of the same Council prohibited women living with ecclesiastics, except for a sister or a daughter who was a consecrated virgin: “A bishop or other cleric may have only a sister or a daughter who is a virgin consecrated to God living with him. No other woman who is unrelated to him may remain.”

From these primitive and important legal texts, it can be deduced that many of the ecclesiastics in the Spanish church were viri probati, that is, men who were married before becoming ordained deacons, priests or bishops. All, however, were obliged, after receiving Holy Orders, to renounce completely the use of marriage, that is to live in total continence.

Although some erroneously claim that Elvira was a departure from an earlier tradition which did not require married clerics to remain continent, the fact of the matter is that the council codified an already existing but unwritten rule of continence for all clerics. Indeed, in no way can one see in canon 33 a statement of a new law. The Council of Elvira was, on the contrary, a reaction to the extended lack of observance of a traditional and well-known obligation, to which at this time the Council confirmed and imposed a sanction to the biblical law concerning priestly chastity: either the delinquent ecclesiastics accepted the obligation of the law of continence (lex continentiae) by living their lives in perfect conformity to it or they became “expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.” The fact that the legislation of Elvira was pacifically accepted confirms that no juridical novelty was being introduced, but that it was concerned primarily with maintaining an already existing teaching of the Church. This is what Pius XI taught when, in his encyclical on the priesthood, he affirms that this written law implied a previous law and practice that “made obligatory what the gospels and the apostolic preaching had already shown to be something like a natural requirement”, thus showing us that this law of clerical celibacy came directly from Our Lord and the teaching of the Apostles as well as that it was taught by the many generations of Christians before the 4th century.

Pope Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (# 43), Dec. 20, 1935: “The earliest trace of a law of ecclesiastical celibacy – based, however, on long established custom – is found in the 33rd canon of the Council of Elvira, held at the beginning of the fourth century when Christians were still being actively persecuted. This law only made obligatory what the gospels and the apostolic preaching had already shown to be something like a natural requirement.” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 28 [1936] 25)

To suggest, therefore, that Elvira is the origin of the law of celibacy in the Church, and that there is, consequently, a discontinuity in the Church’s moral teaching concerning this matter between its introduction and what was the practice beforehand, is, for the reasons already given, a fundamentally erroneous conclusion. The persecution suffered by the early Church during the first three centuries made it difficult for it to write down most of its laws by convoking councils of Bishops and Priests, and just like in the case of many of the Church’s dogmas and doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Church only defined them when a greater necessity arose that needed it. Yet it is very unlikely that when the Church did begin to write down its laws in the fourth century, that it would have ignored its earlier, unwritten rules and composed brand new ones, especially one such as the Elvira canon, since, if such was the case, such laws would have deprived clerics of a long-established so-called “right” and if so, it is highly unlikely, as even reason itself dictates, that no one would have objected to this if a new teaching concerning clerical celibacy would have sprung up without any earlier foundation; and this fact is much more obvious since we are dealing with an issue that regards sensual pleasure, and most men in this world are directly intent on satisfying their sexual desire. Thus, even though this teaching denied priestly men their sensual appetites, there was no objections, which in a striking manner confirms the fact that all priests of the Church must be perpetually chaste and that this fact was well known and understood by the Church’s members of this time. It is therefore very clear that the tradition of clerical continence dates back to apostolic times.

The Council of Arles (314) also required clerics to observe perfect continence, citing ritual purity as the reason. Canon 29 reads, “Furthermore, with a care for what is worthy, pure and honest, we exhort our brothers [in the episcopate] to act in such a way that priests and deacons have no [sexual] relations with their spouses, given that they are engaged each day in the ministry. Whoever acts contrariwise to this decision will be deposed from the honor of the clerical state.” (Corpus Christianorum, 148.25)

The Synod of Neocaesarea (314-325) confirmed this ancient teaching of the Church that priests were obligated to remain free from the stain of marital sexual intercourse. “If a priest marry, he shall be removed from the ranks of the clergy; if he commit fornication or adultery, he shall be excommunicated, and shall submit to penance.” (Canon 1)

The wording of these canons does not immediately suggest that an innovation is being introduced, and it would be an error in historical procedure to maintain beforehand that such was the case. The seriousness of the implications for the life of the clergy, the absence of justification for the strictness of the discipline and the canonical penalty attached, would suggest, on the contrary, that the Church authorities were concerned with the maintenance and not the introduction of this rule. The important papal decretals of the fourth century, which show the rule for the Universal Church — Directa (385) and Cum in unum (385-86) of Pope St. Siricius; Dominus inter of Pope St. Innocent I, and the Synod of Carthage (390) — were in fact emphatic that clerical continence belonged to immemorial, even apostolic, tradition (as we shall also see further down).

Pope St. Siricius, Cum in unum, A.D. 385: “The question is not one of ordering new precepts, but we wish through this letter to have people observe those that either through apathy or laziness on the part of some have been neglected. They are, however, matters that have been established by apostolic constitution, and, by a constitution of the Fathers.” (Cum in unum (Ad episcopos Africae); PL 13, 11 56a. P. Coustant, Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum, Paris, 1721, p. 562)

The writings of the Church Fathers are often explicit in considering the apostles as models of the priesthood. Yet those who might have been married were thought not to have lived other than in continence. (Cf. St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata. III, 6; Tertullian, De Monogamia, 8, 4; St. Jerome, Apologeticum ad Pammachium, Ep. 49(48), 2, 21; Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratlo evangelica, 111, 4, 37; St. Isidore of Pelusium, Ep. 111, 176.)

In 325 A.D., The First Council of Nicaea, which was the first of the infallible and Ecumenical Councils in Church history, decreed in Canon 3 that a cleric is absolutely forbidden to keep a woman to live with him: “This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.”

Another perhaps more accurate translation of Canon 3 reads:

“The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.”

The term "subintroducta" refers to an unmarried woman living in association with a man in a merely spiritual marriage, a practice that we see indicated already in the 1st century biblical teaching of St. Paul, where he teaches that “the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none”; in the 4th century such a woman was also referred to as an "agapeta". The pre-Nicaean acceptance of that arrangement for clerics was a clear indication that the clergy were expected to live in continence even with their wives. For instance, a leading participant in the Council of Nicaea, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-340), wrote: “It is fitting, according to Scripture, ‘that a bishop be the husband of an only wife.’ But this being understood, it behoves consecrated men [those in the priesthood], and those who are at the service of God’s cult, to abstain thereafter from conjugal intercourse with their wives.” (Demonstratio Evangelica, Book 1, Chapter 9)

Commentators on this passage confirms that it really is a law concerning clerical celibacy. The Ancient Epitome of Canon III explains that Nicea teaches that “No one shall have a woman in his house except his mother, and sister, and persons altogether beyond suspicion.” Fuchs in his Bibliothek der kirchenver sammlungen confesses that this canon shews that the practice of clerical celibacy had already spread widely. And finally, Hefele explains that “It is very certain that the canon of Nicea forbids such spiritual unions, [of certain women living in the same house as a priest] but the context shows moreover that the Fathers had not these particular cases in view alone; and the expression συνείσακτος should be understood of every woman who is introduced (συνείσακτος) into the house of a clergyman for the purpose of living there. If by the word συνείσακτος was only intended the wife in this spiritual marriage, the Council would not have said, any συνείσακτος, except his mother, etc.; for neither his mother nor his sister could have formed this spiritual union with the cleric. The injunction, then, does not merely forbid the συνείσακτος in the specific sense, but orders that “no woman must live in the house of a cleric, unless she be his mother,” etc. This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratian’s Decretum, Pars I., Distinc. XXXII., C. xvj.

Similarly, The Council of Carthage (in 390) confirmed the same teaching concerning clerical chastity and decreed that higher clerics observe perfect continence because they act as mediators between God and man. They stressed particularly in Canon 3 the antiquity and apostolic origin of this law: “It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep. The bishops declared unanimously: It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.” Subsequent councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (401 and 419) repeated these requirements.

At that time most, though not all, of the clergy were married men. They are directed by the African Synod to give up all conjugal intercourse, because of the fact that this would prevent them from properly carrying out their mediatory function. The import of the canon is that those who by consecration have now become sacred persons must in the future manifest by their lives this new reality by adopting the more perfect and blessed life of perfect chastity. The specific reasons for the continence they are asked to observe, is in order that they may be effective mediators between God and man, and because of the commitment to service at the altar.

The ancient summary of Canon 3 above emphatically declared: “Let a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon be chaste and continent.” As can be seen, The Council of Carthage declared obligatory continence to be “...what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed...”, thus showing us that the practice of clerical chastity is an ancient and apostolic teaching. In this context of historical study, the important study by author Christian Cochini should be noted: “The Apostolic origins of priestly celibacy” (original French version: Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotale, Lethielleux/Paris 1981).

St. Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage and patron to St. Augustine, was head of The Council of Carthage in A.D. 419 in union with “217 Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage”. They reaffirmed the previous Canon 3 in their own Canon 3, stating that: “When at the past council [of 390] the matter on continency and chastity was considered, those three grades, which by a sort of bond are joined to chastity by their consecration, to wit bishops, presbyters, and deacons, so it seemed that it was becoming that the sacred rulers and priests of God as well as the Levites, or those who served at the divine sacraments, should be continent altogether, by which they would be able with singleness of heart to ask what they sought from the Lord: so that what the apostles taught and antiquity kept, that we might also keep.” Canon 4 of the same Council also spoke of the different orders that should abstain from their wives: “It seems good that a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon, or whoever perform the sacraments, should be keepers of modesty and should abstain from their wives. By all the bishops it was said: It is right that all who serve the altar should keep pudicity from all women.”

The ancient summary of Canon 3 of The Council of Carthage in 419 declared: “Let a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon be chaste and continent. This canon is taken from Canon ii., of Carthage 387 or 390.” More specifically, the canon was probably referring to Canon 3 from the council held in Carthage in 390.

As we have seen, the law that was promulgated during the synod of 390 would remain valid and be officially inserted in the great legislative record of the African Church, the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae, compiled and promulgated in the Council of Carthage in 419 (in the time of St. Augustine). We also see in this law the biblical fact that we have already discussed, that is, that the prayer and spiritual intercession of a pure and chaste priest or ecclesiastic is better and more effective to help save souls than a priest or ecclesiastic who performs the marital act and is distracted by worldly cares, the keeping of a house, and wife, and children, etc. Thus, “those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God...”

Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae, A.D. 419: “Epigonius, Bishop of the Royal Region of Bulla, says: ‘The rule of continence and chastity had been discussed in a previous council. Let it [now] be taught with more emphasis what are the three ranks that, by virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e., the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep their purity.’”

“Bishop Genethlius says: ‘As was previously said, it is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e., those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.’”

“The bishops declared unanimously: ‘It pleases us all that bishop, priest, and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from [conjugal intercourse] with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.’” (The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini, pages 4-5)

In saying that “in certain provinces it is permitted to the readers and singers to marry”, Canon 14 of the Council of Chalcedon (451) suggests that, in other provinces, not only bishops, priests, deacons and subdeacons, but even those in the lower or minor orders of readers and singers were at that time not permitted to marry.

In Gaul in the middle of the 5th century, a synod of sixteen bishops held a council at Orange in 441 under the presidency of St. Hilary of Arles, that made an explicit public declaration of the commitment to continence, emphasizing the duty of celibacy for those belonging to the clerical state, especially deacons and widows, forbidding married men to be ordained as deacons, and digamists, that is, those who contract a second marriage after the death of their spouse, to be advanced beyond the sub-diaconate. (cf. First Council of Orange (441), c. 8, 21. CC 148,84). This was to prevent excuses of ignorance of the obligation which previously had been implicit in the reception of orders. The wife (who in the Gallic Church was termed a presbytera, diaconissa, subdiaconissa or even episcopia according to the status of her husband) was to live as a ‘sister’ in a brother-sister relationship. (cf. Girona (517), c. 6. H.T. Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum saeculorum IV-VII, Berlin, 1839,11, 19. Clermont (535), c. 13. CC 148 A, 108. Tours (567), c. 13. Ibid., 180-1). Her rights were protected as ordination could not go ahead without her agreement. Her promise to live in continence was also an impediment to future marriage.

Continent cohabitation expressed trust in the nobility of human love to combine marital affection with the values of the consecrated clerical state. St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) and St. Jerome (ca. 417) indicate a warm spirituality for those embracing this new life. (cf. Ep. 44. CSEL 29,372-7. De Septem Ordinibus Ecclesiae. PL 30,1 59c-d.) However, because of the real possibilities of incontinence, total physical separation would be recommended (Arles IV A.D. 524) or even sometimes required (Toledo III A.D. 589). A return to conjugal relations, after all, was considered to be as serious a sin as adultery (cf. Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I, 34), the cleric being punished by reduction to the lay state.

In Gaul in the early sixth century, councils held under the reforming and energetic St. Caesarius of Arles (c. 468-542) reaffirmed legislation for the restoration of priestly celibacy, a discipline which had suffered as a result of the Visigoth invasions during the previous century. The Council of Agde held in 506, in Gaul, in the South of France under the presidency of St. Caesarius of Arles, had 47 genuine canons that dealt with such subjects as clerical celibacy, the canonical age for ordination, the relations of a bishop and his diocesan synod, church property, public peace, and the religious obligations of the faithful. The same council also forbade subdeacons to marry, and such synods as those of Orléans in 538 and Tours in 567 prohibited even those already married from continuing to live with their wives.

In 541 The Fourth Synod of Orleans ordered that “the bishop must treat his wife as his sister” and added that “the people must not respect but scorn the priest who cohabits with his wife, for in the place of being a doctor of penitence he is a doctor of libertinage.” Again, we see that the priest’s job in the eyes of the Church is to practice penitence, and to thus draw down a shower of grace for himself as well as for his flock, and that all priests who perform the marital act “in the place of being a doctor of penitence he is a doctor of libertinage.” Meeting in 583, The Synod of Lyon’s first canon decreed that married priests could not live together with their spouses. In 589 The Synod of Toledo issued canon 5, that also was a declaration that married clerics may not live with their wives.

Indeed, so fervent were the early church to hinder Her clerics from performing the marital act, that in 530 the Emperor Justinian declared null and void all marriages contracted by clerics in Holy Orders, and the children of such marriages to be spurious by ordering that the children of priests, deacons and subdeacons who, “in disregard of the sacred canons [of clerical continency], have children by women with whom, according to sacerdotal regulation, they may not cohabit”, or according to another translation: “they are not permitted to have relations” be considered illegitimate on the same level as those “procreated in incest and in nefarious nuptials” (Code of Justinian, 1.3.44). As for bishops, he forbade “any one to be ordained bishop who has children or grandchildren” (Code of Justinian, 1.3.41).

The Breviatio Ferrandi was a digest of Church legislation in Africa assembled about 550 which reaffirms earlier norms of priestly celibacy. In summary the main points were as follows:

  • bishops, priests and deacons were to abstain from relations with their wives;

  • any priest who got married was to be deposed; if he commits the sin of fornication he is to do penance;

  • in order to safeguard the reputation of ministers of the Church and to help them observe chastity, clerics were not to live with women other than close family relations.

It is worth noting that this was a period of merciless persecution for the Church in North Africa when the Vandals invaded and eliminated the leaders of many of these Christian communities (cf. Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, pp. 324-26).

The Third Council of Toledo (589) was convoked to remedy abuses that had penetrated the clergy arising from the Arian heresy. Bishops, priests and deacons, returning to the Catholic faith after abandoning Arianism, no longer considered continence an obligation of the priestly state. So called matrimonial “rights” had reasserted themselves and, therefore, although Arianism had been officially defeated at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the negative effects of this heresy, as far as priestly chastity was concerned, were still being felt two centuries later. Canon 5 of Toledo III renewed the traditional discipline, indicating the sanctions which attended its infraction.

Third Council of Toledo, Canon 5, A.D. 589: “It has come to the knowledge of the Holy Council that bishops, priests, and deacons, who were once heretics but returned to Catholicism, still gave in to carnal desire and united with their wives; so that it does not happen again in the future, we have ordered as follows, which had already been decreed by previous canons: that it not be permitted to these [clerics and their wives] to lead a common life favouring incontinence, but that while keeping conjugal fidelity toward each other, they watch to what is mutually beneficial to them both and not share the same room. With the help of virtue, it would be even better that the cleric find for his wife a new home, so that their chastity enjoy a good witnessing before both God and men. But if, after this warning, someone prefers to live in incontinence with his wife, let him be considered a lector; as to those who are still subject to the ecclesiastical canon, if they live in their cells, contrary to the elders’ orders, in the company of women apt to raise suspicions harmful to their reputation, let those be struck with severe canonical penalties.” (Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, p. 331)

The reader will be interested in reading the answer on this point made by King Henry VIII (1491-1547), to the letter sent him by the German ambassadors. For those who don’t know, King Henry VIII was the apostate King of England who created his own sect (the Anglican sect) after the Catholic Church and the Pope would not grant him a divorce with a right to remarry. (This letter is found in full in the Addenda to the Appendix at the end of the seventh volume of Burnet’s History of the Reformation (London. Orr & Co., 1850, p. 148).

Note that even the apostate king himself upheld the ancient church tradition of clerical celibacy; although his own sect later came to contradict it: “Although the Church from the beginning admitted married men, as priests and bishops, who were without crime, the husband of one wife, (out of the necessity of the times, as sufficient other suitable men could not be found as would suffice for the teaching of the world) yet Paul himself chose the celibate Timothy; but if anyone came unmarried to the priesthood and afterwards took a wife, he was always deposed from the priesthood, according to the canon of the Council of Neocaesarea (315) which was before that of Nice (325). So, too, in the Council of Chalcedon (451), in the first canon of which all former canons are confirmed, it is established that a deaconess, if she give herself over to marriage, shall remain under anathema, and a virgin who had dedicated herself to God and a monk who join themselves in marriage, shall remain excommunicated. … No Apostolic canon nor the Council of Nice contain anything similar to what you assert, viz.: that priests once ordained can marry afterwards. And with this statement agrees the Sixth Synod (Third Council of Constantinople in 649), in which it was decreed that if any of the clergy should wish to lead a wife, he should do so before receiving the Subdiaconate, since afterwards it was by no means lawful; nor was there given in the Sixth Synod any liberty to priests of leading wives after their priesting, as you assert. Therefore from the beginning of the newborn Church it is clearly seen that at no time it was permitted to a priest to lead a wife after his priesting, and nowhere, where this was attempted, was it done with impunity, but the culprit was deposed from his priesthood.”

Hence if a priest were at any time to attempt to marry, he would be attempting to do that which from the earliest times of which we have no record, and which no priest has ever been allowed to do, but which always has been punished as a grave sin of immorality.

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