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Steph wrote:

Hi, guys —

How do I refute this argument I heard recently:

The Catholic church did have married priest until some time in tenth or eleventh century. When financial burdens of the Church to support:

  • the priest
  • their wives, and
  • all the children

became very great, the Church declared all priest must be single. Instead of giving a "grandfather clause" to the priests with families, and from that point on, only letting unmarried men become priest, the Church turned out all those women and children into the streets — declaring them whores and bastards.



  { How do I refute this argument on married priest and celibacy? }

Richard replied:

Hi, Steph —

The Catholic Encyclopedia web site has an article on the celibacy of the clergy which includes an overview on the history of the law of celibacy.

Apparently, there were serious abuses in the 900's, combated by reform efforts in the 1000's and 1100's. Local synods sometimes instituted grandfather clauses for those already married, but some eventually punished resisting clerics and their wives and instituted severe measures to keep their children from inheriting parish property and benefices.

From the article:

"Impurity, adultery, sacrilege and murder have overwhelmed the world", cried the Council of Trosly in 909. The Episcopal sees, as we learn from such an authority as Bishop Egbert of Trier, were given as fiefs to rude soldiers, and were treated as property which descended by hereditary right from father to son.

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 and that few parts of the world failed to feel the effect of the licence and venality of the times. How could it be otherwise when there were intruded into bishoprics on every side men of brutal nature and unbridled passions, who gave the very worst example to the clergy over whom they ruled?

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 enactment's of the Church.

With Pope St. Leo IX, St. Gregory VII (Hildebrand), and their successors, a determined and successful stand was made against the further spread of corruption. For a while in certain districts where effective interference appeared hopeless, it would seem that various synodal enactments allowed the rural clergy to retain the wives to whom they had previously been married. See, for example, the Councils of Lisieux of 1064, Rouen in 1063 and 1072, and Winchester, this last presided over by Lanfranc, in 1076. In all these we may possibly trace the personal influence of William the Conqueror. But despite these concessions, the attitude of Gregory VII remained firm, and the reform which he consolidated has never subsequently been set aside. The point is of importance because the evidence seems to show that in this long struggle the whole of the more high-principled and more learned section of the clergy was enlisted in the cause of celibacy.

The incidents of the long final campaign, which began indeed even before the time of Pope St. Leo IX and lasted down to the First Council of Lateran in 1123, are too complicated to be detailed here. We may note, however that the attack was conducted along two distinct lines of action. In the first place, disabilities of all kinds were enacted and as far as possible enforced against the wives and children of ecclesiastics. Their offspring were declared to be of servile condition, debarred from sacred orders, and, in particular, incapable of succeeding to their fathers' benefices. The earliest decree in which the children were declared to be slaves, the property of the Church, and never to be enfranchised, seems to have been a canon of the Synod of Pavia in 1018. Similar penalties were promulgated later on against the wives and concubines (see the Synod of Melfi, 1189, can. xii), who by the very fact of their unlawful connection with a subdeacon or clerk of higher rank became liable to be seized as slaves by the over-lord. Hefele (Concilienge-schichte, V, 195) sees in this first trace of the principle that the marriages of the clerics are ipso facto invalid.

As regards to the offenders themselves, the strongest step seems to have been that taken by Nicholas II in 1059, and more vigorously by Gregory VII in 1075, who interdicted such priests from saying Mass and from all ecclesiastical functions, while the people were forbidden to hear the Mass which they celebrated or to admit their ministrations so long as they remain contumacious.

Finally, in 1123, at the First Lateran Council, an enactment was passed (confirmed more explicitly in the Second Lateran Council, can. vii) which, while not in itself very plainly worded, was held to pronounce the marriages contracted by subdeacons or ecclesiastics of any of the higher orders to be invalid (contracta quoque matrimonia ab hujusmodi personis disjungi ... judicamus — Canon xxi). This may be said to mark the victory of the cause of celibacy. Henceforth all conjugal relations on the part of the clergy in sacred orders were reduced in the eyes of canon law to mere concubinage.

Richard Chonak

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