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The Bible mentions that one of the miracles Jesus performed was the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. This makes it quite clear that Peter himself was married, and Peter is the considered the first Pope by Roman Catholics. I've also heard that many if not all of the first popes were married and had families.

So, my question is this:

When was it that marriage first became prohibited for priests and popes in the Catholic church (for Latin Rite priests)?

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. Mark 1:29-30 ESV

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I've always been curious about this. +1 for asking the question I forgot that I had! –  Richard Nov 7 '11 at 13:31
Also, this question ought to be limited to Latin Rite priests, there are rites within the Catholic Church wherein priests are allowed to Marry, or it is at the discretion of the local bishop. –  Peter Turner Nov 7 '11 at 14:44
Just to clarify here as well, since the question and some comments above could be read the wrong way: It's true to say that in some cases a Catholic man can be already-married when he receives Holy Orders. But men who have already been ordained to major orders have never been allowed to get married afterward, in East or West. I understand that this is also the case with the Orthodox, although I'm not 100% certain of that. –  Ben Dunlap May 1 '13 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The important thing to consider is that celibacy, or practicing non-marriage, was practiced far before Christianity. Druid priests, Aztec Priests, etc were told to have been mandated to be pure and have no marriage with women.

I believe that the first written mandate that states that priests should be celibate was made around AD 300. The Council of Elvira stated that all "bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics were to abstain completely from their wives and not to have children".

This practice of celibacy began spreading in the Middle Ages. Around the 11th century Pope Benedict VIII issued a rule prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property. A few decades later Pope Gregory VII issued a decree against clerical marriages.

It should be noted that Kings have used this as a weapon against the church's power. Since they could not have children, they could not pass the power to someone else. So it was the job of the king to decide who should be the next Pope.

As to why, maybe it was to make the people at the church to have a standing out quality that few other men had. It represented a paradigm of separation from the sinful world.

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Could you fix up the 4th paragraph, source it, etc... I know there have been some popes picked by pressure from outside, but for the most part, it was the papacy which was on the top of the medieval power structure, not the provincial kings - or even the emperor. –  Peter Turner Nov 8 '11 at 14:07
@Peter Well, you know it better then me... I only read about it, in Korean book to boot, I think I can give the source, IF I find it... –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Nov 8 '11 at 17:15
First paragraph is irrelevant, and the fourth is wrong. –  DJClayworth Nov 12 '11 at 21:11
A couple curious phrases...what do "mandated to be pure" and "separation from the sinful world" have to do with not being married and not having children? –  Chance Jul 16 '12 at 21:45
This answer is unclear because it does not attend to the distinction between continence and celibacy. Continence means refraining from sexual relations, even if married. The quoted text from Elvira is, on its face, not about celibacy at all but about continence. Celibacy, on the other hand, means remaining unmarried. The original question is about celibacy, not continence. –  Ben Dunlap May 1 '13 at 19:36

This article gives an overview of the history of celibacy in the clergy. Even the Catholic church would admit that celibacy was not enforced on clergy in New Testament times, but would point out that those who chose celibacy were held in high honour, even in that period. There is dispute over how early the rules of celibacy came to be enforced. The earliest enactment of a rule was around 300AD at the Spanish Council of Elvira. This was not a universal rule. The rules appear to have been gradually tightened over the next few centuries,:

[...] the synods of the sixth and seventh centuries, while fully recognizing the position of these former wives and according them even the formal designation of bishopess, priestess, deaconess, and subdeaconess (episcopissa, presbytera, diaconissa, subdiaconissa), laid down some very strict rules to guide their relations with their former husbands.

Even centuries after that the practice was not universal.

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protected by Caleb Oct 11 '12 at 8:58

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