As everyone knows, married men are unable to be ordained as priests in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, nor are priests allowed to get married for as long as they remain priests. This is not quite the case in other ancient churches. According to Wikipedia, married men are allowed to be ordained as priests in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic traditions, but even in these traditions unmarried priests are not allowed to get married after ordination.

What is the rationale for allowing men to marry and then become priests, but forbidding them to become priests and then marry?

  • 4
    It is essentially the same for deacons, by the way. Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 9:03
  • The word priest literally means elder; if an elder was unmarried by that (late) age, then he either (a) lead a life of licentiousness, or is otherwise divorced, in which case(s) he has no business being a priest (consecrated elder) in the first place; (b) is widowed, in which case he most likely has reached an age where certain impulses pose less problems; or (c) has lived a life of celibacy thus far, in which case he has no good reason to stop, just when he is so close to the finish.
    – user46876
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 5:18

3 Answers 3


I am a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

I asked my Priest this (who is married), and what I recall him telling me is it has to do with the fact that if you were allowed to marry after becoming a priest, things regarding courtship and all that are likely to get in the way of being an effective and focused priest. Whereas if you are already married, then all that drama is out of the way, and though that does give you a family to concern yourself with in addition to the Church, you are firmly grounded and it doesn't get in the way of being the kind of priest you should be.

But you are allowed to become married and then become a Priest because Marriage is considered a Sacrament, and so to experience this Sacrament as laity, as long as you are being the husband / father you should be, then it is still acceptable to become a Priest (and in having a wife it's easier to not give in to earthly desires). Personally I think this is a much more grounded and sensible reasoning than saying you cannot become a Priest if you are married.

This is what my Priest sent me:

1) "the husband of one wife" (I Timothy 3:2) this is from the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul. This has been the core teaching on the priesthood since it was written.

2) the generally, the priests are held to the standard that all Christians called to, but often don't live up to.

This may give you a little background if you'd like it: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/10/of-marriage-and-orthodox-priests

It is the view that celibacy is better, as is described in that article and by my Priest. And one such Bible reference example comes from 1 Cor 7:

[32] But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: [33] But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

But thankfully it's also recognized that celibacy is a very high calling, and fares better for monks rather than priests.

  • the priests are held to the standard that all Christians called to, but often don't live up to. What exactly is referred to here? Not celibacy, it would seem. Is he merely referencing chastity? Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 9:16
  • @Mr.Bultitude Yes - we are all called to live in chastity, which in the context of being unmarried, would be celibacy.
    – Andy
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 17:19
  • Interesting. The next question of interest would be what scripture is the ban on marriage for priests based on, being that it is made a religious requirement rather than a personal choice.
    – user100487
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:20
  • Looking at the other answers seem the whole thing is founded on tradition rather than scriptural canon. Mark 7:1-8 comes to mind.
    – user100487
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:27


This answer is mainly a Catholic perspective on both Traditions.


What is common to both Traditions?

What is common to both Traditions is that celibacy is required for all those who are called to be bishops. Now this is interesting because it saying that there is something about being a bishop that requires the celibate state. According to Catholic teaching the bishops enjoy the fullness of the priesthood. Therefore the fullness of the priesthood in both Traditions require celibacy, and therefore, there is something about being a priest and the celibate state.

Does scripture help make a connection?

To Jesus' Teaching about Divorce, the disciples reacted by saying that it would be expedient not to marry, to which Jesus replied:

“Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

And the footnote explains:

19.11-12 Jesus means that a life of continence is to be chosen only by those who are called to it for the sake of the kingdom of God.

A lit bit later, after the episode of the Rich Young Man Jesus replies to Peter’s question:

And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

Therefore scripture speaks of a life of continence and the renunciation of houses … or children chosen only by those who are called to it for the sake of the kingdom of God/the LORD’s name.

Therefore the understanding of celibacy for priests from the Church’s perspective is that with the priesthood there comes with it not only a renunciation of the married state, but also a renunciation of what is allowed within the married state i.e. marital relations i.e. the calling is to a life of continence. It will be good to note here that Jesus' teaching applies not only to priests but to others as well e.g. virgins, widows and widowers, monks, even lay persons, as evidenced in the history and life of the Church.

From just these scriptural passages, it is easy to see that if an unmarried suitable male candidate is called to the priesthood, he of course cannot be ordained and later marry. But if he is married, and then called to the priesthood [as some Apostles were] then it is a renunciation of houses … or children for the sake of the kingdom of God/the LORD’s name.

But why a life of continence for priests?

In his Directions concerning Marriage St. Paul says the unmarried state being a gift from God just like the married state, is better. Later in the same chapter he goes on to says of the unmarried that they:

1) are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, and

2) how to be holy in body and spirit, and

3) that what he says is for their benefit so that they can secure their undivided devotion to the LORD.

This is what the Church and her saints have also echoed, that this gift from God of a life of continence for the sake of the kingdom of God/the LORD’s name is so that those called may serve the Church and souls indiviso corde, i.e. with an undivided heart.

But if this applies to all the unmarried, why the priests?

In St. Paul directions concerning marriage mentioned above, even the married are called to periods of continence. Why? So that they may devote themselves to prayer. This is the key: it is all about the LORD. Explaining:

Christ is unmarried but he is a groom, actually the Bridegroom of his Body, the Church. Needless to say, the wedding is coming [cf. Scripture and those who understand the Jewish roots of the Church and the meaning of “Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”]. Can the priest then, who, according to the Church acts in “persona Christi” marry whilst they are wedded to the Church or can the unmarried first marry and then go on to be wedded to the Church?

It should be noted that the LORD speaks of the future in the resurrection [where] they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels and the saintly Pope St. John Paul II [the Great] in his General Audiences on Theology of the Body teaches that The Kingdom of God, Not the World, Is Man's Eternal Destiny, therefore a life of continence in the LORD is the destiny of those worthy of the resurrection. Therefore those who have received the gift from God of a life of continence for the sake of the kingdom of God/the LORD’s name are already a sign living here and now of the life of those who will be worthy of the resurrection.

These then are the reasons and theological underpinnings of the requirement of the life of continence for priests.

From a Catholic perspective, the departures from this either within the Catholic Church herself or the within the Orthodox Tradition are just that, departures, either as exceptions or as accommodations or as aberrations.


From the foregoing it is wrong to view this as the "Church forbidding someone" or "someone being forbidden". From the LORD, his Apostle to the Gentiles, and the Church, this is a gift to be received from God of a life of continence for the sake of the kingdom of God/the LORD’s name.

A closing comment from the Church’s Jewish roots

It should be noted that in the OT that God required some of his prophets to be celibate or live a life of continence or observe a temporary period of continence and all of these were in circumstances and matters connected directly to him.

This is the something: Why the image [union of man and woman] when there is the real thing [Union of God and man/Christ and his Church]?

Endnotes & Materials Source:

1) Stickler, Alphonso M. Cardinal (Vatican Archivist) The Case for Clerical Celibacy : Its Historical Development and Theological Foundations. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995. This work covers both Eastern and Western traditions.

2) Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church by Roman Cholij, Secretary of the Apostolic Exarch for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain.

3) The Ancient Tradition of Clerical Celibacy by Mary R. Schneider | Catholic Culture.

4) The Truth About Priestly Continence and Celibacy in the Early Church | Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

5) The Orthodox Churches and priestly celibacy by Damaskinos Papandreou, Orthodox Metropolitan of Switzerland.

6) The biblical foundation of priestly celibacy by Ignace de la Potterie, Biblical scholar.

7) Interview With Theologian on the Foundations of Celibacy (Married Priests Will Always Be an Exception) | ZENIT.

8) Priestly Celibacy by Matt1618.

9) According to Midrash and Aggadah after the Giving of the Torah, a life of sexual abstinence was imposed on Moses due to his spiritual standing.


It is because Holy Orders is a higher calling than marriage. In Holy Orders, one is devoted entirely to God and His Church; in marriage, one "is divided" (1 Cor. 7:33) between spiritual and worldly needs such as taking care of one's children's material necessities.

The 24th Session of the Council of Trent—which all churches, of any rite, in union with Rome must accept—defined this dogma:

Canon X.—If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony: let him be anathema.

The same reasoning holds among those with Holy Orders, where there are different levels of perfection: a bishop is in a more perfect state than a religious, and a religious in a more perfect than a mere parish priest. For example, a religious who makes a vow is not permitted to go contrary to his vow and leave his religious order to become a parish priest (cf. Summa Theologica II-II q. 189 a. 4); that would be analogous to a priest who would rather be married to a woman than the Church. He may become a bishop, though, because this is a higher calling (cf. ibid. q. 184 a. 7-8).

The Church's entire raison d'être is to foster the faithful's spiritual growth, perfection, and charity; fulfilling Christ's words that we "be perfect as also the heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). As St. Thomas writes (ibid. a. 1):

A thing is said to be perfect in so far as it attains its proper end, which is the ultimate perfection thereof. Now it is charity that unites us to God, Who is the last end of the human mind, since "he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him" (1 Jn. 4:16). Therefore the perfection of the Christian life consists radically in charity.

Also, ibid. II-II a. 5 arg. 2 describes how one's "inward state" (one's sanctification) must correspond to his "outward state" (e.g., being married, being a priest, etc.), else one lives a lie.

  • 5
    Pardon me, if i get you wrong, but did you really addressed the OP's question? I believe he is asking for the "rationale for forbidding priests to marry in traditions where already-married men are allowed to become priests" and you gave, instead, the doctrinal background for "forbidding priests to marry" and stopped there, didn't you? Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 18:46
  • @FilipeMerker So I answered a broader question which should answer your more specific one, no? He acknowledges that "even in these traditions [where 'married men are allowed to be ordained as priests',] unmarried priests are not allowed to get married after ordination."
    – Geremia
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 20:30
  • 1
    Two things: 1) In light of all this, why does it then make sense to allow married men to become priests? 2) What is the connection between the last sentence and the rest of the answer? Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 0:03

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