We see the exhortation of St. Paul at 1 Timothy 3: 1-3:

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.

That implies that there was a custom of remarriage among the early Christians, which St. Paul would not allow in the case of selection of bishops. As for the modern Catholic Church, it has been prohibiting remarriage among all the believers. My question therefore is : at what point of time in its history did the Catholic Church start prohibiting remarriage among all believers?

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    Why do you think it indicates polygamy in particular? I thought divorce was the common interpretation. Or extra-marital sexual relationships.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 6:09
  • My serious doubt is that if , suppose (just suppose !) the Church allows a man to get married for the second time, with the first wife still living with him, for justifiable reasons ,( say, the first wife having gone into a comma leaving behind a single child who requires in near future, bone marrow transplantation from a sibling from the same father) , will he be going against the sixth commandment, if he consummates the second marriage ? Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 8:49
  • Many versions including the King James Version and New American Standard Bible write "the husband of one wife". – Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 8:56
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    Polygamy is having more than one wife at the same time. St. Paul is speaking of remarriage, not polygamy.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 19:36
  • 1
    Your interpretation is not even close to that of the Church’s. Please pose more reflective questions in the future.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


When did the Catholic Church first prohibit bishops from remarrying?

For St. Paul being married to a woman for the first time seems to be a prerequisite for the office of the episcopate. Widowers who were remarried would be discouraged from becoming a bishop. Thus the phrase "the husband of one wife” implies that the candidate for this office has never remarried and is either a unmarried widower or married with his first and only wife.

The faithful in the general population have always been free to remarry after the death of their spouses.

1 It is well said, When a man aspires to a bishopric, it is no mean employment that he covets. 2 The man who is to be a bishop, then, must be one with whom no fault can be found; faithful to one wife, sober, discreet, modest, well behaved, hospitable, experienced in teaching, 3 no lover of wine or of brawling, courteous, neither quarrelsome nor grasping. 4 He must be one who is a good head to his own family, and keeps his children in order by winning their full respect; 5 if a man has not learned how to manage his own household, will he know how to govern God’s church? 6 He must not be a new convert, or he may be carried away by vanity, and incur Satan’s doom. 7 He must bear a good character, too, in the world’s eyes; or he may fall into disrepute, and become a prey to the False Accuser. - 1 Timothy 3:1-7

The exhortation of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3: 1-3 has other interpretations!

The Catholic Encyclopedia infers a rather different approach to this question as follows:

Turning now to the historical development of the present law of celibacy, we must necessarily begin with St. Paul's direction (1 Timothy 3:2, 12, and Titus 1:6) that a bishop or a deacon should be "the husband of one wife". These passages seem fatal to any contention that celibacy was made obligatory upon the clergy from the beginning, but on the other hand, the Apostle's desire that other men might be as himself (1 Corinthians 7:7-8), already quoted) precludes the inference that he wished all ministers of the Gospel to be married. The words beyond doubt mean that the fitting candidate was a man, who, amongst other qualities which St. Paul enunciates as likely to make his authority respected, possessed also such stability of divorce, by remaining faithful to one wife. The direction is therefore restrictive, no injunctive; it excludes men who have married more than once, but it does not impose marriage as a necessary condition. This freedom of choice seems to have lasted during the whole of what we may call, with Vacandard, the first period of the Church's legislation, i.e. down to about the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.

When did the Catholic Church first prohibit bishops from remarrying?

Possibly in 314, we see the first inklings of the notion that the clergy should not remarry after their ordination. What is written for priests and deacons, should apply to higher clergy also.

This is again what we learn from the Council of Ancyra in Galatia, in 314 (canon x), and of Neo-Caesarea in Cappadocia, in 315 (canon i). The latter canon absolutely forbids a priest to contract a new marriage under the pain of deposition; the former forbids even a deacon to contract marriage, if at the moment of his ordination he made no reservation as to celibacy. Supposing, however, that he protested at the time that a celibate life was above his strength, the decrees of Ancyra allow him to marry subsequently, as having tacitly received the permission of the ordaining bishop. There is nothing here which of itself forbids even a bishop to retain his wife, if he were married before ordination. - Celibacy of the Clergy (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

In 1075, Pope Gregory VII made clerical celibacy a mandatory discipline within the Church.

The last pope to be married and pope at the same time was Pope John XVII (1003).

In 1075 Pope Gregory VII issued a decree effectively barring married priests from ministry, a discipline formalized by the First Lateran Council in 1123. Since then celibacy has been required of Roman Catholic priests, though the Catholic churches of the East have continued to allow priests to marry before their ordination. - Why are priests celibate?

Thus, if Pope Gregory VII barred priests from being married, it stands to reason that the higher clergy must also be celebrate, bishops and popes included.

Widowers have always been permitted to become priests and bishops.

  • I suggest that this question be closed, since it has metamorphosed into something I had not intended for. My original question was on prospective prevalence of polygamy among early believers ( other than clergymen) and the Church's stand against it . Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 3:45
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan Closed or open, it is very clear that your interpretation is not even close to that of the Church’s. Please pose more reflective questions in the future. I will not alter my response. It answered your objections. It is not about polygamy at all. I made that quite clear.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 10:16

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