We know from the Bible that fornication is a sin:

Acts 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

1st Corinthians 6:18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

1st Corinthians 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

1st Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

At present, the Catholic Church believes that premarital sex is fornication:

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

But has this always been the case? According to this answer:

Fornication has changed its meaning since 1611, so reading its definition in a modern English dictionary does little good. In 1611, fornication meant prostitution (as abundantly proven ad infinitum on the "goldenrule" website) and was a perfect translation of "porneia", which is the activity of porné, or prostitutes.

So a key question here is how has the word fornication changed its meaning in the course of history.

Is there any evidence to support the theory that perhaps at some point in its history, fornication did not mean premarital sex for the Catholic Church?

  • Are you asking for a linguistic position of the catholic church? Or do you want to know if the Church always believed that sex outside marriage was a sin?
    – ABM K
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 11:25
  • @ABMK the latter
    – Anon
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 11:26
  • I can’t provide you with a fully documented answer. What I did find is a lot of debate about celibacy and virginity as preferred to marriage by some church fathers. Augustine has written a lot about marriage, and he speaks about the value of (sexual) fidelity. The council of Trente has something to say. But a clear statement by a church council about sex before marriage, I couldn’t find, before modern textst
    – ABM K
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 11:36
  • 1
    Interesting question. The other answer writes about the English word when the language of the Catholic Church is more likely to be Latin, so the question really should be did "fornicatio" always carry the sense of sexual activity between unmarried people. Etymologically, the word is connected to prostitution; fornicatio is related to fornix which means either brothel or arch (the former because prostitutes often hung around arches in ancient Rome as noted by Augustine).
    – eques
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 12:09
  • 1
    However, I suspect the question is making too much of the difference. Most likely the Church inherited a terminology from the Roman Empire where sex was between married couples, for wealthy with their slaves or prostitution; adultery was definitely bad and prostitution may have been discouraged, but they likely didn't need a distinct category for fornication that wasn't prostitution.
    – eques
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 12:10


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