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603
CELIBACY

adjudged them to actual slavery.[1] Such enactments naturally defeated their own purpose. More was done by the gentler missionary zeal of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century; but St Thomas Aquinas had seen half a century of that reform and had recognized its limitations; he therefore attenuated as much as possible the decree of Nicholas II. His contemporary St Bonaventura complained publicly that he himself and his fellow-friars were often compelled to hold their tongues about the evil clergy; partly because, even if one were expelled, another equally worthless would probably take his place, but “perhaps principally lest, if the people altogether lost faith in the clergy, heretics should arise and draw the people to themselves as sheep that have no shepherd, and make heretics of them, boasting that, as it were by our own testimony, the clergy were so vile that none need obey them or care for their teaching.”[2] In other passages of his works St Bonaventura tells us plainly how little had as yet been gained by suppressing clerical marriages; and the evidence of orthodox and distinguished churchmen for the next three centuries is equally decisive. Alvarez Pelayo, a Spanish bishop and papal penitentiary, wrote in 1332, “The clergy sin commonly in these following ways . . . fourthly, in that they live very incontinently, and would that they had never promised continence; especially in Spain and southern Italy, in which provinces the sons of the laity are scarcely more numerous than those of the clergy.” Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly pleaded before the council of Constance in 1415 for the reform of “that most scandalous custom, or rather abuse, whereby many [clergy] fear not to keep concubines in public.”[3]

Meanwhile, as has been said above, the custom of open marriage among clergy in holy orders (priests, deacons and subdeacons) was gradually stamped out. A series of synods, from the early 12th century onwards, declared such marriages to be not only unlawful, but null and void in themselves. Yet the custom lingered sporadically in Germany and England until the last few years of the 13th century, though it seems to have died out earlier in France and Italy. There was also a short-lived attempt to declare that even a clerk in lower orders should lose his clerical privileges on his marriage; but Boniface VIII. in 1300 definitely permitted such marriages under the already-quoted conditions of the Apostolic Canons; in these cases, however, a bishop’s licence was required to enable the cleric to officiate in church, and the episcopal registers show that the diocesans frequently insisted on the celibacy of parish-clerks. As the middle ages drew to a close, earnest churchmen were compelled to ask themselves whether it would not be better to let the priests marry than to continue a system under which concubinage was even licensed in some districts.[4] Serious proposals were made to reintroduce clerical marriage at the great reforming councils of Constance (1415) and Basel (1432); but the overwhelming majority of orthodox churchmen were unwilling to abandon a rule for which the saints had fought during so many centuries, and to which many of them probably attributed an apostolic origin.[5] This conservative attitude was inevitably strengthened by the attacks first of Lollard and then, of Lutheran heretics; and Sir Thomas More was driven to declare, in answer to Tyndale, that the marriage of priests, being essentially null and void, “defileth the priest more than double or treble whoredom.” It is well known that this became one of the most violently disputed questions at the Reformation, and that for eight years it was felony in England to defend sacerdotal marriage as permissible by the law of God (Statute of the Six Articles, 31 Hen. VIII. c. 14). The diversity of practice on this point drew one of the sharpest lines between reformers and orthodox, until the disorders introduced by these religious wars tempted the latter to imitate in considerable numbers the licence of their rivals.[6] This moved the emperor Charles V. to obtain from Paul III. dispensations for married priests in his dominions; and his successor Ferdinand, with the equally Catholic sovereigns of France, Bavaria and Poland, pleaded strongly at the council of Trent (1545) for permissive marriage. The council, after some hesitation, took the contrary course, and in the 9th canon of its 24th session it erected sacerdotal celibacy practically, if not formally, into an article of faith. In spite of this, the emperor Joseph II. reopened the question in 1783. In France the revolutionary constitution of 1791 abolished all restrictions on marriage, and during the Terror celibacy often exposed a priest to suspicion as an enemy to the Republic; but the better part of the clergy steadily resisted this innovation, and it is estimated that only about 2% were married. The Old Catholics adopted the principle of sacerdotal marriage in 1875.

The working of the system in modern times is perhaps too controversial a question to be discussed here; but one or two points may be noted on which all fairly well informed writers would probably agree. It can scarcely be denied that the Roman Catholic clergy have always owed much of their influence to their celibacy, and that in many cases this influence has been most justly earned by the celibate’s devotion to an unworldly ideal. Again, the most adverse critics would admit that much was done by the counter-Reformation, and that modern ecclesiastical discipline on this point is considerably superior to that of the middle ages; while, on the other hand, many authorities of undoubted orthodoxy are ready to confess that it is not free from serious risks even in these days of easy publicity and stringent civil discipline.[7] Lastly, statistical research has shown that the children of the married British clergy have been distinguished far beyond their mere numerical proportion.[8]

Authorities.—Henry Charles Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy (3rd ed., 1907, 2 vols), is by far the fullest and best work on this subject, though a good deal of important matter omitted by Dr Lea may be found in Die Einfuhrung der erzwungenen Ehelosigkeit by the brothers Johann Anton and Augustin Theiner, which was put on the Roman Index, though Augustin afterwards became archivist at the Vatican (Altenburg, 1828, 2 vols.). The history of monastic celibacy has not yet been fully treated anywhere; the most important evidence of the episcopal registers is either still in MS. or has been published only in comparatively recent years. The most learned work on clerical celibacy from the strictly conservative point of view is that of Francesco Antonio Zaccaria, Storia Polemica del celibato sacro (Rome, 1774); but many of his most important

  1. Labbe-Mansi, Concilia, vol. xix. col. 796 and xx. col. 724. Dr Lea is probably right in suggesting that it was a confused recollection of these decrees which prompted one of Cranmer’s judges to assure him that “his children were bondmen to the see of Canterbury.” Strype, Memorials of Cranmer, bk iii. c. 28 (ed. 1812, vol. i. p. 601).
  2. Bonaventura, Libell. Apologet. quaest. i.; cf. his parallel treatise Quare Fratres Minores praedicent. The first visitation of his friend Odo Rigaldi, archbishop of Rouen, shows that about 15% of the parish clergy in that diocese were notoriously incontinent (Regestrum Visitationum, ed. Bonnin, Rouen, 1852, pp. 17 ff.). Vacandard (loc. cit. p. 2087) appeals rather misleadingly to this record as proving the progress made during the half-century before Odo’s time. It is probable that there were many more offenders than these 15% known to the archbishop.
  3. Alvarus Pelagius, De Planctu Ecclesiae, ed. 1517, f. 131a, col. 2; cf. f. 102b, col. 2; Hermann von der Hardt, Constantiensis Concilii, &c. vol. i. pars. viii. col. 428.
  4. This more or less regular sale of licences by bishops and archdeacons flourished from the days of Gregory VII. to the 16th century; see index to Lea, s.v. “Licences.” Dr Lea has, however, omitted the most striking authority of all. Gascoigne, the most distinguished Oxford chancellor of his day, writing about 1450 of John de la Bere, then bishop of St David’s, says that he had refused to separate the clergy of his diocese from their concubines, giving publicly as his reason, “for then I your bishop should lose the 400 marks which I receive yearly in my diocese for the priests’ lemans” (Gascoigne, Lib. Ver. ed. Rogers, p. 36). Even Sir Thomas More, in his polemic against the Reformers, admitted that this concubinage was too often tolerated in Wales (English Works, ed. 1557, p. 231, cf. 619).
  5. One of Dr Lea’s few serious mistakes is his acceptance of the spurious pamphlet in favour of priestly marriage which was attributed in the 11th century to St Ulrich of Augsburg (i. 171).
  6. Janssen, Gesch. d. deutschen Volkes, 13th ed., vol. viii. pp. 423, 4, 9; 434; Lea ii. 195, 204. ff.
  7. Lea (ii. 339. ff.) gives a long series of quotations to this effect from church synods and orthodox disciplinary writers of modern times.
  8. Havelock Ellis, A Study of British Genius (London, 1904, p. 80), “Even if we compare the church with the other professions with which it is most usually classed, we find that the eminent children of the clergy considerably outnumber those of lawyers, doctors and army officers put together.” Mr Ellis points put, however, that “the clerical profession ... also produces more idiots than any other class.”