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(sĕl`ĭbəsē), voluntary refusal to enter the married state, with abstinence from sexual activity. It is one of the typically Christian forms of asceticismasceticism
, rejection of bodily pleasures through sustained self-denial and self-mortification, with the objective of strengthening spiritual life. Asceticism has been common in most major world religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: all of
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. In ancient Rome the vestalvestal
, in Roman religion, priestess of Vesta. The vestals were first two, then four, then six in number. While still little girls, they were chosen from prominent Roman families to serve for 30 (originally 5) years, during which time they could not marry.
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 virgins were celibates, and successful monasticismmonasticism
, form of religious life, usually conducted in a community under a common rule. Monastic life is bound by ascetical practices expressed typically in the vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, called the evangelical counsels.
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 has everywhere been accompanied by celibacy as an ideal. Among ancient Jews the EssenesEssenes
, members of a small Jewish religious order, originating in the 2d cent. B.C. The chief sources of information about the Essenes are Pliny the Elder, Philo's Quod omnius probus liber, Josephus' Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews,
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 were celibates. In the Judaism of postexilic times, sexual activity in the married state was considered lawful and good; otherwise it was unlawful. This norm remained in Christianity. But the mainstream of Christian tradition from the start has interpreted the Gospels and epistles as teaching that voluntary celibacy, especially virginity, is peculiarly meritorious.

In the Orthodox Eastern churches, ordinary parish clergy are married, but monks, nuns, and bishops are celibates. In the West, celibacy was common among the parish clergy beginning the 3d cent.; as time passed, the Holy See became adamant in opposing the marriage of the secular clergy (see orders, holyorders, holy
[Lat. ordo,=rank], in Christianity, the traditional degrees of the clergy, conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Order. The episcopacy, priesthood or presbyterate, and diaconate were in general use in Christian churches in the 2d cent.
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). By the early Middle Ages, marriage of the clergy had fallen into disrepute; church reformers aimed at concubinage and violations of the laws of chastity rather than of marriage. In the 12th cent. the most stringent laws were enacted, and by the time of the Reformation popular opinion tolerated neither concubinage nor marriage in the clergy. Protestantism rejected voluntary celibacy as an ideal.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Roman rite allows no sacerdotal marriage, but the clergy of Eastern rites united with the Holy See are often married before ordination. Some married priests from other religions or rites have converted to Catholicism and been accepted, but not all dioceses have permitted these priests to practice. Although recent popes and various national groupings of bishops have insisted on the retention of celibacy for priests, there has been considerable pressure in the United States and Europe in support of voluntary marriage for the clergy. A standard defense of the Western discipline of celibacy for parish priests is that marriage would prevent the priest from giving his complete attention to his parish; critics complain that unmarried clergy are unfit to give counsel on marital and sexual problems. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has restored the office of deacon to a prominent place in the ministry and accepts married men into it.

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Monastic orders of many religious traditions have rules concerning celibacy. Marriage and sexual union are forbidden for practical or spiritual reasons.

Sometimes, as in some Hindu and Buddhist traditions, sexual expression is considered to be a detriment to meditation and growth, a "giving in" to the body and its desires. Celibacy is then considered to be a form of asceticism.

In early Christianity, celibacy was inspired by the words of the apostle Paul advising that those who chose not to marry had more time to serve the Lord. He implied that sex, as opposed to spiritual work, was a base human need when he said it "was better to marry than to burn." And since the early church believed Jesus was soon to return, it didn't make much sense to settle into a stable home life that would not last much longer. Besides this, Jesus had said that "in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage." All these together seemed to imply marriage was for the weak, at best.

This notion was taken to its logical conclusion by the Shaker community in the United States. Nobody was allowed to have sex. The community only grew by conversions.

In Roman Catholic tradition, celibacy is seen as a crucial vow taken by ordained clergy to allow them both time and uninterrupted energy to devote to the practical matter of being available for ministry. It is not that clergy are not married. They are married to the church and are expected to give the same devotion to Christ as they would to earthly spouses. Although a mystique surrounding "unavailable" male priests and "pure" female nuns undoubtedly places celibate clergy on a pedestal in the popular psyche, this was not the official intention of the church.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the obligatory unmarried state of the Catholic clergy. The decrees of the popes on celibacy in the early Middle Ages were not in fact adhered to. Strict observance of celibacy was demanded by Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), a leader of the Cluniac reform, who forbade married priests to perform their duties. Celibacy became firmly established in practice in the mid-13th century. The Catholic Church used it as a means of preserving church landownership because it prevented land from being broken up among heirs. Attempts were made to review the question of celibacy at the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Pope Paul VI cut off discussion of the topic, but allowed deacons, including married deacons, to perform certain priestly functions. In 1967 the pope reaffirmed the irrevocability and “sanctity” of celibacy.

The Protestant churches reject celibacy. In the Orthodox Church, celibacy is obligatory only for monks.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Responding to a comment about the long tradition of married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches, or in the case-by-case exceptions made for married Anglican ministers who convert to Catholicism, he said he was reminded of Pope Saint Paul VI's comment: 'I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy.'
Priestly celibacy was not widely enforced until the 12th century.
Celibacy, to many, is seen as a denial of human nature.
The Archbishop criticised the idea of celibacy saying its beginning was the end of the church.
Many other great Biblical figures, like Prophet Jeremiah, remained unmarried.Priestly celibacy has also great ecclesiological significance.
Clerical celibacy has been the practice of the church since at least the Spanish Council of Elvira in 306, according to author (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/apologetics/priestly-celibacy/the-case-for-priestly-celibacy/) George Sim Johnston , however, there have been exceptions.
In Erin Judge's Vow of Celibacy, heroine Natalie is a woman on a mission: she is abstaining from sex until she can figure out why her many partners never seem to satisfy her.
Those advocating a review of the practice of priestly celibacy point to the fact that St.
In a book in 2012 he admitted he himself had been "dazzled" by a young woman while studying to be a priest and said celibacy was "a matter of discipline, not faith" adding "it can change".
Karol Wotjtyla, later Pope, and now Saint, John Paul II, understood celibacy in the light of marriage, the sacrament by which the Creator reveals to us the communion of his own nature.
Contrary to the ideas of Archbishop Pietro Parolin, celibacy has an eminent spiritual dimension that greatly transcends the question of discipline.
So far, Pope Francis has given little indication that priestly celibacy is on the chopping block.