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On The Present Crisis in Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism has been swept by the paedophile crisis. After North America has come Western Europe. Cases of paedophilia have been reported in their thousands, in Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belgium and elsewhere. 270 Roman Catholic priests in Belgium are now waiting for their cases to be heard, several bishops have been resigned by the Vatican on account of their past complicity in cover-ups. Now two Roman Catholic bishops, one in Australia and another in Austria, have at last had the courage in public to call on Roman Catholicism to return to the practice of the (Orthodox) Church and allow men to marry before they are ordained.

The scandal is a scandal, but like every scandal it can also become an opportunity for repentance, for return and restoration. Increasingly, Roman Catholic voices are calling for a Council to debate the issues confronting Roman Catholicism and the present collapse of its base in the Western world. It is clear that the present elderly caretaker Pope is unlikely to allow this. Roman Catholics will have to wait for the next Pope, perhaps an African, who may feel less bound by the straitjacket of Western history, which confines the present Pope. Of course, any new Vatican Council may simply further the Protestantization of Catholicism. On the other hand, we cannot exclude a miracle.

The two following studies of the revolutionary and anti-Tradition movement which introduced compulsory clerical celibacy into the West was written in 2004 and published in two parts of Volume 7 of Orthodox England at the time. We hope that the facts of history which they relate, including the much overlooked aspect of anti-heterosexual plotting by homosexuals, will be of interest and provide food for thought.


‘Peter, who established himself first in Antioch, welcomes you to the Syrian land... . No Apostolic See would ever consider itself to be the sole guarantor of Orthodoxy. Only the Church is able to guarantee Her teaching and anchor us in the Spirit. This is our understanding of the Faith of the first Martyrs and that of the Undivided Church of the First Millennium. This Faith remains for us the yardstick with which we measure all later developments. Despite the unworthiness of Her members, the Orthodox Churches know that their teaching accords with the Tradition of the Fathers and the Faith of the OEcumenical Councils’.

Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch, speaking in Damascus on 5 May 2002 in the presence of Pope John Paul II.


The question of obligatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests has come up again in recent times. Today there is an incredible shortage of priests in Roman Catholicism. In the USA it is estimated that the number of priests will have gone down from 35,000 in 1966 to 21,000 in 2005. Half of these will be aged over 55. Catholicism seems to be the only major religion having difficulty filling the ranks of its ministers. Moreover, researchers state that over one third of remaining US Catholic priests are homosexual, with an even higher proportion in the seminaries. Worse still, it is claimed that six per cent of all Catholic priests in the USA are child-molesters (1) On the other hand, if married Catholic men could be ordained, then it is said that the number of candidates for the priesthood would quadruple. But how and when did compulsory clerical celibacy develop?

The First Millennium: Commend not Command

From the very beginning virginity for the sake of the Gospel was seen as preferable to marriage. Our Lord did not marry. The Mother of God was a Virgin. Although the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 7,9 that ‘it is better to marry than to burn’ (with the flame of passion), he also wrote in 1 Cor 7, 7 that he ‘would that all men were even as myself’ (a virgin). This preference became ever more evident as monasticism became stronger, in some ways replacing martyrdom once the Church ceased to be persecuted. One of the results was that by the third century it had already become common to oblige those who wished to marry to do so before ordination, with marriage after ordination excluded.

In the year 305, Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira in Spain suggested that all clergy should be continent, a demand repeated at the Council of Arles in 314. It is not quite clear, however, if these Councils demanded permanent continence or simply a temporary continence, i.e. abstinence before the celebration of the Eucharist. However, the First OEcumenical Council in 325 allowed married men to be ordained, clearly recognising clerical marriage (2). In c. 400 separation of married clerical couples was also forbidden by the Apostolic Constitutions. And later in the fifth century Pope St Leo the Great (440–461), who played such a great role at the Fourth OEcumenical Council at Chalcedon, resolutely opposed compulsory clerical celibacy, preferring continence. On the other hand, an Irish Council under St Patrick in 456 mentions married priests quite openly 3 and we know that St Patrick himself was the grandson of a priest.

In the West a whole series of Councils in various countries (3) continued to commend clerical celibacy, apparently without any practical effect. Thus it is apparent from the Eighth Council of Toledo in 653 where all clergy, bishops included, were still married.3 Nevertheless, a majority of bishops, East and West, were celibate by the seventh century. Indeed, at the end of that century, some sort of consensus had been established throughout the Orthodox world, East and West. Canon XII of the Sixth OEcumenical Council in Trullo in 692, stated that in future only bishops should be celibate. This was not because marriage was dishonourable in itself, but because bishops were to dedicate their whole lives to the Church, something which the married cannot always do. At this Council the Roman tendency to impose celibacy on clergy was specifically condemned. True, the Popes did not accept the Canon of the Sixth Council immediately, their local customs being condemned. Indeed, it was only Pope Adrian I (772–795) who nearly one hundred years later finally accepted all these Canons ‘with love’ (4).

Although in the West in the eighth century clerical celibacy continued to be commended even for parish clergy, the theory had little following in practice (5). Nevertheless, as a result of the Sixth Council, East and West, married bishops gradually disappeared: the exceptions include a married Pope in the ninth century and rare examples of married bishops in East and West continuing even until the twelfth century (6). This was despite the Scriptural reference to the possibility of episcopal marriage (I Timothy 3, 2 – ‘A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife ...’). This reference is also a clear indication that any member of the clergy should marry only once. Episcopal celibacy also existed despite the fact that the Apostles Peter, Philip and others such as the ‘Brothers of the Lord’ (I Cor. 9, 5) were married – but then they were Apostles, not bishops.

In some respects this meant that married clergy were becoming second class citizens. But this never seemed to bother the married clergy, who for the most part respected the sacrifices of those who chose celibacy. One of the few cases where this was challenged, at least in the East, was in pre- Revolutionary Russia. Here elements of the married or ‘white’ clergy opposed what they saw as the privileges of the monastic or ‘black’ clergy. It seems to us, however, that this was more to do with the corruptions of the pre-Revolutionary State Church in Russia in a decadent period, rather than an objection in itself to celibacy among senior clergy and the episcopate.

In the West clerical marriage came to be challenged again under the Carolingians. As in so much else, from the filioque to multiple daily eucharists and shaven clergy, the Carolingians prefigured what actually later happened in the Western Middle Ages (7) At the end of the eighth century Charlemagne had financed and instituted intellectual and monastic reforms in North-Western Continental Europe. Since his main reformers were all monks, there was a heavy emphasis on celibacy. Although Charlemagne reposed and his followers died out, similar reforms continued at the end of the ninth century and the problem of the continuing uncanonical Western practice of compulsory clerical celibacy was brought up by St Photius the Great at that time. New attempts to introduce compulsory celibacy continued in the tenth century monastic reforms in the West. Again, only monastic figures played prominent roles and there was a tendency for them only to ordain the celibate, with married parish clergy pushed increasingly aside. It should be noticed, however, that the reason for this was not always a question of celibacy. Often, it was a case of land, finance and property. Since celibate clergy had no families, they were cheaper to maintain, they had no possessions or lands of their own, no children to whom they would want to pass them on to.

The various trends of the First Millennium can be summed up then as follows. Monasticism and therefore celibacy were seen as superior to marriage. The episcopate was commanded or obliged to be celibate, and senior clergy tended also to follow this command. However, though married men were commended to be continent, they were allowed to become parish clergy with all respect and honour being given to marriage, despite theoretical, conciliar declarations to the contrary in the West.

The Second Millennium: Command not Commend.

At the beginning of the eleventh century the role of the Papacy was largely ceremonial. In the words of one Church historian, the Pope was, ‘the high priest of the Roman pilgrimage, the dispenser of benedictions and of privileges and anathemas’ (8). Two hundred years later, by the time of Innocent III (1198–1216), the situation had been transformed. As the historian of clerical celibacy, Henry Lea, put it: ‘It is somewhat instructive, indeed, to observe that in the rise of Papal power to its culmination under Innocent III it was precisely the pontiffs most conspicuous for their enforcement of the rule of celibacy who were likewise most prominent in their assertion of the supremacy, both temporal and spiritual, of the head of the Roman Church’ (9). What had changed?

The consensus is that the definitive Roman Catholic legislation on priestly celibacy appeared in the first half of the twelfth century: notably, in Canon 5 of the First Lateran Council in 1123, reinforced by Canon 7 of the Second Lateran Council in 1139 (10). To get to this point, however, the once Orthodox Church of Rome had had to go through the eleventh century, the key to the understanding of Church history in Western Europe.

As long ago as 1940 the German scholar Gerd Tellenbach called the events of the second half (specifically the second and not the first half) of the eleventh century, ‘a revolution in world history’ (11). More recently another scholar wrote that the events of the middle of the second half of the eleventh century saw ‘the emergence of a new ideology that rejects the results of several centuries of development (12).

Perhaps the first symbol of the forthcoming change was the custom which began in the early eleventh century of investing bishops with a ring. A novelty, this custom was supposed to symbolise the marriage of the bishop to the Church (13). This was a dangerous precedent, because theologically it suggested that the Bridegroom of the Church was no longer Christ, but the bishop. In other words, Christ was being supplanted by human beings. We shall look at the dangerous and erroneous theology behind this later.

In fact it was only under Pope St (sic) Leo IX (1048–1054), responsible for the 1054 Schism from the Orthodox Church, that clerical marriage was actually prohibited. It was this German Pope, Leo IX, alias Bruno of Egisheim, who decreed in full Roman Synod after Easter 1049 that all Roman women who ‘associated with clerics’ should become serfs of the Lateran! (14). Here he also commanded all clergy and laity to abstain from communion with priests and deacons who were guilty of ‘fornication’ (i.e. marriage). At the Synod of Mainz in October 1049, he again proscribed ‘the detestable marriage of priests’. All in major orders who kept ‘a concubine’ (i.e. a wife) were to be banished from the sanctuary (15).

Interestingly, Leo’s right hand man was none other than another notorious German monk from Lorraine, Humbert, Bishop of Silva Candida. In 1054 it was this Humbert who in his bull of excommunication, left on the altar of Agia Sophia in Constantinople, dared to excommunicate the Patriarch of Constantinople for being Orthodox! In that selfsame bull, he also included a reference to the error’ (sic) of the Orthodox Church in permitting and defending the marriage of priests (15) The same fanatic also wrote a furious onslaught against an Orthodox treatise by a monk of the Monastery of the Studion in Constantinople, Nicetas Pectoratos. The latter had attacked the heterodox practice of prohibiting and even dissolving the marriage of priests. Here Humbert actually termed clerical marriage ‘adultery’ (15).

Leo IX was followed by another German Pope, Victor II (1055–1057), alias Gebhard of Dollnstein-Hirschberg, who continued Leo’s policy and on 4 June 1055 anathematised clerical marriage. He in turn was succeeded by Frederick of Lorraine who took the name of Stephen IX (1057–1058), who was succeeded by an Antipope Benedict X, then Nicholas II (1058–1061), alias Gerard of Lorraine, and then Alexander II (1061–1073) who sponsored the barbaric slaughter in England by William the Bastard. All continued Leo’s policy of compulsory priestly celibacy.

Alexander was followed by another man of Germanic parentage, Hildebrand, alias St (sic) Gregory VII (1073–1085). Under the influence of the chief Papal theoretician of the age, St (sic) Peter Damian (1007–72), it was this Pope who really changed everything definitively. A very aggressive individual, he dogmatised clerical celibacy, making definitive the efforts of Leo IX and all those Popes who had succeeded him. He laid the foundations for all that was to follow, the two Lateran Councils mentioned above and then the culmination of Papal power at the end of the twelfth century under Innocent III. Gregory VII’s motives were threefold. First and foremost, they were moral, since he considered that clerical marriage was adultery. Secondly, they were material – a celibate clergy would not have possessions to pass on to their children and thus property would be inherited by the Church. Thirdly, they were political: a celibate clergy would be subject only to the Pope and would therefore not have dealings with the world.

The Resistance Movement: The Pope ‘A Heretic’

Obviously the rest of the Orthodox Church condemned the errors of the schismatics in Rome. However, inside the Roman Patriarchate itself, a healthy resistance movement, based on Western Orthodox Tradition, also began to emerge. Thus, around 1065, an unknown writer in northern France with an Orthodox theological conscience argued that clerical marriages were chaste and sincere, ‘not, as the authors of the new dogma claim, adulterous or even illicit’ (16). Furthermore, he added: ‘Just as the Apostle says, ‘A woman who is with another man while her husband is alive shall be considered an adulteress (Romans 7, 3), so a church which unjustly rejects the priest, who is lawfully joined to her is an adulteress, if she is with an alien priest while her own is alive. Therefore, those who call for a boycott of masses performed by married priests are all adulterers and a worthless band of liars’ (16).

A writer from the same period who may have lived in Rouen in northern France, and known as ‘The Norman Anonymous’, also confessed the more ancient tradition of clerical marriage, even defending episcopal marriage. In a work called On Holy Virginity and the Marriage of Priests, he wrote: ‘For the Apostle also taught that it is proper for a bishop to be a man of one wife which he would hardly have taught if, as some people assert, it were adultery for a bishop to have both a wife and a church – as it were, two wives – at the same time’ (16). In another work, On the Consecration of Prelates and Kings, the same author also countered in Orthodox wise the argument of the reformers that a priest was the bridegroom of the Church: ‘Holy Church is the wife or bride not of the clergy but of Christ’ (16).

The later energetic campaigns of the above-mentioned Pope Gregory VII in favour of celibacy also led to sharp opposition on the part of those with a traditional consciousness. Thus, probably at a Council in Paris in 1074, a pro-celibacy Abbot, St (sic) Walter of Pontoise, had to defend himself against the overwhelming majority of those present who declared the Pope’s decree against married priests unsupportable and unreasonable, so that it should not be obeyed. Walter was actually seized and carried off to the royal palace (17).

Meanwhile in Germany, according to the Chronicler Lampert of Hersfeld, the whole company of the clergy was incensed by Gregory’s demands for celibacy. For them the Pope was palpably heretical and a proclaimer of insensate teaching. He was trying to make men live as angels: through his demands he would loosen the reins of fornication and all uncleanness.17 In October 1074 Archbishop Siegfrid of Mainz, under pressure from Gregory, tried to enforce clerical celibacy before the fury of a recalcitrant clergy. At Erfurt he held a Synod at which not a single bishop supported him.17 In 1075 Siegfrid tried again. The reaction this time was so violent that he barely escaped with his life. Also in 1075 another German Bishop, Otto of Constance, saw his clergy utterly reject the directives from Rome and on 26 December 1075 Bishop Altmann of Passau provoked a riot from which he too only just managed to escape.17

At some point between 1074 and 1079 a document entitled Epistola de Continentia Clericorum (‘A Letter on Clerical Continence’) was written in Germany. This asserted that the imposition of celibacy was illegitimate, wrongful, uncanonical and injudicious (17). It said that the Pope was, as in the past, to commend, but not command, continence. Compulsion was alien to Scripture and the Canons. Quoting the First OEcumenical Council, it recorded prophetically that enforced celibacy was fraught with moral perils and would simply raise the danger of scandal (18). Fliche, the author of the classic three-volume history of Gregory VII, summed up the resistance to Gregorian compulsory celibacy that: ‘In Germany, France and the Anglo-Norman State, clerics rejected the law on church celibacy with astounding unanimity’. (19).

However, most resistance came from those who simply ignored the decrees of Rome. ‘The remarks of the lawyers make it amply plain ... clerical ‘concubinage’ was frequently and openly practised virtually throughout the medieval period’ (20). It is indeed clear from literature and official documents of the period that right up to the Reformation most Catholic clergy had wives. When the Reformation came, large numbers of clergy simply continued to live as before, with their wives, but now officially and openly. Only a few of them, senior clerics, took the opportunity to marry: the others did not need to, since they were already married and always had been. Indeed it seems likely that it was only with the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation that clerical celibacy began to be enforced in actual practice throughout the Catholic world.

Theological Comment

There is little doubt that the whole movement towards compulsory clerical celibacy is indeed linked with those revolutionary changes in the West during the eleventh century, the results of ‘a new ideology’. And the only new ideology of the time is the filioque, which provides a new model of God the Holy Trinity, revolutionary in its implications. Introduced in Rome in 1009 or 1014, it is the filioque that grants all authority to the Papacy. For it asserts that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Christ in a context in which the Pope is claimed to be the Vicar or Substitute of an absent Christ. No wonder this was the century when the Papacy and the whole Roman Patriarchate split away from the Orthodox Church. What are the links between the new ideology of the filioque and clerical celibacy?

One of the main arguments of the celibacy party was that a priest is the Bridegroom of the Church. Therefore if he marries, he commits adultery, for he is already married to the Church. The fallacies of this argument are particularly absurd. Firstly, since the Church is the Body of Christ, it is clear that only Christ can be the Bridegroom of the Church. Secondly, if every priest is ‘married’ to the Church, then this makes the Church into an adulteress.

On the other hand, once filioque theology is introduced, the whole bridegroom theory and celibacy argument makes sense:

If Christ is absent (why else would a Vicar of Christ have to be appointed in Rome?), then according to the filioque, the Holy Spirit must also be absent. It then follows that all spiritual authority must proceed from the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.

In turn, this spiritual authority must trickle down from the Pope to everyone appointed by and obedient to the Pope, his bishops, and then in turn from the bishops through ordination to the individual priests appointed by them. Therefore, every single priest replaces Christ, is a vicar of Christ, as long as he is obedient to the Pope, from whom spiritual authority proceeds.

Thus, instead of Christ, the priesthood becomes the collective Bridegroom of the Church. Therefore, like Christ, priests do not marry. The priesthood is the Church. The Church is replaced by the priesthood. Christ is replaced by the clergy – hence clericalism is born. The priest no longer has a mere liturgical and sacramental role in the name of Christ. It is no longer the case that the priest represents Christ, he actually is Christ.

From here comes that curious (and heretical) expression still used today, that one who is ordained is ‘entering the Church’. For, according to the logic of the filioque, the Church is not the Body of Christ, irradiated by the Holy Spirit, but rather the Church is constituted of clerics, headed by a senior cleric, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.


‘Written before the splits and divisions that have so marred the history of the Church’.

Douglas Dales, in his introduction to his anthology of Pre-Schism English spirituality, Christ the Golden-Blossom

Today, as we have mentioned in our introduction to this brief survey, Catholicism is in deep crisis. In southern Europe, Latin America and Africa, probably most Catholic clergy have unofficial wives. Perhaps after the present Pope, with possible decentralisation of the Papacy, local Synods will openly acknowledge this and married priests with their families will be able to come out into the open.

This would help overcome two of the great problems of Catholicism. On the one hand there is the misogyny felt by women with the imposition of clerical celibacy. On the other hand there is the inevitable reaction to this misogyny – the contemporary movement inside Catholicism to admit women to the priesthood. And on account of the filioquist clericalism inherited by the Protestants, the Protestants too of course have the same problems and have admitted female clergy, including ‘bishopesses’.

Where priests are married, women are inevitably involved in church life in a way that they can never be when all priests are celibate. In the Greek Orthodox Church even the words for a priest’s wife and a deacon’s wife recall this: They are ‘presbytera’ and ‘diaconissa’. For this reason, there is no movement inside the Orthodox Church for a female priesthood or diaconate – it already exists (21). On the other hand it is true that there is not so much a shortage of candidates for the diaconate and the priesthood in the Orthodox Church, rather that there is a shortage of suitable candidates to be priests’ and deacons’ wives: a hard task, calling for great self-sacrifice.

Our final conclusion must lie in our belief that the tragic error of the Papacy in enforcing clerical celibacy is linked to the filioque heresy. Again and again we call on Roman Catholicism to abandon its essentially worldly errors, especially the filioque, and to return to the ancient practices of the Early Church, to the Seven OEcumenical Councils, to the First Christian Millennium, to Christian Orthodoxy. May it be so.


1. See Fox, especially Chapter 5, 10 and pp 189–197. See also Sipe, especially Chapter 7 and p. 75 and p. 136.

2. See Pogodin, pp. 112–113, who successfully disproves the Roman Catholic disclaimers that this is so.

3. Pogodin, pp. 127–8.

4. Lea, p. 94.

5. Brundage, p. 150.

6. Pogodin, pp 125–6.

7. See Richard E. Sullivan, ‘The Carolingian Age: Reflections on its Place in the History of the Middle Ages’, Speculum 64 (1989), pp. 267–306.

8. R. W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages, London 1959, p. 271.

9. Lea, p. 279.

10. See Paul Beaudette’s Essay on Clerical Celibacy in Frassetto, pp. 23–24.

11. See Tellenbach, Church, State and Christian Society, Oxford, 1940, p. 111.

12. Norman F. Cantor, ‘The Crisis of Western Monasticism, 1050–1130’, in American Historical Review 66 (1960), p. 327.

13. Blumenthal, pp. 35 and 52.

14. See Blumenthal’s Essay on ‘Gregory VII and the Prohibition of Clerical Marriage’ in Frassetto, p. 243.

15. See H. Cowdray’s Essay on Gregory VII and Clerical Chastity in Frassetto, pp. 269–70.

16. See M. McLaughlin’s Essay on ‘The Bishop as Bridegroom’ in Frassetto, pp. 225–6.

17. Cowdray in Frassetto, pp. 287–288.

18. Voeikov quotes an instance in seventeenth century Eastern Poland where peasants were asked to point out the difference between Catholics and Orthodox. They replied that Orthodox priests had one wife, but that Catholic priests had ten! See N. N. Voeikov, The Church, Russia and Rome, Jordanville, 1983, Part II, Chapter IV (In Russian).

19. Fliche, Vol II, p. 167.

20. Bullough and Brundage, p. 126.

21.Those inside the Church with an Orthodox consciousness find the idea of a female priesthood amusing rather then shocking. There are however a number of individual converts from outside the Church who are in favour of a female Orthodox priesthood. For example the former French Protestant pastor E. Behr-Sigel with one or two other octogenarian representatives of the ‘Paris School’.


Of an immense bibliography, the following works have been consulted in particular. Apart from classics like Fliche and Lea, most are fairly recent works of scholarship and starting points for further research.

Blumenthal, U. R., The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century, Philadelphia, 1988

Brundage, J., Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, Chicago 1987

Bullough, V. L. and Brundage J., Eds., Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church, Buffalo 1982.

Fliche, La Reforme Gregorienne (3 vv.), Paris, 1927–1934)

Fox, T. C., Sexuality and Catholicism, New York, 1995

Frassetto M., Ed., Medieval Purity and Piety , New York, 1998

Lea H. C., History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church (4th Ed.), New York, 1996

Llewellyn Barstow, A., Married Priests and the reforming Papacy: the Eleventh-Century Debates, New York-Toronto, 1982

Moore, R.I., The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe 950–1250, Oxford and New York, 1987

Pogodin Archimandrite Ambrose, ‘Laws on Marriage and Priestly Celibacy in the Eastern and Western Churches from the First to the Eleventh Centuries’, in Provoslavny Put, Jordanville 1961 (The best survey in Russian)

Sipe, A.W., Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, New York, 1995

Tellenbach, The Church in Western Europe from the Tenth to the early Twelfth Century, Cambridge–New York, 1993


Introduction: The Situation Before And Immediately After 1050

As we have already described in our previous article on this theme, clerical, particularly priestly, celibacy was recommended in Western Europe throughout the First Millennium (1). However, nowhere was it imposed until about 1050 and clerical marriage was outlawed only in 1139. Let us first look at a few examples which illustrate the Tradition of the First Millennium.

In 742, Pope Zacharias wrote to St Boniface, the Evangeliser of the German lands, where all manner of moral abuses were rife, that on no account were priests to have more than one wife (2). In the ninth, tenth and early eleventh centuries, priests were still marrying publicly, even though the rule of the Church, as Pope Zacharias had made clear in 742, was that although married men could become priests, priests could not marry (2). In the tenth century most rural priests were married and many urban clergy, bishops and priests, had wives and children (3). And in the eleventh century one of the opponents of the married priesthood, Peter Damian wrote of a priest who had decided to take a second wife, gathering his friends and offering a feast, where he exchanged wedding vows (4).

All this changed from about 1050 on with the imposition by the new, centralized Papacy of compulsory clerical celibacy. This imposition had been begun by a Lotharingian, Pope Leo IX (1049–1054) and his three lieutenants, Hildebrand, Peter Damian and Humbert of Silva Candida. The latter was responsible for implementing the Western Schism in Constantinople, where the charges laid against the Orthodox Church included priestly marriage. Humbert likened the Orthodox Church to ‘the brothel of Jezebel’, declaring all priestly marriage ‘a heresy’ (5). (Interestingly, there was a fair amount of hypocrisy in this, since Leo IX was himself was reported not to live chastely (6). Clerical celibacy was later more extensively imposed by Leo’s German successors, particular in the 1070s by Hildebrand, known to history as Pope Gregory VII. Finally, priestly celibacy was promulgated officially in Canon Law by the Second Lateran Council in 1139.

In this article we shall look in detail at the Orthodox resistance movement to the imposition of clerical celibacy in the Church in the West in the second half of the eleventh century.

Initial Resistance in South-Western Europe

The first case of resistance seems to have come in Italy itself. Here under Pope Stephen IX (1057–58), the Archbishop of Spalato refused to give up his wife, publicly defending his marriage on the grounds that the Orthodox Church in the East still permitted it. (Until the twelfth century there were indeed still isolated but tolerated cases of episcopal marriage in the Orthodox Church in the East, as the famous Orthodox canonist Nikodim Milash points out). For his insubordination the Archbishop was demoted by the Pope and Stephen IX declared that the practice of priestly marriage of the Orthodox Church in the East was no longer acceptable to Rome (7). Indeed, Peter Damian, debating with clergy who argued for marriage on the basis of the Canons of the Sixth OEcumenical Council, was later to deny that those canons had ever been accepted in the West (8).

This situation presaged other Italian resistance headed by another Bishop, Ulric of Imola, in c. 1060. The latter composed a document called the Rescript, the first known defence of clerical marriage to be written in six hundred years (9). This fact alone, to which we shall return later, is of interest. It shows that since between the fifth and eleventh centuries no defence of clerical marriage had ever been written, it was because there had been no need to defend clerical marriage. It had been accepted as a normal part of the natural course of Church life. True, it is also possible that other protests had already been composed after 1050, but many such writings could have been destroyed, as ordered by the later Roman Synod of 1079 (10). In any event, Bishop Ulric’s epistle, known as the Rescript, was written in response to a celibacy decree of Pope Nicholas II of 1059. In it Bishop Ulric used several arguments to defend clerical marriage.

Firstly, he maintained that the clergy had always been permitted marriage and the Pope had no right to forbid it. In this respect he referred to the authority of the Scriptures, the ‘dictates of the Holy Spirit’. (Matthew 19, 11–12, I Corinthians 7, Timothy 3, 1–12) (11). He then referred to Fathers, such as Blessed Jerome (12) and Augustine, and the Canons, notably Canon VI of the Holy Apostles, instructing bishops and priests not to leave their wives. In characteristic Orthodox fashion, summing up the whole spirit of the First Millennium of the Orthodox Christian West, he warned that the Papacy was pursuing a dangerous course in placing itself above the authority of the Scriptures and the holy Fathers.

Secondly, Bishop Ulric employed moral arguments. He asserted that if marriage were forbidden, priests would fall into sins worse than mere fornication, ‘not abhorring the embrace of other men, or even of animals’ (13). This argument appears not to have been fantastic. According to one study (14), homosexuality flourished among clerics between 1050 and 1150. Indeed this author suggests that homosexuals may have come to rule in Rome at this time and the imposition of clerical celibacy was their revenge on heterosexuals. The fact is that there was in this period no legislation whatsoever against homosexuality. The author suggests that figures such as Anselm of Canterbury and his pupils, Pope Alexander II and Archbishop Lanfranc, Archbishops Ralph of Tours and his boyfriend Bishop John of Orleans, Bishop Longchamp of Ely and Ailred of Rievaulx were all homosexuals. Several married clerical writers certainly saw in this age a homosexual conspiracy against them (15).

Thirdly, Bishop Ulric ended his Rescript with a historical, pro-marriage monastic argument from OEcumenical sources. He recounted the well-known story of how at the First OEcumenical Council the imposition of clerical celibacy had been fiercely opposed by the Egyptian monk Paphnutius.

Initial Resistance in North-Western Europe

In c. 1065 the arguments of Bishop Ulric were taken up by another writer, this time an Italian living in Normandy. The latter composed a treatise entitled: Tractatus pro Clericorum Connubio, defending clerical marriage. He repeated familiar arguments that marriage had always been allowed to the clergy, that it was a remedy against fornication, that marriage is good in itself and that the Papal reforms went against Tradition. However, to these he added references to the Council of Ancyra of 314, which affirms that marriage was permitted to all clergy who had not taken a vow of chastity. He also referred to the authority of other pro-marriage Councils, notably those of Gangra, Carthage, Toledo and Chalcedon, as well as the pro-marriage decrees of Popes Siricius, Leo I and Gregory I and Fathers such as Blessed Augustine. He called the Papal party ‘hypocrites, adulterers, demolishers of the Canons, authors of novel dogma and disturbers of the peace’ (16).

The above treatise was used in another later Norman treatise of c. 1075 called A Treatise on Grace. For its clerical author, celibacy was a gift of God not given to all, and the results of compulsory celibacy were sodomy and incest (17): ‘Since the Apostle permits and indulges others to have wives on account of fornication, why are we, who are made from the same matter and assume the same sin of the flesh from Adam’s sin, not permitted by the same indulgence to have wives, but instead must suffer to send them away?’ (18). Seeing no difference between clergy and laity in this respect, the author suggested that clergy like laity should, as before, continue to abstain from sexual relations only on the eves of Sundays and solemn vigils, and in this he appealed to the authority of the Orthodox Church in the East (19). Attacking the hypocrisy of the Papal reformers, he suggested that their interest was not morality, but the assertion of authority, of power. They merely wished, he inferred, to enforce celibacy in order to wield greater control over men’s lives (20). In this respect the author rightly saw in the whole Gregorian Reform a different ecclesiology, or understanding of the Church, to that which had always prevailed in the West up until that time. He saw all clerics as equal in their service to the laity, whereas the Gregorians were obsessed with hierarchical authority and superiority and with forcing obedience from others.

Popular and Clerical Resistance all over Western Europe

However, the most vigorous reaction to the imposition of clerical celibacy came not from learned authors, but from the streets, especially in Italy. In Milan, many clergy and laity rioted against the Papal legates, Peter Damian and Anselm of Lucca. At Lodi, Damian’s life was threatened when he tried to convince priests to leave their wives. When the same Damian met a group of Italian bishops, they defended their right to be married, declaring that otherwise they would be forced to live in sin. The same occurred in Tuscany where parish priests insisted that their marriages were canonical (21). Twenty-five years later, the situation remained the same, and, not only in Italy, the majority of parish priests and some bishops continued to be married and raise families.

When Pope Gregory VII again tried to enforce celibacy in Italy in 1076, the cities of Piacenza, Lodi, Florence and Turin were in turmoil over the Papal attack on married priests. In that same year, when bishops from northern Italy met to condemn the Pope, the main charges laid against him were: that he separated wives from husbands; that he showed no respect for the marriage bond; and that so he forced respectable married men to live in sin, despite the Gospel injunction that ‘what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (22).

This situation was hardly unique. In 1076 the same Pope Gregory VII was obliged to suspend four French bishops and in Germany excommunicate the Archbishop of Mainz for defending clerical marriage. In Italy all the bishops of Lombardy, Cardinal Hugh Candidus and the Archbishops of Ravenna and Narbonne were suspended from all priestly functions (23). So desperate was the Papacy that its apologists, like Peter Damian, Bernold of Constance and Manegold of Lautenbach, not only declared that married priests were heretics, but also considered that those who did not shun the sacraments of married priest should be anathematized. Thus they themselves fell into heresy, placing themselves above the Conciliar, Catholic voice of the Church by breaking the Canons of the Council of Gangra which had declared exactly the opposite (24).

Another Papal polemicist, Bonizo of Sutri, appointed Bishop of Piacenza in c. 1088, was met with fierce resistance, attacked, blinded and so severely mutilated that he never recovered. Although these reactions were obviously extreme and unjustifiable, they were not unique. For example, many priests’ wives, desperate at their plight and the possible financial and legal fate of their children (now suddenly declared to be bastards) reacted in this way. Some, separated from their husbands, committed suicide, others physically attacked bishops who tried to separate them. One, maddened by the destruction of her marriage, was said to have poisoned the wife of the secular lord who had enforced her separation (25). In 1072 in Normandy, where clerical celibacy was first heard of in 1055, the arrogant Archbishop of Lisieux had been stoned and barely escaped with his life.

Resistance in North Western Europe in the Later Eleventh Century

We have seen opposition to compulsory clerical celibacy in the third quarter of the eleventh century. At first this was in Italy and later in Normandy, which were then the foremost centres of ecclesiastical life and study. However, by the last quarter of the eleventh century, opposition had spread elsewhere over north-western Europe.

Firstly, to Cambrai in northern France: here in 1078 a group of married clergy also wrote against clerical celibacy. Using the material already in circulation from Bishop Ulric in Italy and wrote to other married clergy in Rheims. To support their arguments, they quoted St Paphnutius, St Isidore of Seville and Blessed Augustine and the writings of St Dionysius the Areopagite. They wrote that the laity now despised them as clergy because they were married. The Papal movement and the celibacy legislation of 1074 to discredit married clergy and their sacraments was having perverse effects. The Cambrai clergy particularly castigated their Bishop, Gerald II, for slavishly introducing the intolerable legislation. In 1077 opposition had become such that a man named Ramhird who had promoted clerical celibacy in Cambrai was actually declared a heretic and burned to death. From here revolt spread to another French town, Noyon. Quoting the Council of Ancyra, priests here expressed outrage against legislation forbidding priests’ sons, albeit celibate, to be ordained. The Papal celibacy decree of 1074 provoked revolt in many other places too. When it was read out at the Synod of Paris in 1074, it was rejected as insupportable. In Germany too it caused uproar, notably at Mainz.

The legislation forbidding the sons of priests to be ordained led to particularly strong revolt all over France, for instance at Poitiers in 1078 and Clermont in 1095. In Normandy in c. 1100 there appeared a written polemic called Defensio pro Filiis Presbyterorum (An Apology for the Sons of Priests), written by one Serlo, himself a priest’s son and canon of Bayeux. Deeming the innovation of clerical celibacy as damnable, he used a new argument against it – that since baptism cleanses from sin, to call priests’ sons unclean insults the sacrament of baptism.

He also openly accused the celibacy party of being sodomites. As in the older generation as we have seen above, he was not the only writer of the new generation to see in the whole celibacy issue a plot of homosexuals against heterosexuals. Notably, Serlo asked the very relevant question of why the celibacy party were so liberal about homosexuality. A poem of that period, though not by Serlo reads: ‘No dumb animal is drawn to this evil ... you are driven by a lust which all of nature abhors’ (26).

A third line of argument of Serlo was his condemnation of the inhuman legalism of the celibates and their obsessive commitment to control of the Church through legalism. Here he contrasted in Orthodox wise the grace of the Church (the power of the Holy Spirit) with the Papal power of manmade decrees.

It must also be added that many defenders of clerical marriage of the time also were monks. One of the best known was Sigebert of Gembloux who wrote a very influential Apologia as early as c.1074, which relied largely on the works of Blessed Augustine of Hippo. He called the reforms of the Gregorians, which had caused great social unrest, ‘unheard-of novelties’, and was particularly disturbed by the revolt of the laity against married clergy. He attacked the Pope himself, whom he accused of glorifying his own office, claiming to speak for God but actually speaking for his own ambition. Sigebert accused all the celibacy party of hypocrisy and destroying the unity of the Church (27).

Slightly later, in 1080 another writer, Wenric of Trier in Germany, drew up similar challenges to Gregory VII. He too chastised the Pope for creating disorder in the Church by assaulting the validity of the sacraments of married clergy. In particular he accused the Pope of hypocrisy, asserting that, though a monk, the Pope had caused arms to be taken up, blood to flow and had grown rich by so doing. Again in Germany, the monks of Lorsch, writing in 1111, stated that the celibacy party were forcing celibacy on honest clerics, that in the Bible God Himself had established marriage from the creation of the world and declared marital union indissoluble.

Resistance in England

In England, on the other hand, where clerical celibacy was only imposed once the Norman Occupants had settled in the twelfth century, it is recorded that one quarter of the Canons of St Paul’s were still married in about 1100. Moreover, at least eight of them passed on their benefices to their sons, though after 1150, there was only one ‘hereditary’ appointment (28).

Furthermore, it was in England that the final author of this period, a Norman priest, probably married and probably from Rouen, wrote against compulsory clerical celibacy. He is known to historians as the Norman Anonymous and wrote at the very end of the period under review, in or soon after 1100 (29). Famed for his writings on kingship and his ideological position that only kings and not bishops should exercise secular power he also wrote against compulsory celibacy.

One of his main arguments against forced celibacy was the question of Divine Will: ‘The word which God sows in our hearts teaches who should be virgins and who should create the fruits of marriage ...those who destroy this natural order sin’ (30). In other words since marriage is willed by God, it can only be man’s will to forbid it. The Papacy is actually sinning in going against the Will of God, as expressed in the Scriptures. The Anonymous relies especially on the views of the Apostle Paul that marriage is better than fornication, the views of Blessed Augustine on the goodness of procreation and the sacramentality of marriage, as well as the authority of the OEcumenical Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and the local Councils of Carthage and Toledo. So far does he condemn the Papacy that he describes the Papal party as ‘the Church of Satan’, doomed to hell, whereas the elect are those who live by the Spirit (31).

The Fruits of the Destruction of Clerical Marriage

The onslaught on clerical marriage in the second half of the eleventh century in Western Europe had many consequences. These can be seen in the social and cultural transformations in Western Europe in the first half of the twelfth century.

a) Clericalism

First of all, there is the development of clericalism. The eucharist came to be seen as a miracle dependent on the priest. It became part of his private devotion, the ‘low mass’ As a result the chalice was denied to the ‘impure’ (i.e. married) laity and the prerequisite for any kind of church activity became celibacy. Moreover the prestige of the priesthood grew enormously. It was from the eleventh century on that the diaconate ceased to exist in the Western Church (why be a deacon, when you can have the ‘prestige’, and pay, of the priesthood?) In the same way, from this time on in the West virtually all monks, who are actually laity by virtue of not being ordained, came to be ordained as priests. Even today, this clericalism is still alive, when Non-Orthodox say of someone who has been ordained that he ‘has entered the Church’. As though laypeople were not in the Church!

b) Clerical Power

This forced celibacy was one of the keystones of Papal and therefore clerical power. The more absolutist the Papacy, the greater its insistence on celibacy. For example, Gregory VII, Calixtus II, Alexander III and Innocent IV are recognised as the most powerful Popes of the Middle Ages, but they are also the Popes who battled most stubbornly for clerical celibacy. The heights of power which Catholicism was assuming were not available to men whose loyalties were shared with women and children. The Western clergy became an all-male club. As regards the laity, by the twelfth century it had lost all power and respect, for it was ‘sullied’ by marriage. The celibacy of the clergy resulted for two centuries, from about 1100 to 1300, in the absolute and centralized control by the Papacy of the world, of the laity. Thus, by the beginning of the thirteenth century all church appointments at every level were being made directly in Rome. The clergy had become a race apart.

c) Anti-Clericalism

The inevitable result of all this, and it is seen already in the early twelfth century, was Western anti-clericalism. A priesthood that set itself apart from and above the rest of society, would inevitably fall, especially since its claims were based on the ability (or rather inability) of men to force themselves to be celibate, their greatest weakness. From the twelfth century on, lay reform groups spread like wildfire throughout the West. Groups like the Waldensians and the Wycliffites were already expressing a primitive Protestantism. The old tenth-century view, still the Orthodox one today, of the pastor-priest who works alongside his flock, and is not set aside from it and above it, was lost. Anti-clericalism was (and is) expressed with vigour by many Protestant sects and also later became a vital tenet of various left-wing political groups. The roots of modern ideological anticlericalism are here in the Western Middle Ages.

d) Misogyny

The next result, which flowed clearly from this first one, is anti-feminism. Given that clergy were to be celibate, the enemy of all men could only be their natural attraction to women. But now women were to take all the blame for men’s natural weakness. ‘The clergy equated women with insatiable sexuality, irrationality and demonic temptation ... the systematic defilement of women was intended to win the clergy back to celibacy’ (33). From about 1100 women’s rights were more and more curtailed, even in monastic communities and misogyny everywhere prevailed (34). This period marked a low point in female status in Western Europe. Women were now either untouchable saints, goddesses on pedestals, ‘Mediatrixes’, like the statues of the Virgin Mary, or else they were irredeemably wicked, presaging the downfall of all men with their pure evil, like Eve. The polarization between Mary and Eve had never been so strong.

Interestingly, this ethos continued and was even reinforced after the Reformation by Calvinistic Puritanism which inherited hatred of women, for example in their witch-burnings, from mediæval Catholicism. This then expanded into a hatred of the whole material world, which was the basis for Capitalism with its exploitative attitude towards the natural, material world. (It is no coincidence that modern feminism is deeply anti-Capitalist). Moreover, given that only men can be clerics, the power-complexes developed by a clericalist organisation were quite logically considered to be inherently anti-woman. Clericalism, whether Catholic or inherited by Protestants from Catholicism, is what lies behind the modern desire of some women to become clerics. In reality, being a cleric brings no prestige or power whatsoever. However, being in a clericalist organization does bring power and prestige, of which women are deprived.

e) The Pietism of Frustration

The development of the unhealthy pietism of sexual frustration can be seen in the spread of devotional literature of the period. This is particularly clear among the Cistercians, but later among other groups. This literature took on an individualistic and even erotic aspect. Some of the natural sensuality of men became channelled into new literary forms, especially in devotion to the ‘Virgin Mary’. She now represented the female principle in the lives of clergy. It was at this time indeed that the title ‘Mother of God’ (Genitrix or Mater Dei) seems to have started to disappear in the West and the title Virgin Mary (valid in itself, though incomplete) began to be used almost exclusively. This is especially evident in the writings of Ailred of Rievaulx and Bernard of Clairvaux. Later it appears in the sensual religious portraits of the Virgin, who came to be depicted as a sort of mediæval beauty queen. This pietism, with its eroticized spirituality was very influential among religious women, described increasingly as ‘brides of Christ’ in literature which depicted spiritual union with Christ in a sexual language (32). This unhealthy and sentimental pietism was inherited by many branches of Protestantism after the Reformation.


Lutheran, Popish, Calvinistic,
All these creeds and doctrines three,
Extant are; but still the doubt is,
where Christianity may be.

Poetic Aphorisms, Longfellow

It seems clear today that the only hope of survival for Roman Catholicism is in a return to the pre-Gregorian priesthood. It is time to admit that the authoritarianism of institutionalized religions, whichever they may be, no longer meets with respect or corresponds to the pastoral needs of today. Absolutist power is now a hollow myth and together with it in the case under review, compulsory clerical celibacy. The perversions of homosexuality and pædophilia have been encouraged, not discouraged, by forced celibacy, a most unnatural imposition, as Roman Catholicism, almost bankrupted by lawsuits for pædophilia, is discovering worldwide.

True, the Church recommends chastity, obedience and humility. But of these humility is the most important, followed by the obedience which results from humility, and only then chastity. The imposition of chastity and obedience without humility leads to disaster, as is witnessed to by a whole Millennium of Western clerical history. It is time to return to Traditional Christianity, to Orthodoxy.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.


1. Priestly celibacy is the celibacy of priests only. Clerical celibacy is the celibacy of all clerics, including readers, subdeacons, deacons, priest and bishops. The imposition of clerical celibacy is the main reason why all clerical orders below that of priest virtually disappeared in Catholicism until their very recent revival.

2. Ep. 51, MGH Ep. Select.

3. Lea pp. 118 and 126

4. Quoted in Amann et Dumas, p. 478

5. Humbert, Adversus Nicetam , PL 143. 983–1000

6. Barstow, p. 53

7. Lea, p. 220

8. Barstow, p. 55

9. Fliche Vol III, 1–12

10. Bernold, Chronicon, MGH 55 V. 436

11. Barstow, p. 107

12. Jerome, In Lamentationes Ieremiae 11.7 (PL 25. 787–92)

13. Quoted in Barstow, p. 112

14. Boswell, pp. 210–227

15. Boswell, p. 217

16. Quoted in Barstow, p. 118

17. Barstow, p.120

18. Quoted in Barstow, p. 121

19. Barstow, p. 122

20. Barstow, p. 122

21. Damian, PL 144, 359–361

22. Quoted in Barstow, p. 72

23. Lea, p. 195

24. In Moralium Libro 35.14, c. 28. PL. 76 765

25. PL 148. 71–72, 108

26. Boswell, pp. 398–400

27. Barstow, p. 149

28. Barstow, p. 97

29. Barstow, p. 157

30. Quoted in Barstow, p. 157

31. Quoted in Barstow, p. 164

32. Bugge, Chapter IV

33. Quoted in Barstow, p. 179

34. Barstow, p. 180

Selected Bibliography

Amann E. and Dumas A., L’Eglise au Pouvoir des Laics: 888–1057, Paris, Bloud et Gay, 1940.

Barstow Anne Llewellyn, Married Priests and the Reforming Papacy: The Eleventh Century Debates, New York, 1982.

Boswell J., Christianity, Sexual Tolerance and Homosexuality , Chicago, 1980

Bugge J., Virginitas: The History of a Medieval Idea (sic), The Hague, 1975

Fliche A., La Reforme Gregorienne, 3 Vols, Louvain 1924–1937

Lea H. C., History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, Third Edition, London 1907.

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