According to a BBC article:

the First and Second Lateran Councils of 1123 and 1139 explicitly forbade priests from marrying - so we are almost past 1,000 years since the Catholic Church has maintained male celibate priests.

Eliminating the prospect of marriage ensured that children or wives of priests did not make claims on property acquired throughout a priest's life, which thus could be retained by the Church.

It took centuries for the practice of celibacy to become widespread, but it eventually became the norm in the Western Catholic Church.

Is this historically, supported? Or at least, considered a major or the major motive?

  • Not an answer because I have no sources, but it's definitely something I've heard many times before, and once in school history class some 20+ years ago.
    – Joe
    Jun 17, 2019 at 18:24
  • Relevant articles: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… and en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saeculum_obscurum
    – Golden Cuy
    Jun 17, 2019 at 22:18
  • 8
    This sounds like a good candidate for History.SE. In fact it has already been asked and answered
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 18, 2019 at 2:44
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    I am concerned that this is a individual motivation question, and hence off-topic. @Geremia's answer illustrates this, in that it tries to infer the motivation of an individual based on what they claimed was the reason, which is unreliable.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 19, 2019 at 3:57
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    Priests also make a vow of poverty. They aren't supposed to accumulate wealth and property.
    – user11643
    Jun 19, 2019 at 5:39

1 Answer 1


Terminological precision:

  • Celibate = unmarried (cælebs = single, unmarried)
    • The Church has allowed married men to become priests. St. Peter, for example, was married.
  • Continent = not having sexual relations
    • The Church has
      • always required all (married or celibate) clerics to be 100% continent and
      • never allowed priests to marry after their ordinations.

The earliest condemnation of clerical incontinence is canon 33 of the Spanish Council of Elvira (ca. 305 A.D.):

  1. We decree that all bishops, priests and deacons in the service of the ministry are entirely forbidden to have conjugal relations with their wives and to beget children; should anyone do so, let him be excluded from the honour of the clergy.

Quoted in Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church by Roman Cholij

Prior to Lateran II, clerics could contract valid marriages, but they were illicit (illegal). Lateran II made such marriages also invalid:

  1. Adhering to the path trod by our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs Gregory VII, Urban and Paschal, we prescribe that nobody is to hear the masses of those whom he knows to have wives or concubines. Indeed, that the law of continence and the purity pleasing to God might be propagated among ecclesiastical persons and those in holy orders, we decree that where bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed lay brothers have presumed to take wives and so transgress this holy precept, they are to be separated from their partners. For we do not deem there to be a [valid] marriage which, it is agreed, has been contracted against ecclesiastical law. Furthermore, when they have separated from each other, let them do a penance commensurate with such outrageous behaviour.

Lateran II also condemned

  • simony (buying/selling of ecclesiastical offices):

    1. We decree that if anyone has been ordained simoniacally, he is to forfeit entirely the office which he illicitly usurped.

  • lay control over Church property:

    25. If anyone receives provostships, prebends or other ecclesiastical benefices from the hand of a lay person, let him be deprived of the benefice unworthily received. For the decrees of the holy fathers state that lay people, no matter how devout they may be, have no power of disposal over ecclesiastical property.

  • sons of priests in active ministry:

    21. We decree that sons of priests are to be removed from the ministries of the sacred altar unless they are living religiously in monasteries or canonries.

Thus, the reasons were not purely or primarily economic. The economic malfeasance was only a symptom of a deeper moral corruption.

Pope Innocent II vs. Antipope Anacletus II

Pope Innocent II, who convened Lateran II, was a strong reformer pope who had been in hiding the prior 8 years of Antipope Anacletus II's anti-papacy. Anacletus II came from a rich family who bought him the anti-papacy with a fortune made off economic crimes like usury. So, in this sense economic motives may have played a key role in Pope Innocent II's condemnation of "Nicolaitism" (priests living in marriage).

  • 2
    Is continent the same as chaste?
    – user11643
    Jun 19, 2019 at 5:40
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    @fredsbend For the celibate/unmarried and those bound by a vow of chastity, chastity means perpetual continence. For those in marriage, no. See this classification of the degrees of chastity.
    – Geremia
    Jun 19, 2019 at 17:48
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    @fredsbend Maybe, but the answer also needs to demonstrate (which it currently does not) that continence was the widespread practice or rule across the whole church. And I suspect it wasn't not least because non-catholic traditions have often not had such a rule and it probably wasn't universal canon law until halfway through the Church's history.
    – matt_black
    Jun 20, 2019 at 11:44
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    This looks like a potentially biased view on Innocent II vs Anacletus II. Lines like "Anacletus II came from a rich family who bought him the anti-papacy with a fortune made off economic crimes like usury." require a fair bit of support. Also, "since 305 AD" is not the same as "the church has always".
    – Ben Barden
    Jun 20, 2019 at 13:35
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    Additionally, this does nto answer the question. The question was on the general consensus of historians. Basically every reference you have there is from an explicitly Catholic (and pro-Catholic) source. Obviously, sources like that are never going to conclude "we did it for financial reasons".
    – Ben Barden
    Jun 20, 2019 at 13:39

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