Treasures of Our Catholic Heritage
Roman Catholics are said by their critics to be woefully ignorant of the Bible; the same can be said for their own history. There were certainly a lot of things I later found out about the Church that were surely never mentioned in school.
Back then, I wondered why Sister Perpetua said, “The proof that the Barque of Peter is guided by the Holy Spirit is that it still exists because otherwise it would have been wrecked long ago by some of the bad steersmen it’s had.” Or something to that effect, though she never elaborated. Now I know why.
Much of the history that the good sisters glossed over had to do with the cycles of corruption and reform that overtaken the Roman Church from pew-sitters to popes since its very foundation. Most Catholics and even former Catholics still maintain a somewhat rosily romantic and thoroughly distorted view of the Church’s past. As a corrective, I present here some fruits of my research.
Various sources were used, but primarily the History of Sacerdotal Celibacy within the Christian Church, a mammoth tome written by the eminent American Quaker historian of the Church, Henry Charles Lea, in 1867, around the time of the First Vatican Council. This particular version is a reprint from 1966, when interest had been renewed by the hopes of the Second Vatican Council. It was a reprinting, without most footnotes, of the 1907 edition. I inherited this copy from the late Fr. Dennis Bryan, a very spiritual man and true priest if ever there was one, of an independent Catholic Church. Marks inside indicate that this volume had passed through at least one used bookstore, and that it had been previously owned, ironically enough, by one Fr. Sabine Griego, a Roman Catholic priest who had himself at one time been accused of abuse.
A standard classic, this scholarly history wittily describes the long and “cynical lubricity of unworthy prelates.” It clearly demonstrates that although the rule of celibacy does not go back to Apostolic times in the Christian church, the on-going fight to impose it on Roman Catholic clergy has been unending and largely doomed to failure.
NOTE: This and his other books may be downloaded for free from The Internet Archive.
As a product of high Victorian scholarship, the History of Sacerdotal Celibacy is as verbose and pedantic as one would imagine. Many expressions used here may be unfamiliar to today’s readers. I have eliminated some totally obsolete terms, such as “contemned,” “peccant,” etc. I have simplified some spellings, removed many extraneous words and clauses (indicated by ...), and substituted or added explanatory phrases within square brackets  to make the context clearer.
Terms you should know:
- sacerdotal priestly
- concubine a unmarried woman living intimately with a man.
- solicitation to accost or earnestly ask for sexual relations; specifically, the offence of attempting a seduction particularly under the guise of sacramental confession
- benefice a living derived from a church office
- convent not just a group home for nuns, but also can refer to a rectory and men’s monastery, too.
- regular clergy clergy that lives according to a rule, such as monks, nuns, and members of religious orders, like the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits, as opposed to
- secular clergy clergy out in the world, such as parish priests, bishops, deacons, canons, etc.
- ordinary possessing legal jurisdiction and power in normal circumstances, such as a bishop over his diocese or an abbot over his monastery.
- canons decrees or internal rules of the Church, but also clergy attached to a cathedral
- faculty not the teaching staff at a school, but authorization usually from the local bishop to perform an ecclesiastical function, such as hearing confessions or saying Mass
- vehement ardent, passionate, almost certain. Used technically by the Inquisition to refer to more than a "simple" suspicion of heresy. And if one was "most vehemently" suspected, there was usually a stake waiting.
- contumacious stubbornly or wilfully disobedient. Also used frequently by the Inquisition.
- dispensation permission granted by a higher prelate for an exception to the rules or penalties. Often available, usually expensive. For papal dispensations, see here.
- reserved sins offences deemed so heinous that only higher prelates may forgive them. Some may be reserved for the bishop, usually however, the term refers to those offences that must be referred to Rome. Nowadays, they include such things as striking the Pope, scattering blessed Hosts on the ground, etc. See here for its relation to solicitation.
- simony selling of blessings or religious powers. Basically, money for sacraments, a very popular sin in the Middle Ages.
16. English License
23. Greek Exception
Part II: Corruption, Dissent, Reform
Part III: Solicitation in the Confessional
“Enjoying, apparently, no conception of [an afterlife], the earlier Hebrews had no incentive to sacrifice the pleasures of the world for those of ... heaven, nor was the gross polytheism, which the monotheistic prophets combatted, of a nature to lead to ascetic practices... virginity was regarded almost as a disgrace, and that child-bearing was considered the noblest function of women... even among the orthodox no special sanctity was attached to continence, and that the temporary abstinence from women required of those who handled the hallowed articles of the altar (1 Sam. xxi 4-5) was simply a distinction drawn between the sacerdotal class and the laity...”
Lea, pp. 4-5.
“Among those [Essenes] who did not live as hermits, property was held in common, and marriage was abstained from, and it is to this latter practice doubtless that reference was made by Christ in the text, ‘There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’ ...There can be no doubt at all that John the Baptist was an Essene, James of Jerusalem, brother of Jesus, was... probably an Essene, and Christ himself [may have been] trained... while he is unsparing in his denunciations of the Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, he never utters a word of condemnation of the Essenes.”
“Yet... [Christ forbore] even the ascetiscism of the Essenes... No teacher before him had ventured to form so lofty a conception of the marriage-tie.”
Lea, pp. 8-9.
“No doctor of the Church did more than St. Jerome to impose the rule of celibacy... yet even he admits that at the beginning there was no absolute injunction....”
Lea, pg. 10.
“The world into which Christianity was born was hopelessly corrupt. Licentiousness, probably has never been more defiant than amid the splendours of the early Empire... Suetonius... and... Juvenal depict a society in which purity was scarce understood and in which unchastity was no sin and hardly even a reproach... in the New Testament particular stress is laid upon the avoidance of fornication, especially after the faith began to spread... The early Christians thus were a thoroughly puritan sect... and their lives were a perpetual protest against the licence which reigned around them.”
Lea, pg. 14.
“In [the rise of celibacy], the ascetic ideas of the East had much to do, and chiefly... Buddhism... A curious allusion in St. Jerome to Buddha’s having been born of a virgin, shows a familiarity... which presupposes a general knowledge of that faith... details of [Buddha’s] life, [are] curiously suggestive of the source whence sprang the.. legend of the life of Christ... Not only this, but many of the observances of Latin Christianity would seem explicable by derivation from Buddhism, such as monasticism, the tonsure, the use of beads, confession, penance, and absolution, the sign of the cross, relic-worship, and the miracles wrought by relics, the purchase of salvation by gifts to the Church, pilgrimages to sacred places, etc., etc. Even the nimbus which in sacred art surrounds the head of holy personages... and the Sangreal, the Holy Cup of the Last Supper [are found in Buddhism]... Buddhist beliefs [may have] led the Church into the extravagences of asceticism.”
Lea, pp. 16-17.
However, as Lea points out, the development of asceticism had more to do with its great early rival Manicheanism, a composite faith based on the Persian tradition, founded by Manes, who was flayed alive in Babylon in the third century. Defeated when the Christians took over the Roman Empire, it returned to haunt the Church seven hundred years later, with much the same tenets:
“...man’s body is the work of the Evil Principle, and that the Soul as partaking of the substance of God was engaged in an eternal war with it, and should thus abuse and mortify it... there can scarce be doubt that the spreading belief in Manes exercised a powerful influence in accelerating the progress of orthodox asceticism... aredent believers could not afford to let themselves be outdone by heretics in the austerities which were popularly received as the conclusive evidence of religious sanctity.”
Lea, pg. 25.
“The earliest recorded attempt by the Church to imitate [pagan sexual] restrictions was made in 305 by the Spanish Council of Elvira, which declared... that all concerned in the ministry of the altar should maintain entire abstinence from their wives under pain of forfeiting their positions. It further endeavoured to put an end to the scandals of the... female companions of the clergy, by decreeing that no ecclesiastic should permit any woman to dwell with him, except a sister or a daughter and even these only when bound by a vow of virginity. This was simply the legislation of a local synod... [and] had no result in inducing the Church at large to adopt the new rule...”
Lea, pg. 30.
“How completely the system of religious ascetiscism succeeded in its object of destroying all human feeling, is well exemplified by the shining example of the holy Mucius, who presented himself for admission to a monastery, accompanied by his child, a boy eight years of age. His persistent humility gained for him a relaxation of the rules, and father and son were admitted together. To test his worthiness, however, they were separated, and all intercourse forbidden. His patience encouraged a further trial. The helpless child was neglected and abused systematically, but all the perverse ingenuity which rendered him a mass of filth and visited him with perpetual chastisement failed to excite a sign of interest in the father. Finally, the abbot feigned to lose all patience with the little sufferer's moans, and ordered Mucius to cast him in the river. The obedient monk carried him to the bank and threw him in with such promptitude that the admiring spectators were barely able to rescue him. All that is wanting to complete the hideous picture is the declaration by the abbot that in Mucius the sacrifice of Abraham was completed. This epitomises the whole system the transfer to man of the obedience due to God and shows how little, by this time [late 5th century], was left of the hopeful reliance on a beneficent God which distinguished the primitive Church, and which led Athenagoras, in the second century, to argue from the premises 'God certainly impels no one to those things which are unnatural.'”
Lea, pg. 78.
Undoubtedly, like most such pragmatic legislation, this was based on actual events. The rule is still maintained in the East.
“[Pope] Gregory the Great [d. 604] had proclaimed in the clearest and most definite manner the rule that a single lapse from virtue condemned the sinner to irrevocable degradation and rendered him for ever unfit for the ministry of the altar.”
Lea, p. 108.
Lea goes on to explain how that proclamation had been amended by the clerical author of the False Decretals of Isidore in the ninth century, a collection of legal decisions that had been twisted to increase the power and priveleges of the clergy. To Gregory’s letter was added a paragraph explaining the necessity for forgiveness after repentence of clerical unchastity “of which, among many, so few are guiltless.”
Thus, fourteen centuries ago, the pope tried to enforce zero tolerance, which, despite synod after synod and decree after decree, could never be done. Moreover, the very document establishing the policy was sabotaged by a cleric some two hundred years later to make it look like the attempt had never even been made.
“...female convents were [no] more successfully regulated [than monasteries], for the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 836, states that in many places they were rather brothels than houses of God; and it shows how close a supervision over the spouses of Christ was thought requisite when it proceeds to direct that nunneries shall be so built as to have no dark corners in which scandals may be perpetrated out of view. The effect of these efforts may be estimated from a remark... of Erchenbald, Chancellor of Charlemagne... that the licentiousness of nuns commonly resulted in a worse crime, infanticide.”
Lea, p. 108.
Hmm, the stories of nuns killing babies were not invented by mean-minded Protestants after all.
“When brutal ignorance and savage ferocity were the distinguishing characteristics of the age, the Church could scarce expect to escape from the general debasement... When the crown of St. Peter became the sport of barbarous nobles, or of a still more barbarous populace, we may grieve, but we cannot affect astonishment, at the unconcealed dissoluteness of [Pope] Sergius III, whose bastard, twenty years later, was placed in the pontifical chair by the influence of that embodiment of all possible vices, his mother Marozia. The last extreme of depravity would seem attained by [Pope] John XII, but as his deposition by [German Emperor] Otho the Great loosened the tongues of his accusers, it is possible that he was no worse than some of his predecessors. No extreme of wickedness was beyond his capacity; the sacred palace of the Lateran was turned into a brothel; incest gave a flavour to crime when simple profligacy palled upon his exhausted senses, and the honest citizens of Rome complained that the female pilgrims who formerly crowded the holy fanes were deterred from coming through fear of his promiscuous and unbridled lust.”
Lea, pp. 114-115.
Pope John XII was only eighteen in 955 when his ascension was arranged, son of a pope and son, grandson, and nephew of domineering aristocratic papal mistresses who made and unmade them. He crowned Otho (or Otto) as Emperor and then turned against him.
“[After being dethroned as pope by the Emperor], so many [noble ladies] were favourites and paramours of His Holiness, that they decided to reinstate their idol upon the throne of St. Peter. Discontent was stirred up among the Romans, and... the women stormed the Lateran and brought back their protege John to the Papal chair. Thus the love of the Roman ladies for the Pontiff regained for him the tiara.”
His triumph was short-lived. Even before the Emperor and his new pope, Leo VIII, could march back to Rome, John was brutally killed by a jealous husband while dallying with the man’s wife in the Lateran.
Dr. Angelo S. Rappaport, The Love Affairs of the Vatican, 1912 .
One of the rare instances where the pope was dethroned and murdered outright. Several have abdicated and suffered terrible ends (most notably Celestine V), but the most common method of disposing of an unwanted pontiff is poison, possibly most recently as the last pope, John Paul I.
“The same condition of affairs [of priests’ taking church revenues for their families] existed among the Anglo-Saxons. ‘It is all the worse when they have it all, for they do not dispose of it as they ought, but decorate their wives with what they should the altars, and turn everything to their own worldly pomp... A priest‘s wife is nothing but a snare of the devil, and he who is ensnared thereby on to his end, he will be seized fast by the devil.’”
Lea, p. 117.
This was but the beginning of the Roman Church’s unending war against priests’ women. Finally, after being long hounded by reforming monks, when at last the pope was able to crack down on priestly marriage, he ordered them enslaved. But even that was not the final solution: ultimately, it was held that the vow of chastity was so superior to that of matrimony, that it became impossible for clerics to be married. In the end, the Council of Trent decided that God would grant the gift of chastity upon ordination, any sexual activity went far, far underground, with the results we see today.
“...it is easy to understand what must have been the condition of the dioceses entrusted to the great mass of bishops, who were rather feudal nobles than Christian prelates.... the potentiality of evil [is] conveyed by the example of such a bishop as Segenfrid of Le Mans, who, during an episcopate which lasted for more than thirty-three years, took to himself a wife named Hildeburga, and who stripped the Church for the benefit of his son Alberic, the sole survivor of numerous progeny by her of whom he caused to be reverenced...; of Archembald, Archbishop of Sens, who, taking a fancy to the Abbey of St. Peter, drove out the monks and established a harem of concubines in the refectory, and installed his hawks and hounds in the cloister... Alberic of Marsico... who had a son to whom he transferred his bishopric [but himself] aspired to the abbacy of Monte Cassino... [and so] a plot was laid by which the reigning abbot’s eyes should be plucked out and Alberic placed in possession, for which service he agreed to pay a heavy sum... The deed was accomplished, but while the envoys were bearing to Alberic the bloody tokens of success, they were met by tidings of his death... at the very moment of the perpetration of the atrocious crime.”
“That the principles [of clerical chastity] thus established were long preserved is evident from an ancient Penitential, presumably Hibernian, which breathes the most vigorous asceticism. A single passing emotion of lust for a woman, not expressed, is visited with seven days’ penance, on a measured amount of bread and water. Innocent familiarity with a woman requires forty days’ penance, but if a kiss passes between them it is lengthened to a year. Fornication forfeits the tonsure, but if it is not known it can be redeemed with three years of penance, after which the functions are restored. If a child is born, the penalty is nine years of penance of which seven must be passed in exile, with subsequent resumption of functions - being the same for homicide. As no punishment is provided for clerical marriage, it was evidently not regarded as supposable.”
Lea, pp. 127-128.
Benedict was a count of Tuscany and nephew of his two predecessors, and was in fact a descendent of the family of whom his rival in “baseness and shamelessness,” John XII, was a member. He was put on the papal throne at the age of ten, or twelve, or fifteen (sources differ) through the bribery of his father and the Emperor Conrad of whom he was “a complete tool.”
“In 1045 a rising... forced Benedict to leave Rome whereupon a certain Bishop John bought the papal tiara... but he was soon deposed and Benedict returned, only to sell the papal office for a large sum of money on the first of May, 1045. Benedict was formally declared deposed by [Emperor] Henry III at synod in Rome held at the end of 1046, yet he reappeared as anti-pope.”
Hans Kuhner, Encyclopedia of the Papacy, 1958, trans. by Kenneth J. Northcott, p. 67.
Since then, it seems that the popes have borne coats-of-arms, just as since John XII, born Octavius, they have changed their names.
“ ‘And this precocious child... had numerous love intrigues with married women and with virgins, ready to listen to the amorous declarations of the Vicar of Christ.’ ”...
“For a sum of about £200 in English money [another source says 1,500 pounds of gold]... Benedict IX ceded his pontificate to a more ambitious prelate, whilst he himself retired upon his estate in the vicinity of Rome, where he freely addicted himself to the interesting game of love. Surrounded by a regular harem, this ex-Pontiff passed his days... and when he could love no more he repented.”
Dr. Angelo S. Rappaport, The Love Affairs of the Vatican, 1912, pp. 81-82.
“The House of Tusculum which ruled the Eternal City, had filled the chair of St. Peter with a worthless scion of their stock, as though to declare their contempt for the lofty pretensions of the Apostolic Episcopate. A fit descendent of the infamous Marozia and Alberic, Benedict IX, a child... upon his elevation... grew up in unrestrained license and shocked even the dull sensibilities of a gross and barbarous age by the scandals of his daily life.”...
“The popular appreciation of his character is shown by the legend of his appearing after death to a holy man, in the figure of a bear, with the ears and tail of an ass, and declaring that, as he had lived in bestiality, so he was destined to wear the form of a beast and to suffer fiery torments until the Day of Judgment, after which he was to be plunged, body and soul, into the fathomless pit of hell. When the Vicegerent of God, the head of the Christian Church, was thus utterly depraved, the prospect of reforming the corruption of the clergy was not promising, and the good work was not likely to be prosecuted with vigour.”
Lea, p. 145.
As well as selling the throne of St. Peter off twice, this is the only pontiff to have claimed it three times twice as “legitimate,” once as an anti-pope, or false claimant.
“St. Peter Damiani... was one of the most remarkable men of the epoch. Born about the year 988 at Ravenna,of a noble but decayed family, and the last of a numerous progeny, he owed his life to a woman of the very class to the extirpation of which he devoted all the energies of his prime. His mother... neglected him until his forlorn and emaciated condition awoke the compassion of a female retainer, the wife of a priest, who remonstrated... until she succeeded and... restored to existence the little sufferer, who was destined to bring unnumbered woes to all who were of her condition.”
Lea, p. 150.
Damiani became a monk, and his austerities and intellect led to his election as prior. He was sent on missions to urge reform until at last he was given the highest honor in the Roman court and made cardinal-bishop of Ostia. However, he resigned after a few years and returned to his cell, where he died with great honor in the odor of sanctity, shortly before the election of another cardinal-monk, Hildebrand, a clerical revolutionary, as Pope Gregory VII.
Damiani’s learned and voluminous writings promoted what would be called the Gregorian Reform, which strove not only for internal discipline, but the political supremacy of the Roman Church.
“In his [Hildebrand’s] grand scheme of a theocratic empire, it became an absolute prerequisite that the Church should hold undivided sway over its members; that no human affection should render their allegiance doubtful, but that their every thought and action should be devoted to the common aggrandizement; that they should be separated from the people by an impassable barrier, and should wield an influence which could only be obtained by those who were recognized as superior to the weaknesses of common humanity... In short, if the Church was to assume and maintain the position to which it was entitled... [it must earn] by its self-inflicted austerities the reverence to which it laid claim.”
Lea, pp. 157-158.
“Damiani… addressed to [Pope] Leo [IX] an essay, The Book of Gomorrah, which is the saddest of all the sad monuments bequeathed to us by that age of desolation. With cynical boldness he develops the frightful excesses epidemically prevalent among the cloistered crowds of men, attributable to the unnatural restraints imposed upon the passions of those unfitted by nature or by training to control themselves; and his laborious efforts to demonstrate the propriety of punishing the guilty by degradation shows how hideous was the laxity of morals which was disposed to regard such crimes with indulgence.”
Lea, p. 152.
“Vice against nature creeps in like a cancer and even touches the order of consecrated men. Sometimes it rages like a bloodthirsty beast in the midst of the sheepfold of Christ with such bold freedom that it would have been much healthier for many to have been oppressed under the yoke of a secular army than to be freely delivered over to the iron rule of diabolical tyranny under the cover of religion, particularly when this is accomplished by scandal to others.”
Along with condemning clerical homosexuality and marriage, the contentious monk also promoted anti-Semitism. On his missions, he occasionally met with physical opposition and several times barely escaped from enraged clerics with his life, including in Milan, where his imposed solution sparked almost twenty years of riots and civil war.
“Yet, notwithstanding the pious fervour which habitually stigmatized the wives as harlots and the husbands as unbridled adulterers, Damiani himself allows us to see that the marriage relation was preserved with thorough fidelity on the part of the women, and was compatible with learning, decency, and strict attention to religious duty by the men.”
Lea, p. 163.
“In all this controversy, it is instructive to observe how Damiani shows himself to be the pure model of monkish asceticism, untainted by any practical wisdom and unwarped by any earthly considerations... Not a thought of the worldly advantages consequent upon the reform appears to have crossed the mind of Damiani. To him it was simply a matter of conscience that the ministers of Christ should be adorned with the austere purity through which alone lay the path to salvation. Accordingly, the arguments which he employs in his endless disputations carefully avoid the practical reasons which were the principal motive for enforcing celibacy. His main reliance is on the assumption that, as Christ was born of a virgin, so He should be served and the Eucharist be handled only by virgins.”
Lea, pp. 163-164.
Leo, infamous as the pope who split the Church by excommunicating the Greek Orthodox, also was an avid reformer under the influence of the monks Hildebrand (ultimately to become Pope St. Gregory VII) and St. Peter Damiani. He was nearly slain in a riot at a council in Mantua in 1053.
“Easter of 1051 beheld a council assembled at Rome for the purpose of restoring discipline. Apparently, the Italian prelates were disposed to exercise considerable caution in furthering the wishes of their chief, for they abstained from visiting their indignation on the guilty priests, and directed their penalties against the unfortunate females. In the city itself these were declared to be enslaved, and were bestowed on the cathedral church of the Lateran, while all bishops throughout Christendom were desired to apply the rule to their own dioceses, and to seize the offending women for the benefit of their own churches. The atrocity of this legislation against the wives of priests is all the more noteworthy when contrasted with the tenderness shown to worse crimes committed by men whose high position only rendered their guilt the more heinous. At this council, Gregory, Bishop of Vercelli, was convicted of what, by the rules of the Church, was considered as incest an amour with a widow betrothed to his uncle. For this aggravated offence he was merely excommunicated, and when, soon after, he presented himself in Rome, he was restored to communion on his simple promise to perform adequate penance.”
Lea, pp. 153-154.
Pope Urban II, the pope who launched the long and bloody ordeal of the Crusades, extended much the same decree to the entire Church a half-century later.
“Where Gregory had been content with ejecting husbands and wives and with empowering secular rulers to enforce the edict... Urban, with a refinement of cruelty, reduced the unfortunate women to slavery, and offered their servitude as a bribe to the nobles who should aid in this purifying of the Church. If this infamous canon did not work misery [beyond Gregory’s] it was because the power of Urban was circumscribed by the schism... Perhaps, on reflection, Urban may himself have wished to disavow the atrocity for in a subsequent council... he contented himself with simply forbidding all such marriages and ordering all... to be separated... and subjected to due penance.”
Lea, pp. 198-199.
Here it is proof, if any was needed, of the Roman Church’s true attitude to married priests and their wives.
It is interesting that these two popes, who arguably did the most violence to the Church, the first by splitting Rome from Constantinople, and the second by launching a series of wars that ultimately conquered Constantinople, also inflicted the most violence on women in their own Church.
“Notwithstanding all [Damiani’s] learning and eloquence, the authority of his name, the lustre of his example, and the tireless efforts of his fiery energy, the cause to which he had devoted himself did not advance. The later years of Alexander’s pontificate afford unmistakable indications that the puritan party were becoming discouraged... A principle of great importance, moreover, was abandoned when in 1070, Alexander assented to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Le Mans, who was the son of a priest; and when he stated that this was not a precedent for the future, but merely a concession to the evil of the times, his laxity was even more impressive, since he thus admitted his violation of the canons. He subsequently even enlarged this special permission into a general rule... Alexander, moreover, maintained in force the ancient rule that no married man could assume monastic vows unless his wife gave her free consent, and entered a convent at the same time... [yet] in little more than half a century [later], the progress of sacerdotalism rendered the sacrament of marriage powerless in comparison to the vows of religion.”
“Alexander clearly had not in him the stuff of which persecutors and reformers are made, as, indeed, his merciful liberality in extending over the Jews throughout Europe the protection of the Holy See would sufficiently demonstrate.”
Lea, p. 165-166.
“To Gregory,... was generally attributed, by his immediate successors, the honour of introducing, or of enforcing, the absolute chastity of the ministers of the altar... He earned the tribute thoroughly, for... whatever were his preoccupations in his fearful struggle with the [Holy Roman] Empire, in which he risked... the papacy, he always had leisure to attend to the one subject in its minutest details and in the remotest corner of Christendom.”
“Sprung from so humble an origin, he may have sympathized with the democratic element, which rendered the Church the only career open to peasant and plebeian... [which] would be lost if, by legalizing marriage, the heredity transmission of benefices generally resulting should convert the Church into a separate caste of individual proprietors, having only general interests in common, and lazily luxuriating on the proceeds of former popular beneficence... When even the humblest priest came to be regarded as a superior being, ... by the machinery of confession, absolution, and excommunication wielding incalculable influence over each member of his flock, it was well for both parties that the ecclesiastic should be free from the ties of family and the vulgar ambition of race... If therefore, the Church was to attain the theocratic supremacy which was the object of its ambition, sacerdotal celibacy was not only an element necessary to its success, but a safeguard against the development of an hereditary ecclesiastical aristocracy which might have proved fatal to... progress.”
“The severe austerity of his virtue... was displayed by his admirers in the story that once, when dangerously ill, his niece came to inquire as to his health. To relieve her anxiety he played with her necklace, and jestingly asked if she wished to be married; but on his recovery he found that he could no longer weep with due contrition over his sins... He... finally entreated his friends to pray for him, when the Virgin appeared to one... and sent word... that [Gregory] had fallen from grace in consequence of the infraction of his vows committed in touching the necklace of his niece.”
Lea, pp. 183-184.
That there may have been more to this is suggested by rumors doubtless spread by his many enemies, concerning his very close relationship with the Countess Mathilda of Tuscany, a wealthy and beautiful aristocrat who abandoned her husband for the papal court. Gregory was even said to have put her aside so he could fruitlessly pursue her own niece, Theodorine, who would have naught to do with him.
In any case, in the course of his struggle with the German Emperor, the pope’s armies were defeated.
“The Pope died in obscurity, an exile, full of rage and remorse, baffled in love and ambition alike.”
Rappaport, The Love Affairs of the Vatican, p. 146.
So the true reason for enforced clerical celibacy is at last revealed: it was imposed to gain spiritual power over the clergy that the pope might convert it into political power over the laity.
“... in 1074 in the Council of Paris... all, bishops, abbots, and priests, refused to obey the mandate [enjoining celibacy], declaring that it imposed an insupportable burden; and when the holy St. Gauthier, Abbot of Pontoise, ventured to argue that the commands of the pope must be executed, whether just or unjust, he was set upon, beaten almost to death, carried before the king, and confined until some friendly nobles procured his release.”
“Coercion from without was evidently requisite, and... [Pope] Gregory did not shrink from subjecting the Church to temporal power... The Norman clergy were not disposed to submit quietly... and they expressed their dissent by raising a terrible clamour and driving their archbishop from the council with a shower of stones, from which he barely escaped alive. At length... the laity were called in. William the Conqueror, therefore in 1080 assisted... in holding a synod at Lillebonne, where [his] stern presence... prevented any unseemly resistance... if [a priest’s] parishioners or feudal superior were the complainants he was to be brought before a mixed tribunal composed of the squires of his parish and the officials of the bishop. This startling invasion of the dearest privileges of the Church was declared by William... to be a temporary expedient, rendered necessary by [the bishops’] negligence. Nor is this remarkable measure the only thing that renders the Synod of Lillebonne worthy of note, for it affords us the earliest indication of a practice which subsequently became a standing disgrace to the Church. The fifth canon declares that no priest shall be forced to give anything to the bishop or to the officers of the diocese beyond their lawful dues, and especially that no money shall be exacted on account of women kept by clerks. A tribute known as “cullagium” became at times a recognized source of revenue, in consideration of which the... ecclesiastics were allowed to enjoy in security the society of their concubines.... this infamous custom continued to flourish until the sixteenth century, despite the most strenuous and repeated endeavours to remove so grievous a scandal.”
Lea, pp. 211-212.
This is one of the great tragic romances of history. Peter Abelard [1079-1142] was a controversial scholar who lived in Paris during the intellectual ferment surrounding the founding of the first universities. He was hired to tutor Heloise [1101-1164], the bright, literate niece of Fulbert, a cathedral canon, and moved into their house. Despite the age difference of over twenty years, he seduced the sixteen-year-old girl, who soon became pregnant. A canon himself, he had not yet vowed to remain celibate, though due to the fear that scandal could wreck his promising academic career, they married secretly and she bore a son. She went to a nunnery to hide; Fulbert, thinking Abelard had abandoned her, had him attacked and castrated.
Abelard survived and became a monk but found little peace. He wrote his version of the story, History of My Calamities, called the first modern autobiography; was accused of heresy by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and finally died at the great monastery of Cluny. Heloise became the abbess of a convent Abelard had founded and one of the greatest female intellects and writers in the Middle Ages. She never recanted their love, and their correspondence, continued until his death, is still deeply moving today.
Here is what Lea had to say about it all:
“That Abelard was a canon when that immortal love arose, was not... any impediment to the gratification of his passion nor did it diminish the satisfaction of the canon Fulbert at the marriage of his niece, for such marriages, as yet, were valid by ecclesiastical law. In her marvellous self-abnegation, however, Heloise recognized that while the fact of his openly keeping a mistress, and acknowledging... his illegitimate son, would be no bar to his preferment, and would leave open to him a career equal to the dreams of his ambition, yet to admit that he had sanctified their love by marriage, and had repaired, as far as possible, the wrong which he had committed, would ruin his prospects for ever. From a worldly point of view it was better for him, as a Churchman, to have the reputation of shameless immorality than that of a loving and pious husband; and this was so evidently a matter of course that she willingly sacrificed everything, and practised every deceit, that he might be considered a reckless libertine, who had refused her the only reparation in his power. Such was the standards of morals created by the Church, and such were the conclusions inevitably drawn from them.”
Lea, p. 223.
“... the king [Henry I] proceeded to enforce the regulations... with more vigour than ever, and soon obtained at least an outward show of obedience. [A chronicler] darkly intimates that this resulted in a great increase of shocking crimes committed with those [female] relatives whose residence was allowed, and... is at some pains to argue that... [the] attempted reforms were not responsible for an effect so little contemplated.”
“The evil influences of this laxity in the [English] Church were not altogether confined to Britain... [as] Swedish bishoprics were frequently filled by Englishmen... An English priest, named Edward, was promoted to the Swedish episcopate... Unluckily, he had left a wife behind him... and, after a short residence in his new dignity had enabled him to collect together the treasures of his see, he absconded with them to his spouse...”
“At length the condition of the Church in England attracted the attention of the pontiffs... and Honorius II sent Cardinal John of Crema... for the purpose of restoring its discipline. In September 1126, the legate held a council... After fiercely denouncing the concubines of priests and expatiating on the burning shame that the body of Christ should be made by one who had but just left the side of a harlot, he was that very night surprised in the company of a courtesan, though he had on the same day celebrated mass.”...
“King Henry [had] seemed suddenly to recover the holy zeal... in the summer of 1129 he convened a great assembly... who found that they were summoned to meet for the purpose of putting an end to the immorality of the clergy... [however, afterwards] he at once put into action an extended system of ‘cullagium’ and... proceeded to traffic in exemptions shamelessly and on the largest scale. As a financial device, the plan was a good one; he realized a vast sum of money, and his afflicted priests were at least able to show their superiors a royal license to marry or to keep their concubines in peace.”
Due to the difficulties stemming from the age-long struggle with the Muslim invaders and the customs of the native clergy, celibacy was “virtually ignored” in Spain until the growth of papal influence in the eleventh century. One ambitious cleric in particular, Archbishop Diego of Compostella, had been pressured by the pope unsuccessfully to apply the “Roman law.”
“Towards the close of his restless life, however, Archbishop Diego found time, amid his... schemes for aggrandizement, to undertake the much-needed reform of a single monastery. The Abbot of S. Pelayo de Antealtaria was a paragon of brutish sensuality, who wasted the revenues of his house in riotous living and took no shame in a numerous progeny. The archbishop remonstrated with him long and earnestly, both in public and private: seven times in the general chapter of the diocese he admonished and threatened the offender without result. At length, in 1130... Diego held a chapter in the abbey for his trial, when he was proved by competent witnesses to have kept no less than seventy concubines. He was accordingly deposed, but was so far from being canonically punished that a benefice in the abbey lands was assigned for his support... It is a significant commentary... to find so weak an effort to remove... the grossest licentiousness characterized by the biographer of Diego... as a work... which was without example in previous history.”
Lea, pp. 258-259.
“... he summoned, in 1123, the first general council of the West, [the First Lateran Council,] to confirm the Concordat of Worms, which had just closed half a century of strife between the papacy and the empire. Nearly a thousand prelates obeyed his call, and that august assembly promulgated a canon which not only forbade matrimony to those bound by vows and holy orders, but commanded that if such marriages were contracted they should be broken, and the parties to them subjected to due penance.”
“This was a bold innovation. With the exception... of Urban II in 1090... previous to Calixtus, while the sacrament of marriage was held incompatible with the ministry of the altar and the enjoyment of Church property, yet it was respected and its binding force was admitted, even to the point of rendering those who assumed it unfitted for their sacred functions. At most... the option had been allowed of abandoning either the wife or the ministry... by the Lateran canon he declared the sacrament of marriage to be less potent than the religious vow: the engagement with the Church swallowed up and destroyed all other ties. This gave the final seal to the separation between the clergy and the laity, by declaring the priestly character to be indelible. When once admitted to orders, he became a being set apart from his fellows... and the impassible gulf between him and the laity bound him for ever to the exclusive interests of the Church.”
Lea, pp. 264-265.
“Innocent, restored to Rome and to power,... [and s]urrounded by a thousand prelates at the second great Council of the Lateran, in 1139, he no longer dreaded to offend the susceptibilities of the clergy, and he proceeded to justify the canon of 1123 by creating a doctrine to suit the practice there enjoined... he unhesitatingly pronounced that a union contracted in opposition to the rule of the Church was not a marriage.”...
“St. Bernard himself, the impersonation of ascetic sacerdotalism, hesitated to subscribe to the new dogma, and when the monks of Chartres asked him to reconcile it with the teachings of Augustine and Gregory the Great he candidly confessed that his dialectical skill was unequal to the task.”...
“The Church, however, was committed to it, and, moreover, could see in its eventual recognition a more effectual means of accomplishing the long-desired object than in any expedient previously tried. By destroying all such marriages, pronouncing them null and void, inflicting an ineffaceable stigma on wife and offspring, subjecting the woman to the certainty of being cast off without resource and without option on the part of the husband, the position of the wife of an ecclesiastic would become most unenviable; her kindred would prevent her from exposing herself to such calamities, and no priest could succeed in finding a consort above the lowest class, whose union with him would expose him to the contempt of his flock.”
Lea, pp. 266-268.
“... it became a frequent, and no doubt a profitable portion of the duties of the papal chancery, to grant special dispensations when those who held [special] preferment, or who desired to retain their wives, underwent the dangers and expense of a journey to Rome, and were rewarded... by a rescript to their bishops, commanding their reinstatement... The power to grant such dispensations was shrewdly reserved as the exclusive privilege of the papal court; and a high Churchman of the period assures us there was no difficulty in obtaining them. It need not, therefore, surprise us that...[Pope] Lucius III found the hereditary transmission of the priestly office claimed as an absolute right. And not only did the claims of the papal chancery thus interfere with the execution of the law... but its appellate jurisdiction was constantly used to avert punishment from the worst offenders... This centralization of all power in the papal court, and the unblushing venality of the Roman officials, meet us in every age as the efficient obstacle to the efforts of reforming prelates throughout Europe.”
Lea, pp. 271-272
“... it was an ancient rule that no man could assume monastic vows without the assent of his wife, with the additional condition that she must at the same time enter a nunnery. It appears that a husband desiring to become a monk, and finding his wife obstinately opposed to his designs, enlisted the services of various priests to influence her, carefully concealing from her the obligation which her assent would impose upon her to take the veil. Still she obstinately refused, until at last he threatened to castrate himself, when she yielded and went through the ceremony of placing with her own hands his head on the altar. The wife thus abandoned took to evil courses, and the husband-monk applied in person to Innocent III to learn whether he ought to remain in his order, seeing that his continence might be responsible for her unchastity. In spite of the deceit practiced... Innocent resolved... in favour of the maintenance of his vows, giving as a reason that her adulteries deprived her of her claim on him. At the same time, nothing was said as to compelling the woman to take the veil.”
Lea, pg. 274.
“Clement III took advantage of the profound impression which the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin [October, 1187] produced on all Europe, when the fall of the Latin kingdom was attributed to the sins of Christendom. He preached a general reformation. Abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays for five years, and various other kinds of mortification, were enjoined on all... but the clergy were the objects of special reproof. Their extreme laxity of morals, their neglect of the dress of their order, their worldly ambition and pursuits, drinking, gambling, and flocking to tournaments, and the unclerical deportment which left little difference between them and the laity, were some of the accusations brought against them. To their incontinence, however, was chiefly attributed the wrath of God, besides the measureless scandals to which their conduct exposed the Church, and they were commanded to remove all suspected females from their houses within forty days under pain of suspension from their functions and revenues.”...
“Yet, with all his ardour, Clement admitted that celibacy was only a local rule of discipline, and that there was nothing really incompatible between marriage and the holy functions of the altar. The time had not come when the Council of Trent could erect the inviolable continence of the priesthood into an article of faith...”
Lea, pp. 275-276.
“Innocent III.. enjoyed perhaps the culmination of papal power and prestige, [and] at length brought to the struggle an influence and a determination which could scarcely fail to prove decisive... when in 1215, he summoned... the fourth Council of Lateran, that august assembly of about thirteen hundred prelates... spoke with an authority which no former body since that of Nicaea had possessed... A more rigid observance of the rules was enjoined, and any one officiating while suspended for contravention was punishable with perpetual degradation and deprivation of his emoluments. Yet the rite was admitted to be merely a local ordinance peculiar to the Latin Church, for in the effort made by the council to heal the schism with Constantinople, the right of the East to permit the marriage of its priests was acknowledged by a clause visiting with severer penalties those who by custom were allowed to marry, and who, notwithstanding this license, still permitted themselves illicit indulgences. The disgraceful traffic by which in some places prelates regularly sold permissions to sin was denounced... as a vice equal in degree to that which it encouraged; and the common custom of fathers obtaining preferment in their own churches for their illegitimate offspring was reprobated...”
“... hereafter there are to be found few traces of marriage in holy orders, except in... distant countries...”
“In Southern Italy, when the churches were actually brought together under the domination of Rome, priests of Greek origin were allowed to retain their wives, but married clerks of Latin parentage were not permitted to enter holy orders without separation. It not unfrequently happened that the latter endeavoured to... [get] themselves ordained in the Greek Church, and it became necessary to denounce severe penalties not only against them, but also against the prelates who permitted it.”
Lea, pp. 276-278.
“One by one the different churches of Latin Christendom yielded... and their ecclesiastics were forced to forgo the privilege of assuming the most sacred of earthly ties with the sanction of heaven and the approbation of man. Sacerdotalism vindicated its claim to exclusive obedience; the Church successfully asserted its right to commend the entire life of its members, and to sunder all the bonds [of]... divided allegiance. In theory, at least, all who professed a religious life... were given up wholly to the awful service...; no selfishly personal aspirations could divert their energies from the aggrandizement of their class, nor were the temporal possessions... exposed... to the... dilapidation of the wife and family.”
“...in the rise of the 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, temporal and spiritual, of the head of the Roman Church.”
Lea, pg. 279.
“One warning voice... was raised, in a quarter where it would have... commanded respectful attention had not the Church appeared to imagine itself superior to the ordinary laws of cause and effect... St. Bernard, the ascetic reformer... and foremost ecclesiastic of his day, was thundering against the revival of Manicheeism.... in performing this duty he pointed out with startling vigour the evils to the Church and to mankind of the attempt to enforce a purity incompatible with human nature. Deprive the Church of honourable marriage, he exclaimed, and you fill her with concubinage, incest and all manner of vice and uncleanness... St. Bernard himself confessed that crimes which he dared not even name commonly followed after the fornication, adultery, and incest which specially characterized innumerable ministers of Christ.”
Lea, pg. 280.
“It is somewhat significant that when, in France, when the rule of celibacy was completely restored, strict Churchmen should have found it necessary also to revive the hideously suggestive restriction which denied to the priest of his society of his mother or of his sister... It is reserved for the advancement of the thirteenth century and the enforcement of celibacy to show us how outraged human nature may revenge itself and protest against the shackles imposed by zealous sacerdotalism or unreasoning bigotry...”
“No matter what decrees were issued, they were neutralized by the facility of obtaining from the Holy See letters of absolution, whenever any too zealous prelate sought to enforce them. A Formulary of the papal Penitentiary... shows... how frequent were the applications, and their invariable success is indicated by the fact that no formulae are given for refusing the favor. Even more significant is the endeavour of the... clerics to show that the woman was not a permanent concubine; the prohibitions were construed as directed solely against durable connections, while sporadic or temporary licentiousness was evidently regarded as so much a matter of course, that it was worthy of no special reprehension. In the next century... the rehabilitation of the sinner [was] still more facilitated by conceding it to the bishops, for... letters [were] issued to the prelates authorizing them to grant dispensations to concubinary priests... It was a simple matter of traffic, reduced to a system. That [monasticism] was no less productive of sin,... is rendered evident by other canons... which prohibit both monks and nuns from sleeping two in a bed, with the avowed object of repressing crimes against nature. It may well be asked what was the value of the continence aimed at in monastic vows when it resulted in the necessity for such regulations.”
Lea, pp. 281-282.