1. Religion & Spirituality

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

The Bible and Suicide

<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>

 Related Terms
• Vestal Virgins
• religion


Celibacy is the state of abstaining from sexual intercourse and/or from marriage, usually in the context of holding some religious office or for private spiritual reasons. The label "celibate" is usually only applied, however, to those who have taken sacred vows of celibacy as part of an act of renunciation. Celibacy has been practiced by a wide variety of religious groups across the globe - but not by all.

Judaism is an example of one religion which has not practiced celibacy at all. On the contrary, a marriage with children is regarded as itself a sacred duty. In the time of the Temple, even the High Priest was expected to be married and single men were prohibited from holding a variety of important offices.

Some ancient religions reserved particular religious offices for celibate people - one famous example would be the Vestal Virgins in Rome. These women had to remain celibate for 30 years while they served the perpetual fire in the Atrium of Vesta. Celibacy was also common among different cults dedicated to nature incarnated as the Great Mother.

For Christianity, celibacy has played an important role since the very earliest times. Insistence on it has been based upon the ideal of renouncing all familial ties for the sake of achieving the Kingdom of God, as described by Jesus in Mark10:29 and Luke 18:29. Early on, celibacy was more a matter of personal choice and was not required by those who sought or held any ecclesiastical offices. Restrictions in the West increased over time until married clergy were finally banned at the first and second Lateran Councils (1123 and 1139).

The Protestant Reformation, in turn, eliminated celibacy and permitted clergy again to marry and have children. The Roman Catholic Church continues to bar marraige for priests, but only those who are part of the Western rite. Eastern rite priests who are in union with the Roman Catholic Church are permitted to marry - but those who are married are discouraged from traveling to the United States, lest they confuse the Catholic faithful.

For the Eastern Orthodox, marriage is permitted for the clergy but not bishops. This position was established in 692 at the Quinisext Council. This is one of the issues which continue to divide both Eastern and Western Christianity and which will keep the two from reuniting.

There is further variety within other religions. With some, like Buddhists monks, it is mandatory. Sometimes, it is considered a temporary stage - one example of this is the fourth asrama of Hinduism. Sikhs tolerate it, but they don't regard it as an ideal to strive for. Islam, like Judaism, treats celibacy as an affront to God and God's creation.

Also Known As: none

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none

Related Resources:

What is the Philosophy of Religion?
Sometimes confused with theology, the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, religious arguments and religious history. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion.

<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>
  1. About.com
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. Agnosticism & Atheism

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.