Catholic History


GENUFLEXION (the bending of the knee) is a natural sign of adoration or reverence. It is frequently used in the ritual of the Church. Thus the faithful genuflect in passing before the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved; the priest repeatedly genuflects at Mass in adoration of the Eucharist, also at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, etc. Genuflection is also made as a sign of profound respect before a bishop on certain occasions. A double genuflection _ i.e. one on both knees _ is made on entering or leaving a church where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

The early Christians prayed standing on Sundays, and from Easter till Pentecost, and only bent the knee in sign of penance; hence a class of penitents were known as Genuflectentes. A relic of this penitential use of genuflection survives, according to Gavantus (P. I. tit. 16), in the practice enjoined by the rubric of genuflecting at the verse "Adjuva nos," in the Tract of Masses during Lent.


CELIBACY of the clergy. The law of the Western Church forbids persons living in the married state to be ordained, and persons in holy orders to marry. A careful distinction must be made between the principles on which the law of celibacy is based and the changes which have taken place in the application of the principle.

The principles which have induced the Church to impose celibacy on her clergy are (a) that they may serve God with less restraint, and with undivided heart (see I Cor. vii. 32); and (b) that, being called to the altar, they may embrace the life of continence, which is holier than that of marriage. That continence is a more holy state than that of marriage is distinctly affirmed. in the words of our blessed Lord ("There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake." "He that can receive it, let him receive it").

It is taught by St. Paul ("He that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well, and he that giveth her not, doeth better ") and by St. John (Apoc. xiv. 4). Christian antiquity speaks with one voice on this matter, and the Council of Trent, sess. xxiv. De Matr. can. 10, anathematizes those who deny that "it is more blessed to remain in virginity or in celibacy than to be joined in marriage." Thus all Catholics are bound to hold that celibacy is the preferable state, and that it is specially desirable for the clergy. It does not, however, follow from this that the Church is absolutely bound to impose a law of celibacy on her ministers, nor has she, as a matter of fact, always done so.

There does not seem to have been any Apostolic legislation on the matter, except that it was required of a bishop that he should have been only once married. In early times, however, we find a law of celibacy, though it is one which differs from the present Western law, in full force. Paphnutius, who at the Council of Nicæa resisted an attempt to impose a continent life on the clergy, still admits that, according to ancient tradition, a cleric must not marry after ordination. This statement is confirmed by the Apostolic Constitutions, vi. 17, which forbid bishops, priests, and deacons to marry, while the 27th (al. 25th) Apostolic Canon contains the same prohibition. One of the earliest councils, that of Neocæsarea (between 314 and 325), threatens a priest who married after ordination with degradation to the lay state. Even a deacon could marry in one case onlyviz. if at his ordination he had stipulated for liberty to do so, as is laid down by the Council of Ancyra, in 314. Thus it was the recognized practice of the ancient Church to prohibit the marriage of those already priests, and this discipline is still maintained in the East.

A change was made in the West by the 33d Canon of Elvira, (in 305 or 306). It required bishops, priests, and all who served the altar ("positis in ministerio") to live, even if already married, in continence. The Council of Nicæa refused to impose this law on the whole Church, but it prevailed in the West. It was laid down by a Synod of Carthage in 390, by Innocent 1. 20 years later; while Jerome (against Jovinian) declares that a priest, who has "always to offer sacrifice for the people, must always pray, and therefore always abstain from marriage." Leo and Gregory the Great, and the Eighth Council of Toledo in 653, renewed the prohibitions against the marriage of subdeacons.

So the law stood when Hildebrand, afterwards Gregory VII., began to exercise a decisive influence in the Church. Leo IX., Nicolas II., Alexander II., and Hildebrand himself when he came to be Pope, issued stringent decrees against priests living in concubinage. They were forbidden to say Mass or even to serve at the altar; they were to be punished with deposition, and the faithful were warned not to hear their Mass. So far Gregory only fought against the corruption of the times, and it is mere ignorance to represent him as having instituted the law of celibacy. But about this time a change did occur in the canon law. A series of synods from the beginning of the twelfth century declared the marriage of persons in holy orders to
be not only unlawful but invalid. With regard to persons in minor orders, they were allowed for many centuries to serve in the Church while living as married men. From the twelfth century, it was laid down that if they married they lost the privileges of the clerical state. However, Boniface VIII., in 1300, permitted them to act as clerics, if they had been only once married and then to a virgin, provided they had the permission of the bishop and wore the clerical habit This law of Pope Boniface was renewed by the Council of Trent, sess. xxiii. cap. 6, De Reform. The same Council, can. 9. sess. xxiv., again pronounced the marriage of clerks in holy orders null and void. At present, in the West, a married man can receive holy orders only if his wife fully consents and herself makes a vow of chastity. If the husband is to be consecrated bishop, the wife must enter a religious order.

We may now turn to the East, and sketch the changes which the law of celibacy has undergone among the Greeks. In the time of the Church historian Socrates (about 450), the same law of clerical celibacy which obtained among the Latins was observed in Thessaly, Macedonia, and Achaia. Further, the case of Synesius in 410 proves that it was unusual for bishops to live as married men, for he had, on accepting his election as bishop, to make a stipulation that he should be allowed to live with his wife. The synod in Trullo (692) requires bishops, if married, to separate from their wives, and forbids all clerics to marry after the subdiaconate. However, a law of Leo the Wise (886911) permitted subdeacons, deacons, and priests, who had married after receiving their respective orders, not indeed to exercise sacred functions, but still to remain in the ranks of the clergy and exercise such offices (e.g. matters of administration) as were consistent with the marriage which they had concluded.

The practical consequences of these enactments are (I) that Greek candidates for the priesthood usually leave the seminaries before being ordained deacons, and return, having concluded marriage, commonly with daughters of clergymen; (2) that secular priests live as married men, but cannot, on the death of their wife, marry again; (3) that bishops are usually chosen from the monks. (From Hefele, 11 Beiträge zur Kirchengeshichte, Archäologie und Liturgik.")

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