Celibate Definition, Meaning – Celibacy, Celibacy Quotes

Celibate definition

1. One who abstains from sexual intercourse, especially by reason of religious vows.
2. A person who is unmarried, esp one who has taken a religious vow of chastity.
3. Any person who is unmarried.
4. Chastity, sexual abstention, abstinence - act or practice of refraining from indulging an appetite.
5. Abstaining from sexual intercourse; "celibate priests".
6. Historically, celibate means only "unmarried"; its use to mean "abstaining from sexual intercourse" is a 20th- century development. But the new sense of the word seems to have displaced the old, and the use of celibate

to mean "unmarried" is now almost sure to invite misinterpretation in other than narrowly ecclesiastical contexts. Let’s look at an example of how the older use of the word celibate would look like in a sentence: He remained celibate [unmarried], although he engaged in illicit sexual intercourse.


The words abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably, but are different. Sexual abstinence or continence refers to abstaining from sexual intercourse. The term “celibacy” is used to refer to an unmarried state. According to Paul the Apostle, marriage is a social obligation that has the potential of distracting from Christ. So, celibacy is the single life, free from such distraction, it is a more saintly life of self denial.

The Apostle Paul endorsed celibate life in his letter to the Corinthian Church,

1 Corinthians 7:32-35: “But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit: not to cast a snare upon you; but for that which is decent, and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment.”

According to the St. Jerome, celibacy is a moral virtue, consisting by not living in the flesh but outside the flesh. Celibacy excludes not only lawful marital acts, but also sinful thoughts or desires of the flesh. The first Conciliar document on celibacy of the Western Christian Church (Canon 33 of the Spanish Council of Elvira, c. 305 AD) states that the discipline of celibacy is to refrain from the use of marriage, i.e. refrain from having carnal contact with your spouse.

Abstinence, in short, is a response on the outside to what’s going on; but celibacy is a response from the inside. — According to this definition, celibacy (even short-term celibacy that is pursued for non-religious reasons) is much more than not having sex. It is more intentional than abstinence, and its goal is personal growth and empowerment.

Celibacy as a vocation may be independent from religious vows (as is the case with consecrated virgins, ascetics and hermits). Traditionally though, most celibate persons have been religious and monastics (monks resp. brothers and nuns resp. sisters). In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, priests are required to be celibate. In the Catholic Church, and the Eastern and Oriental schismatical “Orthodox” traditions, bishops are required to be celibate. In the Eastern Catholic rite and the schismatic Eastern “Orthodox” traditions, priests and deacons are allowed to be married, yet have to remain celibate if they are unmarried at the time of ordination.

Catholic perspective

In the Roman Catholic Church the apostles were considered the first priests and bishops in the Church. The call to be eunuchs for the sake of heaven in Matthew 19 is considered a call to be sexually continent. This later developed into mandatory celibacy for priests who are the successors of the apostles. This is in spite of the fact that Peter was the first apostle called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-20) and Peter was married (Matthew 8). We read in Matthew 8:14-15: “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying, and sick of a fever: And he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she arose and ministered to them.” The Catholic Church does not deny that Peter was married. However, note her general absence in the New Testament texts. We do not even know her name. We only encounter the mother-in-law, never his wife or any children, one might even suppose that Peter was a widower. Could he have been married more than once? We just do not know. Tradition suggests that his wife was martyred. It is peculiar that although the wife would ordinarily have cared for the needs of guests, Peter had to rely upon his wife’s mother. However, even if she was still alive, she evidently assumed a secondary role in his life behind his leadership of the infant Church. Indeed, her insignificance in the biblical witness would seem to provide weight to the supporters of priestly celibacy. Like Peter, bishops and priests might do better to serve God’s people without the distraction of wives and children. Jesus gives his sheep to Peter (John 21:15-17). Pastors similarly love Christ and care for their flocks. This is the emphasis of Catholic ministry, our family in faith.

So, the Catholic Church simply teaches that the state of virginity or celibacy is a superior state to marriage. This dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church also comes from the Bible, as we have seen.

Pope Pius IV, Council of Trent, Sess 14, Nov. 11, 1563, on Matrimony: “If anyone says that the married state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and happier to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony [ cf. Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:25 ]: let him be anathema.” (Denz. 980)

This is not to say, of course, that the married state is bad. Marriage is a good state when observed properly, but the celibate state is better. In 1 Cor. 7, St. Paul clearly teaches the superiority of the celibate state to the married state, thus providing a powerful refutation of the Protestant denial of this truth.

1 Corinthians, Chap. 7- “Now concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband… But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as myself [unmarried]: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I…

“But if any man think that he seemeth dishonoured, with regard to his virgin, for that she is above the age, and it must so be: let him do what he will; he sinneth not, if she marry. For he that hath determined being steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but having power of his own will; and hath judged this in his heart, to keep his virgin, doth well. Therefore, both he that giveth his virgin in marriage, doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better.”

We see that St. Paul clearly identifies the state of virginity or celibacy as a state that is better than the state of marriage. We also see this in the words of Jesus Himself:

In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus Christ says: “All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.”

Jesus is clearly speaking here of those who live singly and chastely for the sake of the kingdom of God. As the Catholic commentary in the Douay Rehims Bible notes about this verse: “There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs, for the kingdom of heaven... This text is not to be taken in the literal sense; but means, that there are such, who have taken a firm and commendable resolution of leading a single and chaste life, in order to serve God in a more perfect state than those who marry: as St. Paul clearly shows. 1 Cor. 7. 37, 38.”

Further, as the Catholic commentary in the Haydock Bible notes about this verse: All men take not this word. To translate all cannot take, or cannot receive this word, is neither conformable to the Latin nor Greek text. To be able to live singly, and chastely, is given to every one that asketh, and prayeth for the grace of God to enable him to live so. (Witham) --- That is, all receive not the gift of living singly and chastely, unless they pray for the grace of God to enable them to live so, and for some it may be necessary to that end to fast as well as pray: and to those it is given from above. (Challoner) --- Jesus Christ takes occasion from the remark of the Pharisees to praise holy virginity, which he represents as a great and good gift of heaven; and such it has ever been considered in the eye of true and genuine religion. Hence it appears that besides commandments, there are evangelical counsels, to the observance of which it is both lawful and meritorious for a Christian to devote himself, especially for the purpose of employing himself with greater liberty and less encumbrance in the service of his God. --- Our Lord does not approve of the conclusion his disciples drew from his doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, lest he should seem to condemn matrimony both good and necessary; neither does he reprove them for it, lest he should seem to prefer it before the state of continency. His answer therefore prudently avoids both difficulties, by seeming to grant, on the one hand, that it was more expedient not to marry, because chastity is a great gift of God; (1 Corinthians vii.) and plainly shewing on the other, that only few can have this privilege, because all men take not this word, i.e. all are not called to this state. (Jansenius) --- All cannot receive it, because all do not wish it. The reward is held out to all. Let him who seeks for glory, not think of the labour. None would overcome, if all were afraid of engaging in the conflict. If some fail, are we to be less careful in our pursuit of virtue? Is the soldier terrified, because his comrade fights and falls by his side? (St. Chrysostom) --- He that can take it, let him take it. He that can fight, let him fight, overcome and triumph. It is the voice of the Lord animating his soldiers to victory. (St. Jerome) --- He that can take, let him take it. Some think that to take it, in this and the foregoing verse, is to understand; and so will have the sense to be, he that can understand what I have said of different eunuchs, let him understand it; as when Christ said elsewhere, he that hath ears to hear, let him hear. But others expound it as an admonition to men and women, not to engage themselves in a vow of living a single life, unless, after a serious deliberation, they have good grounds to think they can duly comply with this vow, otherwise let them not make it. Thus St. Jerome on this place, and St. Chrysostom where they both expressly take notice, that this grace is granted to every one that asketh and beggeth for it by prayer. (Witham) --- To the crown and glory of which state, let those aspire who feel themselves called by heaven.

This biblical truth, which is rejected by the Protestants, was taught repeatedly by the fathers of the Church – that is, those prominent Christian writers of the earliest centuries who repeated the truths learned from the apostles. Here are two of numerous examples that could be given.

St. John Chrysostom, A.D. 392: “That virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I will add that it is as much better than marriage as Heaven is better than Earth, as much better as angels are better than men.” (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2: 1116)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 350: “While you maintain perfect chastity, do not be puffed up in vain conceit against those who walk a humbler path in matrimony…. Because you have a possession of gold, do not on that account hold the silver in contempt.” (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1: 818c)

So, the view of the Roman Catholic Church remains that celibacy is more a reflection of life in Heaven, a source of detachment from the material world which aids in one’s relationship with God. Celibacy is designed to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to men. It is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.

Catholic priests are called to be espoused (married) to the Church itself, and espoused to God, without overwhelming, exclusive commitments interfering with the relationship. Celibacy was not required of popes, bishops, or priests in the early church. The early church favored asceticism and celibacy as ideals for clergy and popes, bishops, and priests, but they where nonetheless allowed to be married and sired children for over a thousand years after Christ Celibacy became obligatory for all priests in the west in the 12th century at the First Lateran Council (1123), Second Lateran Council (1139), and the Council of Trent (1545–64).

Jesus’ characterization (in Matthew 22:30) of the future status of all persons in heaven is officially designated “universal celibacy” by the Roman Catholic Church: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Free DVDs, Articles and Books