Continence in the Early Church

Hey everyone. Recently I had a talk with my Priest about continence in Early Church. Thanks to this article I was under impression that it was universal approach. My Priest thinks it isn’t necessarily true and that while celibacy in the Early Church was viewed as virtuous it would link New Testament Priesthood far too close to Old Testament Priesthood. We had a discussion and we both stated we would learn more and continue that discussion. So, what do you, my fellow forum members, think about this topic?

Also, I am not doing this to discredit my Priest. He clearly stated that topic is complicated and that our Bishop would agree with me probably, but that he isn’t convinced. I am simply doing this to learn and engage in interesting discussions. I have been in disagreement with our Priest before about some things and it doesn’t impact my respect for him nor our relations. It is much more about my interest in the topic.

Thank you all in advance.

See: Catholic Encylopedia

Thurston, H. (1908). Celibacy of the Clergy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. :

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What is the point the priest is making in connection with the Temple priesthood? There were restrictions on the kind of woman a priest was allowed to marry, but as far as I know, there was no priestly celibacy.

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I agree. Josephus wrote that SOME of the Essenes chose to remain celibate, but even then, not all, and they were not priests in any case.

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When I first saw the title of this thread I thought it said “incontinence in the Early Church”


Before celebrating Sacrifice, Old Testament Priests would abstain from sexual relations… or so I was told.


Yes, for 24 hours, I think, at least I remember reading that in connection with the ceremony performed by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. But there was never a celibacy requirement. Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law.

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This is the practice of married Eastern Catholic priests as well. 24 hours prior to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy they are required to abstain from sexual relations with their spouse. Well, I don’t know if “required” is the right word. I’m sure their are exceptions.


That’s funny…my first thought was, “Asia and Africa…and a bit later, Europe.”

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My understanding is that continence was practiced originally by priests (if they were married) the day and night before offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. Since Masses came to be offered by the same priest daily in the West, total continence was practiced even by the married. Ultimately, ordaining only the celibate (the unmarried) became the norm.

The East acceded instead to periodic continence, permitted due to less often service at the altar.

“The Apostolic origins of priestly celibacy” by Christian Cochini SJ is a good read on this. Here’s a briefer treatment of this topic among various essays on celibacy published on the Vatican website for the Congregation for Clergy:


This is an excellent video by Abbot Nicholas of Holy Resurrection Monastery in Wisconsin (Eastern Catholic), in which he discusses priestly celibacy in the East and West. It’s worth watching the whole video, even though it is nearly an hour.


It’s part of the rubrics so it has to be followed.

It was excellent, thanks for sharing.

I also watched the video of Fr. Mitch Pacwa interviewing the abbot from 6 years ago. Also very good.

Could listen to him for hours; and I love the Australian accent on a Greek abbot living in Wisconsin, USA! Only in America.

I think I might plan a visit to his monastery.

Deacon Christopher

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Yes. But you and I both know that in the East rules are “more like guidelines than actual rules.” :joy: There always seems to be an exception. For example, what if a married priest is required to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in his parish daily? Does that mean he and his wife must abstain indefinitely?

You can tack on that that monastery is formerly Ruthenian, and now Romanian . . .

And his mom was Roman Catholic, dad Greek Orthodox, born in Egypt, raised in Australia!

A man of all nations.


Thanks for posting that video! Can’t like it enough! This video could really strengthen people’s faith!

Abbot Nicholas’ views about celibacy directly connected to baptism (rather than priesthood) through martyrdom make a great deal of sense to me.

Traditionalists should really listen to Abbot Nicholas in regards to celibacy…

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That was my concern as well. Do Orthodox/Eastern Catholics celebrate Divine Liturgy less often? Because continence for married Priests would be very difficult if they have the same “Mass” frequency as latin Priests…

Yeah, norm is that they only celebrate it on Sunday. There may be occasional exceptions but AFAIK that’s the norm.


I totally agree. Abbot Nicholas’ linking of celibacy to baptism solved the mental dissonance that was created by having the Western and Eastern traditions taking different approaches to clerical celibacy. I wish Cardinal Robert Sarah would watch this video.

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