Definitions

celibacy

celibacy

[sel-uh-buh-see]
celibacy, voluntary refusal to enter the married state, with abstinence from sexual activity. It is one of the typically Christian forms of asceticism. In ancient Rome the vestal virgins were celibates, and successful monasticism has everywhere been accompanied by celibacy as an ideal. Among ancient Jews the Essenes were celibates. In the Judaism of postexilic times, sexual activity in the married state was considered lawful and good; otherwise it was unlawful. This norm remained in Christianity. But the mainstream of Christian tradition from the start has interpreted the Gospels and epistles as teaching that voluntary celibacy, especially virginity, is peculiarly meritorious.

In the Orthodox Eastern churches, ordinary parish clergy are married, but monks, nuns, and bishops are celibates. In the West, celibacy was common among the parish clergy beginning the 3d cent.; as time passed, the Holy See became adamant in opposing the marriage of the secular clergy (see orders, holy). By the early Middle Ages, marriage of the clergy had fallen into disrepute; church reformers aimed at concubinage and violations of the laws of chastity rather than of marriage. In the 12th cent. the most stringent laws were enacted, and by the time of the Reformation popular opinion tolerated neither concubinage nor marriage in the clergy. Protestantism rejected voluntary celibacy as an ideal.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Roman rite allows no sacerdotal marriage, but the clergy of Eastern rites united with the Holy See are often married before ordination. Some married priests from other religions or rites have converted to Catholicism and been accepted, but not all dioceses have permitted these priests to practice. Although recent popes and various national groupings of bishops have insisted on the retention of celibacy for priests, there has been considerable pressure in the United States and Europe in support of voluntary marriage for the clergy. A standard defense of the Western discipline of celibacy for parish priests is that marriage would prevent the priest from giving his complete attention to his parish; critics complain that unmarried clergy are unfit to give counsel on marital and sexual problems. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has restored the office of deacon to a prominent place in the ministry and accepts married men into it.

The deliberate abstinence from sexual activity, usually in connection with a religious role or practice. It has existed in some form in most world religions. It may indicate a person's ritual purity (sexual relations being viewed as polluting) or may be adopted to facilitate spiritual advancement (as sexual activity would take place only within the bonds of matrimony, marriage and family were seen as an entangling distraction). In shamanistic religions, shamans are often celibate. In Hinduism, “holy men” (or women) who have left ordinary secular life to seek final liberation are celibate. Buddhism began as a celibate order, though many sects have since given up celibacy. Chinese taoism has monastics and independent celibate adepts. Islam has no institutional celibacy, but individuals may embrace it for personal spiritual advancement. Judaism has prescribed periods of abstinence, but long-term celibacy has not played a large role. The early Christian church tended to regard celibacy as superior to marriage. Since the 12th century it has been the rule for Roman Catholic clergy, though clerical celibacy was never adopted by Protestantism.

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Celibacy refers to the lack of participation in sexual intercourse. A vow of celibacy is a promise not to have sex and not to enter into marriage. The term involuntary celibacy has recently appeared to describe a chronic, unwilling state of celibacy. Sometimes the word is also defined as the state of being unmarried.

Motivations

  • Religious beliefs, e.g. Clerical celibacy, sannyasa.
  • To focus energies on other matters, like one's career or social issues, e.g. sublimation.
  • To cultivate a relationship according to an ideal of chastity.
  • A distaste or lack of appetite for sex, e.g. asexuality or antisexualism.
  • An inability to form a sexual relationship, e.g. involuntary celibacy.
  • Perceived benefit of alteration of physiological factors, e.g. hormonal changes.
  • As an attempt to regain a sense of self and independence from others.
  • Medical limitations, e.g. medical celibacy.
  • Avoiding risk of venereal disease.
  • Avoiding being emotionally hurt.
  • As a means of birth control.
  • Avoiding prosecution, e.g. for homosexual relations under sodomy laws.

Christianity

The question of celibacy is handled differently by various Christian authorities.

The Bible teaches celibacy to be honorable, but not required. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (verses 1-2); "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (verses 7-9); "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (verses 32-35)

Catholics understand celibacy to be a reflection of life in Heaven, and a source of detachment from the material world, which aids in one's relationship with God. Catholic priests are called to be espoused to the Church itself, and espoused to God, without overwhelming, exclusive commitments interfering with the relationship. Catholics understand celibacy as the calling of some, but not of all.

A few Christian sects even advocated celibacy as a better way of life for everyone. These groups included the following: The Shakers, The Harmony Society, and The Ephrata Cloister. These groups no longer exist.

Notable celibates

People who have professed celibacy, or who are otherwise believed to be (or to have been) notably celibate:

  • Samuel J. Tilden who was the Democratic Party's candidate for President of the United States in 1876 and Governor of New York confided to a friend that he had never had sex with a woman. He is believed to have died celibate in 1886.
  • Sant Dnyaneshwar, a writer, poet and Yogi from Maharashtra was celibate throughout his short life of 21 years. His brothers Nivruttinath and Sopandev and his sister Muktai also observed celibacy.
  • Mahatma Gandhi, considered the Father of India, took a vow of celibacy at the age of 37 after already being married and with a family, and remained so for the rest of his life.
  • Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, one of the all time great spiritual figures in Hinduism.
  • Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, was one of the most famous spiritual teachers of the Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism.
  • Stephen Fry, the British actor, comedian, writer, critic, novelist and taxi driver, was the UK's most prominent and vocal celibate for several years, although he is now actively homosexual again.
  • Isaac Newton, the mathematician and scientist was a virgin all his life.
  • Immanuel Kant, the Prussian philosopher, author of Critique of Pure Reason, died a virgin at age of 80.
  • Cliff Richard, singer, is one of the most vocal celibates of modern times.
  • Simone Weil was one of the best known European political thinkers of the 20th Century and, as far as anybody knows, a lifelong celibate.
  • Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher and theologian, is also rumoured to have been a lifelong celibate.
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, the American academic whose empathy with animals has led to her being a highly successful designer of humane animal management systems, is a voluntary celibate.
  • Stevie Smith, poet and novelist, was celibate all her adult life, after sampling and rejecting romance and sex in her youth. She was fiercely critical of those who thought that her life must be emotionally impoverished by not having sexual relationships any more, emphasizing the depth of her friendships, especially her bond with the aunt with whom she lived.
  • William Pitt the Younger, British Prime Minister, is generally agreed by historians to have died a virgin.
  • Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author, probably never had any sexual relations.
  • Nikola Tesla, who developed the system of alternating electrical current that is the standard nowadays worldwide, was a self-proclaimed celibate.
  • Carol Channing, the Broadway musical star of Hello Dolly fame was celibate in her marriage to Charles Lowe for 41 years.
  • Morrissey, the British singer and former member of the Smiths, was openly celibate for several years.
  • Benjamin N. Cardozo, former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and later Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is believed to have been celibate for most if not all of his life.
  • G. H. Hardy, twentieth century English mathematician who made ample contributions in number theory and who co-authored the famous Hardy-Weinberg law of population genetics. He was also the mentor of legendary prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan.
  • Paul Erdos, one of the most prolific mathematicians in history, having participated in more than 20,000 papers. He was born in Hungary but never held a home or a job, relying instead on the hospitality of other mathematicians with whom he collaborated and on the money he received for conferences. See The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman (Hyperion, 1998).
  • Abdul Kalam, former President of India, also known as The Missile Man of India for his contributions to the Indian missile program, is a thorough celibate.
  • Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect most famous for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, is said to never have had sex.
  • "Divorced novelist Beryl Bainbridge revealed that she gave up men because, when she was 56, she felt having a physical relationship with a man was 'no longer dignified', and anyway her life was far too full of other things like writing, children and friends." - quote from a Daily Mail article by Jenny Nisbet (approx.) 1 December 1998.
  • Rufus Wainwright, who after being raped at 14 remained celibate for seven years.
  • Rivers Cuomo, the American musician, took a vow of celibacy for several years while completing his studies at Harvard University. He began practicing Vipassana meditation around the same time. Cuomo discontinued his vow when he married Kyoko Ito on June 18, 2006.
  • Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, remained celibate throughout her life as she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
  • Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador remained celibate since his entrance into the seminary at age 13
  • Egyptian author and Islamist, Sayyid Qutb became celibate because of his inability to find a woman of "sufficient moral purity and discretion".
  • Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber did not have a sex life, and at the age of 54 was still a virgin when he was arrested.
  • Mohammed Atta, who led the nineteen hijackers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was involuntarily celibate.

See also

References

External links

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