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Jennifer D. wrote:

Hi, guys —

In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 it reads:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."

  • Why do Catholic nuns and priests abstain from marriage and why do we abstain from meat on certain days if the Bible explicitly tells us not to?


  { Is 1 Timothy 4 fulfilled in priests and nuns not marrying and abstaining from meat on select days? }

Mike replied:

Hi Jenn,

The answer to your question is on my Scripture passages page under the Holy Orders section.

Our comments are indented. It states:

Some verses used against Priestly celibacy.
1 Timothy 3:2 — Bishop must be married once.

Those are not to be accepted who have married again after the death of their first wife lest this should prove an occasion for criticism. Celibacy as a law for the clergy was of later ecclesiastical institution, although as a counsel it was urged by St. Paul, himself.

1 Timothy 4:1-3 — The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red hot iron: they forbid marriage and prohibit foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth.

St. Paul objects to these prohibitions when they are the outcome of false principles which would regard marriage and certain foods as impure, but he has no objection to abstaining from marriage when properly understood and based on sound principles.
You said:
  • Why do Catholic nuns and priests abstain from marriage and why do we abstain from meat on certain days if the Bible explicitly tells us not to?

Catholic priests and nun abstain from meat and do penance on Friday for the sins of mankind. This is something every Catholic should do on every Friday.

There are other helpful answers in our searchable knowledge base.
There are a lot of quick answers there, so give it a try.

I searched the knowledge base for you and found portions of these web postings that are related to your question — reading them may help:

Hope this helps,


John replied:

Hi Jenn,

Let's deal with the question about eating certain meats on certain days. The Bible doesn't forbid us from abstaining from meats. It simply says that we don't have to follow the Jewish dietary laws.

There is a difference. The fact is the Bible encourages fasting . . . and a fast doesn't necessarily mean a total fast. We can fast from certain foods. The denial of flesh is an act of self discipline which helps us to say no to other (perhaps sinful) desires of the flesh. In the Catholic Church, while we encourage the faithful to do this sort of thing on there own, we also do it as a Church or Family.

Now to the issue of married clergy and nuns. Let's deal with nuns (and monks). These folks are not ordained clergy but they decide to consecrate their lives to religious work, without the encumbrance of family obligations.

This is a tradition that dates back to the Old Testament. Men, for example, took what was called a Nazirite Vow . . . whereby they abstained from marital relations. St. Paul, wrote in the one of his epistles to the Corinthians that if the grace were granted to remain celibate for the sake of the Gospel, one should do so. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9)

Now as it relates to clergy or Bishops, Paul, in writing both to Timothy and Titus, doesn't command that Bishops or presbyters (priests) be married to one wife and it's important to note that in the first couple of generations, just about all priests were fully ordained Bishops so the two terms were used interchangeably. Rather, Paul is saying make sure that when you ordain a man, he has, at most, one wife. In other words, you can't ordain a polygamist.

Remember that a lot of Pagans were coming into the Church and even some Jews practiced Polygamy. When these folks converted, they were expected to support all these wives but only have relations with their first wife but such men were not to be ordained. Paul himself was an Apostle and therefore Bishop. He was not married. He had no wife so he couldn't possibly be restricting ordination to married men.

Today the Church in West will on occasion ordain married men but the Eastern Churches do, in fact, routinely ordain married men however at no time can a priest marry after he is ordained. This has been the case since the beginning and from nearly the beginning it has been that the case that only unmarried men were elevated to the priesthood.

In the West, it became practice or discipline to ordain only single men for pastoral reasons. On some levels, it was better for a man to be able give his entire life to his flock:

  • It was easier for the congregations to support single men and
  • because there was persecution.

That's why they stopped ordaining married Bishops every where. The fact is the Roman Empire sought out Bishops and leaders of the Church and their families for persecution and the Church didn't want to put their bishops in the position of having to choose between watching their wives and children tortured and murdered, or deny Christ so there were very practical pastoral reasons that went into the discipline.

I hope this helps,


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