ABSTRACT

The pre-Reformation clergy, it has been suggested, often felt that although celibacy might require them not to marry, it did not oblige them to renounce sex. A closer study of the pre-Reformation church can provide a valuable context and texture to these Reformation debates, and evidence of the perceived position of the celibate priesthood in the life of the late medieval church. Clerical marriage had been the practice of the apostolic church, and was, he argued, still permitted in the Greek church, and the law of the Latin West was not only novel, but encouraged clerical incontinence. Marriage had been permitted to the Levitical priests, and, Wycliffe argued, there was no scriptural prohibition of marriage to those who would serve in the Christian church. Perhaps even more significantly, the argument in favour of clerical marriage came to be made alongside the physical reality of married priests, if not a married priesthood.