Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 71
Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira orders all married clergy to refrain from sexual relations with their wives. Collection of canons associated with the Council of Elvira (Iberian Peninsula), ca AD 300/600.
Canon 33
De episcopis et ministris, ut ab uxoribus abstineant.
Placuit in totum prohiberi episcopis, presbyteris et diaconibus positis in ministerio abstinere se a coniugibus suis et non generare filios. Quicumque uero fecerit, ab honore clericatus exterminetur.
(Martínez Díez, F. Rodríguez 1984: 253)
Canon 33
On the bishops and ministers that they should abstain from their wives
It pleased us to [introduce] a general prohibition for bishops, presbyters and deacons having a position in ministry: they shall abstain from their wives and not beget children. Whoever does so, shall be expelled from the clerical office.
(trans. M. Szada)


Editors of Hispana give the main text of the canon without a phrase uel omnibus clericis which is added after diaconibus in the one branch of tradition (see critical apparatus in the edition).
The interpretation of the canon depends on the understanding of the phrase positi in ministerio. If it is understood merely as "being in the service of the altar", the council decision can be interpreted as a requirement to periodically (when clerics celebrate the liturgy) refrain from the conjugal relations. But it seems more probable to understand positi in ministerio as "appointed to the clerical office", especially as the identical formula is used in canon 18 where it is nonsensical to understand it only as a reference to the ritual. Hence, the canon should be rather read as a requirement of the continual continence from the day of ordination (Heid 2000: 111-112).
Meigne (1975) interpreted the double negation (prohiberi... abstinere) literally and thought that the canon orders priest to have conjugal relations against the ascetic, Priscillianist tendencies (accordingly he dated the canon to ca 380). Against this view see especially (Griffe 1976, with grammatical considerations).

Place of event:

  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Elvira

About the source:

Title: Council of Elvira, Concilium Eliberritanum
Origin: Elvira (Iberian Peninsula)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
The exact date of the council and the nature of the Elvira canons continues to be debated. Vilella and Barred 2006, Villela 2014 argue that it is a late, heterogenous compilation created in many phases between the late 4th century and the second half of the 6th. The unitary view is defended by Sotomayor and Berdugo Villena, in Sotomayor, Fernandez Ubina eds. 2008: 89-114. The council is usually dated to the first quarter of the 4th century, see Sotomayor in Sotomayor, Fernandez Ubina eds. 2008: 137-168). For a more complete account of the recent research on the Council of Elvira see Sánchez 2008.
Concilium Eliberritanum, in: J. Vives ed., Concilios visigóticos e hispano-romanos, Barcelona-Madrid 1963.
G. Martínez Díez, F. Rodríguez, eds., La colección canónica Hispana, v. 4 Concilios Galos. Concilios Hispanos: primera parte, Madrid 1984.
S. Heid, Celibacy in the early church: the beginnings of a discipline of obligatory continence for clerics in East and West, San Francisco, CA 2000.
E. Griffe, "Le concile d’Elvire et les origines du célibat ecclésiastique", Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 77 (1976), 123-127.
M. Meigne, "Concile ou collection d’Elvire", Revue d’histoire ecclesiastique 70 (1975), 361-387.
M.J.L. Sánchez, "L’état actuel de la recherche sur le concile d’Elvire", Revue des sciences religieuses 82 (2008), 517-546.
M. Sotomayor and T. Berdugo Villena, "Valoración de las actas" in: M. Sotomayor, J. Fernández Ubiña, El Concilio de Elvira y su tiempo, Granada 2005, 89-114.
M. Sotomayor, Sobre la fecha del concilio in: M. Sotomayor, J. Fernández Ubiña, El Concilio de Elvira y su tiempo, Granada 2005, 137-168.
J. Vilella, P.-E. Barreda, Istituto Patristico Augustinianum, "¿Cánones del Concilio de Elvira o Cánones Pseudoiliberritanos?", Augustinianum 46 (2006), 285-373.
J. Vilella, „The Pseudo-Iliberritan Canon Texts”, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity 18 (2014), 210-259.


Sexual life - Sexual abstinence
    Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
      Relation with - Wife
        Described by a title - Minister/λειτουργός/ὑπηρέτης
          Administration of justice - Ecclesiastical
            Administration of justice - Demotion
              Private law - Ecclesiastical
                Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER71,