Until the start of the 4th c. no one mentions continence or celibacy imposed on deacons Diakonia – Diaconate, presbyters or bishops by ecclesiastical law. But the opinion that the discipline of continence was introduced in the West only under Popes Siricius and Innocent does not seem well-founded. The roots of this ideal can be found at the time of the apostles, when the ideal of virginity and celibacy was already widespread; also according to Tertullian Exh. cast. 13,4, numerous members of the clergy chose this kind of life. The fact that the decretals of Popes Siricius and Innocent were accepted is itself a sign of this apostolic origin and of the great spread of the practice of continence among clerics in both West and East, though we have more evidence of it in the West. At the origin of this precept is the evangelical and Pauline doctrine of celibacy, along with the influence exercised by Greek, Platonic and Stoic philosophy: in fact, continence was held in great esteem by the pagans. With baptism, Christians felt themselves better able to dominate their instincts. With respect to clerics, we must also bear in mind cultic continence, very widespread in many religions, esp. those of Greece and Rome, which obligated one to continence before performing the cultic acts. This ideal, therefore, already present in apostolic times, was increasingly strengthened and institutionalized to the point of becoming the norm.
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