Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time. Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife. Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife: lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by his presence, as the Gospel saith: “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder;” and the Apostle saith, “Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled;” and again, “Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed.” But we know, as they who assembled at Carthage (with a care for the honest life of the clergy) said, that subdeacons, who handle the Holy Mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters should abstain from their consorts according to their own course [of ministration]. So that what has been handed down through the Apostles and preserved by ancient custom, we too likewise maintain, knowing that there is a time for all things and especially for fasting and prayer. For it is meet that they who assist at the divine altar should be absolutely continent when they are handling holy things, in order that they may be able to obtain from God what they ask in sincerity.
If therefore anyone shall have dared, contrary to the Apostolic Canons, to deprive any of those who are in holy orders, presbyter, or deacon, or subdeacon of cohabitation and intercourse with his lawful wife, let him be deposed. In like manner also if any presbyter or deacon on pretence of piety has dismissed his wife, let him be excluded from communion; and if he persevere in this let him be deposed.
p. 372 Fleury.
What is said in this canon, that the council of Carthage orders priests to abstain from their wives at prescribed periods, is a misunderstanding of the decree, caused either by malice or by ignorance. This canon is one of those adopted by the Fifth Council of Carthage held in the year 400, and it is decreed that subdeacons, deacons; priests, and bishops shall abstain from their wives, following the ancient statutes, and shall be as though they had them not. The Greek version of this canon has rendered the Latin words priora statuta by these, idious horous, which may mean “fixed times”: for the translator read, following another codex, propria for priora. Be this as it may, the Fathers of the Trullan council supposed that this obliged the clergy only to continence at certain fixed times, and were not willing to see that it included bishops as well.
Although the Latin Church does not disapprove, 360 as contrary to the law of the Gospel the discipline of the Greeks which allows the use of marriage to presbyters and deacons, provided it was contracted before ordination; yet never has it approved this canon which with too great zeal condemns the opposite custom, and rashly assigns great errors to the Roman Church.
Antonius Augustinus in his proposed emendations of Gratian says (Lib. I. dial. de emend. Grat. c. 8.): “This canon can in no way be received; for it is written in opposition to the celibacy of the Latin priests, and openly is against the Roman Church.” But to me the note which Gratian appends seems much more learned and true: “This however must be understood as of local application; for the Eastern Church, to which the VI. Synod prescribed this rule, did not receive a vow of chastity from the ministers of the altar.” It may be well to note here that by the opinion of most Latin casuists the obligation to chastity among the Roman clergy rests upon the vow and not upon any law of the Church binding thereto. This evidently was the opinion of Gratian.
Clement VIII. made a decree in conformity with this canon that a Greek presbyter who was married shall abstain from his wife for a week or three days before he offered the sacrifice of the mass. Const. 33, in Bull. Rom (cit. Van Espen l. c.)