Virginity in an ecclesiastical sense, is the unmarried or celibate state, voluntarily accepted as a means of holiness. The pre-eminence of the virgin state is very generally taught by the Christian fathers from the apostolic age. Virginity was from the first a lifelong profession; but virgins did not, at first, live in community, but with parents or relatives. In some cases they adopted a peculiar dress; but such was not the general usage. The vow was in many instances secretly made, and did not require ecclesiastical sanction. Early in the 3rd century, however, the Church gave direct sanction to the vow of virginity, and made regulations for the conduct of those who took the vow. It was during the same century that community life among celibates originated, by the association of those under the vow in one home for prayer and works of charity. Since that time, in the churches which encourage the monastic life, numerous orders of celibates have sprung up, and are today exercising a considerable influence in the world. SEE MONASTICISM; SEE NUN; SEE SISTERHOODS.