1902 Encyclopedia > Clergy


CLERGY, a collective term signifying the body of " clerks," that is, in English, men in holy orders. Glericus, however, has, both itself and its equivalents in the languages of the Catholic countries of the Continent, a wider ecclesiastical signification; while in England a use of the word, originally abusive, but now so entirely accepted as to constitute a proper secondary meaning of the term, comprises in the class of persons signified by it all those employed in duties the discharge of which demands the acquirements of reading and writing, which were originally supposed to be the exclusive qualification of the clergy.

The word is derived from the Greek _____, which signi-fies a lot; but the authorities are by no means agreed in which sense the root is connected with the sense of the derivative, some conceiving that the original idea was that the clergy received the service of God as their lot or portion; others that they were the portion of the Lord ; and others again, with, as Bingham (Orig. Eccl., lib. i. cap. 5, sec. 9) seems to think, more reason, maintain that the word has reference to the choosing by lot, as was the case in early ages, of those to whom public offices were to be entrusted.

In the primitive times of the church the term canon was used as synonymous with clerk, from the names of all the persons in the service of any church having been in-scribed on a roll or KctvoV, whence they were termed canonici, a fact which shows that the practice of the Eoman Catholic Church in modern times of including all persons of all ranks in the service of the church, ordained or unordained, in the term clerks, or clergy, is at least in conformity with the practice of antiquity. The Eoman hierarchy now reckons four grades of clerks :—1st, those who are merely tonsured as a sign of the ecclesiastical destination, but have received no orders of any kind ; 2d, those who have received any of the four minor orders, as hostiarii, readers, exor-cists, or acolytes; 3d, those who have received orders as subdeacons, deacons, or priests ; 4th, those who have been consecrated to bishoprics, archbishoprics, or other of the higher dignities of the church. Monks, whether eremitic or coenobite, have not at any time formed as such any part of the body of the clergy. But it would seem that in the earliest ages of the church they were not deemed even eligible to the priesthood, inasmuch as it is said that St Siricius, who became Pope in the year 384, first permitted them to receive priests' orders. And we read in the epistles of St Ambrose that monks began to be ordained priests to-wards the end of the 4th century,-—St Athanasius naving been the first who ordained monks to the church of Alex-andria, in which course he was imitated in the West by St Eusebius, bishop of Yercelli.

At a very early period the church began to find the necessity of taking measures to stem the evil arising from the numbers of persons who embraced an ecclesiastical career from improper motives, and often without any intention of performing any of the duties of it. Of course the same evil has vexed the church in every age. From the first moment in which she became rich, worldly men were, and have alway been, found eager to share her riches without sharing her work. But in the early times, even while she was poor, the state of society was such that many unworthy motives operated to induce men who neither had nor fancied themselves to have any call to the priesthood, to seek its immunities. Not only was an ecclesiastical career the only one which offered to the studious or the lazy man any hopes of a tranquil life, and to the unwarlike immunity from the necessity of fighting, but it offered very solid and valuable privileges in the shape of specialities of jurisdiction both in civil and criminal causes, and in exemption from taxes. There is a very early decree of a congregation of bishops, ordering that no more persons shall be ordained than are needed for the service of each church. And the germ of a politico-economical idea may be observed in the reason given for the prohibition, which one would hardly have expected to find at that period, and which both eccle-siastical and civil rulers altogether lost sight of at a later time. Clerks, it was decreed, should not be unnecessarily multiplied to the prejudice of the poorer laity. Casuists of a later age have pronounced it to be sinful to receive first orders, without the intention of proceeding to take full orders. Gregory the Great likens those who entered the ecclesiastical state merely for the sake of a benefice to the crowds who followed the Saviour only because He multi-plied the miraculous loaves. The Council of Trent also at its twenty-fourth sitting, chap. 4, directs the refusal of ordination to those who may with probability be sup-posed to desire it for other than godly reasons.

Soldiers, slaves, comedians, tax-gatherers, those who had been married twice, and all persons exercising a mean and servile occupation could not be ordained. To which classes Bingham, particularizing more accurately, adds (Orig. Eccl., lib. 4):—" No stranger from another diocese, unless by letiers dismissory; no one who has performed public penance; no homicide, adulterer, or who had in time of persecution denied the faith ; no usurer ; no one who had mutilated any of his members ; no one who had been baptized only by a medical attendant, or by a heretic, or whose baptism was in any wise irregular; no one belong-ing to any guild of artificers; no legal official of the Eoman court; no guardian of a ward, as long as that office lasted; none who had ever suffered from insanity or diabolic possession ; to which certain other canonical impediments might be added."
Bingham (Orig., lib. 2. cap. 6. sec. 4) says that in some churches the clergy lived in common. Moroni says (article "Clero," Bid. Eccles.) that in the 4th and following centuries it is certain that almost everywhere the clergy adopted the practice of living in common. The first assertion seems to be somewhat too narrow in its scope, the second too wide. It is certain that the practice was more common than seems to be indicated by the phrase, " in some churches;" but the instance which Moroni gives in support of his assertion seems to show that the practice was far from universal. We read in a chronicle of the church of Augsburg, that in the time of Constantine, when a church was dedicated to St Afra, " clerks were established there living in common, according to the apostolic rule." Of the church of Eino-cotura in Mauritania, Sozomen tells us that the clerks there had " their dwelling, their table, all things, in short, in common." The venerable Bede says that Gregory I. ordered that the same rule should be observed in England. Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, is praised by St Ambrose for restoring the practice in question in his church. Leo IX. ordered that cloisters should be established in connection with the churches in order that the clergy might live in common. Hence divers churches were anciently called monasteries, and in a history of the church of Besangpn it is stated " that nothing is more common in ancient writings than to find any church called a monastery."

The immunities enjoyed by clerks of course differed largely at different times and in different countries, the extent of them having been gradually curtailed from a period a little earlier than the close of the Middle Ages. They consisted mainly in exemption from public burdens, both as regarded person and pocket, and in immunity from lay jurisdiction. This last enormous privilege, which became one of the main and most efficient instruments of the subjection of Europe to clerical tyranny, extended to matters both civil and criminal; though, as Bingham shows, it did not (always and everywhere) prevail in cases of heinous crime. The reader will find the whole subject lucidly set forth in the 5th book of Bingham's work.
This diversity of jurisdiction, and subjection of the clergy only to the sentences of judges bribed by their esprit de corps to judge leniently, led to the adoption of a scale of punishments for the offences of clerks avowedly much lighter than that which was inflicted for the same crimes on laymen. This part of the subject will be found fully elucidated in the 1st chapter of Bingham's 17th book; in the remaining chapter of which the penal portion of the canon law as regarding clerks is succinctly treated. (T. A. T.)

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