Friday, 7 September 2012


A cleric is a member of the clergy.

The church was a lucrative career. There were many ways in which a person could rise in the Church in England and make a good living from it. Following the Norman invasion and during the century or so afterwards the Church greatly increased its wealth in terms of both money and land. As a result it was able to offer many opportunities for the landless and dispossessed younger sons of the nobility. And yet others came from the rising middle and merchant class. Becket was one of these. Of course the richer offerings were the bishoprics, If you were a bishop you were an extremely  wealthy baron. English bishoprics were particularly lucrative, far more so than their equivalents in Italy.

In the monastic world in England there were many valuable positions [livings]: priorships and abbacies. Some of the latter were mitred, and in other words they were the equivalent of bishops and were granted a barony by the king and sat in his council. But a cathedral had many more dignities to offer: deanships, precentorships, chancellorships, prebends and archdeaconeries, and of course all of these had a price and had to be bought, as did any other post in government or the Church at this time.

The question at stake in this affair, "Are clerics subjects of the King of England, subject to his authority, subject to his courts if they wrong do?" In one sense they ought to be, in other senses very definitely not so.

Should the ecclesiastical privilege of Privilegium fori or Benefit of Clergy really protect clerics from proper due punishment in  a King's Court when they have committed serious crimes (felonies)?


The term cleric refers to anyone who has received the clerical tonsure from his bishop, including deacons, priests, and bishops. At the time of the Constitutions of Clarendon, as many as one-sixth of the population of England may have been counted as clerics. The term Clerics could include all kinds of lay persons who worked for the Church, engaged in no more than writing letters, and not necessarily received into holy orders as priests. The Church [and state] had very great need of large numbers of people who could both read and write. It was generally the Church who taught literacy. Essentially a cleric was an educated person, a cut above being a villein.


Essentially the tonsure was the badge of office of a cleric. A confirmed Christian is received into clerical order by his bishop by the shearing of his hair and the investment with the surplice.  At the fourth council of Toledo in 633 it was decreed that `all clerics must shave the whole front part of the hair, leaving only a circular crown on the back'; the form of a tonsure could differ in the several lands of Christendom.

Degradation of a cleric involved breaking the circle  [rupto corone circulo] of his tonsure, and stripping him of his special vestments.

Fanning, W. (1912). Tonsure. In The Catholic Encyclopedia.

J.B. Bury. The Cambridge Medieval History Series volumes 1-5. Plantagenet Publishing. pp. 2431–.

The Seven Clerical Orders

Their number, according to the uniform and universal doctrine of the Catholic Church, is seven, Porter, Reader, Exorcist, Acolyte, Sub-deacon, Deacon and Priest. ... Of these, some are greater, which are called 'Holy', some lesser, which are called 'Minor Orders'. The great or Holy Orders are Sub-deaconship, Deaconship and Priesthood; the lesser or Minor Orders are Porter, Reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte.
Doorkeeper/Porter  = Ostiarius
Reader = Lector
Exorcist = Exorcista
Acolyte = Acolyta

Julia Barrow (2015). The Clergy in the Medieval World. Chapter 2: The Clerical Office, Grades of Ordination and Clerical Careers: Cambridge University Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-1-107-08638-8.

Toner, P. (1909). Exorcist. In The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Major orders - Wikipedia or Holy Orders
Clerical Immunity/Benefit of Clergy

Frederick Pollock; Frederic William Maitland. The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward IThe Religious The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. pp. 433–. ISBN 978-1-58477-718-2.

Frederick Pollock; Frederic William Maitland. The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward IThe Clergy The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. pp. 439–. ISBN 978-1-58477-718-2

Benefit of clergy - Wikipedia

Constitutions of Clarendon: Priveligium Fori - Privilege of the forum

Henry Charles Lea (1869). "Benefit of Clergy"Studies in church history: The rise of the temporal power.--Benefit of clergy.--Excommunication. H. C. Lea. pp. 169–.

Miller, J. Earll (1917)

Henry C. Lea (1883)

A New Law Dictionary and Glossary:  Benefit of Clergy: J.S. Voorhies. 1850. pp. 142–.

The English Criminal Law and Benefit of Clergy during the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century
Arthur Lyon Cross
The American Historical Review
Vol. 22, No. 3 (Apr., 1917), pp. 544-565
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association

J. H. Burns (1991). The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought C.350-c.1450. Cambridge University Press. pp. 387–. ISBN 978-0-521-42388-5.

Henricus de Bracton (1915). De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Angliae. Oxford University Press.

Caroline S. Dunn (2007). Damsels in Distress Or Partners in Crime? The Abduction of Women in Medieval England. ProQuest. pp. 334–. ISBN 978-0-549-28548-9.

Bracton Online
Bracton: De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Angliæ
(Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England
Volume 4

James Fitzjames Stephen A History of the Criminal Law of England. Cambridge University Press. pp. 457–. ISBN 978-1-108-06071-4.


Daron Burrows; Daron Lee Burrows (2005). The Stereotype of the Priest in the Old French Fabliaux: Anticlerical Satire and Lay Identity. Peter Lang. pp. 49–. ISBN 978-3-03910-072-9.

John Hostettler (2009). A History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales. Waterside Press. pp. 44–. ISBN 978-1-906534-79-0

Wilfred Lewis Warren (1973). Henry II. University of California Press. p. 460. ISBN 978-0-520-02282-9.

H. S. Bennett (1990). The Pastons and Their England: Studies in an Age of Transition. Chapter XV: The Secular Clergy: Cambridge University Press. pp. 212–. ISBN 978-0-521-39826-8.

John A. Wagner; Susan Walters Schmid (2012). Encyclopedia of Tudor England. ABC-CLIO. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-1-59884-298-2.

Fanning, William. "Tonsure." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Fanning, W. (1908). Cleric. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Schriber, Carolyn Polling. (1988). The Decretal In Litteris and the Case of Henry the Counterfeiter. Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 19(1). 

Scissors or Sword? The Symbolism of a Medieval Haircut
By Simon Coates
History Today Volume: 49 Issue: 5 1999

Victoria Sherrow (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 272–. ISBN 978-0-313-33145-9.

Ralph Griffiths; George Edward Griffiths (1764). "Gilpin's Lives of The Reformers"The Monthly Review. R. Griffiths.. pp. 428–.

John Mockett Cramp (1841). A text-book of popery comprising a brief history of the council of Trent & a complete view of Roman-Catholic theology. Houlston & Stonemar. pp. 290–.

Julia Barrow (2015). The Clergy in the Medieval World: Secular Clerics, Their Families and Careers in North-Western Europe, c.800–c.1200. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-1-316-24091-5.
 CUP Link

Canonical age - Wikipedia

Rock, P.M.J. (1907). Canonical Age. In The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Gaston Chamillard (1659). De Corona, Tonsura et Habitu Clericorum, locupl. Canonum ... Collectio.

Peter Heath (2013). The English Parish Clergy on the Eve of the Reformation. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-1-135-03193-0. 

Ganter, B. J. (1955). Clerical Attire: A Historical Synopsis and a Commentary (No. 361). Catholic University of America Press.
Bernard J. Ganter (1955). Clerical Attire: A Historical Synopsis and a Commentary. Catholic University of America Press.

Gratian's decretals

Gratian distinguished between two kinds of christian, i.e. the body of Christians was made up of two orders: genus clericorum and genus laycorum, sacerdotal and lay, its spiritual and secular members.

Gratian C.12 q.1 c.7

Rosamond McKitterick (1995). The New Cambridge medieval history. Cambridge University Press. p. 432.

The genus clericorum was crowned with the tonsure, 'for they are kings: that is, they rule themselves and others by their virtues and so they have a kingdom in God".

C. VII. Clericis et Deo deuotis nec causas agere, nec aliquid proprium habere licet.

Item Ieronimus ad quendam suum Levitam, de duobus generibus hominum

Duo sunt genera Christianorum.
Est autem genus unum, quod mancipatum divino officio, et deditum contemplationi et orationi, ab omni strepitu temporalium cessare convenit, ut sunt clerici, et Deo devoti, videlicet conversi. κληρος enim grece latine sors. Inde huiusmodi homines vocantur clerici, id est sorte electi. Omnes enim Deus in suos elegit. Hi namque sunt reges, id est se et alios regentes in virtutibus, et ita in Deo regnum habent. Et hoc designat corona in capite. Hanc coronam habent ab institutione Romanae ecclesiae in signo regni, quod in Christo expectatur. Rasio vero capitis est temporalium omnium depositio. Illi enim victu et vestitu contenti nullam inter se proprietatem habentes, debent habere omnia communia.

Aliud vero est genus Christianorum, ut sunt laici. λαός enim est populus. His licet temporalia possidere, sed non nisi ad usum, Nichil enim miserius est quam propter nummum Deum contempnere. His concessum est uxorem ducere, terram colere, inter virum et virum iudicare, causas agere, oblationes super altaria ponere, decimas reddere, et ita salvari poterunt, si vicia tamen benefaciendo evitaverint.

Corpus juris canonici academicum. Impensis E. & J.R. Thurnisiorum. 1746. pp. Col 589–90.
Gratianus: Decreti Secunda Pars: Quaestio I. Capita VII. 
Clericis et Deo deuotis nec causas agere, nec aliquid proprium habere licet.

Robert Grosseteste. Roberti Grosseteste Episcopi Quondam Lincolniensis Epistolae. Cambridge University Press. pp. 208–. ISBN 978-1-108-04280-2.

Translation into German

Translation into English

The clergy and devotees through vows are not allowed to own goods.

Likewise this same St Jerome [in his translation of the Bible], wrote about the Levites and the two kinds of people.

There are two kinds of Christians.

One kind is given over to the service of God and devoted to contemplation and prayer, and are to stay away from all the noise of temporal matters; these are namely the clergy who have been consecrated to God by vow or by vocation; these are namely the κληρος, (kleros) which means in Greek casting lots, which is in Latin sors also meaning casting lots. Therefore, such people are called clerics, as it were,"chosen by lot". For God has chosen his own men. These are kings, those who rule over themselves and others by virtue; they have the kingdom of God. And this is symbolised by the crown (tonsure) on their head. This crown they have received by institution of the Roman Church as a sign of the kingdom, which is, in Christ, to come. The shaving of the head represents truly the laying aside of all matters temporal. They may content themselves with food and clothing, but for those who have no property amongst themselves, they should share all things in common.

But there are the other kind of Christians, namely the laity. Λαός (Laos), namely people. This kind of Christian is allowed to possess temporal things, but only for use; because nothing is more pathetic than to despise God for the sake of money. They may marry, till the earth, be judges of each other, to undertake business, to place offerings on the altar, to pay their tithes, so thereby they may come into salvation, if they avoid vice by doing good.

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