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Clergy

church, power, laity, persons, england, office, clergymen, distinction, bishops and life

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CLERGY, a collective term, under which that portion of the population of a country is comprehended who are in holy orders. It is used in contradistinction to laity, which comprehends all other per sons. Like most ecclesiastical terms, it is of Greek origin, the word tanpuctis (clericus) having been used in the sense of "appertaining to spiritual persons" by the Greek ecclesiastical writers. From clericue comes the word clerk, which is still a law-term used to designate clergy men, but which appears antiently not to have been confined to persons actually in holy orders, but to have been applied to persons possessed of a certain amount of learning.

The distinction of clergy and laity in the Christian church may be considered as coeval with the existence of the church itself; for in the apostolic period there were officers in the church specially ap pointed to discharge the duties of pastors or deacons, and even, as many suppose, bishops or overseers, who had the super intendence of various inferior officers. These persons, though they might not perhaps be entirely relieved from the ordinary duties of life, so that they might devote themselves exclusively to their sacred office, yet must necessarily have been nearly so, and it is certain that they were nominated to their offices by some peculiar forms. Very early however the distinction became complete. The bi shops, priests, and deacons of the Chris tian church, each ordained to the office in a manner which it was believed the founders of Christianity appointed, and each supposed to have received a peculiar spiritual grace by devolution from the apostles and from the founder of Chris tianity himself, soon formed a distinct body of men whom it was convenient to distinguish by some particular appella tion.

In Christian nations the distinction has been usually recognised by the state, who have allowed certain pnvileges or ex emptions to the clergy. No inconsider able share of temporal power, extending not only over the members of their own body, but over the laity, has in most states been conceded to them. In the old German confederation the sovereign power in some of the states was vested in ecclesiastics ; while at Rome there has been for many ages an elective head, in whom all temporal and spiritual authority over the states of the church has been vested.

It is easy to account for the ascendency of the clergy iu the middle ages, and their acquisition of power. They were the best instructed part of the population. The learning of the age was almost ex clusively theirs ; and knowledge is a i means of obtaining power. Beside this they had the means of working upon the ruder minds of the laity, in the power vested in them alone of administering the sacraments of the church, and of regu lating under what circumstances those sacraments ought to be administered. This enabled them to win acquiescence in any favourite design, sometimes by gentle influences and sometimes by terror The history of almost every country of modern Europe presents instances of struggles between the laity and the clergy for power or privilege. All power in the clergy of England to erect an autho rity dangerous to the laity, or to secure to themselves political immunities or pri vile inconsistent with the general was broken at the Reformation.

he clergy of England then became a fragment of a once great and well dis ciplined body dispersed through the whole of Christendom, which, when acting with common effort, and putting forth all its strength, it had been difficult for any single temporal prince to resist with effect.

The clergy were before the Reform ation in England divided into regu lar and secular. The regular clergy were the religious orders who lived under some religious rule (regale), such as abbots and monks. The secular clergy were those who did not live under a re ligious rule, but had the care of souls, as bishops and priests. The phrase the clergy now means in the English and Irish esta blished church all persons who are in holy orders. The privileges which the law of England allows to the clergy are but a faint shadow of the privileges which they enjoyed before the Reformation. A clergyman cannot be compelled to serve on a jury, or to appear at a court leet or view of frankpledge. He cannot be compelled to serve the office of bailiff reeve, constable, or the like. He is pri vileged from arrest in civil suits while engaged in divine service, and while going to or returning from it; and it is a misdemeanour to arrest him while he is so engaged. (5 Geo. IV. c. 31, s. 23.) He is exempted from paying toll at turn pike-gstes, when going to or returning from his parochial duty. He could claim benefit of clergy more than once. [BENI: P1T OF CLERGY.] The clergy cannot now sit in the House of Commons. This was formerly a doubtful point, but it was set tled by 41 Geo. III. c. 63, which enacted that " no person having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon, or being a minister of the Church of Scotland, is capable of being elected ;" and that if he should sit or vote, he is liable to forfeit 500/. for each day, to any one who may sue for it. The Roman Catholic clergy are excluded, by 10 Geo. IV. c. 7, § 9. (May's Parliament, p. 27.) The old ecclesiastical constitutions pro hibited clergymen acting as judges in causes of life and death ; but there was usually a clause saving the privilege of the king to employ whom he thought proper in any way, and the prohibition was there fore of little practical effect. The bishops, however, do not at the present day vote in the House of Lords in any case of life or death. [BISHOP, p. 376.] Ecclesiasti cal persons have sat as chief justices of the King's Bench in former times. (Blacks. (,'omm. c. 17.) The last ecclesiastic who filled the office of lord high chan cellor was Bishop Williams, from 1621 to 1625 [CHANCELLOR, p. 480] ; and the last who acted publicly in a diplomatic capacity was the Bishop of Bristol, at Utrecht, when the treaty of 1713 was negotiated. In 1831 a parliamentary paper was issued (No. 39), which showed the number of clergymen in the commis sion of the peace in England. In many counties the proportion of clergymen was one-third of the whole number of jus tices ; in several counties above one half; in Derbyshire and Sussex there was not one clergyman in the commis sion, and in Kent only two. Lord-lien tenants have in some cases made it a rule not to recommend clergymen to the lord chancellor. This is in strict accordance with some of the old constitutions, which were founded on the principle that clergy men should not be entangled with tem poral affairs.

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