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Discipline of The Clergy: Medieval and Modern

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2008

R. H. Helmholz
Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago


Discipline of the clergy is a subject of perennial interest—both in the popular press whenever something sensational takes place, and among the clergy and thoughtful lawyers when they are confronted either with the general problem of how best to fashion the church's law or the more immediate problem of how to deal with offenders against the church's law. The subject also has a long history. The purpose of this article is to bring to light a chapter from the century or so before the Reformation. Evidence taken from the medieval canon law and from the court records of the later Middle Ages may be of interest—and perhaps even relevance—to members of the Ecclesiastical Law Society. It has been my pleasure and good fortune to discover that many of them are not immune to the claims of history.

Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2002

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1 For an indication of some of the scholarly disagreements, see Hostiensis, , Summa aurea (Venice 1573), Lib. V, tit. De accusationibus, no. 5.Google Scholar

2 X 2.20.14: X 5.1.10.Google Scholar

3 See, e.g., de Clavasio, Angelus, Summa Angelica (Nuremberg 1492),Google Scholar s.v. Teste, no. 18., stating the rule plainly and citing C.2q. 7c. 38; Durantis, Willelmus, Speculum iudiciale (Basel 1574, repr. 1975), Lib. III, Pt. 1. tit. De accusatione § 3, no. 2;Google ScholarPanormitanus, , Commentaria in libros Decretalium (Venice 1617), ad X 5.1.12, nos. 57–6.Google Scholar

4 C. 2q. 7c. 15.Google Scholar

5 C.2q. 7c. 9. See also gl. ord. ad X 5.7.12 s.v. quisque tenetur.Google Scholar

6 C. 12 q. 1 c. 7: ‘Duo sunt genera Christianorum’. See also gl. ord. ad C. 2q. 7c. 6: ‘quia sicut discreti et separati sunt laici a conversatione clericorum’.Google Scholar

7 C. 2q. 7c. 8.Google Scholar

8 C. 2q. 7c. 5.Google Scholar

9 Chodorow, Stanley, Christian Political Theory and Church Politics in the Mid-Twelfth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1972), pp. 8992.Google Scholar

10 E.g., Cod. 9.1.12. restricting the right of women to bring criminal accusations.Google Scholar

11 Gl. ord. ad X 5.1.10 s.v.laicus.Google Scholar

12 X 5.1.19. See generally, Fraher, Richard A., ‘The Theoretical Justification for the New Criminal Law of the High Middle Ages: Rei Publicae Interest, Ne crimina remaneant impunita, 1984 University of Illinois Law Review, pp. 577595;Google ScholarKelly, Henry A., ‘Inquisition and the Prosecution of Heresy: Misconceptions and Abuses’, Church History 58 (1989). pp. 439451.Google Scholar

13 A considerable amount of scholarship has been devoted to assessing the conduct of the clergy in the years prior to the Reformation. Among them: Bowker, Margaret, The Secular Clergy in the Diocese of Lincoln 1495–1520 (Cambridge 1968), pp. 85128;Google ScholarHeath, Peter, The English Parish clergy on the Eve of the Reformation (London and Toronto 1969);Google ScholarHoulbrooke, Ralph, Church Courts and the People during the English Reformation 1520–1570 (Oxford 1979). pp. 173213;Google ScholarMarshall, Peter, The Catholic Priesthood and the English Reformation (Oxford 1994).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14 Ex officio c. Payn (London 1470), Guildhall Library, London. Act Book MS. 9064/1.f.3v.Google Scholar

15 Ex officio c. Hang (London 1489), Guildhall Library, London, Act Book MS. 9064/2. f. 206: ‘inhoneste vivit quia nullam feminam dimittit inviolatam’.Google Scholar

16 Ex officio c. Dayo (Hereford 1443), Hereford RO, Act Book 0/2, p. 53.Google Scholar

17 Ex officio c. Vicar of Malling (Rochester 1447), Kent Archives Office, Act Book DRb Pa. 2, f. 62. See also Ex officio c. Vicar of Hollingbourne (Canterbury 1451), CCA, Act Book X. 1.1, f. 27: ‘dimisit vicariam suam inofficiatam et in defectu eius puer Thome Totman iacuit per ii dies non baptizatus’.Google Scholar

18 Guildhall Library, London, Act Book MS. 9064/1, f. 5 ‘Rector ibidem recusavit dare sacramentum Eukaristie Johanni White ex hoc quod non potuit habere ab eo l d’.Google Scholar

19 Ex officio c. Ade (Ely 1465), CUL, EDR Liber B, f. 24v: ‘recusat visitare infirmas parochianas ante purificationem earundem’.Google Scholar

20 Wiltshire RO., Trowbridge, MS. D1/45/1, f. 1710.Google Scholar

21 E.g., Ex officio c. vicar, Pope of Aldeburgh (York 1441), BI, Act Book D/C. ABI, f. 99; Ex officio c. Warde (London 1484), Guildhall Library, London, Act Book MS. 9064/2, f. 94v (withholding chantry services); Parishioners of Overton c. Bruce (Hereford 1492), Herefold RO. Act Book I/1, p. 30v: ‘causa subtractionis divini officii’.Google Scholar

22 E.g., Presentment of parish of Wisbech (Ely 1480), EDR, Liber B, f. 30: ‘Yconomi presentant quod cancellus patitur defectum in fenestris in defectu rectoris et vicarii adeo quod candelabria et alia ornamenta ecclesie deturpantur et deteriorentur’. Other examples: Ex officio c. Hamond (Hereford 1442), Hereford RO, Act Book 0/2, p. 67; Ex officio promoto c. Twys (Lichfield 1468), LJRO, Act Book B/C/1/1, f. 216v; Ex officio c. Brown (Canterbury 1470). CCA, Act Book Y.l.ll.f. 110.Google Scholar

23 Presentment of Parish of Wisbech (Ely 1467), CUL, EDR Liber B. f. 26.Google Scholar

24 Ex officio c. Goodgam (Winchester 1523), Hampshire Record Office, Act Book 21 M65/C1/2, f. 8: ‘super delicto ebrietatis’.Google Scholar

25 Ex officio c. Benet (York, 1410), BI, Act Book D/C.AB.l, f. 21: ‘commisit peccatum sodomiticum cum diversis hominibus eiusdem ville’.Google Scholar

26 Ex officio promoto c. Rule (Lichfield 1464), LJRO, Act Book B/C/l/1, f. 2v: ‘negotium correctionis sive symoniace pravitatis’.Google Scholar

27 Ex officio c. Coke (Canterbury 1469), CCA, Act Book Y.l.ll, f. 57v: ‘notatur quod revelavit confessionem Agnetis filie sue spiritualis’.Google Scholar

28 Ex officio c. Aunswell, Hereford RO, Act Book O/27, pp. 93–4(1517).Google Scholar

29 Churchwardens of Pedewel c. Pedewich (Bath and Wells 1459), Somerset RO, Taunton, Act Book D/D/Ca l, p. 296: ‘causa non residencie’.Google Scholar

30 See also the many examples in Hale, William, A Series of Precedents and Proceedings in Criminal Causes, 1475–1640 (3d ed.Edinburgh, 1973), Index (pp. 170171), s.v. Clerical Misconduct.Google Scholar

31 BI, Act Book D/C.AB.2, f.206v.Google Scholar

32 E.g., Ex officio c. Pecok (Canterbury 1514), CCA, Act Book Z.3.3, f. 6v: ‘de communi rixatione et litium suscitatione inter parochianos et pomposa ostentatione in locis mercati’.Google Scholar

33 E.g., Ex officio c.Spake (Lichfield 1464), LJRO, Act Book B/C/l/l, f.5: ‘causa correctionis animae domini Thome Spake rectoris ecclesie parochialis de Crayton Basett ex officio ad pro motionem Roberti Gilson de eadem parochia’.Google Scholar

34 Ex officio c. Kay (Archdeaconry of St Albans 1515), Hertford RO, Act Book ASA 7/l, f. 5v: ‘laborando tam ante missam quam post ad instar rustici potius quam presbiteri’.Google Scholar

35 E.g., Ex officio Ludlow, c. (Lichfield 1464), LJRO, Act Book B/C/l/l, f. 5v: ‘causa privationis domini Thome Ludlow,… ex officio et ad promotionem parochianorum ibidem’; Ex officio promoto c. Lawes (Bath and Wells 1528), Somerset ROs, Taunton, Act Book D/D/Ca 2, p. 56.Google Scholar

36 In a 1527 letter to Cardinal Wolsey, Richard Fox (d. 1528), successively bishop of Exeter, Durham and Winchester, himself claimed that he had never deprived a man in the more than forty years he had been a bishop. See Letters of Richard Fox, 14861527Google Scholar, Allen, P. S. and Allen, H. M. eds. (Oxford, 1929), p. 151.Google Scholar

37 E.g., Ex officio c. Grene (York 1443), BI, Act Book D/C.AB.1, f.98:‘quod incedat coram processione in ecclesia cathedrali Ebor’ nudis tibiis et pedibus. superpellicio suo tantummodo indutus per sex dies domincales,…’.Google Scholar

38 E.g., Prebendal church of Bugthorp (York 1434), BI, Act Book D/C.AB.1. f. 94 (Sequestration of revenues at complaint of three parishioners against the vicar).Google Scholar

39 See Card. Domenicus Tuschus (d.1620). Practicarum conclusionum iuris in Omni foro frequentiorum (Lyons, 1634). Vol. A, Concl. 160: ‘[T]stae fallentiae raro vel nunquam admittuntur quia iudices communiter procedunt ex officio et per inquisitionem etiam nullus accusat’.Google Scholar

40 It was so said by Julius Clarus (d. 1575), Practia criminalis (Venice 1595), Quaest. 14, no. 21. It is worth noting, however, that Clarus gave the traaditional rule and did not qualify it by saying it was poorly observed in practice, as he in fact did in several other instances.Google Scholar

41 It was so classified, for example, in the notebook of a seventeeth centry English civilan: see Commonplace book, British Libray, Add. MS.72544A, f. 5v.Google Scholar

42 I leave aside its relevance to the so called Stubbs-Maitland controversy, because I have already expressed my reading of the anachronistic character of that controversy at some length in Roman Canon Law in Reformation England (Cambridge 1990), pp. 420.Google Scholar

43 See Dickens, A. G., Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York: 1509–1558 (Oxford 1959).Google Scholar

44 Scarisbrick, J. J., The Reformation and the English People (Oxford 1984);Google ScholarDuffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Alters: Traditional Religion in England. c. 1480–c. 1580 (New Have. Conn.. 1992).Google Scholar

45 On anti-clericalism and for a review of the literature, see Block, Joseph, Factional Politics and the English Reformation, 1520–1540 (Woodbridge 1993)Google Scholar and Cosgrove, Richard A., ‘English Anticlericalism: A Programmatic Assessment’, in: Anticlericalism in late medieval and early modern Europe, Dykema, Peter and Oberman, Heiko eds. (Leiden 1993), pp. 569581.Google Scholar The initiative of the laity is also one theme of Duggan, Lawrence G., ‘The Unresponsiveness of the late medieval Church: A Reconsideration’, Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978), pp. 326, at p. 8.Google Scholar

46 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, s 19(b), cited in Hill, Mark, Ecclesiastical Law, 2nd edn. (Oxford 2001), p. 346.Google Scholar

47 Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977, s IA(1)(c) (renumbered by the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) (Amendment) Measure 1993, s 1): see Hill, p. 401.Google Scholar

48 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, s 23 (1), (2): see Hill, p. 347.Google Scholar

49 Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977, s 3 (1) (amended by the Incumbents ( Vacation of Benefices) (Amendment) Measure 1993, s 3 (2)): see Hill, p. 403.Google Scholar

50 Doe, Norman, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford 1998), pp. 7880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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