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Discipline of The Clergy: Medieval and Modern

  • R. H. Helmholz (a1)


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.



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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.

2 X 2.20.14: X 5.1.10.

3 See, e.g., de Clavasio, Angelus, Summa Angelica (Nuremberg 1492), 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;Panormitanus, , Commentaria in libros Decretalium (Venice 1617), ad X 5.1.12, nos. 57–6.

4 C. 2q. 7c. 15.

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

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’.

7 C. 2q. 7c. 8.

8 C. 2q. 7c. 5.

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

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

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

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;Kelly, Henry A., ‘Inquisition and the Prosecution of Heresy: Misconceptions and Abuses’, Church History 58 (1989). pp. 439451.

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;Heath, Peter, The English Parish clergy on the Eve of the Reformation (London and Toronto 1969);Houlbrooke, Ralph, Church Courts and the People during the English Reformation 1520–1570 (Oxford 1979). pp. 173213;Marshall, Peter, The Catholic Priesthood and the English Reformation (Oxford 1994).

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

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

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

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’.

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’.

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

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

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’.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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’.

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’.

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’.

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.

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, 14861527, Allen, P. S. and Allen, H. M. eds. (Oxford, 1929), p. 151.

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,…’.

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).

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

45 On anti-clericalism and for a review of the literature, see Block, Joseph, Factional Politics and the English Reformation, 1520–1540 (Woodbridge 1993) 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. 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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

* This article is a revised version of a talk delivered on 28 June 2001 before a meeting of the Ecclesiastical Law Society held at the Inner Temple. The following abbreviations are used in this article:

BI Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, York

BL British Library, London

CCA Cathedral Library, Canterbury

CUL Cambridge University Library

LJRO Lichfield Joint Record Office

RO Record Office

The following system of citation to the texts of the ius commune is used:

Dist. 1 c. 1 Decretum Gratiani, Distinctio 1, can. 1

C. 1 q. 1 c. 1 ------------, Causa 1, quaestio 1. can. 1

X 1.1.1 Decretales Gregorii IX, Lib. 1. tit. 1. cap. 1

Cod. 1.1.1 Codex Justinianus, Lib. 1, tit. 1, lex 1

gl. ord. Glossa ordinaria

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Discipline of The Clergy: Medieval and Modern

  • R. H. Helmholz (a1)


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