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The Nun of Barking in her Anglo-Norman Life of Edward the Confessor (c. 1165) tells the story of how one day when the king was at mass at Westminster he had a vision of Christ; the priest was saying the words of consecration when ‘the good, the pious, the sweet Jesus appeared’. With his right hand he blessed the king; in response Edward bowed – ‘he bowed his head and bowed with his whole body to that divine presence that never grows old, to the joy that never ceases, to the beauty that never grows old, to the goodness that does all good things and to that very sweetness did he bow with great love’ (p. 205). According to the Nun of Barking, Edward's companion, Earl Leofric likewise saw Jesus and thus was able both to bear witness to the vision and to share in the king's joy. Both king and earl were moved to tears. They wept ‘tenderly’; ‘with sweet tears they were sustained, and with sweet tears fed’ (p. 205). When mass was over they continued to describe to the other what each had seen: as they spoke ‘with the words were mingled sighs and tears with sweet desire’ (p. 206; for the full story see pp. 203–6).
Caesarius of Heisterbach combines his relish in telling stories that discomfit priests with a knowledge, even an acceptance of human frailty. For Caesarius celibacy is indeed of paramount importance for both clerks and monks; nonetheless, even those who fail to observe it can count on forgiveness provided they truly repent. The Lateran Council of 1215, and the subsequent dissemination of its canons, set the seal on the new order in the Christian world. The decrees of Lateran IV in effect secured the monasticisation of the clergy. A sinful clergy, insisted Innocent III, is the root of all evil, 'faith decays, religion grows deformed, liberty is thwarted. In Summa confessorum, Thomas of Chobham argues that it was a lesser sin for a cleric to marry secretly than it was for him to have extra-marital sex and to express in more general terms doubts about the legitimacy of enforcing clerical celibacy.