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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Clergy

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(from the Greek word meaning heritage, ) in the general sense of the word, as used by us, signifies the body of ecclesiastics of the Christian church, in contradistinction to the laity: but strictly speaking, and according to Scripture, it means the church.

"When Joshua, " as one observes, "divided the Holy Land by lot among the Israelites, it pleased God to provide for a thirteenth part of them, called Levites, by assigning them a personal estate equivalent to that provision made by real estate, which was allotted to each of the other twelve parts. In conformity to the style of the transaction, the Levites were called God's lot, inheritance, or clergy. This style, however, is not always used by the Old Testament writers. Sometimes they call all the nations God's lot, Deuteronomy 32:9 . Psalms 78:71 . Psalms 28:9 , &c. The New Testament writers adopt this term, and apply it to the whole Christian church, 1 Peter 5:3 . Thus it is the church distinguished from the world, and not one part of the church as distinguished from another part." The word clergy, however, among us, always refers to ecclesiastics. The clergy originally consisted of bishops, priests, and deacons; but in the third century many inferior orders were appointed; such as sub-deacons, acoluthists, readers, &c. The clergy of the church of Rome are divided into regular and secular.

The regular consists of those monks or religious who have taken upon them holy orders of the priesthood in their respective monasteries. The secular clergy are those who are not of any religious order, and have the care and direction of parishes. The Protestant clergy are all secular. for archbishops, bishops, dean, &c.&c. see those articles. The clergy have large privileges allowed them by our municipal laws, and had formerly much greater, which were abridged at the reformation, on account of the ill use which the popish clergy had endeavoured to make of them; for the laws having exempted them from almost every personal duty, they attempted a total exemption from every secular tie. The personal exemptions, indeed, for the most part, continue. A clergyman cannot be compelled to serve on a jury, nor to appear at a court leet, which almost every other person is obliged to do; but is a layman be summoned on a jury, and before the trial takes orders, he shall notwithstanding appear, and be sworn. Neither can he be chosen to any temporal office; as bailiff, reeve, constable, or the like, in regard to his own continual attendance on the sacred function.

During his attendance on divine service, he is privileged from arrests in civil suits. In cases of felony also, a clerk in orders shall have the benefit of clergy, without being branded in the hand, and may likewise have it more than once; in both which cases he is distinguished from a layman. Benefit of Clergy was a privilege whereby a clergyman claimed to be delivered to his ordinary to purge himself of felony, and which anciently was allowed only to those who were in orders; but, by the statute of 18th Eliz., every man to whom the benefit of clergy is granted, though not in orders, is put to read at the bar, after he is found guilty, and convicted of felony, and so burnt in the hand; and set free for the first time, if the ordinary or deputy standing by do say, Legit ut clericus: otherwise he shall suffer death. As the clergy have their privileges, so they have also their disabilities on account of their spiritual avocations.

Clergymen are incapable of sitting in the house of commons; and by statute 21 Henry VIII. 100: 13, are not in general allowed to take any lands or tenements to farm, upon pain of 10l. per month, and total avoidance of the lease; nor upon like pain to keep any tap-house or brewhouse; nor engage in any trade, nor sell any merchandise, under forfeiture of the treble value; which prohibition is consonant to the canon law. The number of clergy in England and Wales amount, according to the best calculation, to 18, 000. The revenues of the clergy were formerly considerable, but since the reformation they are comparatively small, at least those of the inferior clergy.

See the Bishop of Landaff's Valuation of the Church and University Revenues; or, Cove on the Revenues of the Church, 1797, 2d edition; Burnett's Hist. of his own times, conclusion.

See article MINISTER.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Clergy'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/c/clergy.html. 1802.

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