Clergy – Concept, origin and what are the different clergy

We explain what clergy is and how secular clergy differs from regular clergy. Also, they were the high and low clergy in the Middle Ages.

The clergy is made up of religious ministers of any type, church or religion.

What is the clergy?

We speak of the clergy (plural of “cleric”) to refer to the set of religious servants of a country, especially when it is sought to refer to them as a caste or social class, which in fact they were in the times of the Old Regime. The clergy are made up of priests, bishops, priests and deacons, that is, religious ministers of any type, church or religion.

The clergy can well be defined as the set of the “official” members of a church: its leaders, not counting its faithful and non-ordained priests. Unlike theologians, who are scholars of the religious subject, the clergymen are engaged in the administration and practice of worship. Although the latter also possess extensive knowledge of their creed, the titles of clergyman and theologian are not equivalent.

In fact, the words clergy and clergy come from Latin clerus and clericus, with more or less the same meaning as today. Going back a little further in time we find them in the Greek language (klíros), with the meaning of “inheritance” or “dowry”, that is, of the lands that were received from a predecessor. With this meaning it came to Latin, applying to the lands that were ceded to the nascent Christian church and to those who lived on said goods.

Since ancient times, the members of the clergy are “ordained”, that is, they belong to an order within the ecclesiastical structure (or, failing that, to a diocese), and are organized according to certain principles of authority and hierarchy, pyramidal, similar to the army. Like the latter, in many countries the clergy are fully or partially financed by the state, and is subject to special legislation (ecclesiastical jurisdiction).

On the other hand, in addition to carrying out the rites and sacraments of their religion, clerics can live within other non-religious institutions, such as the Armed Forces (in the case of chaplains), hospitals or educational and charitable institutions. Some may even participate in politics, something that is not always frowned upon in the West.

Finally, and as we will see in a moment, the clergy is classified into two groups: the secular and the regular.

Secular clergy

The secular clergy or diocesan clergy is one that is part of a diocese (or that “is in its century”, as it was said in Latin: saeculum, saecularis), that is does not live within a monastic order or attend to its rules and vowsRather, they are in the world, among the people, directing the spiritual life of the people. The priests, priests, bishops and deacons that we can see in the churches are, precisely, the secular clergy.

Their work involves carrying out religious rites, providing spiritual support to the population, and managing the temples. sacred, among others, and depending on religion (or religious sect) may not be subject to specific restrictions, such as the vow of chastity. This is not the case in the Catholic Church, in which both regular and secular clergy must be celibate.

Regular clergy

The regular clergy is one who is ordained, that is, who has taken part in a specific religious order and that therefore it is governed by the votes and the rules that it imposes.

Their lives are subject to the mandates of this regulation, that is, to the solemn vows they have taken, and therefore they usually live in monasteries or communities far from the general population. They do less community work than secular clergy, but in return they exercise roles of preaching, caring for the sick, educating the youth and attending in general to the “salvation of souls.”

High and low clergy

The terms “high clergy” (or “superior clergy”) and “low clergy” (or “inferior clergy”) have value only in the history of the Church, since they embody the main social division that existed in both the regular and secular clergy, during the Middle Ages.

It was a difference in socioeconomic status between:

  • The high clergy, constituted by the ecclesiastical authorities and the positions of greater hierarchy, reserved for the members who came from patrician families and a royal lineage.
  • The lower clergy, made up of priests, monks and friars descended from peasants and urban artisans.

Although both enjoyed the virtues of belonging to the clergy, which together with the aristocracy were part of the favored social classes, the distance between the standard of living of one and the other was enormous.

This division lost meaning after the liberal revolution, when the Church ceased to be an important political and economic actor in the West, since the separation between State and Church was carried out successfully.