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Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. The term comes from greek κληρος (fortune, or metaphorically, heritage).

Depending on the religion, clergy usually take care of the ritual aspects of the religious life, teach or otherwise help in spreading the religion's doctrine. They often deal with life-cycle events such as childbirth, circumcision, coming of age ceremonies, marriage, and death. Clergy of most faiths work outside formal houses of worship, and can be found working in hospitals, nursing homes, missions, armies, etc.

There is a significant difference between clergy and theologians; clergy have the above-mentioned duties while theologians are scholars of religion and theology, and are not necessarily clergy. A lay-person can be a theologian. The two fields, of course, often overlap.

Clergy are protected by special laws in many countries.

In some cases clergy is financed (or co-financed) by the nation they work in, but usually they are financially supported by the donations of individual members of their religion.

In Christianity there is a wide range of formal and informal clergy positions, including priests, deacons, bishops, and ministers. In most streams of Islam the religious leader is known as an Imam, and in the Shiite branch of Islam there are other leaders, such as an Ayatollah.

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Catholic clergy

The Catholic clergy includes deacons, priests, and bishops. The Pope is not commonly considered as part of the clergy, due to his special figure, even if he comes from it. Vatican supports the activity of its clergy by the "Congregation for the Clergy" ([1] (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/)), an organ of Roman curia.

Canon law indicates (canon 107) that "by divine institution, there are in the Church [Ecclesia] clergy [clerices] distinguished from laics". This distinction of a separate class was formed in the early times of Christianity; one early source reflecting this distinction is the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Clergy's organisation is essentially hierarchic: after the tonsura[?] (by which a man formally becomes a clericus), are the 4 minor orders (ostiary, lectorate, order of exorcists, order of acolytes), the 3 major orders (subdeaconry, deaconry, presbyterate; this last is the status of a priest) and finally the episcopacy (the full priesthood -- the status of a bishop). Minor orders are today mainly a symbolic passage and a requirement for the major orders, and have no special power.

Stricto sensu only those who have been consecrated to the holy ministry after the tonsura are part of the clergy, but in time the term has been used with wider meanings; in common language it includes all the people consecrated to God. Questions regard monks and nuns as eventually part of clergy, after a consolidated habit of the same Roman Catholic Church (especially in recent times and even in formal acts) of simply sharing God's people in clergy and laics only, and certainly monks and nuns are not laics having being consecrated and having had their tonsura (for nuns there is an equivalent ceremony). The administration of sacraments seems to be the real distinguishing element, and in this sense monks should be considered part of clergy, while nuns would not.

During the Middle Ages however, the term was used to indicate all the people with an education (having education been an exclusive privilege of clergy for long epochs) and the term also survives in some students' organisations in some ancient universities (such as Goliardia, where they are often called clerici vagantes).

The term clerici vagantes comes indeed from the clerics that before 12th century were commanded at the service of a determined church (incardinatio); after that time, they were not forced any more to reside in the church (if they had no privileges or other related rights), and they could go living and residing wherever they liked (then vagantes, wandering). The Council of Trent vainly tried to abolish this use, and only in recent times the rule was restored that a clericus has a perpetual and absolute obligation to serve the diocese or the Order to which he is assigned; only with a special authorisation he can be accepted in the jurisdiction of another diocese or of another Order.

Current Canon law prescribes that to be ordained a priest, an education is required of two years of scholastical phylosophy[?] study, and 4 years of theology; dogmatic and moral theology, Holy Scriptures, and Canon law have to be studied inside a seminary[?].

Oaths of celibacy and obedience are required as a condition for admittance (and persistence) in the Latin rite Catholic clergy. Celibacy has taken many forms in different times and places. The Council in Trullo[?] (Quinisextum Concilium) in 692 barred bishops from marrying, but did not prevent married men from becoming priests and excommunicated those deacons who would have divorced because ordained. This rule is still followed for ordained deacons in the Latin Rite, as well as for priests in the Eastern Rites. Married men are not ordained priests in the Latin Rite, although some married priests do exist who were ordained in the Anglican church and later received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Clergy have 4 classical rights:

  1. Right of Canon: whoever commits real violence on the person of a clericus, commits a sacrilege[?]. This decree was issued in a Lateran Council of 1097 (requested by Pope Urban II), then renewed in the Lateran Council II (1139).
  2. Right of Forum: by this right clergy may be judged by ecclesiastical tribunals[?] only. Constantin I[?] granted this right for bishops, the it was extended to the rest of clergy by emperors.
  3. Right of Immunity: clergy could not be called for military service or for duties or charges not compatible with his role.
  4. Right of Competence: a certain part of the income of clergy, necessary for sustenance, cannot be sequestered by any action of creditors.
Obviously, these rights are not effectively granted in most countries.

The Roman Catholic Church admits deacons in clergy.

Orthodox Clergy

The clergy of the Orthodox Church are the bishops, priests, and deacons, the same offices identified in the New Testament and found in the early church. Bishops include archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs. Priests (also called presbyters or elders) include archpriests and hieromonks (priest-monks). Deacons also include archdeacons; subdeacons however are not deacons, they comprise a separate office that is tonsured but not ordained, as do readers, acolytes and others. Bishops are required to be celibate, but priests and deacons may be married, provided that they are married prior to their ordination. If they are later divorced or remarried, they are not permitted to remarry unless they first leave the clergy and return to lay status. All Orthodox clergy must be male. There are records of deaconesses in the New Testament and in the early church; the consensus today is that this office was never equivalent to that of deacon, but had separate responsibilities.

The typical progression of ordination is: reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest, bishop. Each ordination must take place in order, although it is possible to ordain a layman to all five offices in the course of a weekend. The organization of the Orthodox Church is both hierarchical and conciliar. It is hierarchical in that priests, deacons, and laymen are expected to follow their bishop and to do nothing without their bishop, and in that Jesus Christ is the head of every bishop. It is conciliar in that there is no single Pope whom all the bishops follow (the Pope of Alexandria[?] functions as a patriarch), but rather the bishops meet together in synods or councils and reach binding agreements through concensus. A council with representatives from all the churches is an ecumenical council.

Although Orthodox clergy are given considerable honor by the Orthodox Church, each ordination is also viewed as a kind of martyrdom. The Orthodox cleric agrees to be a servant of both Jesus Christ and of the people of the church; many of the vestments are intended to remind him of this. Much is expected of the clergy, both practically and spiritually; consequently, they also have a special place in the litanies that are prayed, asking God to have mercy on them.

Lay Clergy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS/Mormon)

The clergy of the LDS Church consists of deacons, teachers, priests, elders and high priests. The Priesthood is conferred on male members beginning at age twelve by the laying on of hands of men previously ordained to the Priesthood. In addition to being ordained to one of these priesthood offices, males may also be "set apart" to other "callings" such as bishop, patriarch, seventy or apostle. Ordination to one of these priesthood offices or callings is based on the recipient's personal, moral worthiness without regard to education or other socio-economic status, and, since 1978, without regard to race. Thus, every worthy, male member is typically ordained to be a priest (in a general sense) and the Church is led by a lay clergy whose members are generally not compensated for their services; Priesthood in the LDS Church is not a profession nor restricted to privileged persons. For further reference, see Priesthood.


In ancient Judaism there was a formal priestly tribe known as the Kohanim; each member of the tribe, a Kohen had priestly duties, manyof which centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, their role has largely been rendered superfluous. Since that time the religious leaders and clergypeople of Judaism have been the rabbis. Since the early medieval era an additional form of clergy, the Hazzan (cantor) has existed as well.

The rabbi is not an occupation found in the Torah (Five books of Moses); the first time this word is mentioned is in the Mishnah. The modern form of the rabbi developed in the Talmudic era. Rabbis are given authority to make interpretations of Jewish law and custom. Traditionally, a man obtains smicha (rabbinic ordination) after the completion of an arduous learning program in Torah, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Mishnah and Talmud, Midrash, Jewish ethics and lore, the codes of Jewish law and responsa, theology and philosophy.

Orthodox Judaism maintains all of these traditional requirements. Women are forbidden from becoming rabbis or cantors in Orthodoxy. One does not need a bachelor's degree to enter most Orthodox rabbinical seminaries.

Conservative Judaism maintains all of these traditional requirements. Women are allowed to become rabbis and cantors in the Conservative movement. Conservative Judaism differs with Orthodoxy in that it has somewhat less stringent study requirements for Talmud and responsa as compared to Orthodoxy. However, the academic requirements are just as rigorous, as Conservative Judaism adds the following subjects as requirements for rabbinic ordination: one must first earn a bachelor's degree before entering the rabbinate. In addition studies are mandated in pastoral care and psychology, the historical development of Judaism; and academic biblical criticism.

Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism do not maintain the traditional rquirements for study. Both men and women may be rabbis or cantors. The level of Jewish law, Talmud and responsa studied in five years of these denominations is similar to that learned in the first year of Orthodox Jewish seminaries. The rabbinical seminaries of these movements hold that one must first earn a bachelor's degree before entering the rabbinate. In addition studies are mandated in pastoral care and psychology, the historical development of Judaism; and academic biblical criticism. Emphasis is placed not on Jewish law, but rather on sociology and modern Jewish philosophy.

Rabbis are not an intermediary between God and man: the word "rabbi" means "teacher."


The Sangha, democratic order of Buddhist monks and nuns, was founded by Gautama Buddha during his lifetime of missionary work over 2500 years ago. Established to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism, they are a living example for the laity. A monk, known as a Bhikkhu in Pali, firstly ordains as a Samanera (novice) for a year or until the ripe age of 20. If deemed acceptable and able by the order, he then receives full ordination and now lives by the 227 monastic rules, called the Patimokkha, which are stated in the Tripitaka. Once a year as a novice monastic, and if 20 years old, the female Samaneri becomes a nun or Bhikkhuni and will adhere to 311 rules of discipline. Monastics eat one vegetarian meal at noon and fast until sunrise the follwing day. Between midday and the next day, a strict life of celibacy, scripture study, chanting, meditation and occasional cleaning forms most of the duties. It is necessary for not only monks but the laity to practice with intuitive insight, in a state of mindfulness and concentration, here and now, to benefit from the experience. Only then is Enlightenment possible.

The distinction between Sangha and lay persons has always been important and forms the Purisa, Buddhist community. Here, monastics teach and counsel the laity at request while laymen and laywomen offer donations for their future support. This inter-connectedness serves as a marriage and has sustained Buddhism to this day.


Orthodox Islam is non-clerical. The term Imam is generically used to refer to various forms of religious leadership, ranging from the leader of a small group prayer to a scholar of religion, none of which involve any sort of religious ordination. In other branches of Islam, the term Imam has more specific meanings.

Clergy of other faiths

(To be written. Please contribute.)

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