The Manly Priest: Clerical Celibacy, Masculinity, and Reform in England and Normandy, 1066-1300

The Manly Priest: Clerical Celibacy, Masculinity, and Reform in England and Normandy, 1066-1300

The Manly Priest: Clerical Celibacy, Masculinity, and Reform in England and Normandy, 1066-1300

The Manly Priest: Clerical Celibacy, Masculinity, and Reform in England and Normandy, 1066-1300

Synopsis

During the High Middle Ages, members of the Anglo-Norman clergy not only routinely took wives but also often prepared their own sons for ecclesiastical careers. As the Anglo-Norman Church began to impose clerical celibacy on the priesthood, reform needed to be carefully negotiated, as it relied on the acceptance of a new definition of masculinity for religious men, one not dependent on conventional male roles in society. The Manly Priest tells the story of the imposition of clerical celibacy in a specific time and place and the resulting social tension and conflict.

No longer able to tie manliness to marriage and procreation, priests were instructed to embrace virile chastity, to become manly celibates who continually warred with the desires of the body. Reformers passed legislation to eradicate clerical marriages and prevent clerical sons from inheriting their fathers' benefices. In response, some married clerics authored tracts to uphold their customs of marriage and defend the right of a priest's son to assume clerical office. This resistance eventually waned, as clerical celibacy became the standard for the priesthood.

By the thirteenth century, ecclesiastical reformers had further tightened the standard of priestly masculinity by barring other typically masculine behaviors and comportment: gambling, tavern-frequenting, scurrilous speech, and brawling. Charting the progression of the new model of religious masculinity for the priesthood, Jennifer Thibodeaux illustrates this radical alteration and concludes not only that clerical celibacy was a hotly contested movement in high medieval England and Normandy, but that this movement created a new model of manliness for the medieval clergy.

Excerpt

In the late twelfth century, the Anglo-Norman archdeacon Gerald of Wales questioned the custom of clerical unions by describing the misfortune that priests suffered through their sexual relationships with women:

For they rob you of your money and property, and you spend on them what should be used to adorn the churches and help the poor…. They rob you also of your good name and honor throughout the country when, because of them, you cannot hold your head high before your superiors, your patrons, or even your parishioners (among whom all your authority becomes worthless)…. To lose heaven because of this shameful part of the body and over a relationship which you possess neither by personal right nor as yours forever.

Gerald acknowledged in his Jewel of the Church that nowhere in the Bible or in apostolic tradition was marriage prohibited for the clergy. Yet celibacy was advocated for “the sake of greater purity and integrity.” Throughout this work, he consistently linked priests with sexual temptation, sexual disorder, and the misfortune that resulted from such illicit behavior.

For the medieval clergy of the reform era, there was a growing conflict between the concept of the celibate male body and that of the sexual one. Post-Conquest England and Normandy present a vibrant story of the intense competition between monks and clerics over a redefinition of the religious male body, a competition spurred by the prevailing custom of that region, clerical . . .

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