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 C - Clergy


Clergy: See priests.

Incidentally, for ages there was, not only in England, what is called "benefit of clergy", which meant that for many crimes the clergy was not subject to secular judges, and hence effectively above the law of the land.

Here is a set of relevant quotations of Hazlitt on the subject, all from "On the clerical character", first published in 1818:

"(..) we have had such shoals of

"Eremites and friars,
White, black and grey, with all their trumpery"

who have foisted their "idiot and embryo" inventions upon us for truth, and who have fomented all the bad passions of the heart, and let loose all the mischiefs of war, of fire, and famine, to avenge the slightest difference of opinion on any one iota of their living creeds, or the slightest disrespect to any one of these mummeries and idle pageants which they had set up as sacred idols for the world to wonder at.We do not forget, in making these remarks, that there was a time when the persons who will be most annoyed and scandalized at them, would have taken a more effectual mode of showing their zeal and indignation; when to have expressed a free opinion on a Monk's cowl or a Cardinal's hat, would have exposed the writer who had been guilty of this sacrilege, to the pains and penalties of excommunication; to be burnt at an auto da fe; to be consigned to the dungeons of the Inquisition, or doomed to the mines of Spanish America; to have his nose slit, or his ears cut off, or his hands reduced to a stump. Such were the considerate and humane proceedings by which the Priests of former times vindicated their own honour, which they pretended in the name of God. Such was their humility when they had power." 

"The Priest is not a negative character; he is something positive and disagreeable. He is not, like the Quaker, distinguished from others merely by singularity of dress and manner, but he is distinguished from others by pretensions of superiority over them. His faults arise from his boasted exemption from the opposite vices; he has one vice running through all others - hypocrisy. He is proud, with an affectation of humility; bigoted, from a pretended zeal for truth; greedy, with an ostentation of entire contempt for the things of this world; professing self-denial, and always thinking of self-gratification; censorious, and blind to his own faults; intolerant, unrelenting, impatient of opposition, insolenent of those below, and cringing to those above him, with nothing but Christian meekness and brotherly love in his mouth."

"Priests are naturally favourers of power, inasmuch as they are dependent on it. - Their power over the mind is hardly sufficient of itself to insure absolute obedience to their authority, without a reinforcement of power over the body. The secular arm must come in in aid of the spiritual. (..) Priests anoint Kings with holy oil, hedge them round with inviolability, spread over them the mysterious sanctity of religion, and, with very little ceremony, make over the whole species as slaves to these Gods upon earth by divine right! This is no losing trade. It aggrandizes those who are concerned in it, and is death to the rest of the world. It is a solemn league and convenant fully ratified and strictly carried into effect, to the very letter, in all countries, Pagan, Mahommedan, and Christian (..)"

"Their estimation in the world, as well as their livelihood, depends on their tamely submitting their understanding to authority at first, and on their not seeing reason to alter their opinion afterwards. Is it likely that a man will intrepidly open his eyes to conviction, when see sees poverty and disgrace staring him in the face as the inevitable consequence? Is it likely, after the labours of a whole life of servility and cowardice - after repeating daily what he does not understand, and what those who require him to repeat it do not believe, or pretend to believe, and impose upon others only as a ready test of insincerity, and a compendious shibboleth of want of principle: after doing morning and evening service to the God of this world - after keeping his lips sealed against the indiscreet mention of the plainest truths, and opening them only to mental reservations - after breakfasting, dining, supping, waking and sleeping, being clothed and fed, upon a collusion, - after saying a double grace and washing his hands after dinner, and preparing for a course of smutty jests to make himself good company, - after nodding to Deans, bowing to Bishops, waiting upon Lords, following in the Head of Colleges, watching the gracious eyes of those who have presentations in their gift, and the lank cheek of those who are their present incumbents, - after finding favour, patronage, promotion, prizes, praises, promises, smiles, squeezes of the hand, invitations to tea and cards with the ladies, the epithets "a charming man," "an agreeable creature," "a most respectable character," the certainty of reward, and the hopes of glory, always proportioned to the systematic baseness of his compliance and with the will of his superiors, and the sacrifice of every particle of independence, or pretence to manly spirit and honesty of character, - is it likely, that a man so tutored and trammelled, and inured to be his own dupe, and the tool of others, will ever, in one instance of thousands, attempt to burst the cobweb fetters which bind him in the magic circle of contradictions and enigmas, or risk the independence of his fortune for the independence of his mind?"


See also: Cant, Hypocrisy, Priests.


Hazlitt, Gibbon

 Original: Nov 15, 2004                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top