Saturday 12 April 2008

Clerical titles: the real story is much more interesting...

It is now common, in the English speaking world, to address parish clergy as "Father".

Actually, this is a recent invention.

From some time after the Reformation until the 1820s, or thereabouts, parish clergy were addressed as "Mister", the title of a gentleman in civil society. This title originally comes, of course, from "Master" just as the titles "Mrs" and "Miss" come from "Mistress", the title of a lady of gentility. Those not of the nobility or gentry were called only by their first and/or surname e.g. John Smith.

In Medieval and Renaissance England, a secular priest was always titled "Sir" like a knight, thus "Sir John Smith". For examples of this, see Shakespeare's plays where the secular priests are called thus e.g. Sir Christopher Urswick in Richard III, especially Act IV, Scene V, and in other of his plays. Only religious or bishops are called by the title "Father" e.g. "Right Reverend Fathers" again in Richard III, and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, who is greeted variously as "Father", "Friar", "Brother" and "my Ghostly Confessor".

Around the 1820s the use of the title "Father" even for secular clergy became more common in England, Ireland, America and the Anglophone world, having crept in over the penal times, by virtue of the difficulty in distinguishing between secular and religious clergy, since all were constantly in hiding or operating covertly and shared a similar life and persecuted status.

In Catholic countries on the continent of Europe, however, the distinction of titles continued and still continues today. Thus, the titles for a secular cleric, broadly equivalent to "Sir" or "Mr" are as follows:

France - Monsieur l'Abbé. For a Parish Priest, Monsieur le Curé.
Italy - Signor Don followed by the name (more like "Sir" in English). For a Parish Priest, Signor Don Parroco.
Spain - Señor Don followed by the name. For a Parish Priest, Señor Don Cura.
Austria/Germany - Hochwurden (literally "most worthy" but roughly equivalent to
"your Reverence"). For a Parish Priest, Herr Pfarrer (meaning "Lord Rector" or "Sir Rector").

Signor, Señor, Monsieur or Herr are all titles of gentility, gentry or nobility, meaning "Lord". So, in fact, is "Mister" or "Mr", which is the title by which a gentleman is addressed. An higher estate is that of Knight who was addressed "Sir" which is roughly equivalent to the Spanish and Italian title Don. The middle ranking title of "Esquire" is derived from the French Esquier, or "shield-bearer", meaning one who is entitled to a coat of arms, the sign of nobility. In German, the equivalent used to be Junker and in Dutch is still the title Jonkheer.

Monsieur is unusual in that all French nobility, high or low, were called by this short title, since it means "my Lord". Moreover, the French nobility were mildly encouraged, by an old royal tradition, to treat each other as equals and so all, whether dukes or small local sieurs, called each other Monsieur. There were, of course, variations and royalty began to be called Mon Seigneur, a title used by both kings and bishops. An older title was that of Mon Sire which is broadly the same as Monsieur. From it we get the title of address "Sire" sometimes used for royalty and some Prince-bishops.

Prince-Electors of the Empire, whether clerical or lay, were styled "your Eminence" just as cardinals were, and are, and as the Grand Master of the Order of Malta still is, although not a cleric.

It is readily apparent what the Italian title Monsignor means: it means, again, "my Lord".

There are broad equivalents in all other European countries, with many variations as befits the variety of culture that flourished under the Church reflecting the "glorious liberty of the Sons of God".
Clemens-August, Archbishop Baron von Droste zu Vischering, the saintly Archbishop of Cologne (and by ancient right a Prince-Elector of the Empire) who was persecuted and imprisoned by the Prussian Protestant government for his faith and loyalty to the See of St Peter. Note the scarlet of a Prince-Elector, similar to a cardinal (he was not a cardinal, having declined the offer by the Pope).

All clergy in Major Orders were termed "Lord" or "Sir" like their lay counterparts, the gentlemen, esquires, knights, barons and nobility of Christendom.

The modern, absurdly chummy manner of introducing oneself to a complete stranger with "Hello, Bob" or "It's Fred, here" is entirely foreign to Catholic culture and tradition. Of course, close friends, clerical and lay, called each other interchangeably by their first names but the modern idea of treating every person as if they were a close friend is an invasion of the privacy of individuals and disrespectful of the right of men and women to their privacy and to respect for their individual personhood.

The title "Father" is still - in theory - preserved in non-Anglophone Catholic countries for clerical members of religious orders, just as it used to be in Anglophone countries before about 1820.

In the Catholic Church permanent deacons (that is, deacons who are not preparing for ordination to priesthood) are styled "Reverend Mr" in correspondence, although it has also become customary to address them simply as "Deacon John Smith". In fact, in former times, and still in the Eastern churches, all deacons were styled "Father Deacon Smith". The idea that permanent deacons are somehow "different" from other deacons is simply fallacious. Permanent deacons of varying kinds have existed for a long time in various forms. The Holy Roman Emperor, since the time of Emperor Charles V was always, at his coronation, ordained a permanent deacon by the Pope. In earlier times he was ordained a subdeacon.

The idea that the title "Father" was always used for priests, and only priests, is simply ahistorical. St Francis of Assisi was called "Father" by his brethren (and still is) although he was a deacon not a priest and St Benedict, likewise was called "Father" by his brethren (and still is), albeit he was not even in Major Orders. In the Middle Ages many abbots were not priests but were still called "Father" by their brethren.

The title "your Reverence" was also once much in use (and one can still occasionally hear it in Ireland).

The idea that the title or description "Reverend" is Anglican is another Anglophone fallacy resulting from poor education among Catholics.

It is used on the continent, also, e.g. Reverend pere is used in France to address clerical religious and occasionally even parish clergy; also Reverendissime Pere, or "Very Reverend Father" for an abbot or bishop.

ALL Anglican clerical titles are derived from the days when the Roman Catholic Church was the Church of England, the Ecclesia Anglicana.

Thus the title Rector means a Parish Priest and the title Vicar means a priest or cleric standing in for another cleric, often an absentee cleric, which often meant an absentee Parish Priest which is why many Anglican clergy are called Vicar. It comes from the Latin vicarius (meaning "in place of another") and is an entirely Roman Catholic title. Another example of its use is in the title "Vicar-General".

Titles like "Prebendary" are also originally Catholic and refer to "Canons Prebendary" (Canoni Prebendarii) of a Cathedral whose office attracted funds called "Prebends" (from another Latin word) which came from tithes and were to be used by the Canon for the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of the Church.

So next time you hear someone say of some traditional title "Oh, that's just Anglican!", you may correct the ill-informed person concerned and point out to them that it was, without question, Roman Catholic first.

The only thing that is peculiarly "Anglican" is their Protestant doctrine - that and nothing more. The rest is, and always was, Catholic in form, spirit and origin.



Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Interesting that you give a portrait of Erasmus in this post. In Opus de Conscribendis Epistolis he gives the correct clerical titles, but he polemises against their use.

Tribunus said...

See my later post on this subject.

I am not sure that he objected to clerical (or other) titles as such but if you have a particular passage in mind I would be interested in the reference.


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

If you get hold of Opus de Conscribendis Epistolis, look up the chapter on adressing the adressee. There you will find a persiflage against several usages in clerical titulature, including the "nos" that bishops use instead of "ego". It includes a historical background (real or supposed) but ends up in persiflage and ridicule.

Tribunus said...

The use of "nos" instead of "ego" is the same complaint as that which I identified i.e. the use of the plural.

It is not a complaint against clerical titles as such.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Actually he complained about at least one other thing, that the Pope was to be called Sancte Pater and thought himself insulted (according to Erasmus) if you said Pater Sancte and so on. He thought it was a good thing to accomodate oneself to such "superstitions" while they lasted, but not that they should exist. Note that I quote from memory, I did a work on this in 1992.

Tribunus said...

Well he did not make much impact since the form of address of the Pope remains, to this day, "Holy Father".

I can't see any real objection to that, myself, although if Erasmus was warning against excessive adulation of the Pope then I certainly agree with him about that particular vice.

There was something rather depressingly inane about the American woman recently heard in a media report of the Pope's US visit saying that she was so glad to see the Pope because he is "the nearest thing to God in this world", an amazingly ill-educated understanding of the Pope's role and position.

Susan said...

The Anglican Church is one of the three great Catholic faiths: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican. A study of the history of the time demonstrates that the Church of England did not leave Catholicism, it only left the authority of popes and the Vatican political apparatus. There was no effort to "reform" the faith, only to reform the political machinations which taxed the English people (rents paid to monastic foundations), then gave the money to the rulers of France and Spain so they could make war on England. Henry VIII closed the monasteries to stop that practice.

The simplistic reason often given for the break with Rome is that the pope wouldn't give Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The more complicated reason is that England had suffered terribly through civil war, and without an heir (Catherine did not bear a son), more civil war was a very real threat. (It is quite true that Henry became every woman's worst nightmare husband, and a glutton and a tyrant. That doesn't change the history of the Church of England.)

The beginnings of education of the common people led to and was furthered by translating the Bible and the liturgy into the vulgate -- the common language. This had its precedent when Scripture was translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, culminating with Saint Jerome's Vulgate translation.

Anglican priests are ordained in the apostolic succession. Anglican religious orders include Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Claretians and many others. See:

Since its inception, Anglicanism has been influenced by "dissenters," who wanted to eliminate any traces of Roman Catholicism from their liturgy and doctrines. This has led to "the Church with an identity problem," in which there are Protestant-leaning parishes and Catholic-leaning parishes. But in its pure form, Anglicanism is correctly referred to as Anglo-Catholic.

Tribunus said...

Your particular fantasies have been so completely, so utterly and so thoroughly demolished by better scholars than I (Newman, for one) that it is hardly necessary for me even to comment.

The Anglican Church is not a church. It is a cautionary tale as to what happens when men try to invent a faith of their own after ignoring God's law.

A study of the history of the time demonstrates amply that the Church of England was the invention of men like Henry VIII and William Cecil to serve their own selfish and political ends.

It is a pure construct of men.

Moreover, it could not have left 'the Vatican political apparatus' since there wasn't one.

The popes lived in the Lateran palace at that time, not the Vatican, and began to live in the Quirinal palace more and more after it was built by Pope Gregory XIII in 1573.

They continued to do so until the Italian revolutionaries seized the Papal States in 1870 and later forced the popes to live in the Vatican palace.

Whoops! Another historical boo boo by yet another ill-informed Anglican.

Anglicans make ridiculous statements about the Papacy and the popes without ever bothering to read and research the truth. But there is simply no excuse for it.

Go and find out the truth instead of regurgitating prejudice and fiction!

There is, of course, no evidence that English monasteries gave all their rents and taxes to France and Spain, let alone to make war against England.

Henry VIII closed the monasteries in order to steal their property and income which, since they used their income to feed and clothe the poor, was effectively stealing from the poor.

You will see that Henry closed the small monasteries first precisely because they were easier prey to his greed.

Read Cobbett's History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, if you dare. You will get a true picture of what the syphlitic, wife-murdering, robber of the poor, Henry VIII, really did. And Cobbett was an Anglican, by the way.

There is nothing 'complicated' about the fact that Henry divorced Catherine and then took up with other women. Lechery was but one of his many vices.

There is nothing simplistic about condemning his destruction of the monastic system of welfare for the poor just to satisfy his own endless greed.

Ditto his odious murder of his mistresses and many others who got in his way.

The common people were never so persecuted, hunted, harried, down-trodden, ill-educated, starved, beaten and mercilessly oppressed as they were after the Protestant Reformation, as Cobbett amply proves.

St Jerome's vulgate translation was done by, with and through the express authority of the Holy See by whom St Jerome was made a prelate and, later, Doctor, of the Church.

Anglican priests are not ordained in the apostolic succession.

Anglican religious orders are a nice idea but they are outside the Church.

There is no 'pure' form of Anglicanism.

Anglicanism is incorrectly referred to as Anglo-Catholic or Catholic. It is Protestant and has no authority from the Holy Spirit to teach.

That does not mean that Anglicans won't be saved but they must take care to avoid knowingly turning away from what they know (or ought to know) is the truth.

The Anglican 'church' is a false 'church' but with some good people in it.

I encourage you to leave it, join the true Church and so save your soul.

If you wish me to recommend some good clergy to whom you might go for instruction in the true faith, I would be very happy to do so.

In the meantime, God guide and bless you and, above all, help you to instruct yourself accurately about historical truth.