In the decretals of Gregory IX there is a reference to the clerk’s office, and his duties obtain the sanction of canon law. Every incumbent is ordered to have a clerk who shall sing with him the service, read the epistle and lesson, teach in the school, and admonish the parishioners to send their children to the church to be instructed in the faith. It was thus in ancient days that the Church provided for the education of children, a duty which she has always endeavoured to perform. Her officers were the schoolmasters. The weird cry of the abolition of tests for teachers was then happily unknown.
The strenuous Bishop Grosseteste (1235-53), for the better ordering of his diocese of Lincoln, laid down the injunction that “in every church of sufficient means there shall be a deacon or sub-deacon; but in the rest a fitting and honest clerk to serve the priest in a comely habit.” The clerk’s office was also discussed in the same century at a synod at Exeter in 1289, when it was decided that where there was a school within ten miles of any parish some scholar should be chosen for the office of parish clerk. This rule provided for poor scholars who intended to proceed to the priesthood, and also secured suitable teachers for the children of the parishes.
It appears that an attempt was made to enforce celibacy on the holders of minor orders, an experiment which was not crowned with success. William Lyndewoode, Official Principal of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1429, speaks thus of the married clerk:—
“He is a clerk, not therefore a layman; but if twice married he must be counted among laymen, because such an one is deprived of all clerical privilege. If, however, he were married, albeit not twice, yet so long as he wears the clerical habit and tonsure he shall be held a clerk in two respects, to wit, that he may enjoy the clerical privilege in his person, and that he may not be brought before the secular judges. But in all other respects he shall be considered as a layman.”
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the parish clerks became important officials. We shall see presently how they were incorporated into fraternities or guilds, and how they played a prominent part in civic functions, in state funerals, and in ecclesiastical matters. The Reformation rather added to than diminished the importance of the office and the dignity of the holder of it.
[Illustration: THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK]
[Illustration: THE CLERK IN PROCESSION]
The continuity of the office is worthy of record. From the days of Augustine to the present time it has never ceased to exist. The clerk is the last representative of the minor orders which the ecclesiastical changes wrought in the sixteenth century have left us. Prior to the Reformation there were sub-deacons who wore alb and maniple, acolytes, the tokens of whose office were a taper staff and small pitcher, ostiaries or doorkeepers corresponding to our verger