Seminary/School of Divinity
Date of Paper/Work
Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)
Type of Paper/Work
Dr. Michael Hollerich, Dr. Massimo Faggioli, Dr. Kenneth Snyder
Early Christian theology presumed that the clergy were subject to both ecclesiastical and secular law, and that the punishment of crime belonged to the purview of secular authority. During the Gregorian reform movement in the eleventh century, the advocates of a new ecclesiology argued for a clerical hierarchy which was not answerable to any secular authority. The newly systematized canon law, especially Gratian’s Decretum, provided the theological basis for a clerical class which was exclusively self-policing in criminal law.
In twelfth-century England, Archbishop Thomas Becket attempted to carry the Gregorian ideals of ecclesiastical autonomy and priestly dignity to their logical conclusion by establishing clerical immunity as a political reality. In personal debate with King Henry II and later in his correspondence from exile, he argued that no secular authority was competent to impose trial or punishment on a member of the ordained clergy. After his murder, the English church succeeded in establishing much of the exclusive self-jurisdiction for which Becket had contended. Becket’s ideals about the relationship of the clergy to the rest of Christian society are a caution as the Catholic Church begins to work toward healing from the scandal of clerical sexual abuse.
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Zabinski, Erika, "Thomas Becket and Clerical Immunity" (2015). School of Divinity Master’s Theses and Projects. 12.