Seminary/School of Divinity


Winter 12-2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Michael Hollerich

Second Advisor

Massimo Faggioli

Third Advisor

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.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.