Disabled Clerics in the Late Middle Ages

Disabled Clerics in the Late Middle Ages

Un/suitable for Divine Service?

The petitions received and the letters sent by the Papal Chancery during the Late Middle Ages attest to the recognition of disability at the highest levels of the medieval Church. These documents acknowledge the existence of physical and/or mental impairments, with the papacy issuing dispensations allowing some supplicants to adapt their clerical missions according to their abilities. A disease, impairment, or old age could prevent both secular and regular clerics from fulfilling the duties of their divine office. Such conditions can, thus, be understood as forms of disability. In these cases, the Papal Chancery bore the responsibility for determining if disabled people were suitable to serve as clerics, with all the rights and duties of divine services. Whilst some petitioners were allowed to enter the clergy, or – in the case of currently serving churchmen – to stay more or less active in their work, others were compelled to resign their position and leave the clergy entirely. Petitions and papal letters lie at intersection of authorized, institutional policy and practical sources chronicling the lived experiences of disabled people in the Middle Ages. As such, they constitute an excellent analytical laboratory in which to study medieval disability in its relation to the papacy as an institution, alongside the impact of official ecclesiastical judgments on disabled lives.
  • Cover
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction: A Formal Dialogue
    • Petitions and Papal Letters
    • Writing Processes in Action
    • The Status of Disabled Petitioners
  • 1. Legal Origins of the Prohibition on Clerical Disability
    • Irregularity: Ex Defectu Corporis and Ex Defectu Mentis
    • Canonical Standards of Normality: Capacity and Image
    • Personal Responsibility and Mitigating Circumstances
  • 2. Aetiologies of Impairment: Congenital, Geriatric, and Acquired Conditions
    • The Principal Causes of Clerical Impairment
    • Writing Disability
  • 3. Joining the Clergy
    • Examination of Future Clerics
    • Promotions and Elections
    • Favourable Circumstances
  • 4. Staying in the Clergy
    • The Nomination of Coadjutors
    • Breaking Monastic Rules
    • Clerical Mobility
  • 5. Leaving the Clergy
    • Leaving the Workforce
    • Transferral to Specialist Institutions
    • Monasteries as Retirement Homes
  • Conclusion
  • Index
  • List of Figures
    • Figure 0.1 Life cycle of a petition, from supplicants’ initial testimony to administrative registration
    • Figure 0.2 Life cycle of a papal letter granting grace, from composition in the Papal Chancery to receipt by petitioners
    • Figure 0.3 Status of supplicants identified in petitions and papal letters in the corpus
    • Figure 0.4 Petitioners identified in pontifical letters: secular vs. regular clerics (one point every fifty letters)
    • Figure 0.5 Status of secular clerics identified in pontifical letters (one point every fifty letters)
    • Figure 0.6 Status of regular clerics identified in pontifical letters (one point every fifty letters)
    • Figure 2.1 Main causes of clerical impairment on 1140 cases (twelfth to fourteenth century)
    • Figure 3.1 Promotions granted for major and minor orders, with or without cura
    • Figure 3.2 Cross-referenced data from supplicants and executors ‘in e. m.’ in the thirteenth century
    • Figure 3.3 Cross-referenced data from supplicants and executors ‘in e. m’ in the fourteenth century
    • Figure 5.1 Recipients of resignation letters
    • Figure 5.2 Reasons for resignation in papal letters and petitions (when the reason is known)
    • Figure 5.3 Resigners in receipt of a pension



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