- the group or body of ordained persons in a religion, as distinguished from the laity.
c. 1200, clergie “office or dignity of a clergyman,” from two Old French words: 1. clergié“clerics, learned men,” from Medieval Latin clericatus, from Late Latin clericus (see clerk(n.)); 2. clergie “learning, knowledge, erudition,” from clerc, also from Late Latin clericus.
Meaning “persons ordained for religious work, persons consecrated to the duties of public ministration in the Christian church” is from c. 1300. Benefit of clergy (1510s) is the exemption of ecclesiastics from certain criminal processes before secular judges; in England it was first recognized 1274, modified over time, and abolished in 1827.
I always find it interesting how one word can eventually become multiple in time. The term “clergy” is no different. As can be seen above, we get today’s term from sources that also brought us the word “clerk” which, while similar, has a different context of use.
The definition and history of clergy do a good job of describing what the term means. It is a broad term used to refer to all those in the religious work. Whether they be priests, friars, bishops, pastors, elders, etc., they are part of the ministry and therefore called clergy.
Dictionary.com puts the term in contrast to “laity”. The laity are the worshippers. It includes all those who participate in the services but are not ordained as ministerial servant leaders.