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Benefit of clergy

Posted by David FG on July 14, 2007

In Reply to: Benefit of clergy posted by RRC on July 13, 2007

: : I was recently reading George Orwell's essay on Salavador Dali which is tiled 'Benefit of clergy'. What exactly does benefit of clergy mean?

: "Benefit of clergy" means "sanctioned by a religious rite". Most often this refers to marriage as in "The couple is living together without benefit of clergy". Unmarried, they are committing the sin of adultery, but if a clergyman were to say a few words over them they would be married and the same actions would no longer be a sin.

: In your essay, Orwell says
: "It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a kind of benefit of clergy. The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word 'Art', and everything is O.K."

: The priest says "This is a marriage" and sex is okay. Dali says "This is art" and "this" is okay

That is indeed what it means by extension. Originally, there were two sets of legal jurisdiction in England: the civil, which regulated the general population, and the ecclesiastical, which applied to the clergy.

Ecclesiastical Courts had no power to hang an offender, so if a person could be tried by them, he would escape the death penalty. In order to do this, he would be required to read the first verse of Psalm 51. If he could do this, he was ajudged to be sufficiently learned to qualify as 'clergy' and would thus be tried for his offence by the Ecclesiastical Courts.

This separate legal system was the 'Benefit of Clergy'.

Incidentally, the relevant bit of the Psalm became known as the 'neck verse' as it would save a man's neck.