During the High Middle Ages, members of the Anglo-Norman clergy not only routinely took wives but also often prepared their own sons for ecclesiastical careers. As the Anglo-Norman Church began to impose clerical celibacy on the priesthood, reform needed to be carefully negotiated, as it relied on the acceptance of a new definition of masculinity for religious men, one not dependent on conventional male roles in society. The Manly Priest tells the story of the imposition of clerical celibacy in a specific time and place and the resulting social tension and conflict.
No longer able to tie manliness to marriage and procreation, priests were instructed to embrace virile chastity, to become manly celibates who continually warred with the desires of the body. Reformers passed legislation to eradicate clerical marriages and prevent clerical sons from inheriting their fathers' benefices. In response, some married clerics authored tracts to uphold their customs of marriage and defend the right of a priest's son to assume clerical office. This resistance eventually waned, as clerical celibacy became the standard for the priesthood.
By the thirteenth century, ecclesiastical reformers had further tightened the standard of priestly masculinity by barring other typically masculine behaviors and comportment: gambling, tavern-frequenting, scurrilous speech, and brawling. Charting the progression of the new model of religious masculinity for the priesthood, Jennifer Thibodeaux illustrates this radical alteration and concludes not only that clerical celibacy was a hotly contested movement in high medieval England and Normandy, but that this movement created a new model of manliness for the medieval clergy.
Introduction. Gendered Bodies and Gendered Identities
Chapter 1. The Manly Celibate
Chapter 2. Legal Discourse and the Reality of Clerical Marriage
Chapter 3. The Marginality of Clerical Sons
Chapter 4. "The Natural Right of a Man": The Clerical Defense of Traditional Masculinity
Chapter 5. "They ought to be a model and example": The Expansion of Religious Manliness
Chapter 6. Policing Priestly Bodies: The Conflict of Masculinities Among the Norman Parish Clergy
Conclusion. The Manly Priest
Jennifer D. Thibodeaux is Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She is the editor of Negotiating Clerical Identities: Priests, Monks and Masculinity in the Middle Ages.
""The Manly Priest accomplishes what it sets out to do admirably. It simultaneously traces the gradual progress of clerical reform in a region with rich documentation and adds a theoretical perspective concerning masculinity that deepens our understanding of the dynamics of reform, and as such it will be of interest to scholars of both subjects. For non-medievalists interested in the study of religion it represents a significant contribution to the study of the body and constructions of gender in religious thought; for medievalists it advances our understanding of a critical period in the formation of the Western Church.""
~Journal of Religion
"An important and convincing book-Thibodeaux adds to the literature on clerical marriage and clerical celibacy by firmly and consistently moving the issue of masculinity to the center. Indeed, she considers the model of clerical masculinity an important cause of the drive for clerical celibacy."
~Hugh M. Thomas, University of Miami
"We have known for a long time that the compulsory celibacy of priests was not universally approved in all times and all places. Thibodeaux shows exactly how contested this structure was by turning to one area of Europe (the Anglo-Norman realms) where documents survive for various levels at which the battle played out. This is a clear contribution to a growing area of interest within medieval, religious, and gender history that addresses a transitional period in the history of the western church."
~Derek Neal, Nipissing University
Winner of 2016 Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship Book Prize