Papal and episcopal letters concerning clerical fornication and marriage in Flanders and Picardy, c. 1093-1115

Translated by John S. Ott, Department of History, Portland State University, from: PL 162:669-671 (letters 57 and 60) (nos. II and III); PL 163:141-142 and 369 (letters 134 and 415) (nos. VI and VII); and Claire Giordanengo, ed. Le registre de Lambert, évêque d’Arras (1093-1115) (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2007), letters 81-82 (pp. 442-43) (nos. IV and V) and letter 132 (pp. 510-11) (no. I).  Translations, introduction and notes are (c) John S. Ott and may not be reproduced without permission, but may be employed without the author's permission for classroom use.  Revised 19 February 2009.


The seven letters below all concern uxorious clergy in Flanders and Picardy.  Four were written by popes, one by a papal legate, and two by the archbishop of Reims.  Collectively, they furnish evidence for the ways in which married and/or non-celibate clergy were handled by their religious superiors--namely by their bishop, the archbishop, and the pope--during what we might term the "third generation" of the ecclesiastical reform of the medieval church (that is, after the pontificacies of Leo IX ending in 1054 and Gregory VII ending in 1085).  They also demonstrate the persistence of marriage among secular clergy in this corner of Europe, despite regular and insistent papal decrees condemning it and clerical fornication in general.  With the exception of the final item in this collection, all the letters below were maintained in the personal register of Lambert, bishop of Arras (1094-1115).  Lambert was perhaps the most influential churchman in the archdiocese of Reims during his episcopate, and deeply respected by popes Urban II (1088-1099) and Paschal II (1099-1118).  In other words, he considered himself an ally of Rome and its policies, and was in general a staunch supporter of papal reform initiatives under Urban and Paschal.

I.  Letter of Pope Urban II to the clergy and people of Amiens

Bishop Urban, servant of the servants of God, to the clergy and people of Amiens, greetings and apostolic blessing.

We consider completely without merit the accusation of simoniacal depravity brought against our venerable brother Gervin, your bishop, before the metropolitan and provincial bishops, because we hold that no one may be condemned by a single voice, especially if [that person is] infamous or of little merit. [2]  For that reason, because no one brought a canonical accusation against him before us, we have not required him to defend himself.  Nevertheless, spontaneously providing in the future for his good reputation, he swore on the holy Gospels that he neither gave nor promised money either for the abbacy of Saint-Riquier or for the bishopric of Amiens, nor to his knowledge did anyone do so on his behalf.  Moreover, we, holding him harmless from the injury of the present accusation, send him back to you in the fullness of our grace.  Thus we command you by the authority of our office that you revere him with all due obedience as your pastor; that you observe his commands; and that, correcting your former errors, you bend to the observance of the Lord’s precepts.

We have heard of clerics who, contrary to the discipline of the holy canons and in contempt of the practice of the catholic Church, fornicate with women, and command by apostolic authority that they totally desist from this and the other sorts of vices in which they are involved, and according to the judgment of their bishop, submit themselves to divine servitude.  But if—God forbid!—you hold our precepts in contempt and pertinaciously presume further to resist your bishop at the risk of your salvation, we confirm by the weight of our authority whatever sentence he extends against you according to the dictates of justice. 

Given 18 July [1093].


[1]  Urban II was pope from 1088-1099.  The bishop in question, Gervin, presided in Amiens from c. 1090-1102.

[2]  One or more clerks from Amiens likely raised objection to Gervin’s episcopacy at the provincial synod March 1093, on the grounds that he was a simoniac.  If not precisely a simoniac, Gervin nevertheless held the abbacy of Saint-Riquier concurrently with his bishopric for at least five years.  Urban II ultimately ruled against him holding both positions at the council of Clermont in November 1095.

II.  Letter of Archbishop Manasses II of Reims to Lambert, bishop of Arras [1]

Manasses, by God’s grace archbishop of Reims, to his beloved brother and fellow bishop Lambert of Arras, greetings in all prosperity and blessings.

Since brother Galterus was been admitted into the clerical order canonically and without legal offense, let neither reason refuse to promote him into the canonicate nor justice speak against it, when there is no one who doubts his wife was adulterous and to have married another man.  So that we may speak along with the Apostle, after he ascertained his wife to be adulterous, the power was freely given him to send her away and to maintain any [clerical] vow to the Lord, excepting that, as long as she is alive, he cannot remarry. [2]  Also, having recently heard that in your church investiture of prebends and altars has been done by hereditary succession to the second, third, and fourth generation, we were struck with amazement that your fraternity should so feebly resist such a depraved and unheard-of custom.  For this custom grew in the holy church through the simoniac heresy, and should be abolished for all men and extirpated with all diligence.  Our church of Reims execrates it as an abomination and considers invalid all investitures of this sort, beseeching with the Lord through the Prophet: “All who possess God’s sanctuary by inheritance, O my God, scatter them like a wheel, like chaff before the face of the wind.” [3]  Farewell.


[1]  This letter was probably written in 1099 or 1100. Manasses II was archbishop from 1096-1106; Lambert was bishop of Arras from 1094-1115.

[2]  To do so would violate church law, as promulgated in both older and contemporary collections of canon law like, for example, the Collection in Seventy-Four Titles, 16.145.

[3]  Psalm 83:13.

III.  Letter of Archbishop Manasses II of Reims to Robert II, count of Flanders [1]

Manasses, by the grace of God archbishop of Reims, to his most ardently beloved count Robert, greetings, love, and a plenitude of blessings. [2]

Recalling the ready and kind affection with which you received us in your land, we pass along enormous thanks to your belovedness and are prepared to carry out whatever we are able that is useful to your friendship.  For if friendship endures by mutual efforts, we are easily able to take the measure of ours from your spirit.  Moreover, when we held a meeting together with our fellow bishops at Saint-Omer concerning the affairs and business of the church [3], we remember making mention of married priests and others in ecclesiastical orders, setting forth that, unless they should desist from this sort of consort, you and your princes should seize their wives, once a sentence of excommunication had been passed [on them].  However, when our clergy raised a complaint against us at the beginning of the council, asserting that no laws could be canonically applied to their parishes without their consent, we arrived at the necessity of writing you in a timely matter, decreeing and also urging that you take heed neither to molest priests and others in sacred orders in this matter nor pursue their wives, or permit them to be harmed by any of your magnates—unless it happens that the bishop recognized to be in his parish approves of your help.  For we did not want, nor is it just, that we should do injury to our fellow bishops in anything; or that anything we command severely should not be useful to the ecclesiastical order in the case of a seizure.  For we decreed that bishops in their synods should call [clergy] sharply to account in this matter, and unless, having been admonished, they desist from this depraved business, then they should at that point welcome you as helpmates and avengers.  Farewell.


[1]   This letter was probably written in 1100, after Robert had returned from the First Crusade in the first part of that year.

[2]  These sentiments are very warm, even by the standards of medieval epistolary salutations.  Robert of Flanders (1093-1111) was not Manasses’ “count,” but the two were friends.

[3]  Saint-Omer was a prosperous town in the western part of the county of Flanders.  Manasses met there with four fellow bishops in July 1099, including the bishops of Arras (Lambert) and Thérouanne (John), whose dioceses are discussed in the letters below.

The next three letters all seem to concern uxorious canons of Notre-Dame of Arras, Lambert’s cathedral.  The deacons Robert and Algise (nos. V and VI below), who both had wives, appear as witnesses to several of Lambert’s charters in the first years of his rule.

IV.  Letter of Richard, cardinal-bishop of Albano, to Robert II, count of Flanders

Richard, by God’s grace bishop of Albano, legate of the apostolic see, to Robert, distinguished count of Flanders, greetings.

Of what renown, what honesty, and of what religion is our dear brother Lambert, the bishop of Arras, a fact known to the most distant people, we believe to be not unfamiliar to you, who is count of his city. [2]  Indeed he is a person so trusted by the apostolic see that [Rome] considers him by a certain prerogative foremost among the reigning bishops of the Gauls. [3]  We therefore commit to your prudence and power this great and venerable man, that you might protect him by the lawful power given you by God against all who raise any rebellious plot against him.

Moreover, you should observe as excommunicated that Robert, clerk of Arras—an obstinate rebel against his bishop, fornicating with a widow—along with all his backers, until such a time as he shall be reconciled with his bishop. [4]  If the bishop decrees against the wickedness of clerics what ought rightly be observed, let him find in you not a supporter of wickedness but a defender of the faith.


[1]  The cardinal-bishop Richard acted as papal legate for France off and on from 1102-1111.  He had formerly been the dean of Saint-Etienne of Metz, was French-speaking, and knew most of the church officials with whom he interacted personally.  This letter seems to have been written between 1102 and 1104, during Richard’s first extended legation into France, probably toward the latter date.

[2]  Meaning Arras, the capital city of the diocese.

[3]  A somewhat prosaic way of referring to a region now more or less encompassed by modern France.

[4]  This would seem to be the same Robert referenced in the other letters.

V.  Letter of Pope Paschal II to Lambert, bishop of Arras

Bishop Paschal, servant of the servants of God, to the venerable brother Lambert of Arras, greetings and apostolic blessing.

Robert and Algise, the bearers [of this letter], although they came to us with a grievance, we by the grace of blessed Peter have sent them back free of complaint, since a non-controversial peace was achieved between them and their adversaries.  And because the same men said they had come [to Rome] without your permission, we ask that you put the burden of this offense on us.  View Robert most benevolently, as your predecessor, bishop Gerard, was known to consider him. [2]  For he is prepared to obey you in all matters, because he desires to be a son of the Roman Church henceforward.

Given at the Lateran, 21 March [1104?].  


[1]  Although the year is not given, this letter appears to have been sent at roughly the same time as VI., below, i.e., 1104.

[2]  This is Gerard II, bishop of Cambrai (1076-1092).  At the time the letter was written, Cambrai was likely without a universally recognized bishop.

VI.  Letter of Pope Paschal II to Lambert, bishop of

Bishop Paschal, servant of the servants of God, to his venerable brother Lambert, bishop of Arras, greeting and blessing. [1]

Several clergy of your church convened before our presence bringing with them diverse complaints.  After listening to them all in turn and consulting with our brothers, we absolved them all from the chains of excommunication once they promised to give satisfaction.  All pledged their obedience to our proposed course [of action] and to you as though you were their own bishop.  And on behalf of those who complained that they had suffered the seizure of their goods by your agents, we beseech your benevolence that you carry out justice concerning the seizure of those goods.  To that end we’ve sent to you via your archdeacon the description of these things given to us.  Furthermore, the two deacons, Algise and Robert, who until now have had wives, have renounced them by swearing on the holy Gospels.  We therefore admonish your dispensation on their behalf and request that in the future you should provide for their lives and well-being.  Hugh, the son of Baldwin, affirmed by oath that within forty days after he returns (God willing) to your land, he would do whatever your justice renders concerning the complaint raised against him, except for whatever is dismissed for him in your mercy.  In the case of Robert that was brought and resolved before us, the decree of blessed Siricius, which he wrote to Bishop Himerius of Tarragona, says, “Any cleric who marries either a widow or second wife shall be immediately stripped of every clerical rank, and lay status accorded him.” [2]  We therefore enjoined that he should in any case strive to obey you as though you were his own bishop.  And this [Robert], when released from the chains of excommunication, swore on the holy Gospels that he would do whatever we commanded in this matter.  Therefore you should receive him like an obedient son and extend to him whatever fatherly mercy you deem just.  And we will uphold for the peace of the church any good you will mercifully grant.

Given at the Lateran, 5 December [1104?]. [3]


[1]  Paschal II was pope from 1099-1118.

[2]  Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) wrote a letter to Himerius of Tarragona in 385 C.E. addressing a variety of pastoral issues, including questions surrounding clerical marriage and celibacy.

[3]  The year is suggested by Philippe Jaffé and Wilhelm Wattenbach, eds., Regesta pontificum romanorum, 2d ed. (Leipzig: Veit, 1885), no. 6000, p. 718.

VII.  Letter of Pope Paschal II to the parish clergy of the diocese of Thérouanne

Bishop Paschal, servant of the servants of God, to the parish clergy of Thérouanne, greetings and apostolic blessing. [1]

We’ve heard of a deeply serious concern from your parts, that after so many decrees of the holy pontiffs, after conciliar bans, there are men in clerical orders who are consorting with women—and who dare [to do so] publicly, not secretly.  In these matters our predecessor of holy memory Pope Urban among other things established that they should be stripped of their offices along with their benefices.  Likewise we, in harmony with the decrees of our predecessor, command through the present missive that whoever among you refuses to desist from this wickedness and has been canonically warned by his bishop shall be punished by the removal of his offices and benefices.

Given at the Lateran, 24 November [between 1100 and 1115].


[1]  The bishop of Thérouanne at this time was John of Warneton, who was present at the council of Saint-Omer mentioned in Manasses’ letter to Robert II of Flanders.