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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: October 2013

3 - Early Irish Priests within their Own Localities


The early-eighth-century collection of canons known as Collectio Canonum Hibernensis includes a book entitled On presbyters and priests. Chapter twenty-five deals with correct punishment to be meted out to priests who are absent from their locality:

Sinodus Hibernensis decrevit, ut sacerdos una tantum die ab ecclesia defuerit; si duobus, peniteat VII diebus cum pane et aqua; si autem mortuus ad ecclesiam adlatus fuerit et ille absens, penitere debet quia poenae reus illius est. B. Item: Si in uno die dominico ab ecclesia defuerit, agat penitentiam XX dierum cum pane et aqua, si autem duobus aut tribus, submovendus honore gradus sui.

This is a relatively rare example of concern about a priest's relationship with his congregation in this particular source. The other twenty-six chapters in the book concern the nature of the priest's role, their Old Testament precursors, the nature of sacrifice, the rituals of ordination and (by far the greatest area of concern, with ten separate chapters) the rules governing clerical income.

The evidence for the duties and functions of priests and their role in Irish society is not limited to On presbyters and priests, but can also be found scattered through other books within the Collectio. In Book twenty-one, for example, On judgement, a priest is identified as a suitable person to be a judge, along with fourteen other characters including a bishop, a king, a legal scholar, a kinsman (on issues concerning his own kin), a craftsman (on matters pertaining to his own craft), the old, the poor and the wise.