Clergy density

Posted on June 23, 2020 by Elliot Marsden

(Note: this is poorly researched.)

I always thought it strange how powerful the clergy seemed when reading history; I assumed it was just power coming from respect for religion, rather than them being a tangibly large force. But thinking more about it, when church is a big part of almost everyone’s life, serving them is quite labour-intensive!

I was reading about the French revolution, when I learned there were around 100,000 Catholic clergy in France in 1789. This amounts to one Catholic clergy for every 240 French people. In the UK in 2012 there were around 18,000 ordained Church of England clergy, which amounts to one Church of England clergy for every 3,600 UK people.

This isn’t really a fair comparison though, since fewer people use religious services now. Apparently, 740,000 people regularly attended Church of England Sunday Service in the UK in 2016. This implies around one Church of England clergy for every 41 Sunday Service attendees, in the 2010s. At this ratio, such clergy could serve 4,100,000 French Catholics, or about 17% of the overall French population in 1789.

I’m guessing, though I’m not certain, that the share of practising Catholics in pre-revolutionary france was considerably higher than 17%. This implies each 2010s Church of England clergy is serving fewer people than a 1780s French Catholic clergy. There are a bunch of variables changing at once in this comparison, but could it be that over more than two centuries, we have become less productive at providing religion?