The title of Sir applied to Priests; and academic titles.

It can be confusing at times to see priests with the prefix Sir which was a common title given to them in England and Scotland in the sixteenth century. The origin  of this application , or rather the peculiar class of the Priesthood to whom it was applicable, has not been well defined.  It was essentially to distinguish them from persons of civil or military Knighthood that they were first called the Pope`s Knights, and not as some have supposed, a title conferred on them by  the Bishop of Rome. Walter Myln for example, replied to his accusers when they called him Sir Walter  that "I have been ouer long one of the Pope`s Knights.".

A better and more logical explanation is given in Laing`s Works of Knox  which explains that it denoted the academic rank or degree which had been taken, and not intended to denote an inferior rank of priesthood. The title was never applied to laymen but given to regular and secular clergy, or other`s in Priests Orders who had  taken their Bachelor degree, but was not in itself an academic rank.  Those priests who were appointed Chaplains were chiefly those persons who had  not been able, for a variety of reasons, to pursue their studies to a Master of Art`s degree and were given the title to mark the difference. The title of Master or Maister, by those who graduated was jealously guarded to the turn of  the 17th century and is still used by some traditionalists.

On the other hand ecclesiastics of all ranks from Archbishop  and Abbotts, to Friars and Vicars who had a Master of Art`s degree were never called Sir, always Master, prefixed to their baptismal name in addition to their office, thus Maister James Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews; Maister Patrick Hepburn , Prior of St Andrews.

Academical designations are also difficult. The three universities in Scotland which were founded in the 15th century took as their model the Universities of Paris and Bologna. The general name given to all students was  Supposita or Supposts implying that they were subject to the Provost and Masters in the University.  The Incorporati  were persons who had taken an oath on entering the college and were matriculated in the registers. Confusingly this was not confined to just those educated in that college but could also include persons of learning (and age) from elsewhere. The usual course lasted for four years  and devoted to philosophy, including rhetoric, dialectics, ethics and physics. In the middle of the third year students were allowed to propose themselves  as candidates for a Bachelor`s degree. For this purpose those who had completed or determined their course , obtained the title of Determinants. Those who acquitted themselves were then confirmed Bachelors by the Dean of Faculty. The Intrantes or Licentates  were a class further advanced  and the title denoted that they  were preparing to take their Masters degree. A more extended examination was taken for the Master of Art`s degree before they were laureated; which allowed them to teach .

The Tonsure.

The shaving of the hair as a symbol of clerical office  was not a Church custom until the end of the fifth century but it became the norm in the sixth century when the "corona clerici" was adopted. It was advocated sometimes as a memorial of the Crown of Thorns, sometimes as a prophetic emblem of the unfading crown of glory. Celtic monks shaved only the forehead, in front of a line drawn from ear to ear, leaving long locks behind.


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