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What is the difference between a Priest and a Cleric?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Dkenos, Apr 15, 2017.

  1. Dkenos

    Dkenos Dreamer

    My initial concept between the two was that a Cleric was a priest that, when in combat, preferred to fight the enemy up close wearing heavier armor than a priest would. Naturally, their magics would also be a balance between offense and healing as to keep themselves and their allies alive. This is of course only what I got from a few books and games and would like a better understanding between the two and ho they are strong and weak per-se.
  2. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    You seem to talking about usage within certain games, so I guess the actual difference would kind of depend upon the mechanics and design principles of those games rather than any kind of general principle. Perhaps if you mentioned a specific game, someone else familiar with that game could give a better answer!

    Or are you really asking about differences between religious priests and clerics? As they exist in the primary world or within a subcreation?
  3. Dkenos

    Dkenos Dreamer

    Yes, I am talking about the difference between priests and clerics as they would operate in a fantasy world. Yes, most of my experience from them is from games so I have very little understanding than when someone in a story says "I am a priest" or "I am a cleric". To that end, I want to know wht seperates them both religiously and functionally within a fantasy world.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    However the hell you want if it's your fantasy world. In fact, they could be exactly the same.

    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  5. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    In the real world, Priests are those that make some type of offering on an altar, whereas clergy would be anyone who performs any type of religious function. So it could be said that all priests are clergy, but not all clergy are priests.

    In a fantasy setting, I will confess, I would notice if things were just called these titles with no reflection as to what they really mean, but RPG's have been doing so for a long time. Clerics as warriors have already been well accepted.
  6. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Well, again, the answer will depend upon the design principles of that particular fantasy world you want to know about. Just speaking here as regards my own work on The World, there áre priests and there áre "clerics" in a more general sense. The concept of "warrior priest" as applies to D&D and such games and fantasy based on them does not exist, even though there are clerics that engage in warfare. Much will depend on the actual religious tradition they belong to.

    Priests are those clerics of religious traditions with codified temple rituals (be they sacrifice at the altar or liturgical function); they are generally "religious" in that they've taken a course of study centering on theology and philosophy; they are generally considered to be empowered by their god(s) to perform various rites among the faithful. But priest can also apply to spiritual guides and philosophical masters as well.

    Clerics generally imply any religious or spiritual leader, regardless of ritual function. This would, of course, include priests, but also monks and philosophers.

    As far as warrior clerics are concerned (since you mention them the context of battle), there are, generally among the Kristians and the Bodhians (*here*, Christians and Buddhists), orders of warrior monks. They are often dispatched to guard isolated monasteries and watch over other small communities where there is need of them. They obviously perform duties both spiritual and warlike. (Compare with the Knights Templar or the Knights Hospitaller.) Among Kristians, it is generally tabu for priests to engage in warfare, though there have been examples of priests trouncing an attacker as a last resort in defense of fellowman or sacred relics.

    As far as clerical magic in war goes, it is rare for Kristian or Jehudian priests to engage in mundane magic (though priests of some other traditions do). That's just not their province. Some orders of warrior monks are trained in a martial art that is called psalm magic:

    A curious kind of warlike dwimmery is called psalm magic. It is most commonly used by fighting monks for purposes of defense from monsters, wild beasts and attacking marauders. Historically, this form of magic had its origins in the Ymallea region of Eosphora, where the red monks of Tharwad first developed this particular martial art and has thence spread into both west and east. ... Psalm magic is most commonly employed by itinerant monks, though it may be used to good effect by any truly believing priest who has been initiated into the knowledge of the secret psalms. The basic nature of psalm magic is a charm to be sent against a foe in battle that takes the form of a cone of power emanating from the monk's staff and within which whirls a potent vortex of immense power. ... (From "Guide to The World")

    So much for Men. Daine, the principle race / species in this world, practice no religion at all, as Men understand the term, and have no priests. They do have monks and engage in spiritual practices as befit their unfallen nature. Teyor, much the same, only they are in closer communion with the divine. Neither of these people have need for religion or priests.

    But on the other hand, note that Tolkien makes zero mention of priests or clerics of any kind in Middle Earth and no mention of explicit religion either. Neither among Elves (where I'd expect there to be none) nor among Men (I'd expect the Rohirrim to engage in religious practice of the old Germanic type, but perhaps not the higher Numenoreans) nor among Hobbits. If any place in Middle Earth is like mid-19th century, pre-Machine England, it's The Shire and I'd've rather expected it to be dotted with chapels and sacred wells of sòme kind. But, not a single mention!

    Me I think the idea of warrior priests in modern fantasy is largely a D&D thing, and probably has little basis in either fact or earlier fantasy. I never played a lot of D&D, but it just seemed to me that "priest" and "cleric" were kind of empty tokens, bereft of actual meaning. Pretty much, make of them what you will!

    Well, in my opinion only, there's probably really no actual difference between the two. I could be wrong, and with all due respect to those authors, but I rather doubt they took much time to do the depth of world and culture creation that would be needed to sort out the differences. Since you haven't been able to glean what the distinction is from playing these games or reading these books, and since I never really got a sense for distinction reading that kind of fantasy either, I feel rather secure in my judgement.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    My first thought is that "Priest" is a word that get used in English to refer to members of a lot of religions, while "Cleric" typically refers to a "by the Holy Light" -type of religion. Priests tend to be part of a tighter hierarchy, while Clerics have more discrepancy. Sometimes there isn't much difference between Cleric and Paladin. Sometimes there is.

    And most of this is D&D / Video Game stuff and you should probably downplay these kinds of references in a novel with an original setting.
  8. Tort76

    Tort76 Acolyte

    Your world your rules! But I typically view priests as leaders and not on the front lines. Clerics tend to be doers and typically on the side of light; light being appearance of good. Clerics are typically portrayed as magically imbued but used weapons, typically blunt to preclude killing. Just some thoughts to help muddied the water

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  9. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    It's been said already that, in your fiction, the two names refer to whatever you invent. You could call female card sharps "Priests" and their entourages "Clerics." Just saying.

    As for the use of those labels in existing games and works of fiction, those terms are not necessarily used to refer to the same thing in every instance; it depends on the specific game or story as to how Priests and Clerics compare to each other.

    But in my head, I think of Priests as having more status than Clerics, whatever that means. When I first encountered the concept of weapon-wielding Clerics in D&D, it disturbed me; I'd think of such people more as Paladins or Holy Knights. Clerics to me should be more concerned about spreading religious teachings with their words than enforcing religious laws through brute force. But that's just me.

    For you, if you're thinking of using the two terms in a work of fiction, decide for yourself what you want them to be, and be consistent in your story. If any of your readers get caught up on how you portray Priests vs. Clerics, it's because they have their own ideals concerning what the two should be. You can try to anticipate those ideals if you think you know your target audience, but in general, the matter is wide open to your unique interpretation.

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