Layman (religion)

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A layperson (from the Greek λαός laós “people” to λαϊκός laikósbelonging to the people” and in ecclesiastical Latin laicus “the (ecclesiastical) layperson”) is a member of a religious community who does not hold a spiritual office, i.e. is not a cleric . Taken as a whole, one speaks of the lay class . The term layperson is primarily used in Christianity , but is sometimes also applied to other religions. Related to this is the concept of lay piety .

Definition of terms

The word laicus got the connotation 'uneducated' in medieval Latin . This is attributed to the fact that until the Renaissance, members of poor families could only get education through a spiritual career. In the German language this meaning (in contrast to the Romance languages ) has been preserved to this day and has become the most common meaning of the word; this, however, assured verbally or by the context that not the canonical meaning is intended ( "a mathematical layman," if necessary, "a theological layman", including but lay theologian just does not belong).


In all pre-Reformation churches there is a distinction between clerics and lay people. According to Roman Catholic terms, in the area of ​​the Latin Church, all believers who are not clerics are canonically regarded as lay people. In the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches with an Eastern Church tradition , on the other hand, consecrated persons are viewed as a separate religious class alongside clergy and lay people. In the West, too, religious people traditionally occupied a certain intermediate position between the clergy and the purely secular lay class.

In the churches of the Protestant Reformation , a differentiation between clergy and laypeople generally no longer takes place, since, according to Luther's word of the general priesthood of all baptized, every believer is called to preach and faith does not depend on priestly mediation. Only in colloquial terms are all Christians without a spiritual office referred to as lay people .

Roman Catholic Church

The concept of the layman in the Second Vatican Council

At the Second Vatican Council, the redefinition of the task of the laity in the Church must be distinguished from the conceptual-systematic definition of the relationship between the laity and the clergy:

The task of the laity after the Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council , as a redefinition of the laity, underlines the participation of all believers in the ministry of Christ and in the mission entrusted to the Church in the world. In the dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium , before the treatise on the hierarchy of the Church, there are statements about the people of God , the believers in Christ, who “participate in their own way” in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ. A distinction is made between clergy, consecrated persons and lay people.

In Lumen Gentium , the laity are defined as partakers of the common priesthood (LG 10), to whom the world character ( indoles saecularis ) is “in a special way”. They are tasked with “seeking the kingdom of God by virtue of their own vocation in the administration and godly regulation of temporal things” (LG 31). Through baptism and confirmation they are called to spread and defend the faith in word and deed (cf. LG 11).

The systematic recording of the layman

From a systematic point of view, two questions have to be distinguished: Has a paradigm shift taken place? and: Who falls under the concept of the laity after the Second Vatican Council?

  • Paradigm shift

According to one reading, the Second Vatican Council did not result in a paradigm shift. The layman is still simply the non-cleric. According to another reading, the fundamental is the baptismal vocation common to all believers in Christ: It is not the layman who is the non-cleric, but the cleric is the non-layperson, i.e. H. more precisely: the cleric is the believer who is not a layman because of his ordination. The latter finds a clue in Lumen Gentium No. 31:

“The term lay people is understood here to mean all believers in Christ with the exception of the members of the ordained status and the religious status recognized in the Church, that is, the believers in Christ who, through baptism, incorporated Christ, made into the people of God and the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ participating in their own way, exercising in their part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world ”

- Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium No. 31
  • The different conceptual scope of the layman

From a conceptual point of view, the Second Vatican Council uses three different lay terms in the document Lumen Gentium alone :

(1) Layman is any believer who is not a cleric ((casually) Lumen Gentium , no. 43);
(2) A layperson is any believer who is not a cleric or a member of the religious order ( Lumen Gentium , No. 31 1st paragraph (see quotation above));
(3) A layperson is every believer who has “the character of the world in a special way” ( Lumen Gentium , No. 31, 2nd paragraph).

The concept of the layman in the CIC 1983

The concept of the layman in the CIC 1983 is also characterized by "ambiguity and misunderstanding":

"By virtue of divine instruction, there are spiritual ministers among the believers in the church who are also called clerics by law, while the rest are also called lay people."

  • In can. 463 § 1 No. 5 CIC “members of the institutes of consecrated life” are potentially ascribed to the laity, in can. 463 § 2 CIC opposed to the laity.
  • In cann. 224-231 the expression “layman” is mainly used for believers who have a particular “world character”.

Canon law also states that “there is true equality among all believers in their dignity and activity”, “by virtue of which all, depending on their own position and task, participate in the building up of the body of Christ” ( can. 208 §1 CIC ). Accordingly, this “true equality” does not exclude program-specific differences between clergy and lay people.

The layman in post-conciliar papal pronouncements

The decree Apostolicam actuositatem contains further information on the vocation, mission and importance of the laity in the Church. Organized forms of lay apostolate are also discussed in it. In Article 26, the decree proposes the creation of council structures in which lay people can participate in the organization of the local Church. At parish level, this is the parish council . In the post-synodal apostolic letter Christifideles laici , Pope John Paul II describes the “vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world”. Benedict XVI. states in his encyclical Deus caritas est that the layperson has the task of working for a just order in society.

Lay movements

In the period after the Council, numerous spiritual communities emerged to promote the development of the spirituality of the laity.


With the laicization of a cleric, the rights and duties of his class can be suspended in certain exceptional cases as a dispensation or as a church punishment, whereby a consecrated cleric is effectively transferred to the lay status. However, this is only a canonical meaning, the sacramental consecration remains fundamentally unaffected, but the person concerned is no longer allowed to exercise his ordination office.


In Buddhism , the term is commonly used for non- monks . Classic terms for practicing Buddhist laypeople are upāsaka , which is often translated as 'sitting by' or 'devotee', and gahapati , which means 'housefather' (in contrast to the Buddhist monks, who were originally mostly wandering monks, i.e. did not have permanent houses) . The Buddhist practice and teaching that is not practiced by monks or nuns is known as lay Buddhism .




  • Klaus-Josef Notz: layperson . In: Lexicon of Buddhism. Basic concepts, traditions, practice. Edited by Klaus-Josef Notz. Herder Verlag, Freiburg, Basel, Vienna 1998, Volume 1, p. 257.


  • Christoph Burger: Theology and lay piety. Transformation attempts in the late Middle Ages. In: Hartmut Boockmann, Bernd Moeller , Karl Stackmann (eds.): Life lessons and world designs in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age. Politics - Education - Natural History - Theology. Report on colloquia of the commission to research the culture of the late Middle Ages 1983 to 1987 (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen: philological-historical class. Volume III, No. 179). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1989, ISBN 3-525-82463-7 , pp. 400-420.
  • O. Freiberger, W. Hauschild, L. Karrer, J. Schneider, G. Plasger, K. Foitzik, D. Guder, L. Price, L .: Laien. In: Religion Past and Present. doi : 10.1163 / 2405-8262_rgg4_COM_12571 .
  • Clergy and laity. In: RGG 3 vol. 3, 1661–1664 (Stefan Zankow ( Heinz-Horst Schrey ): Orthodox churches, Hans Barion: Roman Catholic Church, Günther Wendt : Protestant Church)
  • Layman , in: LThK 3 Vol. 6, spp. 589-597 (Jürgen Werbick: concept, historical-theological, systematic-theological; Heinrich FJ Reinhardt: canon law; Marianne Heimbach-Steins: spirituality; Norbert Mette: lay people in church service)
  • Georg Bier and Stefan Silber : Laymen (PDF) ed. von der KirchenVolksBewendung We are Church (yellow row), Munich: We are Church 2016
  • Ferdinand Klostermann : Commentary on Lumen Gentium , fourth chapter: "The Laity", in: Second Vatican Council: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church . In: Josef Höfer , Karl Rahner (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 2nd Edition. tape 12 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1967, Sp. (P.) 260-283 .
  • Klaus Schreiner : Lay Piety in the Late Middle Ages. Forms, functions, political-social contexts (= writings of the historical college , colloquia. Vol. 20). Oldenbourg, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-486-55902-8 ( digitized version ).

Individual evidence

  1. Georg Steer: On the term 'layman' in German poetry and prose of the Middle Ages. In: Ludger Grenzmann, Karl Stackmann (Hrsg.): Literature and lay education in the late Middle Ages and in the Reformation period. Stuttgart 1984 (= German Symposia , Volume 5), pp. 764–769.
  2. ^ A b Second Vatican Council : Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium" . November 21, 1964 ( German translation on the Vatican website ).
  3. So probably z. B. Gregor Bier: Introduction to Canon Law. In: Clauß Peter Sajak : Practical Theology. Module 4. Schöningh, Paderborn 2012 (UTB; 3472), ISBN 978-3-8252-3472-0 , p. 172: "The tasks of laypeople result from their non-clergy."
  4. See Ulrich Rhode : Church Law. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2015 (textbooks theology; vol. 24), ISBN 978-3-17-026227-0 , p. 89 f.
  5. So at least Ulrich Rhode : Church Law. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2015 ( Studienbücher Theologie , Vol. 24), ISBN 978-3-17-026227-0 , p. 90, if he gives a permanent deacon a world character in his secular profession and a hermit who is neither a cleric nor a religious be, agree.
  6. ^ A b Ulrich Rhode : Canon Law. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2015 (textbooks theology; vol. 24), ISBN 978-3-17-026227-0 , p. 90
  7. ^ Paul Becher: lay organizations . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 6 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1997, Sp. 606 .
  8. Benedict XVI., Encyclical Deus Caritas Est , No. 29, 2005