Clerk (Lat. clericus, from Gr. portion or heritage), the designation of all ecclesiastics in the middle ages. The various usages of the word illustrate the influence exorcised by the clergy in the affairs of learning and civil administration. After the barbarism of the northern tribes was transplanted southward, the ecclesiastical order alone retained acquaintance with ancient literature and some of the traditions of ancient scholarship. They were therefore esteemed a learned class, and clerk was synonymous with man of science. At the period of the renaissance it was a complimentary title for men of distinguished learning, even if they were not attached to the priesthood. Most of the high offices were in their hands, since they possessed above others the intelligence requisite for fulfilling them. As learning became more widely diffused, and other classes became qualified to administer affairs, the term clerk was gradually limited to its present signification of an officer in whose duties the keeping of records predominates; and it is now antiquated, except in legal papers, as an appellation of the clergy.
Among classes of clerks, in their ecclesiastical capacity, were the clerici accphali, who were distinguished from the clerici canonici by not uniting in a congregation under the orders of a bishop; the clerks or brothers of common life, a congregation of regular canons which was originated by Gerard Groot of Deventer in the latter part of the 14th century, and spread throughout the Netherlands and Westphalia; and the regular clerks, who lived in community, with or without vows, and formed various congregations, as the Theatines, Barnabites, and Jesuits. - The ministers of France were formerly termed royal clerks and clerks of accounts. A large number of clerkships in the courts and government offices of England were abolished by statutes in 1832 and 1837; but several high officers are still designated by this title, as the clerk of the crown, who attends upon both houses of parliament, and issues writs of summons to peers and judges, and writs for the election of members of the house of commons; the clerk of the house of commons, who endorses the bills and signs the orders of the house, and reads whatever may be required in the course of proceedings; and the clerk of the parliaments, who is the chief ministerial officer of the house of lords, and waits upon the king or queen to receive the royal assent to bills, which he communicates to the lords.