Latin: laicus, laic

One who is not in clerical orders and therefore not capable of clerical functions, such as administering the Sacraments, preaching, and pastoral duties. In temporal matters laymen may be appointed to administer the fiscal affairs of an institution, but always dependent on the bishop. A layman may be appointed by the pope as commissary Apostolic to pass judgement or take information in ecclesiastical matters; also as assessor or counselor to a judge in ecclesiastical matters.

For a time in the Church, laymen were often appointed to benefices attached to abbeys and held them in commendam (in trust), deriving the revenues therefrom, but engaging clerics to look after the spiritual affairs of the monks. They were known as commendatory abbots or abbots in commendam. This gave rise to grave abuses and the system, after long struggles on the part of the popes, was abolished.

From the time of Saint Augustine of Hippo, and very likely earlier, they have been associated with members of religious orders as confratres or oblates with the Benedictines, Franciscans, Oblates of Saint Ambrose and Saint Charles, doing various works of mercy, visiting the sick and the poor, teaching the ignorant, reconciling enemies, and defending the faith. Perhaps the most distinct order of laymen were the Beghards who for the most part were members of the city craft guilds and who became a refuge for worn-out workingmen. Organizations of laymen have always been a powerful arm of the clergy, and individual laymen in every country have been distinguished champions of religion in political life, journalism, literature, education, and social and professional matters. See also