« Archdall, Mervyn Archdeacon and Archpriest Archelaus »

Archdeacon and Archpriest

ARCHDEACON and ARCHPRIEST: Officials who are mentioned very early as heads of the lower or ministering clergy and of the other priests. Both are assistants and sometimes representatives of the bishop, the archpriest more in liturgical functions, the archdeacon in those of church government. In the early history of the dioceses of northern and western Europe, which were originally much larger than the older ones of the East and South, we find a number of archpriests whose functions are different from those indicated. The diocese is divided into parishes (much larger than the modern parishes), frequently following political divisions in their boundaries. The inhabitants of a parish, considered as a single community, have one church, often on the site of a heathen temple, set apart for the principal ecclesiastical functions. This is the church for Sunday service, baptism, funerals, and the payment of church taxes. Through the surrounding country are scattered other smaller churches used for less important functions, and served by clergy who are representatives of the parish priest. With the increase in the number of principal or “baptismal” churches, the importance of the archpriests diminished. From the ninth century their place was taken by rural deans, who had the oversight of more than one archpresbyterate; and, as they were generally taken from among the archpriests, frequently retained that title. The archdeacons did not hold everywhere the same relation to the archpriests. Under Leo the Great (440-461) they appear in charge of church property and jurisdiction in the dioceses. By the ninth century, priests began to be named to this office, and finally none but priests held it, who were placed over the archpriests. About the same time in France, somewhat later in Germany, the custom arose of dividing the dioceses into several of these archdeaconries. With the development of the cathedral chapters, it became usual for the head of the chapter to be archdeacon, or, if there were several archdeacons in the diocese, the office was held also by canons or other heads of collegiate bodies. The power of the archdeacon gradually increased; by the beginning of the thirteenth century he is already known as judex ordinarius, and has an independent right to make canonical visitations, to decide many cases (especially matrimonial), to examine candidates for ordination, and to install beneficed clergy. The bishops found it necessary to repress the presumption of the archdeacons, and in some cases (as at Tours 1239, Liége 1287, Mainz 1310) they obtained legislation in councils against further growth of these powers; in other cases they set up officials of their own to exercise the Jurisdiction which the archdeacons either had or claimed. Among these latter are the officiales foranei, with a concurrent jurisdiction, and above both, for the exercise of appellate jurisdiction and of the rights reserved to the bishops, the officiales principales and vicars-general. Since neither the archdeacons nor the archpriests gave ready submission to these new officials, a great number of local differences of usage grew up, which were first reduced to some sort of uniformity by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. By it the archdeacons were finally deprived of all criminal, and matrimonial jurisdiction, and their right to hold visitations made dependent on the bishop’s permission. Since that time they have declined in importance or disappeared entirely in many dioceses, and their functions are nowadays discharged usually by the vicar-general and his assistants. At Rome the archdeacon developed into the cardinal-camerlingo and the cathedral-archpriest into the cardinal-vicar, while in the other dioceses their place has been frequently taken by coadjutor or assistant bishops.

(E. Friedberg.)

In the Church of England the archidiaconal office has been retained in vigor. There are seventy-one archdeacons in all, each diocese having a plurality. They are members of the cathedral chapters and often hold separate benefices. Appointed by the bishop, the archdeacon assists the bishop in visitation and in looking after the temporalities of the parishes entreated to his care. He has the privilege and duty of holding court from time to time and from place to place for the trial of minor ecclesiastical causes both disciplinary and financial.

A. H. N.

Bibliography: J. G. Pertach, Vom Ursprung der Archdiakons, Hildesheim, 1743; Kranold, Das apostolische Alter der Archdiaconalwürde, Wittenberg, 1768; A. J. Binterim, Denkwürdigkeiten der christ-katholischen Kirche, I. i. 386-434, Mainz, 1825; DCA, i. 135-138; A. Schröder, Die Entwickelung der Archidiakonats, Augsburg, 1890; and the works on canon law.

« Archdall, Mervyn Archdeacon and Archpriest Archelaus »
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