« Birinus, Saint Bishop Bishop, Nathan »


BISHOP: A spiritual overseer in the Christian Church. The origin of the office, its historic development, and theories of its relative dignity will be found discussed in the article Polity; for views of different communions concerning the office, see Episcopacy; this article will deal mainly with the selection of bishops and their duties.

Election and Consecration.

In the Roman Catholic Church the bishop holds the first place in the hierarchy, not as belonging to a separate order, but as having the fulness of the priesthood. Conditions for consecration are the following: legitimate birth, the age of thirty years, eminent learning, and moral probity. In the ordinary case the candidate is supposed also to be a native of the country and acceptable to the government. The choice of the person belongs, on the curialist theory, to the pope; but in practise it is generally left to the chapter, either by election, or when there are canonical impediments to be removed, as when translation from another see is required, by Postulation; or it may occur through nomination by the government. The candidate must then receive the papal confirmation, after examination as to his fitness. This is made first by a papal delegate in the place of the election (processus informativus in partibus electi), after which a second investigation takes place at Rome, by the committee of cardinals appointed for the purpose (congregatio examinis episcoporum); this second examination is called processus electionis definitivus in curia. If both prove favorable to the candidate, he is confirmed, preconized, and put in possession of his powers of jurisdiction, though not, of course, of those pertaining to orders until his consecration, which is supposed to occur within three months. It is administered by a bishop designated by the pope, with the assistance of two other bishops or prelates, in the cathedral of the new bishop's diocese. The candidate takes the ancient oath 193of fidelity to the pope (substantially the same as that prescribed by Gregory VII in 1079), signs the profession of faith, and then, after he has been duly consecrated according to the form laid down in the Roman Pontifical, is solemnly enthroned. An oath of allegiance to the government of the country is also usually administered before consecration.

Rights and Duties.

The rights or powers of a bishop may be considered under three heads—as pertaining to his orders, to his jurisdiction, and to his dignity. As to the first, he has all the jura ordinis of the fulness of the priesthood, including, besides those powers which every priest shares with him, the special episcopal prerogatives of administering ordination and confirmation, of consecrating the holy oils, churches, and sacred objects in general, of benediction of abbots and abbesses, and of anointing sovereigns. The rights of jurisdiction, in the broad sense, embrace the bishop's whole power of ruling his diocese as its chief pastor. Sometimes, however, the term lex jurisdictionis is applied specially to his legislative and executive functions (for the jurisdictio contentiosa and coercitiva—i.e., the power of hearing cases and pronouncing and enforcing judgment—see Audientia Episcopalis; Jurisdiction, Ecclesiastical), while the expression lex diœcesana refers to his right to the various church taxes. These rights belong to the bishop as bishop, and in regard to them he is judex ordinarius, "the ordinary"; but he often holds other powers specially delegated to him as representative of the pope (see Faculties). Finally, in regard to his dignity, he takes ecclesiastical rank, in virtue of his exalted office, immediately after the cardinals, and bears various customary titles of honor, being addressed as " Right Reverend," "My Lord," etc. In many places he also enjoys secular precedence; and he has his special insignia and vestments (see Vestments and Insignia, Ecclesiastical). To these prerogatives corresponding duties are attached, including not only the cure of souls, but residence in his diocese, and a visit to Rome to report upon its condition at fixed intervals, varying with the distance. Since the bishop is naturally unable to exercise all the rights and duties above described in person throughout his entire diocese, he has always had special assistants—in early times the archdeacons and archpriests, later his chapter and variously designated functionaries, vicars-general and the like, as well as, for those things which pertain to the power of orders, coadjutor or assistant bishops. See the articles under these titles.

In the Protestant Churches the episcopate in the Roman Catholic sense has not been preserved. In the early days of the Reformation in Germany, the assaults of the Reformers were directed not so much against the episcopal power in itself as against abuses in its exercise; until 1545 the question was debated on what conditions the adherents of the evangelical doctrine could agree to submit to the existing bishops of the old Church. The Lutheran confessions of faith recognize as of divine right only the pastoral function in the bishop's office; all else is of merely human institution, and may be abolished by the same power that created it. Since, however, they laid down no definite form of ecclesiastical polity as ordained by God, they could and did declare themselves willing to recognize these powers still, so long as the bishops would allow freedom to teach the pure doctrine and tolerate the priests who preached it. Some bishops fulfilled the condition and accepted the evangelical doctrine; but this semblance of episcopal government had clearly nothing in common with the pre-Reformation episcopate except the name and certain forms. Elsewhere, as in Schwerin and later at Osnabrück and Lübeck, the name bishop was definitely used for an official appointed by the ruling power, in no sense ecclesiastical. The attempt to prove that the German Reformation deliberately intended to retain episcopal government is quite useless, though the tendency which it represents has had adherents, among whom were Frederick William IV and Bunsen. Where the title has been employed in the modern evangelical Church of Germany, it represents nothing more than a general superintendent. The bishops of England, Sweden, and Denmark are also not bishops in the strict sense understood by the Roman Catholics; their institutions rest on special historical grounds which are beyond the scope of this article.

(E. Friedberg.)

In the Church of England there are three classes of bishops: the diocesan bishops, taking their titles (with a few exceptions of recently founded sees) from the old pre-Reformation dioceses; suffragan bishops, bearing likewise territorial titles; and assistant bishops. The diocesan bishops are nominally elected by the chapters of their cathedrals, but practically are appointed by the Crown, which sends a nomination to the chapter with the congé d’élire. Suffragan bishops are also nominated by the Crown, while assistant bishops are appointed by the prelate under whom they are to serve. Their appointment is revocable at his pleasure; that of suffragans is for life. None of these classes has any jurisdiction independent of its superior. With the first extension of the Anglican colonial episcopate, the English government attempted to claim the same right of nomination as at home; but this claim was abandoned, and the colonial bishops are now elected either by the clergy or by the deliberative assemblies of their dioceses. In the Episcopal Church of the United States, bishops are elected by the diocesan conventions: their election must then be confirmed by a majority of the other bishops and "standing committees." Assistant bishops in this Church are now known as bishops-coadjutor, and have the right of succession on the death of the diocesan bishop. In England bishops are frequently "translated" from one see to another; in the United States, bishops of missionary jurisdictions may be elected to a diocesan see, but this is all. Throughout the Anglican communion consecration by three other bishops is required. Every English bishop at his consecration takes the oaths of allegiance to the sovereign and canonical obedience to his metropolitan; in the United States each bishop is independent, subject only to the general law of the Church as formulated by the 194General Convention, the office of presiding bishop being almost purely honorary. Throughout the Anglican communion the administration of certain quasisacramental rites (confirmation, ordination, consecration of churches, etc.) is strictly reserved to the bishop, who also has a power of ordinary jurisdiction in some measure resembling that exercised by the Roman Catholic prelates. The two English archbishops, the bishops of London, Winchester, and Durham, and most of the other bishops (the number corresponding to that of the more ancient sees), as "spiritual lords," have seats in the upper house of parliament. The American Methodist Episcopal Church also has its bishops, who are elected in any number required by the General Conference. They have joint jurisdiction throughout the Church, being confined to no diocese or districts, though for practical reasons the General Conference designates episcopal residences at its quadrennial sessions. Their functions are purely executive—they preside at conferences, arrange districts for presiding elders, fix appointments of preachers, and, especially, travel throughout the Church to promote its spiritual and temporal interests. No distinction of order is recognized between them and other ministers.

Bibliography: Consult Bingham, Origines, books iv, v, ix, xvi, xvii, for the election of bishops and the exercise of discipline; P. Hergenröther, Lehrbuch des katholischen Kirchenrechts, Freiburg, 1905. On the general subject consult works cited in Church Government.

« Birinus, Saint Bishop Bishop, Nathan »
VIEWNAME is workSection