Primate (bishop)

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Primate (English: /ˈprmət/ ) is a title or rank bestowed on some archbishops in certain Christian churches. Depending on the particular tradition, it can denote either jurisdictional authority (title of authority) or (usually) ceremonial precedence (title of honour).

Archbishop bishop of higher rank in many Christian denominations

In Christianity, an archbishop is a bishop of higher rank or office. In some cases, such as the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Church of England, the title is borne by the leader of the denomination. Like popes, patriarchs, metropolitans, cardinal bishops, diocesan bishops, and suffragan bishops, archbishops are in the highest of the three traditional orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. An archbishop may be granted the title or ordained as chief pastor of a metropolitan see or another episcopal see to which the title of archbishop is attached.

Title of authority, title of office or title of command is the official designation of a position held in an organization associated with certain duties of authority.


Roman Catholic Church

In the Western Church, a Primate is an Archbishop or, rarely, a suffragan or exempt bishop of a specific (mostly Metropolitan) episcopal see (called a primatial see) who has precedence over the bishoprics of one or more ecclesiastical provinces of a particular historical, political or cultural area. Historically, Primates of particular sees were granted privileges including the authority to call and preside at national synods, jurisdiction to hear appeals from metropolitan tribunals, the right to crown the sovereign of the nation, and presiding at the investiture (installation) of archbishops in their sees. [1]

Episcopal see the main administrative seat held by a bishop

An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

An ecclesiastical province is one of the basic forms of jurisdiction in Christian Churches with traditional hierarchical structure, including Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity. In general, an ecclesiastical province consists of several dioceses, one of them being the archdiocese, headed by metropolitan bishop or archbishop who has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over all other bishops of the province.

Synod council of a church

A synod is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word synod comes from the Greek σύνοδος (sýnodos) meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word concilium meaning "council". Originally, synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not. It is also sometimes used to refer to a church that is governed by a synod.

Catholic Primate (non-cardinal) coat of arms Template-Patriarch (Latin Rite) - Primate.svg
Catholic Primate (non-cardinal) coat of arms

The office is generally found only in older Catholic countries, and is now purely honorific, enjoying no effective powers under canon law—except for the Archbishop of Esztergom (Gran) in Hungary. [1] Thus, e.g., the Primate of Poland holds no jurisdictional authority over other Polish bishops or their dioceses, but is durante munere a member of the standing committee of the episcopal conference and has honorary precedence among Polish bishops (e.g., in liturgical ceremonies). The Holy See has also granted Polish primates the privilege of wearing cardinal's crimson attire, except for the skullcap and biretta, even if they have not been made cardinals. [2] [3]

Biretta Square cap with three or four peaks or horns

The biretta is a square cap with three or four peaks or horns, sometimes surmounted by a tuft. Traditionally the three peaked biretta is worn by Roman Catholic clergy and some Anglican and Lutheran clergy. The four peaked biretta is worn as academic dress by those holding a doctoral degree from a pontifical faculty or pontifical university. Occasionally the biretta is worn by advocates in law courts, for instance the advocates in the Channel Islands.

Cardinal (Catholic Church) senior ecclesiastical official of the Catholic Church

A cardinal is a leading bishop and prince of College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church. Their duties include participating in Papal consistories, and Papal conclaves, when the Holy See is vacant. Most have additional missions, such as leading a diocese or a dicastery of the Roman Curia, the equivalent of a government of the Holy See. During the sede vacante, the day-to-day governance of the Holy See is in the hands of the College of Cardinals. The right to enter the Papal conclave of cardinals where the pope is elected is limited to those who have not reached the age of 80 years by the day the vacancy occurs.

Where the title of primate exists, it may be vested in one of the oldest archdioceses in a country, often based in a city other than the present capital, but which was the capital when the country was first Christianized. The city may no longer have the prominence it had when the title was granted. The political area over which primacy was originally granted may no longer exist: for example, the Archbishop of Toledo was designated "Primate of the Visigothic Kingdom", and the Archbishop of Lyon is the "Primate of the Gauls". [1]

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toledo archdiocese

This is a list of Bishops and Archbishops of Toledo. They are also the Primates of Spain. It was, according to tradition established in the 1st century by St. James the Great and was elevated to an archdiocese in 313 after the Edict of Milan. The incumbent Archbishop also bears the title Primate of Spain and since 1937 the title General Vicar of the Armies.

Visigothic Kingdom State that emerged after the Visigothic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula

The Visigothic Kingdom or Kingdom of the Visigoths was a kingdom that occupied what is now southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula from the 5th to the 8th centuries. One of the Germanic successor states to the Western Roman Empire, it was originally created by the settlement of the Visigoths under King Wallia in the province of Gallia Aquitania in southwest Gaul by the Roman government and then extended by conquest over all of Hispania. The Kingdom maintained independence from the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the attempts of which to re-establish Roman authority in Hispania were only partially successful and short-lived.

Gaul region of ancient Europe

Gaul was a historical region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2 (191,000 sq mi). According to the testimony of Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica, and Aquitania. Archaeologically, the Gauls were bearers of the La Tène culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and southwestern Germania during the 5th to 1st centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Gaul fell under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC. Gaul was invaded after 120 BC by the Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans by 103 BC. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.

Some of the leadership functions once exercised by Primates, specifically presiding at meetings of the bishops of a nation or region, are now exercised by the president of the conference of bishops: "The president of the Conference or, when he is lawfully impeded, the vice-president, presides not only over the general meetings of the Conference but also over the permanent committee." [4] The president is generally elected by the conference, but by exception the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference is appointed by the Pope, and the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has the Primate of All Ireland as President and the Primate of Ireland as Vice-President. Other former functions of primates, such as hearing appeals from metropolitan tribunals, were reserved to the Holy See by the early 20th century. [1] Soon after, by the norm of the Code of Canon Law of 1917, confirmed in the 1983 Code, the tribunal of second instance for appeals from a metropolitan tribunal is "the tribunal which the metropolitan has designated in a stable manner with the approval of the Apostolic See". [5]

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference is the episcopal conference of the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland. The conference meets a number of times a year in Maynooth which is the location of St Patrick's College, Ireland's national seminary. While each bishop is autonomous in his own diocese, meetings of the conference give bishops a chance to discuss issues of mutual concern, or issues of national policy.

An ecclesiastical court, also called court Christian or court spiritual, is any of certain courts having jurisdiction mainly in spiritual or religious matters. In the Middle Ages these courts had much wider powers in many areas of Europe than before the development of nation states. They were experts in interpreting canon law, a basis of which was the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian which is considered the source of the civil law legal tradition.

Holy See Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Holy See, also called the See of Rome, refers to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope, which includes the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome, and the universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church. Founded in the 1st century by Saints Peter and Paul, by virtue of Petrine and papal primacy according to Catholic tradition, it is the focal point of full communion for Catholics around the world. As a sovereign entity of international law representing papal jurisdiction, the Holy See is headquartered in, operates from, and exercises "exclusive dominion" over the independent Vatican City State enclave in Rome, Italy, of which the pope is sovereign. It is organized into polities of the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, and their dioceses and religious institutes.

The closest equivalent position in the Eastern Churches in 1911 was an Exarch. [1]

The Holy See has continued in modern times to grant the title of Primate. With the papal decree Sollicitae Romanis Pontificibus of 24 January 1956 it granted the title of Primate of Canada to the Archbishop of Quebec. [6] As stated above, this is merely an honorary title involving no additional power. [7]

A right of precedence over other bishops and similar privileges can be granted even to a bishop who is not a Primate. Thus, in 1858, the Holy See granted the Archbishop of Baltimore precedence in meetings of the United States bishops. [8] The Archbishop of Westminster has not been granted the title of Primate of England and Wales, which is sometimes applied to him, but his position has been described as that of "Chief Metropolitan" and as "similar to" that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. [9]

The title of Primate is sometimes applied loosely to the Archbishop of a country's capital, as in the case of the Archbishops of Seoul in South Korea and of Edinburgh in Scotland. Functions can sometimes be exercised in practice ( de facto ), as by a de facto government, without having been granted by law; but since "Primate" is today a title, not a function, there is no such thing as a "de facto" primate.

The pre-reformation Metropolitan Archbishop of Nidaros was sometimes referred to as Primate of Norway, [10] even though it is unlikely that this title ever was officially granted to him by the Holy See.

Catholic Primatial sees

The heads of certain sees have at times been referred to, at least by themselves, [11] as primates:

In Europe

Catholic Archbishops who figured as primates until the Protestant Reformation

Catholic Archbishops who figured as primates at the First Vatican Council

Source [1]

Regular clergy equivalent

In the modern confederation of the Benedictine Order, all the Black Monks of St. Benedict were united under the presidency of an Abbot Primate (Leo XIII, Summum semper, 12 July 1893); but the unification, fraternal in its nature, brought no modification to the abbatial dignity, and the various congregations preserved their autonomy intact. The loose structure of the Benedictine Confederation is claimed to have made Pope Leo XIII exclaim that the Benedictines were ordo sine ordine ("an order without order"). The powers of the Abbot Primate are specified, and his position defined, in a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars dated 16 September 1893. The primacy is attached to the global Benedictine Confederation whose Primate resides at Sant'Anselmo in Rome. He takes precedence of all other abbots, is empowered to pronounce on all doubtful matters of discipline, to settle difficulties arising between monasteries, to hold a canonical visitation, if necessary, in any congregation of the order, and to exercise a general supervision for the regular observance of monastic discipline. The Primatial powers are only vested in the Abbot Primate to act by virtue of the proper law of its autonomous Benedictine congregation, which at the present is minimal to none. However, certain branches of the Benedictine Order seem to have lost their original autonomy to some extent.

In a similar way the Confederation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, elects an Abbot Primate as figurehead of the Confederation and indeed the whole Canonical Order. The Abbots and Superiors General of the nine congregations of confederated congregations of Canons Regular elect a new Abbot Primate for a term of office lasting six years. The Current Abbot Primate is Rt Rev. Fr Jean-Michel Girard, CRB, Abbot General of the Canons Regular of the Grand St Bernard.


Anglican usage styles the bishop who heads an independent church as its "primate", though commonly they hold some other title (e.g. archbishop, presiding bishop, or moderator). The primates' authority within their churches varies considerably: some churches give the primate some executive authority, while in others they may do no more than preside over church councils and represent the church ceremonially.

Anglican Communion

In the context of the Anglican Communion Primates' Meeting, the chief bishop of each of the thirty-nine churches (also known as provinces) that compose the Anglican Communion acts as its primate, though this title may not necessarily be used within their own provinces. Thus the United Churches of Bangladesh, of North India, of Pakistan and of South India, which are united with other originally non-Anglican churches, are represented at the meetings by their moderators. [38]

In both the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, two bishops have the title of primate: the archbishops of Canterbury and York in England and of Armagh and Dublin in Ireland. Only the bishop of the senior primatial see of each of these two churches participates in the meetings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is considered primus inter pares of all the participants, convokes the meetings and issues the invitations. [38]

Primates and archbishops are styled "The Most Reverend". All other bishops are styled "The Right Reverend". [38]

Traditional Anglican Communion

The head of the Traditional Anglican Communion's College of Bishops takes the title of Primate. [39]

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Anglo-Saxon mission

Anglo-Saxon missionaries were instrumental in the spread of Christianity in the Frankish Empire during the 8th century, continuing the work of Hiberno-Scottish missionaries which had been spreading Celtic Christianity across the Frankish Empire as well as in Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England itself during the 6th century. Both Ecgberht of Ripon and Ecgbert of York were instrumental in the Anglo-Saxon mission. The first organized the early missionary efforts of Wihtberht, Willibrord, and others; while many of the later missioners made their early studies at York.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Primate"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Joseph Lins, "Gniesen-Posen" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1909)
  3. Aurelio Palmieri, "Archdiocese of Warsaw" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1912)
  4. John P. Beal, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN   978-0-80914066-4), p. 595
  5. John P. Beal, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN   978-0-80914066-4), p. 1631
  6. Template:Sollicitae Romanis Pontificibus , in Mandements, lettres pastorales et circulaires des évêques de Québec, vol. XVIII : Son Éminence le Cardinal Maurice Roy (1955-1966), Québec, Chancellerie de l'archevêché, 1967, pp. 44-46, suivi de la traduction en français du décret, (pp. 47-48) (page viewed February 14, 2014)
  7. Paul A. Bramadat, David Seljak, Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada (University of Toronto Press 2008 ISBN   978-0-80209584-8), p. 131
  8. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Baltimore"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. " As Ordinary of the Diocese of Westminster his jurisdiction extends over much the same area as that of the Bishop of London. As chief Metropolitan, he occupies a position similar to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England" (Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Westminster"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.). "By the grant in the Apostolic Constitution of 'certain new distinctions of preeminence', for the preservation of unity in government and policy, to the Archbishop of Westminster for the time being, comprised under the following three heads: He will be permanent chairman of the meetings of the Bishops of all England and Wales, and for this reason it will be for him to summon these meetings and to preside over them, according to the rules in force in Italy and elsewhere. (2) He will take rank above the other two Archbishops, and will throughout all England and Wales enjoy the privilege of wearing the Pallium, of occupying the throne, and of having the cross borne before him. (3) Lastly, in all dealings with the Supreme Civil Authority, he will in his person represent the entire Episcopate of England and Wales. Always, however, he is to take the opinion of all the Bishops, and to be guided by the votes of the major part of them'. Thus, though the Archbishop of Westminster was vested with more powers and privileges than Primates usually enjoy, unity of action has been safeguarded" (Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "ReorganizationoftheEnglishHierarchy"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.).
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 François de Dainville. Cartes anciennes de l'église de France (Vrin 1958 ISBN   978-2-71168055-9), p. 275
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  15. Dalmatia - Catholic encyclopedia
  16. Athanasius Matanić, De origine tituli "Dalmatiae ac totius Croatiae primas", Studium historico-criticum (Romae - Sublaci, 1952)
  17. Ottavio Maria Paltrinieri, Notizie iltorno alla vita di quattro Arcivescovi di Spalatro, Primati della Dalmazia e di tutta la Croazia (Roma, 1829)
  18. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "ArchdioceseofAix"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  19. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Bordeaux"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  20. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Bourges"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  21. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Rouen"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  22. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sens"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  23. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Grenoble"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  24. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Mainz"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  25. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Armagh"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  26. 1 2 James Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland (Cambridge University Press 2011 ISBN   978-0-52136994-7), pp. 41-43; MacGeoghegan, James, The History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern (1844), James Duffy, Dublin, p. 337
  27. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Gnesen-Posen"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  28. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Cagliari"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  29. 1 2 3 By royal grant (Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Scotland"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.) but refused by the Holy See (G.W.S. Barrow, Kingship and Unity (Edinburgh University Press 1981 ISBN   978-0-74860104-2), p. 69)
  30. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Toledo"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  31. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Africa"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  32. Episcopal Conference of Argentina: "Arquidiócesis de Buenos Aires".
  33. Agencia Informativa Católica Argentina: "El nuevo arzobispo de Buenos Aires es Mons. Mario Poli"
  34. Esquiu, 16 December 2012, p. 14
  35. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Canterbury"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  36. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Ancient See of York"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  37. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Archdiocese of Gran"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  38. 1 2 3 Anglican Communion: "What Is a Primate?"
  39. Traditional Anglican Communion primate resigns. December 12, 2011.