Glossary of Church Terms
Revised: 18 January, A.D. 2002
St. Peter's Chair at Rome
St. Prisca, Virgin & Martyr
Literally, "the father." The head of a monastery, (at least
in theory) elected by the monks to serve for life. The feminine
form is abbess. In the middle ages Abbots and Abbesses exercised civil
jurisdiction over those living within the often considerable territory conferred
upon them by the king. In modern times both have temporal jurisdiction
over their religious subjects and the limited use of pontificalia; abbots
exercise spiritual jurisdication over their subjects, including the right to
Confirm and raise them to the Minor Orders.
The threat of eternal damnation pronounced against those
who would disobey the orders expressed in papal or conciliar
orders. As in "anathema sit" -- literally, "let him be damned."
A sum, equal
to a years revenue from a benefice, payable to the king (and, with John XXII, to
the Pope) who appointed the benefice holder.
Those holding the theological opinion that Christ was not
divine; as opposed to the position that Christ is both God and
man, both natures being united in one person.
Autocephalous: Literally, "self headed." This refers to a national
or regional church with no superior in another church. Usually a
church, diocese, or monastery of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the Western
diocese of Ravenna considered itself autocephalous while it was the Imperial
The administrators of the French kings' estates, collectors
of fines and tolls. Sometimes used to indicate a regent for a
minor king or the governor of a remote territory.
An ecclesiastical foundation, such as a parish, diocese, or
abbey, which carries with it an income for the benefice holder.
The most important form of papal letter; taking its name from
the fact that bulls are sealed with a lead seal, in Latin, a bulla
-- a bubble or ornament.
A beneficed clergyman serving as a member of a cathedral
Originally the clergy of Archdiocese of Rome, including the Bishops of the
suburban dioceses, the Priests of the Churches of Rome, the Deacons of the Roman
deaneries, and even the Subdeacons, numbering about 54 in all. As members
of the chapter, the Roman clergy acquired the right to elect the Popes (a right
originally exercised by the Roman people, the aristocracy, and the clergy, and
later the Emperor). In modern times their numbers have greatly increased,
and many Cardinals are non-Roman and non-resident. The titles of Cardinal
Bishop, Cardinal Priest, and Cardinal Deacon are reminders of the time when the
Cardinals actually served in those grades of Order.
Originally a semi-monastic group of clerics who were
employed to sing the Mass and Office in the cathedral church. The
canons of the chapter later developed into an advisory body for
the bishop, and electors of his successor.
Mother house of the Cistercian (later Trappist) Order,
another Benedictine reform, but practicing an austerity in sharp
contrast to the splendor of Cluny (see below). Founded over a period of years
beginning in 1098 by Sts. Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen
Harding, it boasts St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) as one of
its monks, most influential in affairs of church and state.
A monastery following the Rule of St. Benedict, founded by
Duke William IX of Aquitaine on 11 September 910, with a grant of
independence from all secular and religious claims on its
property. A center of reformed monasticism known for its
The logical method of reasoning from a given set of facts
to their implications; from the general to the specific.
Euclidean geometry is purely deductive, deriving all of its
theorems and proofs from six postulates which are given as true.
Prior to Aquinas and the revival of Aristotle, medieval logic
tended to be exclusively deductive, determining truth from the
postulates given in the Bible. Contrast with "Induction," below.
borrowed from Roman political subdivision, indicating the territory of the
ruling bishop, or the class(es) of persons falling under the jurisdiction of a
non-territorial bishop (e.g. Chaldeans or Melkites living within the United
A royal investigation, conducted by enqueteurs, or royal
An ecclesiastical penalty which deprives a person of
the right to receive the Sacraments, and, in its extreme form, to
associate with other Catholics. Excommunication is a "medicinal
penalty" intended to force repentance of one guilty of certain serious sins
enumerated in Canon Law.
A sort of
"future option" originated by Pope John XXII (1316-1334) for
those wishing to secure appointment to a benefice not yet vacant.
Gallican Rites: The
ritual varients employed for divine worship in those areas originally
evangelized from Roman Gall, including modern France, England, Ireland, Spain
and northern Italy. Largely replaced by the Roman Rite today, varients
still survive at Milan, Toledo, Lyons, and in certain religious orders -- and in
the Roman Rite itself, which was heavily influenced by its neighbors.
Guelphs and Ghibellines:
The Italian names given to two German
families originating respectively with [G]Welf IV, Duke of Bavaria
(d. 1101), and Frederick of Hohenstaufen (d. 1105). "Ghibelline"
is a corruption of the name of the Hohenstaufen residence at
Waiblingen. In very general terms the families were rivals, the
Guelphs tending to side with the papacy, the Ghibellines with the
empire. In practice there were Ghibelline popes and
intermarriages between the two families. (Barbarossa was the
child of such a union.) The term is used apart from its strict
historical context to indicate parties opposed to one another
across Church-State lines.
The practice of appointing a prelate to fill a benefice
from which he will take the revenues, but will hire someone else
to perform the ecclesiastical functions required. One is said,
for example, to be a "commendatory" abbot.
The logical method of reasoning from what is observed to
the "laws" that govern the things observed; from the specific to
the general. Modern science tends to be inductive. Contrast with
An ecclesiastical penalty imposed on a territory, severely
limiting the celebration of Mass and administration of the
Sacraments within its borders.
the benefice of a bishop or abbot through the reception of one or more symbols
of that office (e.g. ring, crosier. pectoral cross). Since many
medieval prelates exercised both civil and ecclesiastical office there were
centuries of debate as to whether they should be invested by church or state
officials or both.
the Church is a perfect society, she possesses within herself all the powers
necessary to direct her members to the end for which she was instituted and she
has a correlative right to be obeyed by those subject to her. This right is
called jurisdiction." (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Ecclesiastical
Liceity: The Catholic Church distinguishes between acts which are
valid or effective, and those which are licit or legal. For
example, a priest might validly conduct a wedding (the couple
would be truly married) on a day on which it was not licit for him
to do so (a day during Lent or Advent). Even though he sins by
violating the law, his action is valid. (See "Validity.")
An archbishop heading a major urban diocese, having
jurisdiction over the surrounding suburban bishops and their
dioceses. The pope is the metropolitan of Rome and the
Holy Orders, the Sacrament that makes one a deacon, priest, or bishop, received
in "apostolic succession" through a line of bishops going back to the
Apostles and ultimately to Our Lord Himself. The term "Orders"
is used variously to refer to the state of "being in Orders,"
and to designate the various ranks of the clergy including the non-Sacramental
grades of tonsure, porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, and Subdeacon.
Tonsure is not properly an Order; porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte
are called Minor Orders; subdeacon, deacon, priest, and bishop are the
Major Orders. Only bishops can confer Holy Orders; some simple
priests including abbots and certain prelates can confer the Minor Orders on
One having jurisdiction over the public affairs of a
diocese, monastery, religious order, or similar organization.
Prelates include bishops, abbots, and officials of the Roman
Revenue received by the Holy See (John XXII) for appointments within
cathedrals. (specific): Revenue required by Pope
Benedict XII(1334-1342) for occupying a benefice vacated at the Avignon
The stewards appointed to care for royal properties and
The temporal properties associated with a prelacy.
Paschal II enumerated properties such as "towns, duchies, marches,
counties, mints, tolls, markets, imperial advocacies, hundreds,
Ordained members of the religious orders, often not
directly or permanently subject to a local bishop. As opposed to
Clergy in the service of a local diocese, and not
belonging to a religious order. As opposed to regular clergy.
See: A diocese, the unit of territory governed by a bishop. Rome is
often referred to as the Holy See.
Simony: The buying or selling of an ecclesiastical office, a
Sacrament, or some other sacred thing. Considered an extremely
Validity: The objective assessment of whether or not an
ecclesiastical act fulfilled its purpose. For example, in asking
whether or not a priest who attempted to marry is really married,
one is questioning the validity of his marriage. An act may be
valid, even though sinful or illegal. See "liceity."