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Glossary of Church Terms

Revised:  18 January, A.D. 2002
St. Peter's Chair at Rome
St. Prisca, Virgin & Martyr

Abbot:  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.

Anathema: 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."

Annates:  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.

Arians: 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 See.

Bailli: 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.

Benefice: An ecclesiastical foundation, such as a parish, diocese, or abbey, which carries with it an income for the benefice holder.

Bull: 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.

Canon: A beneficed clergyman serving as a member of a cathedral chapter.

Cardinal:  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.

Chapter: 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.

Citeaux: 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.

Cluny: 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 sumptuous ceremonial.

Deduction: 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.

Diocese:  The term, 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 States).

Enquete: A royal investigation, conducted by enqueteurs, or royal investigators.

Excommunication: 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.

Expectative:  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.

In commendam: 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.

Induction: 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 "Deduction," above.

Interdict: An ecclesiastical penalty imposed on a territory, severely limiting the celebration of Mass and administration of the Sacraments within its borders.

Investiture:  Receiving 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.  

Jurisdiction:  "As 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 Forum.")

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.")

Metropolitan: 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 Suburbicarian sees.

Orders:  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 their subjects.

Prelate: 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 curia.

Reserve (general):  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 court.

Seneschal: The stewards appointed to care for royal properties and interests.

Regalia: The temporal properties associated with a prelacy. Paschal II enumerated properties such as "towns, duchies, marches, counties, mints, tolls, markets, imperial advocacies, hundreds, and castles.

Regular clergy: Ordained members of the religious orders, often not directly or permanently subject to a local bishop. As opposed to secular clergy.

Secular clergy: 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 serious sin.

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."


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