1902 Encyclopedia > Bishop


BISHOP, the title of an ecclesiastical dignitary set over the presbyters and deacons at a very early period in the Christian church. The word is derived from the Saxon bisceop, which is a corruption of the Greek word episcopos, which signifies an "overlooker" or "overseer," and the churches in which the order of bishops is recognized as distinct from and superior to the order of presbyters are styled " Episcopal churches." The early history of the Episcopal order is obscure, but it would appear that the first bishops were established in the chief cities of Christendom, and each bishop had a certain territorial district placed under his superintendence, whence the city was termed the see (sedes) of the bishop, and the district his parish (mipouaa), and subsequently his diocese (SioiKijo-is). In course of time the districts assigned to the first bishops became too populous, whereupon the clergy of each diocese, as the case might be, appear to have assembled and to have subdivided the diocese, and to have selected a second bishop, and so bishops and dioceses were multiplied, according to the wants of the churches, until it was thought expedient to reserve the right of erecting new bishoprics to provincial councils, and this reservation was made a rule of the church by a decree of the Council of Sardica. Meanwhile the bishops of the new sees had grouped themselves round the bishops of the more ancient sees, who exercised over them a certain spiritual authority as primates, and presided in their councils; and as some of the great cities in which the sees of the first bishops had been established were distinguished by the title of " metropolis," or mother-city, and were in fact the chief cities of civil provinces of the Roman empire, the bishops of those sees came to be distinguished by the title of metropolitan bishops, and exercised a superior authority in the councils of the church in proportion to the greater importance of their respective sees. This superior dignity of the metropolitan bishops over the others was formally recognized at the Council of Nicasa as being in accordance with custom. Upon the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire a coercive jurisdiction was engrafted on the spiritual superiority of the metropoli-tan, and the district over which the metropolitan exercised this jurisdiction was termed his province, the earliest ecclesiastical provinces being for the most part conterminous with the civil provinces of the empire. From the circum-stance that there was no metropolitan city in Western Africa, the term metropolitan was never adopted in the Carthaginian Church, the senior bishop of that church being termed the primate, and having precedence and authority as such over the other bishops.

In the Church of Rome the Pope claims of right the appointment of all the bishops; but the exercise of this right is modified by concordats with the sovereigns of the respective states. In France, since the concordat between Pope Leo X. and King Francis I., the sovereign has had the exclusive right of nominating the bishops, but the nomination is subject to the Pope's confirmation. In Austria (with the exception of four bishoprics), in Bavaria, in Spain, and in Portugal, the bishops are also nominated by the sovereign. In some countries the bishops are elected by the chapter of the cathedral church, as in Wiirtemberg, or by the bishops of the province, as in Ireland. In England, in the United States of America, and in Belgium, the Pope selects one out of a list of candidates submitted to him by the chapter. In all cases the bishop-nominate or the bishop-elect, as tha case may be, has to obtain from the Holy See certain letters, entitled provisions, to authorize his consecration, and to recommend him to the protection of the sovereign and to the good offices of his metropolitan

In the Church of Russia, after its separation from that of Constantinople, the right to elect a bishop was for some centuries vested in a synod of bishops, but by a regulation of the Emperor Peter the Great, the Holy Synod was restricted to recommend two persons to the sovereign for him to select one of them to be bishop. This regulation, however, is not always observed, and the sovereign, if he thinks fit, sets aside the list submitted to him by the Synod, and nominates of his own choice a person whom the Synod is obliged to elect. In Russia a diocese sometimes contains two capital cities, and the bishop has his title from both.

In the Church of the Levant, properly called the Greek Church, which is governed by the four patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, each patriarch has the right of confirming the election of the bishops within his patriarchate ; but the firman or barat of the sultan is likewise necessary to give full authority to the bishops after their confirmation.

The bishops of the Church of England are twenty-eight in number, two of them being metropolitans, namely, Canterbury and York, who enjoy the more dignified title of archbishop, and have a special precedence assigned to them by law (see ARCHBISHOP). The twenty-six diocesan bishops, with the exception of the bishop of the Isle of Man, who is designated the bishop of Sodor and Man, are lords of parliament, and take precedence of the barons in the House of Lords ; but the junior bishop for the time being is, by statute, disentitled from being summoned to parliament. From this disqualification the bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester are exempt. These three bishops have precedence over one another in the order in which their names are above mentioned, and they precede all the other bishops, the latter taking precedence of one another according to the date of their appointment. The junior bishop who has a seat in parliament acts as chaplain to the House of Lords.
In the Church of England the bishops exercise certain spiritual functions which are held not to be within the competence of the presbyters. They alone can administer the rite of confirmation to baptized persons, and they alone can ordain candidates for the sacred ministry. These functions the bishops exercise in virtue of their order, but they are also empowered by law to exercise a certain jurisdiction over all consecrated places and over all ordained persons. This jurisdiction they exercise for the most part through their consistorial courts, or through commissioners appointed under 3 and 4 Vict. c. 86, called the Church Discipline Act. The bishops also exercise a certain jurisdiction over marriages, inasmuch as they have by the canons of the Church of England a power of dispensing
with the proclamation of banns before marriage. These dispensations are termed marriage licences, and their legal validity is recognized by the Marriage Act, 4 Geo. IV. c. 76. The bishops had formerly jurisdiction over all questions touching the validity of marriages and the status of married persons, but this jurisdiction has been transferred from the consistorial courts of the bishops to a court of the Crown by 20 and 21 Vict. c. 85. They have in a similar manner been relieved of their jurisdiction in testamentary matters, and in matters of defamation and of brawling in churches; and the only jurisdiction which they continue to exercise over the general laity is with regard to their use of the churches and churchyards. The churchwardens, who are representative officers of the parishes, are also executive officers of the bishops in all matters touching the decency and order of the churches and of the churchyards, and they are responsible to the bishops for the due discharge of their duties; but the abolition of church-rates has relieved the churchwardens of the most onerous part of their duties, which was connected with the stewardship of the church funds of their parishes.

The bishops are still authorized by law to dedicate and set apart buildings for the solemnization of divine service, and grounds for the performance of burials, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England; and such buildings and grounds, after they have been duly consecrated according to law, cannot be diverted to any secular purpose except under the authority of an Act of parlia-ment.

The bishops of England have also jurisdiction to examine clerks who may be presented to benefices within their respective dioceses, and they are bound in each case by the 95th canon of 1604 to inquire and inform themselves of the sufficiency of each clerk within twenty-eight days, after which time, if they have not rejected him as insuffi-ciently qualified, they are bound to institute him, or to license him, as the case may be, to the benefice, and thereupon to send their mandate to the archdeacon to induct him into the temporalities of the benefice. Where the bishop himself is patron of a benefice within his own diocese he is empowered to collate a clerk to it,—in other words, to confer it on the clerk without the latter being presented to him. Where the clerk himself is patron of the living, the bishop may institute him on his own petition. See BENEFICE.

The qualifications of a bishop of the Church of England are, that he should be a learned presbyter of at least thirty years of age, born in lawful matrimony, and of good life and behaviour. The mode of his appointment is regulated by 24 Henry VIII. c. 20. Upon the avoidance of a bishopric the Crown is authorized to issue to the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of the see a licence for them to proceed to the election of a bishop, accompanied by a letter missive containing the name of the person whom they are to elect. The dean and chapter are thereupon required, within twelve days, to elect the person so named by the Crown to be the bishop of the vacant see, failing which election the Crown is impowered to name, by letters patent under the Great Seal addressed to the archbishop and metropolitan of the province, such person to be bishop as the Crown shall think able and convenient. Upon the election being reported to the Crown, a mandate issues from the Crown to the archbishop and metropolitan, requesting him and commanding him to confirm the election, and to invest and consecrate the bishop-elect. Thereupon the archbishop issues a commission to his vicar-general to examine formally the process of the election of the bishop, and to supply by his authority all defects in matters of form, and to administer to the bishop-elect the oaths of allegiance, of supremacy, and of canonical obedience.

After this formal confirmation of the bishop's election has taken place, the archbishop, with the assistance of at least two bishops, proceeds to consecrate the bishop-elect. The most important part of the religious ceremony on this occasion consists in the imposition of hands, in other words, in the archbishop and the bishops placing their hands simultaneously upon the head of the bishop-elect kneeling before them, and in the name of the Holy Trinity com-mitting to him his office of bishop ; after which the arch-bishop delivers to him the Holy Bible and addresses to him a short admonition to preach faithfully the Word of God. The bishop is required afterwards, by statute, to do homage to the Crown, upon which he is put into possession of the temporalities of his see. In the case of the avoidance of the archbishopric of either province, the Crown sends a mandate to the archbishop of the other province to confirm and consecrate the archbishop-elect, and the practice is, for the most part, for the archbishop of the other province to send a commission to four or more bishops of the»province of the archbishop-elect to confirm his election and to invest and consecrate him

Doubts having been raised whether a bishop of the Church of England, being a lord of parliament, could resign his seat in the Upper House of parliament, although several precedents to that effect are on record, a statute of the realm (19 and 20 Vict. c. 115), which is confined to the case of the bishops of London and Durham, was passed in 1856, declaring that on the resignation of their sees being accepted by their respective metropolitans, those bishops should cease to sit as lords of parliament, and their sees should be filled up in the manner provided by law in the case of the avoidance of a bishopric. By a subsequent statute (32 and 33 Vict. c. Ill), provision has been made for the case of an archbishop or bishop being permanently incapacitated by age or mental infirmity. If the archbishop or bishop is capable of executing an act of resignation, a representation may be made to the Crown, which is im-powered to declare the see to be vacant, but if the archbishop or bishop should be incapacitated from intimating his desire to resign his bishopric, the Crown may grant a licence to the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of the diocese to appoint a bishop-coadjutor. This Act was to be in force for two years ; it has been continued for three years more by 35 and 36 Vict. c. 40.

A peculiar institution of the Church of England, established by 26 Henry VIII. c. 14, having been long allowed to remain dormant, has been recently revived, under which every archbishop and bishop, being disposed to have a suffragan to assist him, may name two honest and discreet spiritual persons for the Crown to give to one of them the title, name, style, and dignity of a bishop of any one of twenty-six sees enumerated in the statute, as the Crown may think convenient. The Crown, having made choice of one of such persons, is impowered to present him by letters patent under the great seal to the metropolitan, requiring him to consecrate him to the same name, title, style, and dignity of a bishop; and the person so consecrated is thereupon entitled to exercise, under a commission from the bishop who has nominated him, such authority ai.d jurisdiction, within the diocese of such bishop, as shall be given to him by the commission, and no other.

The first colonial bishopric of the Church of England was that of Nova Scotia, founded in 1787, since which time various colonial bishoprics have been established, some of which were constituted by letters patent of the Crown only, whilst others have been confirmed by acts of the imperial or colonial legislatures. With regard to those bishoprics which have been constituted by letters patent of the Crown only, where the bishopric has been established in a Crown colony, the bishop is legally entitled to exercise the jurisdiction conferred upon him by the letters patent; but where the bishopric has been established in a colony possessing at the time an independent legislature, the bishop is not entitled to exercise such jurisdiction unless it has been confirmed to him by an imperial or colonial statute. The report of the judicial committee of the Privy Council in the case of the bishop of Natal (Moore's Privy Council Reports, N.S., iii. p. 115) is an exposition of the law on this subject.

On the other hand, where bishoprics have been constituted by letters patent of the Crown, in pursuance of imperial statutes, as was the case of the East Indian bishoprics, or where bishoprics constituted by letters patent have subsequently been confirmed or recognized by colonial statutes, the bishop's jurisdiction is complete; otherwise his authority is only pastoral or spiritual. The practice adopted by the Crown, since the decision of the judicial committee in the case of the bishop of Natal has revealed the invalidity of the letters patent granted to many colonial bishops, has been to grant licences to the archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate bishops for the colonies without any definite diocese, and without any authority to exercise coercive jurisdiction. The Crown has also revoked the letters patent erecting Gibraltar into a bishop's see, and the last appointed bishop has been consecrated under a licence from the Crown, and is a titular bishop, having only consensual authority in that colony. (T. T.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries