CANON, a person who possesses a prebend, or revenue allotted for the performance of divine service in a cathedral or collegiate church.
Canons are of no great antiquity. Gregory of Tours mentions a college of canons instituted by Baldwin, arch-bishop of that city, in the 6th century. The common opinion attributes the institution of this order to Chrode-gangus, bishop of Metz, about the middle of the 8th cen-tury. When the term Canonici is met with at an earlier date, it is employed in a more vague and generic sense, either as equivalent to the clerus or clergy at large, or as comprehending all who held any ecclesiastical office what-ever, even of the humblest character, as that of a chanter, porter, <fec.
Originally canons were only priests, or inferior ecclesi-astics, who lived in community, residing by the cathedral church to assist the bishop, depending entirely on his will, supported by the revenues of the bishopric, and living in the same house as his domestics or counsellors. They even inherited his movables till the year 817. when this was prohibited by the council of Aix-la-Chapelle, and a new rule substituted in the place of that which had been appointed by Chrodegangus, and which was observed for the most part in the West till the 12th century. By degrees these communities of priests, shaking off their dependence, formed separate bodies, of which the bishops, however, were still heads. In the 10th century there were communities or congregations of the same kind established even in cities where there were no bishops; and these were called collegiates, as they used the terms congregation and college indifferently,the name chapter, now given to these bodies, being much more modern. Under the second race of the French kings, the canonical or collegiate life had spread itself all over the country, and each cathedral had its chapter distinct from the rest of the clergy. They had the name canon from the Greek KCUW, which signifies three different thingsa rule, a pension of fixed revenue to live on, and a catalogue or matricula, all which are applicable to them.
In time, the canons freed themselves from their rules, the observance relaxed, and at length they ceased to live in community ; yet they still formed bodies, which through increase of wealth and the power naturally accruing to corporate societies claimed other functions besides the celebration of the common office in the church, assuming the rights of the rest of the clergy, making themselves necessary as a council of the bishop, taking upon them the administration of a see during a vacancy, and the election of a bishop to supply it. There are even some chapters exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop, and owning no head but their dean. From the example of cathedral chapters, collegiate ones also continued to form bodies after they had abandoned living in community.
For details see Du Cange, Glossarium Media;, et Infimoe Latini-tatis (ed. 1842, Paris, Didot), s. v. Canonicus, and the references there given to MabiUon, Muratori, &c.; Walcott, Sacred Archaeo-logy (London, Reeve, 1868); Chéruel, Dictionnaire Historique (Paris, Hachette, 1855), art. Chanoine; and Dictionary of Chris-tian Antiquities, by Smith and Cheetham (London, Murray, 1876), art. Canonici, where further references to Thomassini, Martigny, and others may be found. A recent French writer, M. de Coulanges, calls attention to the great amount of state interference in the arrangement of canons under Chrodegang, and again under Charle-magne (Rev. des Deux Mondes for 1st January 1876). But the interference was mutual, as the French bishops of that date were much intermixed with state affairs. The relations of canons to monks, parochial clergy, bishops, and popes, may be gathered from the above named sources, and from both secular and ecclesiastical historians, as Lingard, Freeman, Canon Robertson, and others.