BISHOP (A.S. bisceop, from Lat. episcopus, Gr. ἐπίσκοπος, “overlooker” or “overseer”), in certain branches of the Christian Church, an ecclesiastic consecrated or set apart to perform certain spiritual functions, and to exercise oversight over the lower clergy (priests or presbyters, deacons, &c.). In the Catholic Church bishops take rank at the head of the sacerdotal hierarchy, and have certain spiritual powers peculiar to their office, but opinion has long been divided as to whether they constitute a separate order or form merely a higher degree of the order of priests (ordo sacerdotium).
In the Roman Catholic Church the bishop belongs to the highest order of the hierarchy, and in this respect is the peer even of the pope, who addresses him as “venerable brother.” By the decree of the council of Trent he must be thirty years of age, of legitimate birth, and of approvedRoman Catholic. learning and virtue. The method of his selection varies in different countries. In France, under the Concordat, the sovereign—and under the republic the president—had the right of nomination. The same is true of Austria (except four sees), Bavaria, Spain and Portugal. In some countries the bishop is elected by the cathedral chapter (as in Württemberg), or by the bishops of the provinces (as in Ireland). In others, as in Great Britain, the United States of America and Belgium, the pope selects one out of a list submitted by the chapter. In all cases the nomination or election is subject to confirmation by the Holy See. Before this is granted the candidate is submitted to a double examination as to his fitness, first by a papal delegate at his place of residence (processus informativus in partibus electi), and afterwards by the Roman Congregation of Cardinals assigned for this purpose (processus electionis definitivus in curia). In the event of both processes proving satisfactory, the bishop elect is confirmed, preconized, and so far promoted that he is allowed to exercise the rights of jurisdiction in his see. He cannot, however, exercise the functions proper to the episcopal order (potestas ordinis) until his consecration, which ordinarily takes place within three months of his confirmation. The bishop is consecrated, after taking the oath of fidelity to the Holy See, and subscribing the profession of faith, by a bishop appointed by the pope for the purpose, assisted by at least two other bishops or prelates, the main features of the act being the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil, and the delivery of the pastoral staff and other symbols of the office. After consecration the new bishop is solemnly enthroned and blesses the assembled congregation.
The potestas ordinis of the bishop is not peculiar to the Roman Church, and, in general, is claimed by all bishops, whether Oriental or Anglican, belonging to churches which have retained the Catholic tradition in this respect. Besides the full functions of the presbyterate, or priesthood, bishops have the sole right (1) to confer holy orders, (2) to administer confirmation, (3) to prepare the holy oil, or chrism, (4) to consecrate sacred places or utensils (churches, churchyards, altars, &c.), (5) to give the benediction to abbots and abbesses, (6) to anoint kings. In the matter of their rights of jurisdiction, however, Roman Catholic bishops differ from others in their peculiar responsibility to the Holy See. Some of their powers of legislation and administration they possess motu proprio in virtue of their position as diocesan bishops, others they enjoy under special faculties granted by the Holy See; but all bishops are bound, by an oath taken at the time of their consecration, to go to Rome at fixed intervals (visitare sacra limina apostolorum) to report in person, and in writing, on the state of their dioceses.
The Roman bishop ranks immediately after the cardinals; he is styled reverendissimus, sanctissimus or beatissimus. In English the style is “Right Reverend”; the bishop being addressed as “my lord bishop.”
The insignia (pontificalia or pontificals) of the Roman Catholic bishop are (1) a ring with a jewel, symbolizing fidelity to the church, (2) the pastoral staff, (3) the pectoral cross, (4) the vestments, consisting of the caligae, stockings and sandals, the tunicle, and purple gloves, (5) the mitre, symbol of the royal priesthood, (6) the throne (cathedra), surmounted by a baldachin or canopy, on the gospel side of the choir in the cathedral church.
The spiritual function and character of the Anglican bishops, allowing for the doctrinal changes effected at the Reformation, are similar to those of the Roman. They alone can administer the rite of confirmation, ordain priests and deacons, and exercise a certain dispensing power. In the Anglicanestablished Church of England the appointment of bishops is vested effectively in the crown, though the old form of election by the cathedral chapter is retained. They must be learned presbyters at least thirty years of age, born in lawful wedlock, and of good life and behaviour. The mode of appointment is regulated by 25 Henry VIII. c. 20, re-enacted in 1 Elizabeth c. 1 (Act of Supremacy 1558). On a vacancy occurring, the dean and chapter notify the king thereof in chancery, and pray leave to make election. A licence under the Great Seal to proceed to the election of a bishop, known as the congé d’eslire, together with a letter missive containing the name of the king’s nominee, is thereupon sent to the dean and chapter, who are bound under the penalties of Praemunire to proceed within twelve days to the election of the person named in it. In the event of their refusing obedience or neglecting to elect, the bishop may be appointed by letters patent under the Great Seal without the form of election. 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 (see Confirmation of Bishops). In the disestablished and daughter Churches the election is by the synod of the Church, as in Ireland, or by a diocesan convention, as in the United States of America.
In the Church of England the potestas ordinis is conferred by consecration. This is usually carried out by an archbishop, who is assisted by two or more bishops. The essential “form” of the consecration is in the simultaneous “laying on of hands” by the consecrating prelates. After this the new bishop, who has so far been vested only in a rochet, retires and puts on the rest of the episcopal habit, viz. the chimere. After consecration the bishop is competent to exercise all the spiritual functions of his office; but a bishopric in the Established Church, being a barony, is under the guardianship of the crown during a vacancy, and has to be conferred afresh on each new holder. A bishop, then, cannot enter into the enjoyment of the temporalities of his see, including his rights of presentation to benefices, before doing homage to the king. This is done in the ancient feudal form, surviving elsewhere only in the conferring of the M.A. degree at Cambridge. The bishop kneels before the king, places his hands between his, and recites an oath of temporal allegiance; he then kisses hands.
Besides the functions exercised in virtue of their order, bishops 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 the Church Discipline Act of 1840. By the Clergy Discipline Act of 1892 it was decreed that the trial of clerks accused of unfitness to exercise the cure of souls should be before the consistory court with five assessors. Under the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874, which gave to churchwardens and aggrieved parishioners the right to institute proceedings against the clergy for breaches of the law in the conduct of divine service, a discretionary right was reserved to the bishop to stay proceedings.
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 recognised by the Marriage Act of 1823. 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 the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. 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 parliament.
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 insufficiently 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.)
As spiritual peers, bishops of the Church of England have (subject to the limitations stated below) seats in the House of Lords, though whether as barons or in their spiritual character has been a matter of dispute. The latter, however, would seem to be the case, since a bishop was entitled to his writ of summons after confirmation and before doing homage for his barony. 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, although several precedents to that effect are on record, a statute of the realm, which was 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. In 1869 the Bishops’ Resignation Act was passed. It provided that, on any bishop desiring to retire on account of age or incapacity, the sovereign should be empowered to declare the see void by an order in council, the retiring bishop or archbishop to be secured the use of the episcopal residence for life and a pension of one-third of the revenues of the see, or £2000, whichever sum should prove the larger. Other sections defined the proceedings for proving, in case of need, the incapacity of a bishop, provided for the appointment of coadjutors and defined their status (Phillimore i. 82).
In view of the necessity for increasing the episcopate in the 19th century and the objection to the consequent increase of the spiritual peers in the Upper House, it was finally enacted by the Bishoprics Act of 1878 that only the archbishops and the bishops of London, Winchester and Durham should be always entitled to writs summoning them to the House of Lords. The rest of the twenty-five seats are filled up, as a vacancy occurs, according to seniority of consecration.
Bishops of the Church of England rank in order of precedency immediately above barons. They may marry, but their wives as such enjoy no title or precedence. Bishops are addressed as “Right Reverend” and have legally the style of “Lord,” which, as in the case of Roman Catholic bishops in England, is extended to all, whether suffragans or holders of colonial bishoprics, by courtesy.
The insignia of the Anglican bishop are the rochet and the chimere, and the episcopal throne on the gospel side of the chancel of the cathedral church. The use of the mitre, pastoral staff and pectoral cross, which had fallen into complete disuse by the end of the 18th century, has been now very commonly, though not universally, revived; and, in some cases, the interpretation put upon the “Ornaments rubric” by the modern High Church school has led to a more complete revival of the pre-Reformation vestments.
In the Orthodox Church of the East and the various communions springing from it, the potestas ordinis of the bishop is the same as in the Western Church. Among his qualifications the most peculiar is that he must be unmarried, which, since the secular priests are compelled Orthodox Eastern.to marry, entails his belonging to the “black clergy” or monks. The insignia of an oriental bishop, with considerable variation in form, are essentially the same as those of the Catholic West.
Besides bishops presiding over definite sees, there have been from time immemorial in the Christian Church bishops holding their jurisdiction in subordination to the bishop of the diocese. (1) The oldest of these were the chorepiscopi Sub-ordinate bishops. (τῆς χώρας ἐπίσκοποι), i.e. country bishops, who were delegated by the bishops of the cities in the early church to exercise jurisdiction in the remote towns and villages as these were converted from paganism. Their functions varied in different times and places, and by some it has been held that they were originally only presbyters. In any case, this class of bishops, which had been greatly curtailed in the East in A.D. 343 by the council of Laodicea, was practically extinct everywhere by the 10th century. It survived longest in Ireland, where in 1152 a synod, presided over by the papal legate, decreed that, after the death of the existing holders of the office, no more should be consecrated. Their place was taken by arch-presbyters and rural deans. (2) The Episcopi regionarii, or gentium, were simply missionary bishops without definite sees. Such were, at the outset, Boniface, the apostle of Germany, and Willibrord, the apostle of the Frisians. (3) Bishops in partibus infidelium were originally those who had been expelled from their sees by the pagans, and, while retaining their titles, were appointed to assist diocesan bishops in their work. In later times the custom arose of consecrating bishops for this purpose, or merely as an honorary distinction, with a title derived from some place once included within, but now beyond the bounds of Christendom. (4) Coadjutor bishops are such as are appointed to assist the bishop of the diocese when incapacitated by infirmity or by other causes from fulfilling his functions alone. Coadjutors in the early church were appointed with a view to their succeeding to the see; but this, though common in practice, is no longer the rule. In the Church of England the appointment and rights of coadjutor bishops were regulated by the Bishops’ Resignation Act of 1869. Under this act the coadjutor bishop has the right of succession to the see, or in the case of the archiepiscopal sees and those of London, Winchester and Durham, to the see vacated by the bishop, translated from another diocese to fill the vacancy. (5) Suffragan bishops (episcopi suffraganei or auxiliares) are those appointed to assist diocesan bishops in their pontifical functions when hindered by infirmity, public affairs or other causes. In the Roman Church the appointment of the suffragan rests with the pope, on the petition of the bishop, who must prove that such is the custom of the see, name a suitable priest and guarantee his maintenance. The suffragan is given a title in partibus, but never that of archbishop, and the same title is never given to two suffragans in succession. In the Church of England the status of suffragan bishops was regulated by the Act 26 Henry VIII. c. 14. Under this statute, which, after long remaining inoperative, was amended and again put into force by the Suffragans’ Nomination Act of 1888, 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 empowered 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 and jurisdiction, within the diocese of such bishop, as shall be given to him by the commission, and no other.
The title of bishop survived the Reformation in certain of the Lutheran churches of the continent, in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Transylvania; it was temporarily restored in Prussia in 1701, for the coronation of King Frederick I., again Lutheran churches.between 1816 and 1840 by Frederick William III., and in Nassau in 1818. In these latter cases, however, the title bishop is equivalent to that of “superintendent,” the form most generally employed. The Lutheran bishops, as a rule, do not possess or claim unbroken “apostolic succession”; those of Finland and Sweden are, however, an exception. The Lutheran bishops of Transylvania sit, with the Roman and Orthodox bishops, in the Hungarian Upper House. In some cases the secularization of episcopal principalities at the Reformation led to the survival of the title of bishop as a purely secular distinction. Thus the see of Osnabrück (Osnaburgh) was occupied, from the peace of Westphalia to 1802, alternately by a Catholic and a Protestant prince. From 1762 to 1802 it was held by Frederick, duke of York, the last prince-bishop. Similarly, the bishopric of Schwerin survived as a Protestant prince-bishopric until 1648, when it was finally secularized and annexed to Mecklenburg, and the see of Lübeck was held by Protestant “bishops” from 1530 till its annexation to Oldenburg in 1803.
In other Protestant communities, e.g. the Moravians, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Mormons, the office and title of bishop have survived, or been created. Their functions and status will be found described in the accounts of the several churches.
See Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon, s. “Bischof” and “Weihen”; Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, vol. ii.; Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie, s. “Bischof” (the author rather arbitrarily classes Anglican with Lutheran bishops as not bishops in any proper sense at all); Phillimore’s Ecclesiastical Law; the articles Order, Holy; Vestments; Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction; Episcopacy. (W. A. P.)
- The title prince-bishop, attached in Austria to the sees of Laibach, Seckau, Gurk, Brixen, Trent and Lavant, and in Prussia to that of Breslau, no longer implies any secular jurisdiction, but is merely a title of honour recognized by the state, owing either to the importance of the sees or for reasons purely historical.