Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/45

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ABBOT
ABBOT
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i.e. a federation of houses to promote the general interest of the order, the presiding Abbot is styled the "Abbot President," or the "Abbot General." Thus, the Cassinese Congregation of the Primitive Observance has at its head an Abbot General: the English Congregation, the American-Cassinese, and the American-Swiss, have each an Abbot President. The authority of the Abbot President is defined in the statutes or constitution of each congregation. In the recent confederation of the Benedictine Order all the Black Monks of St. Benedict were united under the presidency of an "Abbot Primate" (Leo XIII, "Summum semper," 12 July, 1893); but the unification, fraternal in its nature, brought no modification to the abbatial dignity, and the various congregations preserved their autonomy intact. The powers of the Abbot Primate are specified, and his position defined, in a Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars dated 16 September, 1893.
John Stoke, Abbot
The primary is attached to the Abbey and International Benedictine College of St. Anselm, Rome, and the Rimate, who takes precedence of all other Abbots, is empowered to pronounce on all doubtful matters of discipline, to settle difficulties arising between monasteries, to hold a canonical visitation, if necessary, in any congregation of the order, and to exercise a general supervision for the regular observance of monastic discipline. Of late, however, certain branches of the Benedictine Order seem to have lost their original autonomy to some extent. The Reformed Cistercians of La Trappe, for instance, are by a Decree of Pope Leo XIII, 8 May, 1892, placed under the authority of an Abbot-General. The Abbot-General has full authority to pass decision upon all current affairs and difficulties. On account of the antiquity or the pre-eminence of the abbeys over which they preside, the honorary title of Archabbot is bestowed upon the superiors of certain monasteries. Monte Cassino, "the Cradle of Western Monachism," St. Martinsberg in Hungary, St. Martin's of Beuron, in Germany, and St. Vincent's, Pennsylvania, the first Benedictine foundation in America, are presided over by Archabbots.

A further variety of Abbots-Regular are the "Titular Abbots." A Titular Abbot holds the title of an abbey which has been either destroyed or suppressed, but he exercises none of the functions of an Abbot, and has in actu no subjects belonging to the monastery whence he derives his title. The law of the Church recognizes also "Secular Abbots," i.e. clerics who, though not professed members of any monastic order, nevertheless possess an abbacy as an ecclesiastical benefice, with the title and some of the honours of the office. These benefices belonged originally to monastic houses, but on the suppression of the abbeys the benefice and the title were transferred to other churches. There are various classes of Secular Abbots; some have both jurisdiction and the right to use the pontifical insignia; others have only the abbatial dignity without either jurisdiction or the right to pontificatia; while yet another class holds in certain cathedral churches the first dignity and the privilege of precedence in choir and in assemblies, by reason of some suppressed or destroyed conventual church now become the cathedral. In the early Middle Ages the title Abbot was borne not only by the superiors of religious houses, but also by a number of persons, ecclesiastical and lay, who had no connection whatever with the monastic system. St. Gregory of Tours, for instance, employed it in his day to designate the principal of a body of secular clergy attached to certain churches; and later, under the Merovingians and Carlovingians, it was applied to the chaplain of the royal household, Abbas Palatinus, and to the military chaplain of the king, Abbas Castrensis. From the time of Charles Martel onward to the eleventh century it came to be adopted even by laymen, the Abbacomites, or Abbates Milites, mostly nobles dependent on the court, or old officers, to whom the sovereign would assign a portion of the revenues of some monastery as a reward for military service. "Commendatory Abbots" (secular ecclesiastics who held an abbacy not in titulo, but in commendam) had their origin in the system of commendation prevalent during the eighth and succeeding centuries. They were in the first instance merely temporary trustees, appointed to administer the estates of an abbey during a vacancy; but in the course of time they retained the office for life, and claimed a portion of the revenues for their maintenance. The practice of nominating Commendatory Abbots eventually led to serious abuses; it was greatly checked by the Council of Trent, and has in modern times entirely disappeared from the Church.

IV. Mode of Election.—In the early days of monastic institutions the founder of a religious house was usually its first superior; in every other instance the Abbot was appointed or elected. Some Abbots indeed selected their own successors, but the cases were exceptional. In many places, when a vacancy occurred, the bishop of the diocese would choose a superior from among the monks of the convent, but it appears that from the very beginning the appointment of an Abbot rested generally with the monks themselves. St. Benedict ordained (Rule, lxiv) that the Abbot should be chosen "by the general consent of the whole community, or of a small part of the community, provided its choice were made with greater wisdom and discretion." The bishop of the diocese, the Abbots and Christian men of the neighbourhood were called upon to oppose the election of an unworthy man. Every religious house professing his Rule adopted the method prescribed by the great monastic legislator, and in the course of time the right of the monks to elect their own Abbot came to be generally recognized, particularly so when it had been solemnly confirmed by the canons of the Church (see Thomassin, Vetus et Nova Eccl. Disciplina, Pt. I, III, c. xxxii, no. 6). But during the Middle Ages, when monasteries had grown wealthy and powerful, kings and princes gradually encroached on the rights of the monks, until in most countries the sovereign had wholly usurped the power of nominating abbots for many of the greater houses in his realm. This interference of the court in the affairs of the cloister was in the process of time the source of many evils and the occasion of grave disorders, while in its effect on monastic discipline it was uniformly disastrous. The rights of the cloister were finally restored by the Council of Trent. According to the present legislation, the Abbot is elected for life by the secret suffrages of the