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archbishops

archbishops are, literally, chief bishops. By the 5th cent. ad the title was applied to the occupants of sees of major ecclesiastical importance, particularly those of metropolitan bishops. This designation originated in the bishop of the principal city of a district or division of a country, the metropolis, being the usual president of any assembly of bishops of that area. Ecclesiastically, such a district or division formed a province.

In western catholic Christianity many provinces reflected the divisions of the Roman empire. Thus Milan, residence of the emperors during the 4th cent., became the metropolitan see for much of northern Italy, and Arles, capital of Gaul and residence of the Roman governor, attained metropolitical status in 417. There is little evidence to suggest that, prior to the withdrawal of the Roman legions, the church in Britain was organized along provincial or metropolitical lines. Not until the arrival of Augustine (597) was Canterbury established as an archbishopric, and York did not become a separate province until the 8th cent.

In the Middle Ages the archbishops of Canterbury possessed wide powers. They could hold visitations of all the dioceses in the province and exercise spiritual oversight of any vacant see. They also confirmed and consecrated (but did not nominate) bishops-elect of dioceses in their province, and, by delegation to their archdeacons, enthroned them in their cathedrals.

However, attempts by Canterbury to assert its precedence over York were fiercely resisted, particularly in the 11th and 12th cents. The argument was not resolved until the 14th cent.—in Canterbury's favour. The attempt to establish a third archbishopric, at Lichfield, in the late 8th cent., was short-lived.

The independence of the Scottish bishops from the province of York was recognized by Pope Celestine III in 1192, though the primatial see (St Andrews) was not raised to archiepiscopal status until 1472. Glasgow became an archbishopric in 1492. The title of archbishop ceased to be used for these two sees of the episcopal church in Scotland after the revolution of 1688. Since 1704 the chief bishop of the Anglican church, designated the Primus, is elected from among the Scottish diocesans.

In Ireland Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam all achieved archiepiscopal status during the 12th cent., the primatial see being at Armagh. The number of Anglican archbishoprics was reduced to two (Armagh and Dublin) by the Ecclesiastical Commission in the 1830s.

Revd Dr John R. Guy

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