views updated May 18 2018


Although the title of archdeacon is first referred to by St. Optatus of Milevis (4th century), from the 3d century the bishop would select one of the deacons (not necessarily the senior) to assist him in both the liturgy and administration of the diocese. The office grew in importance as the amount of administration grew, so that by the 5th century the archdeacon was next in importance to the bishop, whom he frequently succeeded. Although at first there was only one, from the 9th century additional archdeacons were appointed (first in France, later elsewhere) within a diocese; they were delegates of the bishop in the areas into which the diocese was divided for administrative purposes. They gradually increased in power and obtained first a share in the bishop's jurisdiction, then independent jurisdiction in courts of their own. Their heyday was in the 12th century; thereafter a succession of councils, culminating in Trent, restricted their power, while as a counterblast to it, bishops appointed their own vicars-general. After the Reformation the English Church did not revive this institution, although it continues to exist in the Anglican Church. In Ireland, archdeacon is the honorific title of the second dignitary of the diocesan chapter.

See Also: deacon.

Bibliography: a. amanieu, Dictionnaire de droit canonique 1:9481004. g. w. o. addleshaw, The Beginnings of the Parochial System (St. Anthony's Hall Publications 3; London 1953); The Development of the Parochial System from Charlemagne (768814) to Urban II (10881099) (ibid. 6; London 1954).

[b. forshaw]


views updated Jun 08 2018

archdeacons. Literally chiefs of the deacons. The office traces its origins to the New Testament church, where the ministry of Stephen and others is described in the Acts of the Apostles as their diaconia. The term archidiaconus emerged in the 4th cent., when Caecilianus was referred to as archdeacon of Carthage. He was the chief administrative assistant of the bishop in the diocese. As dioceses were established and grew in size, their bishops delegated administrative authority in a specified area to an archdeacon, thus giving him a territorial title, e.g. archdeacon of Cleveland, a practice discernible in England by the late 12th cent. The archdeacon became in effect an intermediary between the bishop and the parochial clergy. From the mid-12th cent. archdeacons held regular visitations, and following the third Lateran Council they became responsible for ensuring that church buildings and other church property in their jurisdiction were kept in repair.

Revd Dr John R. Guy


views updated May 23 2018

arch·dea·con / ˈärchˈdēkən/ • n. a senior Christian cleric (in the early Church a deacon, in the modern Anglican church a priest) to whom a bishop delegates certain responsibilities.


views updated May 21 2018

Archdeacon. In Anglican churches, a priest having administrative charge over part of a diocese. He exercises a general supervision of the parish clergy and deals with matters of church buildings and other property. He is styled ‘Venerable’.