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Canons, Chapter of


The chapter is a college of priests, called canons, whose primary function is to give God solemn worship in a cathedral or collegiate church (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 503). This purpose is common to all chapters of canons, but a cathedral chapter has additional duties.

History. The word "chapter" is found for the first time in pontifical documents of the 12th century, although it was already used in the correspondence of the popes and in private documents. The word indicates the function of serving as the bishop's counselor. In the primitive Church, the bishop, priests, and deacons took part in the government of the cathedral church, which was the only church in the diocese. Later, with the increase in the number of priests and churches, it became necessary for the priests of the episcopal city, and in particular for those of the cathedral church, to participate more closely in the government of the church together with the bishop. They were readily available on occasions of solemn liturgical ceremonies performed at the cathedral.

It was the cathedral clergy who assumed the government of the diocese during vacancy of the see and elected the new bishop. Until the 12th century the laity participated with the clergy in the election, but the Church soon reserved the election exclusively to the clergy of the cathedral. The chapter came to claim wider powers: to impose excommunications and interdicts; to confer benefices; to require the bishop to consult it; and to participate in provincial councils. This prompted the councils, and in particular the Council of Trent, to intervene in order to correct abuses and exaggerations. The primary sources of historical information concerning chapters are therefore the decrees of the councils and in particular the decretals.

Canonical legislation. According to the Codex Iuris Canonicis (c. 504), the erection, alteration, or suppression of a cathedral chapter is reserved to the Apostolic See. Certain members within a chapter have titles that involve both rights and duties. One of the canons must preside over the chapter, but the code does not specify how this person is to be designated. This matter is left to the chapter's statutes, as is the possibility that other offices may be established. Every cathedral chapter must have a canon penitentiary, who has ordinary jurisdiction to remit in the sacramental forum certain latae sententiae censures not reserved to the Apostolic See (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 508).

In an ordinary assembly convoked by its president, the chapter must, at the very beginning, vote on a number of statutes for itself. These statutes are approved by the diocesan bishop (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 505), and they establish rules of procedure for deliberations and other norms concerning liturgical and administrative functions (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 506).

Diocesan College of Consultors. In the United States there exists no cathedral chapter. At the end of the 19th century, the American bishops did not deem it opportune to petition for the establishment of such chapters, but at the Second and Third Councils of Baltimore they decreed the institution of diocesan consultors. The Consistorial Congregation later recognized this institution and the 1917 Code of Canon Law included it in the universal legislation (1917 Codex Iuris Canonicis cc. 423,428). The 1983 code has transferred many of the functions formerly assigned to the cathedral chapter to the college of consultors. Other functions formerly belonging to the cathedral chapter are now given to the diocesan presbyteral council.

Bibliography: j. p. beal et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York 2000). h. a. ayrinhac, Constitution of the Church in the New Code of Canon Law (New York 1925). d. bouix, Tractatus de capitulis (3d ed. Paris 1882). É. fournier, Nouvelles recherches sur les curies, chapitres et universités de l'ancienne Église de France (Paris 1942). g. h. cook, English Collegiate Churches of the Middle Ages (New York 1960). f. lot and r. fawtier, eds., Histoire des institutions françaises au moyen âge, 3 v. (Paris 195762). p. torquebiau, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz (Paris 193565) 3:530595, contains a complete bibliog. For information specific to cathedral chapters, see: h. nottarp, "Ehrenkanoniker und Honorarkapitel," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistiche Abteilung 45(1925) 174335. p. hofmeister, Bischof und Domkapitel nach altem und nach neuem Recht (Württemberg 1931). g. barraclough, "The Making of a Bishop in the Middle Ages," American Catholic Historical Revue 19 (193334) 275319. c. r. cheney, English Bishops' Chanceries, 11001250 (Manchester, Eng. 1950). k. edwards, The English Secular Cathedrals in the Middle Ages (Manchester, Eng. 1949). s. l. greenslade, "Sede vacante Procedure in the Early Church," Journal of Theological Studies 12(1961) 210226. r. i. burns, "The Organization of a Mediaeval Cathedral Community: The Chapter of Valencia (12381280)," Church History 31 (1962) 1423. m. bierbaum, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:496500.

[r. latrÉmouille,

j. gilchrist]

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