1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rector

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RECTOR (Lat. for “ruler,” “guide,” &c., from regere, “rule”), a title given to the bearers of certain ecclesiastical and academical offices. In the Roman empire, after Constantine, the title rector was borne by governors of provinces subordinate to the prefects or exarchs. In the middle ages it was given to certain secular officials, e.g. the podestas of some Italian towns, but more especially to the heads of the universities, the representatives and rulers of the universitas magistrorum et scholarium, elected usually for a very short time. After the humanistic movement of the Renaissance the style rector was also given to the chief masters of schools containing several classes, and in some parts of Germany (e.g. Saxony, Württemberg) it is still thus used instead of the more modern title of Director. Rector is also still the title of the heads of the Scottish universities (Lord Rector), who are elected for three years, and of the German universities (Rector Magnificus), in which the office is held for a year by a representative of each faculty in turn. In those German universities where the rectorship is held by the sovereign (Rector Magnificentissimus), the acting head is known as Prorector. “Rector” is also the title of the heads of Exeter and Lincoln Colleges, Oxford. The heads of all Jesuit colleges are “rectors.”

As an ecclesiastical title rector was once loosely used for rulers of the Church generally, whether bishops, abbots or parish priests (see Du Cange, Rectores ecclesiarum) . The Rectores Apostolici Palrimonii were clerics of the Roman Curia charged with the duty of looking after the interests of the patrimony of St Peter. The ecclesiastical title rector, however, became ultimately confined in certain parts of Europe (Poland, Spain and notably England) to the office of a priest having a cure of souls. In its English use it is thus synonymous with “curate” in the sense used in the Prayer Book. In the middle ages a large number of rectories were held by religious houses, which drew the bulk of the tithes and appointed vicars to do the work. Hence the modern distinction in England between rectors and vicars. A rector is incumbent of a benefice never held under a monastery, and he receives all the tithes; a vicar (i.e. of an ancient benefice) draws only such tithes as were left to the benefice by the religious house which held it. On the suppression of the monasteries the “great tithes” were often bestowed by the crown on laymen, who, as owning the rectorial tithes, were and are known as “lay rectors.” It follows that, rectories being usually richer than vicarages, the style of “rector” is in England slightly more dignified than that of “vicar.” In the American Protestant Episcopal Church the incumbents of churches are called rectors.