Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Metropolitan

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In ecclesiastical language, refers to whatever relates to the metropolis, the principal city, or see, of an ecclesiastical province; thus we speak of a metropolitan church, a metropolitan chapter, a metropolitan official, etc. The word metropolitan, used without any qualificative, means the bishop of the metropolitan see, now usually styled archbishop. The term metropolite (Metropolites, Metropolita) is also employed, especially in the Eastern Churches (see ARCHBISHOP). The entire body of rights and duties which canon law attributes to the metropolitan, or archbishop as such, i.e., not for his own diocese, but for those suffragan to him and forming his ecclesiastical province, is called the metropoliticum.

The effective authority of metropolitans over their provinces has gradually diminished in the course of centuries, and they do not now exercise even so much as was accorded them by the Council of Trent; every bishop being more strongly and more directly bound to Rome is so much the less bound to his province and its metropolitan. The jurisdiction of the latter over his suffragan dioceses is in a sense ordinary, being established by law; but it is mediate and restricted to the objects provided for by the canons. Since the Council of Trent the rights of the metropolitan have been reduced to the following:


  • He convokes and presides at the provincial council, at which all his suffragans must appear, saving legitimate excuse, and which must be held every three years (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIV, c. ii, De ref.). The same holds for other provincial meetings of bishops.
  • He retains, in theory, the right of canonical visitation of his suffragan dioceses, but on two conditions which make the right practically inoperative: he must first finish the visitation of his own diocese, and the visitation must be authorized by the provincial council. In the course of this visitation, the metropolitan, like the bishop, has the right of "procuration ", i.e., he and his retinue must be received and entertained at the expense of the churches visited. Moreover, he can absolve "in foro conscientiae" (ibid., iii).
  • He is charged with special vigilance over his suffragans in the matter of residence; he must denounce to the pope those who have been twice absent for six months each time, without due cause or permission (Conc. Trid. Sess., vi, c. i). And similarly for the prescriptions relating to seminaries (Sess. XXIII, c. xviii).
  • The metropolitan has no judicial authority over his suffragans, major criminal causes of bishops being reserved to the Holy See, and minor ones to the provincial council (Sess. XXIV, c. v.); but he is still the judge of second instance for causes, civil or criminal, adjudicated in the first instance by the officials of his suffragans and appealed to his tribunal. Hence results a certain inequality for matters adjudicated in the first instance in the archdiocese, and to remedy this various concessions have now been provided. But the nomination of two officials by the archbishop, one diocesan, the other metropolitan, with appeal from the one to the other, is not admissible. This practice was used in France under the old regime, but was not general, and even the Gallicans held it to be at variance with canon law (Héricourt, "Les Lois ecclésiastiques de France", E.V, 13). On this principle the nullity of Napoleon's marriage was decided by the diocesan and the metropolitan officials of Paris, 1810 (Schnitzer, "Kathol. Eherecht", Freiburg, 1898, 660). The metropolitan tribunal may also try as at first instance causes not terminated within two years by a bishop's tribunal (Sess. XXIV, c. xx).
  • In regard to devolution, the metropolitan may nominate the vicar capitular of a vacant diocese, if the chapter has failed to nominate within eight days (Sess. xxiv, c. xvi). In like manner he has the right to fill open benefices (i.e., those of free collation) which his suffragans have left unfilled after six months; also to canonically institute candidates presented by patrons if the bishop allows two months to pass without instituting.
  • Lastly, in the matter of honorific rights and privileges the metropolitan has the pallium as the ensign of his jurisdiction; he takes precedence of all bishops; he may have the archiepiscopal cross (crux gestatoria) borne before him anywhere within his province, except in the presence of a papal legate; he may celebrate pontifically (saving such acts as constitute an exercise of jurisdiction, e.g., ordination), may wear his rochet and mozetta uncovered (not hidden under the mantelletta, like a bishop of another diocese); may bless publicly, and may grant an indulgence of 100 days (S.C. Indulg., 8. Aug., 1903). He ensigns his arms with the double archiepiscopal cross and the hat with ten tassels on either side.

FERRARIS, Prompta Bibliotheca, s. v. Archiepiscopus; SAGMULLER Lehrbuck des kathol. Kirchenrechts (Freiburg, 1909), 391; BOUIX, De Episcopo, I (Paris, 1859), 441.

A. BOUDINHON