1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Minister

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MINISTER (Lat. minister, servant), an official title both civil and ecclesiastical. The word minister as originally used in the Latin Church was a translation of the Greek διάκονος, deacon; thus Lactantius speaks of presbyteri et ministry, priests and deacons (De mort. persecutorum, No. 15), and in this sense it is still technically used; thus canon vi., Sess. xxiii. of the council of Trent speaks of the hierarchy as consisting “ ex episcopis, presbyteris et ministris.” But the equivocal character of the Word soon led to the blurring of any strictly technical sense it once possessed. Bishops signed themselves minister in the spirit of humility, priests were “ servants of the altar ” (ministri altaris), while sometimes the phrase ministry ecclesiae was used to denote the clergy in minor orders (see Lex Bajwar. tit. 8, quoted in Du Cange). A similar equivocal character attaches to the word minister as used in the Anglican formularies: “ Oftentimes it is made to express the person officiating in general, whether priest or deacon; at other times it denoteth the priest alone, as contra distinguished from the deacon ” (Burn's Eccl. Law, ed. Phillimore, iii. 44). Thus the 33rd canon of 1603 orders that “ no bishop shall make any person a deacon and minister both together upon one day.” Generally, however, it may be said that in the use of the Church of England “ minister ” means no more than executor officii, a sense in which it was used long before the Reformation. As the most colourless of all official ecclesiastical titles, it is easy to see how the word minister has come to be applied to the clergy of Protestant denominations. The phrase “ minister of religion ” is wide enough to embrace any evangelical office, and has about it more of the savour of humility than “ pastor.”

The civil title of minister originates in the same exact sense of servant, i.e. servants of the royal household (ministri aulae regis). This origin is still clearly traceable in the titles of some ministers in Great Britain, e.g. chancellor of the exchequer, first lord of the treasury, and in the official style of “ his majesty's servants ” applied to all. Practically, however, the word minister has in modern states come to be applied to the heads of the great administrative departments who as such are members of the government. On the continent there are, besides, “ ministers without portfolio,” i.e. ministers who, without being in charge of any special department, are members of the government. In general it is distinctive of constitutional states that any public act of the sovereign must bear the countersignature of the minister responsible for the department concerned. (See the articles Ministry and Cabinet. For the history and meanings of the word “ minister ” in diplomacy, see Diplomacy.)  (W. A. P.)