1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vicar

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VICAR (Lat. vicarius, substitute), a title, more especially ecclesiastical, describing various officials acting in some special way for a superior. Cicero uses the name vicarius to describe an under-slave kept by another as part of his private property. The vicarius was an important official in the reorganized empire of Diocletian. It remained as a title of secular officials in the middle ages, being applied to persons appointed by the Roman emperor to judge cases in distant parts of the empire, or to wield power in certain districts, or, in the absence of the emperor, over the whole empire. The prefects of the city at Rome were called Vicarii Romae. In the early middle ages the term was applied to representatives of a count administering justice for him in the country or small towns and dealing with unimportant cases, levying taxes, &c. Monasteries and religious houses often employed a vicar to answer to their feudal lords for those of their lands which did not pass into mortmain.

The title of “vicar of Jesus Christ,” borne by the popes, was introduced as their special designation during the 8th century, in place of the older style of “vicar of St Peter” (or vicarius principis apostolorum). In the early Church other bishops commonly described themselves as vicars of Christ (Du Cange gives an example as late as the 9th century from the capitularies of Charles the Bald); but there is no proof in their case, or indeed in that of “vicar of St Peter” given to the popes, that it was part of their formal style. The assumption of the style “vicar of Christ” by the popes coincided with a tendency on the part of the Roman chancery to insist on placing the pontiff's name before that of emperors and kings and to refuse to other bishops the right to address him as “brother” (Mas Latrie, s. “Sabinien,” p. 1047). It was not till the 13th century that the alternative style “vicar of St Peter” was definitively forbidden, this prohibition thus coinciding with the extreme claims of the pope to rule the world as the immediate “vicar of God” (see Innocent III.)

All bishops were looked upon as in some sort vicars of the pope, but the title vicarius sedis apostolicae came especially to be applied as an alternative to legatus sedis apostolicae to describe papal legates to whom in certain places the pope delegated a portion of his authority. Pope Benedict XIV. tells us in his treatise De synodo dioecesana that the pope often names vicars-apostolic for the government of a particular diocese because the episcopal see is vacant or, being filled, the titular bishop cannot fulfill his functions. The Roman Catholic Church in England was governed by vicars-apostolic from 1685 until 1850, when Pope Pius IX. re-established the hierarchy. Vicars-apostolic at the present day are nearly always titular bishops taking their titles from places not acknowledging allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. The title is generally given by the pope to bishops sent on Eastern missions.

A neighbouring bishop was sometimes appointed by the pope vicar of a church which happened to be without a pastor. A special vicar was appointed by the pope to superintend the spiritual affairs of Rome and its suburbs, to visit its churches, monasteries, &c., and to correct abuses. It became early a custom for the prebendaries and canons of a cathedral to employ “priest-vicars” or “vicars-choral” as their substitutes when it was their turn as hebdomedary to sing High Mass and conduct divine office. In the English Church these priest-vicars remain in the cathedrals of the old foundations as beneficed clergy on the foundation; in the cathedrals of the new foundation they are paid by the chapters. “Lay vicars” also were and are employed to sing those parts of the office which can be sung by laymen.

In the early Church the assistant bishops (chorepiscopi) were sometimes described as vicarii episcoporum. The employment of such vicars was by no means general in the early Church, but towards the 13th century it became very general for a bishop to employ a vicar-general, often to curb the growing authority of the archdeacons. In the middle ages there was not a very clear distinction drawn between the vicar and the official of the bishop. When the voluntary and contentious jurisdiction came to be distinguished, the former fell generally to the vicars, the latter to the officials. In the style of the Roman chancery, official documents are addressed to the bishops or their vicars for dioceses beyond the Alps, but for French dioceses to the bishops or their officials. The institution of vicars-general to help the bishops is now general in the Catholic Church, but it is not certain that a bishop is obliged to have such an official. He may have two. Such a vicar possesses an ordinary and not a delegated jurisdiction, which he exercises like the bishop. He cannot, however, exercise functions which concern the episcopal order, or confer benefices without express and particular commission. In the Anglican Church a vicar-general is employed by the archbishop of Canterbury and some other bishops to assist in such matters as ecclesiastical visitations. In the Roman Catholic Church bishops sometimes appoint lesser vicars to exercise a more limited authority over a limited district. They are called “vicars-forane” or rural deans. They are entrusted especially with the surveillance of the parish priests and other priests of their districts, and with matters of ecclesiastical discipline. They are charged especially with the care of sick priests and in case of death with the celebration of their funerals and the charge of their vacant parishes. In canon law priests doing work in place of the parish priest are called vicars. Thus in France the curé or head priest in a parish church is assisted by several vicaires.

Formerly, and especially in England, many churches were appropriated to monasteries or colleges of canons, whose custom it was to appoint one of their own body to perform divine service in such churches, but in the 13th century such corporations were obliged to appoint permanent paid vicars who were called perpetual vicars. Hence in England the distinction between rectors, who draw both the greater and lesser tithes, and vicars, who are attached to parishes of which the great tithes, formerly held by monasteries, are now drawn by lay rectors. (See Appropriation.)

See Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infiniae Latinitatis, ed. L. Favre (Niort, 1883, &c.); Migne, Encyclopédie théologique, series i. vol. 10 (Droit Canon); Comte de Mas Latrie, Trésor de chronologie (Paris. 1889); and Sir R. J. Phillimore, Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (2nd ed. 1895).  (E. O'N.)