The New International Encyclopædia/Patronage, Ecclesiastical

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PATRONAGE (Lat. patronaticum, homage due a patron, from Lat. patronus, protector), Ecclesiastical. The right of presenting a properly qualified person to a vacant ecclesiastical position. Such a right is under many circumstances a species of property that may be enforced in the proper courts of law. The patron originally was the person who founded or endowed the benefice, yet the title came to be applied also to one who succeeded to the right as property. Proprietors of lands were early encouraged to build and endow churches on their own possessions. In such cases the priest in charge did not look to the bishop for his support, but was allowed to receive the whole or a part of the profits of the lands with which the founder had endowed the church. Eventually it came to be stipulated with the bishop that the founder and his heirs should have a share in the administration of the property and have the right to nominate a person in holy orders to be the incumbent whenever a vacancy occurred. The person enjoying the privileges of a founder was called patronus and advocatus. He had a prominent seat and a burial place in the church; his name and arms were engraved on the church, and on the church walls, and he was specially named in the public prayers. He sometimes also had a right to a portion of the church funds, called patronagium.

In France the right of patronage was often extended by the sovereigns to churches not originally private foundations. Church property was bestowed in fee on laymen, who appropriated the greater part of the revenues, and took the appointment of the clergy into their own hands. It was at last ruled by the third and fourth Lateran councils (1179 and 1215) that the presentation of the patron should not of itself suffice to confer any ecclesiastical benefice when the presentee was a layman.

Toward the close of the twelfth century letters of request began to be issued by the popes to patrons that benefices should be bestowed upon particular persons. What had at first been requested as a favor was soon demanded as a right. In the thirteenth century the patronage of all livings whose incumbents had died at the court of Rome (vacantia in curia) was also claimed by the Pope. By the fourteenth century these claims encountered effective opposition. England took the lead in a resistance which was in the end successful. In Scotland, at the time of the Reformation, the rights of patrons were reserved and the presbyteries were bound by several statutes to admit any qualified person presented by the patron. For three centuries the question of lay patronage was a cause of contention, legislation, and litigation, but by an act of Parliament passed in 1874 patronage in Scotland was abolished, and the right of choosing their minister transferred to the congregation. Upon the Continent of Europe, in the Protestant churches of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, ecclesiastical patronage exists to some extent. The only form of ecclesiastical patronage to be found in the United States is that in the hands of the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. With these rights the decrees of the plenary councils of Baltimore have dealt upon the general principles laid down by the canons of the third and fourth Lateran councils.