A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a "dead diocese". The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a "titular bishop", "titular metropolitan", or "titular archbishop".
The term is used to signify a diocese that no longer functionally exists, often because the diocese once flourished but the territory was conquered for Islam by jihad, or because of a schism. The Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923 also contributed to titular bishoprics. Not all titular sees came about in this way, such as the see of Maximianoupolis which was destroyed along with the town that shared its name by the Bulgarians under Emperor Kaloyan in 1207; the town and the see were under the control of the Latin Empire which took Constantinople during the 4th Crusade in 1204.
Titular sees are also used to avoid causing offense or confusion when a bishop of one denomination serves a place which is also the see of a bishop of a different denomination.
Roman Catholic Church
In the Muslim conquests of the Middle East and North Africa, some bishops of sees in those areas fled to Christian-ruled areas. Even if they never returned, and even if the Christian population of their sees dispersed or adopted Islam, they were still seen as bishops of those sees. It later became customary to preserve the names of those ancient churches by assigning them to auxiliary bishops and bishops working in missionary countries. Since these bishops do not reside in and govern the sees whose titles they bear, the sees themselves are called titular sees, as opposed to residential sees. In the past, they were also referred to as sees in partibus infidelium, meaning "in the territory of the unbelievers", often shortened to in partibus or i.p.i., but the Holy See abolished this expression in 1882.
Prospero Fagnani (in cap. Episcopalia, i, De privilegiis) says that the regular appointment of titular bishops dates back only to the time of the 1512–1517 Fifth Lateran Council (Session IX); cardinals alone were authorized to ask to have them as their dioceses. Pope Pius V extended the privilege to the sees in which it was customary to have auxiliary bishops. Afterwards the practice became more widespread.
In the context of improved relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See, while continuing to appoint bishops to titular sees in North Africa, ceased to make such appointments to sees that were historically part of the Eastern patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. It began instead to treat as titular sees also those Catholic dioceses in any country no longer used as titles of residential bishops because of having been absorbed into other dioceses or having been renamed due to a change of the bishop's place of residence. The change of practice is reflected in the inclusion from then on of such sees in the official lists of titular sees in editions of the Annuario Pontificio.
Previously, titular sees were assigned not only to auxiliary bishops but also to retired bishops and coadjutor bishops. That practice was replaced by the present one of referring to a retired bishop as a bishop emeritus of the see that he held, and to a coadjutor bishop simply as coadjutor bishop of the see to which he has been appointed. This change too is reflected in editions of the Annuario Pontificio of the period, which include information on renunciation by retired and coadjutor bishops of titular sees to which they had been appointed.
The crusading William IV, Count of Nevers, dying in the Holy Land in 1168, left the building known as the Hospital of Panthenor in the town of Clamecy in Burgundy, together with some land, to the Bishops of Bethlehem, in case Bethlehem should fall under Muslim control. After Saladin took Bethlehem in 1187, the Bishop took up residence in 1223 in his property, which remained the seat of titular Bishops of Bethlehem for almost 600 years, until the French Revolution of 1789.
When Bishop Jacques Gaillot of the residential Diocese of Évreux, controversial for his positions on religious, political and social matters, refused in 1995 to retire (and thus become Bishop Emeritus of Évreux), he was transferred to the titular see of Partenia.
One reason is to avoid causing offense or confusion when an Orthodox bishop serves a place which is also the see of a bishop of a different jurisdiction: the Orthodox bishop in Oxford, England, is titled Bishop of Diokleia; the Russian Orthodox diocese of the United Kingdom is the Diocese of Sourozh.
- Kiel, Machiel (1971). "Observations on the History of Northern Greece during the Turkish Rule: Historical and Architectural Description of the Turkish Monuments of Komotini and Serres, their place in the Development of Ottoman Turkish Architecture and their Present Condition". Balkan Studies 12: 417.
- Auguste Boudinhon, "In Partibus Infidelium" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1910)
- Robert Speaight, The Companion Guide to Burgundy (Companion Guides 1998 ISBN 978-1-90063917-0), p. 4
- Georges de Soultrait (Imprimerie Impériale 1865), p. 14
- Demetrius Kiminas, The Ecumenical Patriarchate: A History of Its Metropolitans with Annotated Hierarch Catalogs, 2009. ISBN 1-4344-5876-8.
- Orthodox Wiki
- List of all Titular sees by GCatholic.org