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Ordinary (church officer)

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Pope Pius XI, depicted in this window at Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu, was ordinary of the universal Church as well as the Diocese of Rome from 1922 to 1939. At the same time, Bishop Stephen Alencastre, Apostolic Vicar of the Sandwich Islands, was the ordinary of what is now the Diocese of Honolulu.

An ordinary (from Latin ordinarius) is an officer of a church or civic authority who by reason of office has ordinary power to execute laws.

Such officers are found in hierarchically organised churches of Western Christianity which have an ecclesiastical legal system.[1] For example, diocesan bishops are ordinaries in the Catholic Church[1] and the Church of England.[2] In Eastern Christianity, a corresponding officer is called a hierarch[3] (from Greek ἱεράρχης hierarkhēs "president of sacred rites, high-priest"[4] which comes in turn from τὰ ἱερά ta hiera, "the sacred rites" and ἄρχω arkhō, "I rule").[5]

Ordinary power[edit]

In canon law, the power to govern the church is divided into the power to make laws (legislative), enforce the laws (executive), and to judge based on the law (judicial).[6] An official exercises power to govern either because he holds an office to which the law grants governing power or because someone with governing power has delegated it to him. Ordinary power is the former, while the latter is delegated power.[7] The office with ordinary power could possess the governing power itself (proper ordinary power) or instead it could have the ordinary power of agency, the inherent power to exercise someone else's power (vicarious ordinary power).[8]

The law vesting ordinary power could either be ecclesiastical law, i.e. the positive enactments that the church has established for itself, or divine law, i.e. the laws which were given to the Church by God.[9] As an example of divinely instituted ordinaries, when Jesus established the Church, he also established the episcopate and the primacy of Peter, endowing the offices with power to govern the Church.[10] Thus, in the Catholic Church, the office of successor of Simon Peter and the office of diocesan bishop possess their ordinary power even in the absence of positive enactments from the Church.

Many officers possess ordinary power but, due to their lack of ordinary executive power, are not called ordinaries. The best example of this phenomenon is the office of judicial vicar, a.k.a. officialis. The judicial vicar only has authority through his office to exercise the diocesan bishop's power to judge cases.[11] Though the vicar has vicarious ordinary judicial power, he is not an ordinary because he lacks ordinary executive power. A vicar general, however, has authority through his office to exercise the diocesan bishop's executive power.[12] He is therefore an ordinary because of this vicarious ordinary executive power.

Catholic usage[edit]

Local ordinaries and hierarchs[edit]

Local ordinaries exercise ordinary power and are ordinaries in particular churches.[13] The following clerics are local ordinaries:

Also classified as local ordinaries, although they do not head a particular church or equivalent community are:

Ordinaries who are not local ordinaries[edit]

Major superiors of religious institutes (including abbots) and of societies of apostolic life are ordinaries of their respective memberships, but not local ordinaries.[20]

Eastern Orthodox Christianity[edit]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a hierarch (ruling bishop) holds uncontested authority within the boundaries of his own diocese; no other bishop may perform any sacerdotal functions without the ruling bishop's express invitation. The violation of this rule is called eispēdēsis (Greek: εἰσπήδησις, "trespassing", literally "jumping in"), and is uncanonical. Ultimately, all bishops in the Church are equal, regardless of any title they may enjoy (Patriarch, Metropolitan, Archbishop, etc.). The role of the bishop in the Orthodox Church is both hierarchical and sacramental.[21]

This pattern of governance dates back to the earliest centuries of Christianity, as witnessed by the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100 AD):

The bishop in each Church presides in the place of God.... Let no one do any of the things which concern the Church without the bishop.... Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

And it is the bishop's primary and distinctive task to celebrate the Eucharist, "the medicine of immortality."[21][22] Saint Cyprian of Carthage (258 AD) wrote:

The episcopate is a single whole, in which each bishop enjoys full possession. So is the Church a single whole, though it spreads far and wide into a multitude of churches and its fertility increases.[23]

Bishop Kallistos (Ware) wrote:

There are many churches, but only One Church; many episcopi but only one episcopate."[24]

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the church is not seen as a monolithic, centralized institution, but rather as existing in its fullness in each local body. The church is defined Eucharistically:

in each particular community gathered around its bishop; and at every local celebration of the Eucharist it is the whole Christ who is present, not just a part of Him. Therefore, each local community, as it celebrates the Eucharist ... is the church in its fullness."[21]

An Eastern Orthodox bishop's authority comes from his election and consecration. He is, however, subject to the Sacred Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and answers to the Synod of Bishops to which he belongs. In case an Orthodox bishop is overruled by his local synod, he retains the right of appeal (Greek: Ἔκκλητον, Ékklēton) to his ecclesiastical superior (e.g. a Patriarch) and his synod.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b See, e.g., c. 134 § 1, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. "Ordinary" and "Peculiar"
  3. ^ c. 984, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, 1992
  4. ^ ἱεράρχης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  5. ^ "hierarchy". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  6. ^ c. 135 §1, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  7. ^ c. 131 §1, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  8. ^ § 2, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  9. ^ "Ordinary," The Catholic Encyclopedia
  10. ^ See Lumen gentium and Pastor aeternus
  11. ^ c. 1420 § 1, Code of Canon Law (1983)
  12. ^ c. 479 § 1, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  13. ^ c. 134 §§1–2, Code of Canon Law, 1983
  14. ^ "Canon 880–882". 1983 Code of Canon Law. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
  15. ^ Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canons 43 and 45
  16. ^ Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canons 78, 152 and 157
  17. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 368
  18. ^ Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus of 4 November 2009
  19. ^ Code of Canon Law, canons 427–429
  20. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 134
  21. ^ a b c Ware, Timothy (1964), The Orthodox Church, London: Penguin Books, p. 21, ISBN 0-14-020592-6
  22. ^ Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, VI:1; Epistle to the Smyrneans, VIII:1 and 2; Epistle to the Ephesians, XX:2.
  23. ^ Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church, V.
  24. ^ Ware, Timothy (1964), The Orthodox Church, London: Penguin Books, p. 22, ISBN 0-14-020592-6