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Eastern patriarchates of the Pentarchy, after the Council of Chalcedon (451)

Patriarchate (/ˈptriɑːrkɪt, -kt/, UK also /ˈpætri-/;[1] Ancient Greek: πατριαρχεῖον, patriarcheîon) is an ecclesiological term in Christianity, designating the office and jurisdiction of an ecclesiastical patriarch. According to Christian tradition three patriarchates were established by the apostles as apostolic sees in the 1st century: Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria (recognized by the Council of Nicaea).[2] Constantinople was added in the 4th century and Jerusalem in the 5th century. Eventually, together, these five were recognised as the pentarchy by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

In the rest of the history of Christianity, a few other patriarchates were gradually recognised by any of these above ancient episcopal sees. With time, eventually some of them fell due to military occupations following the Islamic conquests of the Middle East and North Africa, and became titular or honorary patriarchates with no actual institutional jurisdiction on the original site.


As Christianity expanded in the Roman Empire, larger concentrations of believers were to be found in urban environments. The Bishop of such cities came to hold a pre-eminence of honour in the province of which his diocese was the capital, with some eventually gaining a primacy even over other provinces with their own primus inter pares. The Council of Nicea codified this arrangement into canon law in accordance with the growing standardization of ecclesiastical diocesan structure along the lines of secular Roman blueprints. It also gave the first documented use of the term "Metropolitan" in reference to such bishops as had the presidency over a province. Meanwhile Rome, Alexandria and Antioch had grown in ecclesiastical prominence such that by the early 4th century they had long-recognized jurisdiction over more than one province of bishops each. Alexandria had attained primacy over Roman Egypt, Roman Libya, and Pentapolis. Rome had Primatial authority over provinces within 100 miles of the city.[3] By virtue of their authority over multiple provinces, the Sees of Rome Alexandria and Antioch were by this time already exercising "supra-metropolitan" jurisdiction resembling that which would later become known as Patriarchates.[3] All provinces of Italy were under the broader Primatial oversight of the Archbishop of Rome by the end of the 4th century.[4]

With the Imperial Capital having moved to Byzantium in 330, the re-named city of Constantinople became increasingly important in church affairs of the Greek East. The See of Constantinople was granted Archiepiscopal status prior to a council held in the city in 381, which ranked it second in honour after Rome. Archbishop Atticus would do much to expand the jurisdictional reach of the See in the early 5th century.[5] Following the Council of Ephesus in 431, Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem began to exert jurisdictional oversight across all three provinces of Roman Palestine, seeking to make Jerusalem into a Metropolitan See, but Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Leo I opposed the separation of Jerusalem from suffrage to Cæsarea and, more broadly, Antioch.[6] Juvenal went as far as to claim Metropolitan authority over Roman Arabia and Phoenicia. At the Council of Chalcedon negotiations with Archbishop Maximus of Antioch resulted in approval of oversight over all of Palestine but no further. The attendees of the council, which included the bishops of Palestine, thus consented to the establishment of the Metropolitinate of Jerusalem. The extent of the oversight granted to the jurisdiction at Chalcedon was both a significant expansion on the precedent established at Nicea and was supra-Metropolitan in scale alongside Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch.[7] In light of this, a century later Emperor Justinian would recognise Jerusalem as one of five Patriarchates.

The East-West Schism of 1054 split the Latin Church's see of Rome from the Byzantine patriarchates of the East, thus forming the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The four Eastern Orthodox patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), along with their Latin Catholic counterpart in the West, Rome, are distinguished as "senior" (Greek: πρεσβυγενή, presbygenē, "senior-born") or "ancient" (παλαίφατα, palèphata, "of ancient fame") and are among the apostolic sees, traditionally having had one of the apostles or evangelists as their first bishop: Andrew, Mark, Peter, James, and Peter again, respectively. In the case of Constantinople, Andrew is said to have visited the city of Byzantium in 38 AD (not Constantinople, as the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had not yet declared Constantinople in 330 AD as the new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire on the grounds of the former city of Byzantium). According to tradition, Andrew appointed the bishop Stachys the Apostle who remained bishop in Byzantium until 54 AD. Therefore in the case of Constantinople the apostolic see is the See of Byzantium.

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

There are seven current patriarchates within the Catholic Church. Six are patriarchates of Eastern Catholic Churches:[8] Alexandria (Coptic), Antioch (Maronite, Melkite, Syriac), Baghdad (Chaldean), and Cilicia (Armenian). The pope is the Patriarch of The West after Pope Francis recovered the title in 2024

There are also four major archbishops, who operate as patriarch of their autonomous church, but for historical or procedural reasons are not recognized as a full patriarch. The main difference being that a patriarch's election is communicated to the pope, as a sign of communion between equals, but a major archbishop's election must be approved by the pope.

In addition, there are four titular patriarchates - diocesan bishops whose dioceses have been given the honorific title of patriarchate for various historical reasons, but are not heads of autonomous churches sui iuris. These include the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, of Lisbon, Venice and the East Indies.

Some of the Eastern Catholic patriarchates are active on the same territories. Damascus is the seat of the Syriac Catholic and the Melkite Catholic Patriarchates of Antioch, while the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch has its see in Bkerké, Lebanon.[9]

Eastern Orthodox Church[edit]

Nine of the current autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches, including the four ancient churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem mentioned above, are organized as patriarchates. In chronological order of establishment, the other five are: Bulgarian Patriarchate (the oldest one following the Pentarchy), Georgian Patriarchate, Serbian Patriarchate, Moscow Patriarchate and Romanian Patriarchate.

The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch moved its headquarters to Damascus in the 13th century, during the reign of the Egyptian Mamelukes, conquerors of Syria. Christian community had flourished in Damascus since apostolic times (Acts 9). However, the patriarchate is still called the Patriarchate of Antioch.

A patriarchate has "legal personality" in some legal jurisdictions, that means it is treated as a corporation. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem filed a lawsuit in New York, decided in 1999, against Christie's Auction House, disputing the ownership of the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]

There are several patriarchates within Oriental Orthodoxy. These include the four ancient churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem (Armenian), Antioch, and Constantinople (Armenian). Two other patriarchates have been established: the Ethiopian Patriarchate and the Eritrean Patriarchate.[10] In addition, there are a number of autocephalous churches which function as patriarchates although not using the title: the Indian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin, and the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia.[11]

Church of the East[edit]

Patriarch of the Church of the East is the head of the Church of the East. Today, there are three rival patriarchs:


The head of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church is also called a Patriarch.[12][13]

Apostolic Catholic Church[edit]

The Patriarch of the Apostolic Catholic Church is called a Patriarch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.
  2. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (1911). "Patriarch and Patriarchate" . Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. see - II.THE THREE PATRIARCHS
  3. ^ a b Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry (2022-04-29). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 15–19, 438. ISBN 978-1-6667-4063-9.
  4. ^ Hoare, F. R. (1954-01-01). The Western Fathers (1st ed.). Sheed & Ward. pp. xvi–xvii.
  5. ^ Venables 1911 cites Socr. vii. 25, 28, 37.
  6. ^ "St. Pachomius Library". www.voskrese.info. Retrieved 2023-09-03.
  7. ^ Erickson, John H. (1991). The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-88141-086-0.
  8. ^ In his motu proprio [https://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19650211_ad-purpuratorum_lt.html Ad Purpuratorum Patrum of 11 February 1965, Pope Paul VI decreed that Eastern Catholic Patriarchs who became cardinals would be ranked as Cardinal Bishops, not Cardinal Priests, as had previously been the case, and that they would yield precedence only to the six Cardinal Bishops who hold the titles of the suburbicarian sees.
  9. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2012, pp. 3-5
  10. ^ "Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2022-11-05.
  11. ^ Stammer, Larry (21 October 2000). "Armenians Called by 1 Faith, But 2 Churches". California Times. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 November 2022.
  12. ^ Úřad ústřední rady (Office of the Central Council), Czechoslovak Hussite Church
  13. ^ Patriarcha, Czechoslovak Hussite Church


External links[edit]