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The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church (above major archbishop and primate), the Hussite Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs (and in certain cases also popes – such as the Pope of Rome or Pope of Alexandria, and catholicoi – such as Catholicos Karekin II).[1]

The word is derived from Greek πατριάρχης (patriarchēs),[2] meaning "chief or father of a family",[3] a compound of πατριά (patria),[4] meaning "family", and ἄρχειν (archein),[5] meaning "to rule".[3][6][7][8]

Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family.[9] The system of such rule of families by senior males is termed patriarchy. Historically, a patriarch has often been the logical choice to act as ethnarch of the community identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (such as Christians within the Ottoman Empire). The term developed an ecclesiastical meaning, within the Christian Church. The office and the ecclesiastical circumscription of a Christian patriarch is termed a patriarchate.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period during which they lived is termed the Patriarchal Age. The word patriarch originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible.[10]

Catholic Church[edit]

Catholic Patriarchal (non cardinal) coat of arms


Map of Justinian's Pentarchy
Patriarch of Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak. wearing a distinctive clothing of a patriarch.

In the Catholic Church, the bishop who is head of a particular autonomous Church, known in canon law as a Church sui iuris, is ordinarily a patriarch, though this responsibility can be entrusted to a Major Archbishop, Metropolitan, or other prelate for a number of reasons.[11]

Since the Council of Nicaea, the bishop of Rome has been recognized as the first among patriarchs.[12] That Council designated three bishops with this 'supra-Metropolitan' title: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. In the Pentarchy formulated by Justinian I (527–565), the emperor assigned as a patriarchate to the Bishop of Rome the whole of Christianized Europe (including almost all of modern Greece), except for the region of Thrace, the areas near Constantinople, and along the coast of the Black Sea. He included in this patriarchate also the western part of North Africa. The jurisdictions of the other patriarchates extended over Roman Asia, and the rest of Africa. Justinian's system was given formal ecclesiastical recognition by the Quinisext Council of 692, which the see of Rome has, however, not recognized.

There were at the time bishops of other apostolic sees that operated with patriarchal authority beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, such as the Catholicos of Selucia-Ctesephon.

Today, the patriarchal heads of Catholic autonomous churches are:[13]

Major archbishoprics[edit]

Four more of the Eastern Catholic Churches are headed by a prelate known as a "Major Archbishop,"[15] a title essentially equivalent to that of Patriarch and originally created by Pope Paul VI in 1963 for Josyf Slipyj:[16]

Within their proper sui iuris churches there is no difference between patriarchs and major archbishops. However, differences exist in the order of precedence (i.e. patriarchs take precedence over major archbishops) and in the mode of accession. Whereas the election of a major archbishop has to be confirmed by the pope before he may take office,[17] no papal confirmation is needed for a newly elected patriarch before he takes office. Rather, a newly installed patriarch is required to petition the pope as soon as possible for the concession of what is called ecclesiastical communion.[18][19] Furthermore, patriarchs who are created cardinals form part of the order of cardinal bishops, whereas major archbishops are only created cardinal priests.

Minor Latin patriarchates[edit]

Minor patriarchs do not have jurisdiction over other Metropolitan bishops. The title is granted purely as an honor for various historical reasons. They take precedence after the heads of autonomous churches in full communion, whether pope, patriarch, or major archbishop.

Historical Latin patriarchates[edit]

Patriarch as title ad personam[edit]

The pope can confer the rank of Patriarch without any see, upon an individual Archbishop, as happened on 24 February 1676 to Alessandro Crescenzi, of the Somascans, former Latin Titular Patriarch of Alexandria (19 January 1671 – retired 27 May 1675), who nevertheless resigned the title on 9 January 1682.

"Patriarch of the West"[edit]

In theological and other scholarly literature of the Early Modern period, the title "Patriarch of the West" (Latin: Patriarcha Occidentis; Greek: Πατριάρχης τῆς Δύσεως) was mainly used as designation for the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome over the Latin Church in the West. From 1863 to 2005, the title "Patriarch of the West" was appended to the list of papal titles in the Annuario Pontificio, which in 1885 became a semi-official publication of the Holy See. This was done without historical precedent or theological justification: There was no ecclesiastical office as such, except occasionally as a truism: the patriarch of Rome, for the Latin Church, was the only patriarch, and the only apostolic see, in the "west".

The title was not included in the 2006 Annuario. On 22 March 2006, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity offered an explanation for the decision to remove the title. It stated that the title "Patriarch of the West" had become "obsolete and practically unusable" when the term the West comprises Australia, New Zealand and North America in addition to Western Europe, and that it was "pointless to insist on maintaining it" given that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Church, for which "the West" is an equivalent, has been organized as a number of episcopal conferences and their international groupings.[20]

Though the formulation "Patriarch of the West" is no longer used, the pope in that role issues the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church. During the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appeared, as patriarch of the Latin Church, with the other patriarchs, but without the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, though he was present at the same Synod.[21]

Current and historical Catholic patriarchates[edit]

Current and historical Catholic patriarchates
Type Church Patriarchate Patriarch
of autonomous
particular churches
Latin Rome Pope Francis
Coptic Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak
Syrian Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Maronite Antioch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi
Greek-Melkite Antioch Youssef Absi
Armenian Cilicia Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian
Chaldean Babylon Louis Raphaël I Sako
Major archbishops
of autonomous
particular churches
Ukrainian Kyiv-Halych Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Syro-Malabar Ernakulam-Angamaly George Alencherry
Syro-Malankara Trivandrum Baselios Cleemis
Romanian Făgăraş and Alba Iulia Lucian Mureșan
Latin Rite
Latin Aquileia suppressed in 1751
Latin Grado suppressed in 1451
Latin Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Lisbon Manuel (III) Clemente
Latin Venice Francesco Moraglia
Latin Alexandria suppressed in 1964
Latin Antioch suppressed in 1964
Latin Constantinople suppressed in 1964
Latin East Indies Filipe Neri Ferrão
Latin West Indies vacant since 1963

Eastern Christianity[edit]

Eastern Orthodox[edit]

The five ancient Patriarchates, the Pentarchy
Title Church Recognition / Additional notes
Patriarch of Rome the Pope of Rome Originally "primus inter pares" according to Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized in 325. Currently not an Episcopal or Patriarchal authority in the Eastern Orthodox Church, following the Great Schism in 1054
Patriarch of Constantinople the chief of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople The "primus inter pares" of post-Schism Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized in 381
Patriarch of Alexandria the Pope of All Africa and the chief of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria Recognized in 325
Patriarch of Antioch the head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East in the Near East Recognized in 325
Patriarch of Jerusalem the chief of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and All Arabia Recognized in 451
  • The five junior Patriarchates created after the consolidation of the Pentarchy, in chronological order of their recognition as Patriarchates by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople:
The five junior Patriarchates created after the consolidation of the Pentarchy
Title Church Recognition / Additional notes
Patriarch of All Bulgaria the chief of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria Recognized as a Patriarchate in 918-919/927[22]
Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia the chief of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgia Recognized as a Catholicate (Patriarchate) in 1008[23]
Serbian Patriarch the chief of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia (and the former Yugoslavia) Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1375[24]
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia the chief of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1589[25]
Patriarch of All Romania the chief of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Romania Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1925[26]

Patriarchs outside the Eastern Orthodox Communion[edit]

Patriarchs outside the Eastern Orthodox Communion
Title Church
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia The chief of the Russian Old-Orthodox Church.
The Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine The chief of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Canonical.
The Patriarch of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Europe[27]
Patriarch of the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate

Oriental Orthodox Churches[edit]

The five ancient Patriarchates, the Pentarchy
Title Church Additional notes
Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa The chief of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in Egypt and All Africa The Spiritual Leader of Oriental Orthodoxy.
Patriarch of Antioch The chief of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch Supreme Leader of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church in the Near East.
The Catholicos of the East. The head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, Armenia and of All Armenians Chief of the Armenian Apostolic Church Supreme Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church
---Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Chief of the Armenians in Turkey.
---Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem and of Holy Zion Chief of Armenians in Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Persian Gulf
Catholicos of Cilicia Chief of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Great House of Cilicia Chief of Diasporan Armenians of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Headquartered in Antelias, Lebanon
Archbishop of Axum and Patriarch Catholicos of All Ethiopia Chief of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Ethiopia
Archbishop of Asmara and Patriarch of All Eritrea Chief of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Eritrea

Church of the East[edit]

Catholicose of the East is the title that has been held by the ecclesiastical heads of the Church of the East, the Grand Metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, since AD. 280.

It refers to Patriarchs of the Church of the East, primate (Catholicos-Patriarch) of the Church of the East now divided into:


The term patriarch has also been used for the leader of the extinct, dualist, heretical Manichaeist sect, initially based at Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) and later at Samarkand.

Other Christian denominations[edit]

The title of "Patriarch" is assumed also by the leaders of certain Christian denominations, who are seldom in communion with none of the historic Christian Churches. Many, but not necessarily all such patriarchs are church leaders of the following Churches:

Independent Catholic
Independent Eastern Catholic
Independent Eastern Orthodox
Independent Oriental Orthodox
Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement, a patriarch is one who has been ordained to the office of patriarch in the Melchizedek priesthood. The term is considered synonymous with the term evangelist, a term favored by the Community of Christ. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the patriarch's primary responsibilities is to give patriarchal blessings, as Jacob did to his twelve sons according to the Old Testament. Patriarchs are typically assigned in each stake and possess the title for life.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hill, Don (7 November 2001). "Czech Republic: Hussite Church History Mirrors That Of Nation". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  2. ^ πατριάρχης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ a b Online Etymological Dictionary: "patriarch"
  4. ^ πατριά, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ ἄρχω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ Merriam-Webster: "patriarch"
  7. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "patriarch"
  8. ^ Oxford Dictionaries: "patriarch"
  9. ^ "The Roman Empire: in the First Century. The Roman Empire. Life In Roman Times. Family Life". PBS. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  10. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Patriarch" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  11. ^ Code of Canons of Eastern Churches. 1990. pp. 58–59.
  12. ^ "DOCUMENTS FROM THE FIRST COUNCIL OF NICEA". History Sourcebooks Project. Fordham university. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Patriarchs". Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  14. ^ Maloney, G.A. (2002). New Catholic Encyclopedia (Revised ed.). Gale. pp. 15 vols. ISBN 978-0787640040.
  15. ^ Code of Canons of Eastern Churches. Catholic Church. 1990. pp. 151–154.
  16. ^ "CCEO: text - IntraText CT". 4 May 2007. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  17. ^ Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium: Can. 153
  18. ^ Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium: Can. 76
  19. ^ An example of the petition and the granting of ecclesiastical communion: "Exchange of letters between Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Antonios Naguib". Holy See Press Office. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  20. ^ "Communiqué on title 'Patriarch of the West'". Zenit. 22 March 2006. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Meeting of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops with Pope Benedict XVI". Society of St. John Chrysostom. 20 September 2009. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  22. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine (ID: 20).
  23. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine (ID: 21).
  24. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine (ID: 18).
  25. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine (ID: 17).
  26. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine (ID: 19).
  27. ^ "Eglise Orthodoxe Autonome de France". Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2019..
  28. ^ When a woman was elected head of this Church, she was styled Matriarch. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2010-03-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]