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ARCHPRIEST (Lat. archipresbyter, Gr. ἀρχιπρεσβύτερος), in the Christian Church, originally the title of the chief of the priests in a diocese. The office appears as early as the 4th century as that of the priest who presided over the presbyters of the diocese and assisted the bishop in matters of public worship, much as the archdeacon helped him in administrative affairs. Where, as in Germany, the dioceses were of vast extent, these were divided into several archpresbyterates. Out of these developed the rural deaneries, the office of archpriest being ultimately merged in that of rural dean, with which it became synonymous. It thus became strictly subordinate to the jurisdiction of the archdeacon. In Rome itself, as the office of archdeacon grew into that of cardinal-camerlengo, so that of archpriest of St Peter’s developed into that of the cardinal-vicar. In England from 1598 until the appointment of a vicar-apostolic in 1623 the Roman Catholic clergy were placed by the pope under an “archpriest” as superior of the English mission. In the Lutheran Church in Germany the title archpriest (Erzpriester) was in some cases long retained as the equivalent of that of superintendent, sometimes also still called dean (Dechant), his functions being much the same as those of the rural dean.
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