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 Catholicclergy 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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