Diocese: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pope Pius XI blesses Bishop Stephen Alencastre as fifth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands in a Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace window. In Roman Catholicism, the pope is the bishop of the Diocese of Rome. He creates the other dioceses throughout the world and chooses their bishops.

In some forms of Christianity, a diocese is an administrative territorial unit administered by a bishop. It is also referred to as a bishopric or Episcopal Area (as in United Methodism)/episcopal see, though strictly the term episcopal see refers to the domain of ecclesiastical authority officially held by the bishop, and bishopric to the post of being bishop. The diocese is the key geographical unit of authority in the form of church governance known as episcopal polity. In the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion a diocese which is important due to size or historical significance is called an archdiocese, and is governed by an archbishop, who may have metropolitan authority over the other ('suffragan') dioceses within a wider jurisdiction called an ecclesiastical province.

As of January 2009 there are 630 Roman Catholic archdioceses (including 13 patriarchates, 2 catholicates, 536 metropolitan archdioceses, 79 single archdioceses) and 2,167 dioceses in the world. After the Reformation, the Church of England continued and developed the existing diocesan structure in England; this continued throughout the Anglican Communion. In the Eastern Catholic Churches (which recognise papal authority and so are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church), the equivalent unit is called an eparchy; the Orthodox Church calls its dioceses metropoleis in the Greek tradition, eparchies in the Slavic tradition.



See also: Bishops and civil government

In the later organization of the Roman Empire, the increasingly subdivided provinces were administratively associated in a larger unit, the diocese (Latin dioecesis, from the Greek term διοίκησις, meaning "administration").

With the adoption of Christianity as the Empire's official religion in the 4th century, the clergy assumed official positions of authority alongside the civil governors. A formal church hierarchy was set up, parallel to the civil administration, whose areas of responsibility often coincided. With the collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th century, the bishops in Western Europe assumed a large part of the role of the former Roman governors. A similar, though less pronounced, development occurred in the East, where the Roman administrative apparatus was largely retained by the Byzantine Empire. In modern times, many an ancient diocese, though later divided among several dioceses, has preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division. For Gaul, Bruce Eagles has observed that "it has long been an academic commonplace in France that the medieval dioceses, and their constituent pagi, were the direct territorial successors of the Roman civitates.[1]

Christian hierarchy

Modern usage of 'diocese' tends to refer to the sphere of a bishop's jurisdiction. This became commonplace during the self-conscious "classicizing" structural evolution of the Carolingian empire in the 9th century, but this usage had itself been evolving from the much earlier parochia ("parish"), dating from the increasingly formalised Christian authority structure in the 4th century (see EB 1911).

Other denominations

In the Methodist Church (covering Great Britain and Ireland), churches are grouped together in sections. Sections are grouped together to form Circuits. Circuits are grouped together to form Districts. All of these, combined with the local membership of the Church, are referred to as the 'Connexion'. This, 18th century term, endorsed by John Wesley describes how people serving in different geographical centres are 'connected' to each other. The Methodist Church has an annual president. Each District is headed by a 'Chair' who oversees its functioning. Each Circuit is governed by a superintendent minister. The geographical regions covered by circuits and dioceses rarely overlap.

In the United Methodist Church (USA) a bishop is given oversight over a geographical area called an Episcopal Area. Each episcopal area contains one or more annual conferences, which is how the churches and clergy under the bishop's supervision are organized. Thus, the use of the term "diocese" referring to geography is the most equivalent in the United Methodist Church, whereas each annual conference is part of one episcopal area (though that area may contain more than one conference). The African Methodist Episcopal Church has a similar structure to the United Methodist Church, also using the Episcopal Area.


  1. ^ Bruce Eagles, "Britons and Saxons on the Eastern Boundary of the Civitas Durotrigum" Britannia 35 (2004:234-240) p 234, noting for instance E.M. Wightman, Gallia Belgica (London) 1985:26.

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Sources and external links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DIOCESE (formed on Fr. diocese, in place of the Eng. form diocess - current until the 19th century - from Lat. dioecesis, med. Lat. variant diocesis, from Gr. Scoucn6cs, " housekeeping," "administration," ScoucE7v, "to keep house," "to govern"), the sphere of a bishop's jurisdiction. In this, its sole modern sense, the word diocese (dioecesis) has only been regularly used since the 9th century, though isolated instances of such use occur so early as the 3rd, what is now known as a diocese having been till then usually called a parochia (parish). The Greek word &ocicnats, from meaning "administration," came to be applied to the territorial circumscription in which administration was exercised. It was thus first applied e.g. to the three districts of Cibyra, Apamea and Synnada, which were added to Cilicia in Cicero's time (between 56 and 50 B.C.). The word is here equivalent to "assize-districts" (Tyrrell and Purser's edition of Cicero Epist. ad fam. iii. 8.4; xiii. 67; cf. Strabo xiii. 628-629). But in the reorganization of the empire, begun by Diocletian and completed by Constantine, the word "diocese" acquired a more important meaning, the empire being divided into twelve dioceses, of which the largest - Oriens - embraced sixteen provinces, and the smallest - Britain - four (see Rome: Ancient History; and W. T. Arnold, Roman Provincial Administration, pp. 187, 194-196, which gives a list of the dioceses and their subdivisions). The organization of the Christian church in the Roman empire following very closely the lines of the civil administration (see Church History), the word diocese, in its ecclesiastical sense, was at first applied to the sphere of jurisdiction, not of a bishop, but of a metropolitan.' Thus Anastasius Bibliothecarius (d. c. 886), in his life of Pope Dionysius, says that he assigned churches to the presbyters, and established dioceses (parochiae) and provinces (dioeceses). The word, however, survived in its general sense of "office" or "administration," and it was even used during the middle ages for "parish" (see Du Cange, Glossarium, s. "Dioecesis" 2).

The practice, under the Roman empire, of making the areas of ecclesiastical administration very exactly coincide with those of the civil administration, was continued in the organization of the church beyond the borders of the empire, and many dioceses to this day preserve the limits of long vanished political divisions. The process is well illustrated in the case of English bishoprics. But this practice was based on convenience, not principle; and 1 For exceptions see Hinschius ii. p. 39, note I.

the limits of the dioceses, once fixed, did not usually change with the changing political boundaries. Thus Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, complains that not only his metropolitanate (dioecesis) but his bishopric (parochia) is divided between two realms under two kings; and this inconvenient overlapping of jurisdictions remained, in fact, very common in Europe until the readjustments of national boundaries by the territorial settlements of the 19th century. In principle, however, the subdivision of a diocese, in the event of the work becoming too heavy for one bishop, was very early admitted, e.g. by the first council at Lugo in Spain (569), which erected Lugo into a metropolitanate, the consequent division of diocese being confirmed by the king of the second council, held in 572. Another reason for dividing a diocese, and establishing a new see, has been recognized by the church as duly existing "if the sovereign should think fit to endow some principal village or town with the rank and privileges of a city" (Bingham, lib. xvii. c. 5). But there are canons for the punishment of such as might induce the sovereign so to erect any town into a city, solely with the view of becoming bishop thereof. Nor could any diocese be divided without the consent of the primate.

In England an act of parliament is necessary for the creation of new dioceses. In the reign of Henry VIII. six new dioceses were thus created (under an act of 1539); but from that time onward until the 19th century they remained practically unchanged. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1836, which created two new dioceses (Ripon and Manchester), remodelled the state of the old dioceses by an entirely new adjustment of the revenues and patronage of each see, and also extended or curtailed the parishes and counties in the various jurisdictions.

By the ancient custom of the church the bishop takes his title, not from his diocese, but from his see, i.e. the place where his cathedral is established. Thus the old episcopal titles are all derived from cities. This tradition has been broken, however, by the modern practice of bishops in the United States and the British colonies, e.g. archbishop of the West Indies, bishop of Pennsylvania, Wyoming, &c. (see Bishop).

See Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, ii. 38, &c. Joseph Bingham, Origines ecclesiasticae, 9 vols. (1840); Du Cange, Glossarium, s. "Dioecesis"; New English Dictionary (Oxford, 1897), s. "Diocese."

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Simple English

A diocese is an area of land under the charge of a bishop. He looks after the religious needs of the Christians who live there. The bishop organises the work of the Church in the area, and is responsible for all the ministers (priests) in his area. Another word for diocese is see, or even 'episcopal see'.

The diocese is the key geographical unit of religious authority in the church. Archbishops have an archdiocese. Inside each diocese are a number of parishes. Each parish is the area supervised by a local priest, and is part of the diocese.


As the Western Roman Empire fell during the 5th and 6th centuries the bishops of the Church took over many of the administrative roles of the former Roman prefects. The areas of ecclesiastical administration always coincided with those of the Roman civil administration.

A thousand years later, the Ottoman Empire conquered the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. The eastern bishops then continued as the Roman civil structure was stripped away. Many an ancient diocese, though later divided among several dioceses, preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division.


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