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Titular see: Wikis


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A titular see in the Roman Catholic Church is a Diocese or Archdiocese that now exists in title only, led by a titular bishop.

By definition a bishop is an "overseer" (Greek: επίσκοπος, epískopos; Latinized form: episcopus) of a community of the faithful, so when a priest is ordained a bishop the tradition of the Catholic Church is that he be ordained for a specific place. As there is a need for more bishops than there are dioceses, a bishop who will not functionally head a diocese or archdiocese (they are destined to be appointed, e.g., an auxiliary bishop, a papal diplomat, an official of the Roman Curia, etc.) is given title to a diocese that no longer functionally exists (sometimes called a "dead diocese"), often because the diocese once flourished but the territory became almost exclusively Muslim after the 7th Century A.D. (until 1882, such sees were distinguished by the Latin phrase in partibus infidelium,"in the territory of the infidels", or more often simply in partibus), or because the diocese was dissolved or absorbed into another diocese for some reason. These non-functional dioceses, now merely historical names, are called "titular sees."

At one time coadjutor bishops and archbishops were given titular sees — however now they are given title to the diocese or archdiocese that they will oversee as coadjutor. Retired Bishops and Archbishops were also given titular sees, however the common practice now is to name them Bishop or Archbishop Emeritus of the see they retired from.

While the Vatican hopes that titular sees will one day become active dioceses once again, it realizes in most cases the chances of that happening are low. Some titular sees appear also to remain vacant for ecumenical reasons (e.g. a number of those in the immediate vicinity of Greek Orthodox patriarchates).


In Partibus Infidelium

In Partibus Infidelium (often shortened to in partibus, or abbreviated as i.p.i.), is a Latin phrase meaning "in the lands of unbelievers," words once added to the name of many of the sees conferred on non-residential or titular Roman Catholic bishops, for example: "John Doe, Bishop of Tyre in partibus infidelium".[1]

During the expansion of Christianity in the early centuries A.D., hundreds of dioceses were created in what is now Turkey, in the Middle East and throughout North Africa. In many of these areas, the presence of the Church diminished or disappeared as a result of schism, or as regions were converted to Islam. These dioceses were designated as "in partibus." In other circumstances, reorganizations would sometimes lead to dioceses being absorbed into one or more other dioceses. At times the see cities of dioceses were relocated to other cities, and the diocese in question was renamed.

An example of an enduring 'in Partibus' bishopric is that of the Bishop of Bethlehem. In 1168, the crusading William IV, Count of Nevers had promised the Bishop of Bethlehem that if Bethlehem should fall under Muslim control, he would welcome either him or his successors in the small town of Clamecy in the present day Burgundy, France. After the capture of Bethlehem by Saladin in 1187, the bequest of the by then deceased Count was honoured and the Bishop of Bethlehem duly took up residence in the hospital of Panthenor, Clamecy in 1223. Clamecy remained the continuous 'in partibus infidelium' seat of the Bishopric of Bethlehem for almost 600 years, until the French Revolution in 1789.[2]

Prospero Fagnani (in cap. Episcopalia, i, De privilegiis) says that the regular appointment of titular bishops dates back only to the time of the Fifth Lateran Council under Leo X (Session IX); cardinals alone were authorized to ask for them for the dioceses. St. Pius V extended the privilege to the sees in which it was customary to have auxiliary bishops. Since then the practice became more widespread. The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, by its circular letter of 3 March 1882, abolished the expression in partibus infidelium; the present custom is to join to the name of the see that of the district to which it formerly belonged, e.g. "Johannes Doe, Archiepiscopus Corinthius in Achaiâ," or else merely to say "titular bishop".

Occasionally, the transfer of a diocesan bishop to a titular see has been used by the Holy See to strip a bishop of his responsibilities. For instance, in 1995, Bishop Jacques Gaillot, known for his controversial activism on Catholic-sensitive social and political topics, was transferred from the Diocese of Évreux in France to Partenia, a titular see in Algeria.

Orthodox Church

The granting of titular sees is occasionally practised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example, to avoid causing offense or confusion when an Orthodox bishop serves a place which is also the see of a non-Orthodox bishop (e.g. the Orthodox bishop in Oxford, England, is titled Bishop of Diokleia).

See also


This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

  1. ^ "In Partibus Infidelium". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  
  2. ^ de Sivry, L: "Dictionnaire de Geographie Ecclesiastique", page 375, 1852 ed, from ecclesiastical record of letters between the Bishops of Bethlehem 'in partibus' to the bishops of Auxerre.

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