Vicar: Wikis


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In the broadest sense, a vicar (pronounced /ˈvɪkər/; from the Latin vicarius) is a representative, anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior (compare "vicarious" in the sense of "at second hand"). In this sense, the title is comparable to lieutenant, literally the "place-holder".[1] Usually the title appears in a number of Christian ecclesiastical contexts, but in the Holy Roman Empire a local representative of the emperor, perhaps an archduke, might be styled "vicar".


Catholic Church

In Catholic canon law, a vicar is the representative of any ecclesiastic entity. The Romans had used the term to describe officials subordinate to the praetorian prefects. In the early Christian churches, bishops likewise had their vicars, such as the archdeacons and archpriests, and also the rural priest, the curate who had the cure or care of all the souls outside the episcopal cities. The position of the Roman Catholic vicar as it evolved is sketched in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908.[2]]

The Pope uses the title Vicarius Christi, meaning, the vicar of Jesus Christ. The papacy first used this title in the eighth century; earlier they used the title vicar of Saint Peter or vicarius principis apostolorum, the vicar of the chief of the apostles.

Vicars have various different titles based on what role they are performing. An apostolic vicar is a bishop or priest who heads a missionary particular church that is not yet ready to be a full diocese - he stands as the local representative of the Pope, in the Pope's role as bishop of all unorganized territories. A vicar capitular, who exercises authority in the place of the diocesan chapter, is a temporary ordinary of a diocese during a sede vacante period.

Vicars exercise authority as the agents of the bishop of the diocese. Most vicars, however, have ordinary power, which means that their agency is not by virtue of a delegation but is established by law. Vicars general, episcopal vicars, and judicial vicars exercise vicarious ordinary power; they each exercise a portion of the power of the diocesan bishop (judicial for the judicial vicar, executive for the others) by virtue of their office and not by virtue of a mandate.

A vicar forane, also known as an archpriest or dean, is a priest entrusted by the bishop with a certain degree of leadership in a territorial division of a diocese or a pastoral region known as a vicarate forane or a deanery.

A parochial vicar is a priest assigned to a parish in addition to, and in collaboration with, the pastor of the parish. He exercises his ministry as an agent of the parish's pastor, who is termed parochus in Latin.

Some papal legates are honoured by the title Vicar of the Apostolic See.

In Opus Dei, a regional vicar is a priest designated to fulfill responsibilies for an entire country or region, such as France or the United States.

Eastern Orthodox

In the Russian Orthodox Church and some other non-Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Churches that historically follow Russian tradition vicar (Russian: vikariy / викарий) is a term for what is known as suffragan bishop in the Anglican Communion or as auxiliary bishop in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. A vicar bishop usually bears in his title the names of both his titular see (usually, a smaller town within the diocese he ministers in) and the see he is subordinate to. For example, Bishop Ignaty Punin, the vicar bishop under the Diocese of Smolensk, is titled "The Rt. Rev. Ignaty, the bishop of Vyazma, the vicar of the Diocese of Smolensk," Vyasma being a smaller town inside the territory of the Diocese of Smolensk. Normally, only large dioceses have vicar bishops, sometimes more than one. Usually, Russian Orthodox vicar bishops have no independent jurisdiction (even in their titular towns) and are subordinate to their diocesan bishops; though some of them de facto may have jurisdiction over some territories, especially when there is a need to avoid an overlapping jurisdiction.

In some other Eastern Orthodox Churches the term "chorbishop" is used instead of "vicar bishop".


In the Church of England, vicar is the ordinary title given to certain parish priests. Historically, Anglican parish clergy were divided into rectors, vicars and perpetual curates. These were distinguished according to the way in which they were remunerated. The church was supported by tithes — taxes (traditionally, as the etymology of tithe suggests, of ten percent) levied on the agricultural output of the parish.

Lutheran usage

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Lutheran Church - Canada, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod a vicar is a candidate for ordained pastoral ministry, serving in a vicariate or internship, usually in the third year of seminary training (this is often referred to as "a vicarage," a homonym of the residence of the Vicar). Typically at the end of the year of vicarage, the candidate returns to seminary and completes a final year of studies. After being issued a call or assignment, the candidate is ordained as a pastor in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The role of a vicar in the Lutheran tradition is most comparable to that of a transitional deacon in the Anglican and Roman churches, except that Lutheran vicars are not ordained.

The title "Vikar," used in the Lutheran churches in Germany, is comparable.

Notable vicars

In either tradition, a vicar can be the priest of a "chapel of ease", a church which is not a parish church. Non-resident canons led also to the institution of vicars choral, each canon having his own vicar, who sat in his stall in his absence (see Cathedral).

Peter the disciple of Christ is noted by the Roman Catholic Church to be the Vicar of Jesus Christ. Oliver Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, and in France Honoré de Balzac's The Curate of Tours (Le Curé de Tours) (1832) all evoke the impoverished world of the 18th and 19th century vicar. The satiric ballad "The Vicar of Bray" reveals the changes of conscience a vicar in County Wicklow might be forced through, in order to retain his meagre post, between the 1680s and 1720s. "The Curate of Ars" (usually in French: Le Curé d'Ars) is a style often used to refer to Saint Jean Vianney, a French parish priest canonized on account of his piety and simplicity of life.


  1. ^ Linguistically, vicar is related to the Persian word vezir, familiar in English in the form vizier.
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "vicar".

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

VICAR (Lat. vicarius, substitute),a title, more especially ecclesiastical, describing various officials acting in some special way for a superior. Cicero uses the name vicarius to describe an under-slave kept by another as part of his private property. The vicarius was an important official in the reorganized empire of Diocletian. It remained as a title of secular officials in the middle ages, being applied to persons appointed by the Roman emperor to judge cases in distant parts of the empire, or to wield power in certain districts, or, in the absence of the emperor, over the whole empire. The prefects of the city at Rome were called Vicarai Romae. In the early middle ages the term was applied to representatives of a count administering justice for him in the country or small towns and dealing with unimportant cases, levying taxes, &c. Monasteries and religious houses often employed a vicar to answer to their feudal lords for those of their lands which did not pass into mortmain.

The title of " vicar of Jesus Christ," borne by the popes, was introduced as their special designation during the 8th century, in place of the older style of " vicar of St Peter " (or vicarius principis apostolorum). In the early Church other bishops commonly described themselves as vicars of Christ (Du Cange gives an example as late as the 9th century from the capitularies of Charles the Bald); but there is no proof in their case, or indeed in that of " vicar of St Peter " given to the popes, that it was part of their formal style. The assumption of the style " vicar of Christ " by the popes coincided with a tendency on the part of the Roman chancery to insist on placing the pontiff's name before that of emperors and kings and to refuse to other bishops the right to address him as " brother " (Mas Latrie, s. " Sabinien," p. 1047). It was not till the 13th century that the alternative style " vicar of St Peter " was definitively forbidden, this prohibition thus coinciding with the extreme claims of the pope to rule the world as the immediate " vicar of God " (see INNOCENT III.).

All bishops were looked upon as in some sort vicars of the pope, but the title vicarius sedis apostolicae came especially to be applied as an alternative to legatus sedis apostolicae to describe papal legates to whom in certain places the pope delegated a portion of his authority. Pope Benedict XIV. tells us in his treatise De synodo dioecesana that the pope often names vicars-apostolic for the government of a particular diocese because the episcopal see is vacant or, being filled, the titular bishop cannot fulfil his functions. The Roman Catholic Church in England was governed by vicars-apostolic from 1685 until 1850, when Pope Pius IX. re-established the hierarchy. Vicars-apostolic at the present day are nearly always titular bishops taking their titles from places not acknowledging allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. The title is generally given by the pope to bishops sent on Eastern missions.

A neighbouring bishop was sometimes appointed by the pope vicar of a church which happened to be without a pastor. A special vicar was appointed by the pope to superintend the spiritual affairs of Rome and its suburbs, to visit its churches, monasteries, &c., and to correct abuses. It became early a custom for the prebendaries and canons of a cathedral to employ " priest-vicars " or " vicars-choral " as their substitutes when it was their turn as hebdomedary to sing High Mass and conduct divine office. In the English Church these priest-vicars remain in the cathedrals of the old foundations as beneficed clergy on the foundation; in the cathedrals of the new foundation they are paid by the chapters. " Lay vicars 'l also were and are employed to sing those parts of the office which can be sung by laymen.

In the early Church the assistant bishops (chorepiscopi) were sometimes described as vicarii episcoporum. The employment of such vicars was by no means general in the early Church, but towards the 13th century it became very general for a bishop to employ a vicar-general, often to curb the growing authority of the archdeacons. In the middle ages there was not a very clear distinction drawn between the vicar and the official of the bishop. When the voluntary and contentious jurisdiction came to be distinguished, the former fell generally to the vicars, the latter to the officials. In the style of the Roman chancery, official documents are addressed to the bishops or their vicars for dioceses beyond the Alps, but for French dioceses to the bishops or their officials. The institution of vicars-general to help the bishops is now general in the Catholic Church, but it is not certain that a bishop is obliged to have such an official. He may have two. Such a vicar possesses an ordinary and not a delegated jurisdiction, which he exercises like the bishop. He cannot, however, exercise functions which concern the episcopal order, or confer benefices without express and particular commission. In the Anglican Church a vicar-general is employed by the archbishop of Canterbury and some other bishops to assist in such matters as ecclesiastical visitations. In the Roman Catholic Church bishops sometimes appoint lesser vicars to exercise a more limited authority over a limited district. They are called " vicars-forane " or rural deans. They are entrusted especially with the surveillance of the parish priests and other priests of their districts, and with matters of ecclesiastical discipline. They are charged especially with the care of sick priests and in case of death with the celebration of their funerals and the charge of their vacant parishes. In canon law priests doing work in place of the parish priest are called vicars. Thus in France the cure or head priest in a parish church is assisted by several vicaires. Formerly, and especially in England, many churches were appropriated to monasteries or colleges of canons, whose custom it was to appoint one of their own body to perform divine service in such churches, but in the 13th century such corporations were obliged to appoint permanent paid vicars who were called perpetual vicars. Hence in England the distinction between rectors, who draw both the greater and lesser tithes, and vicars, who are attached to parishes of which the great tithes, formerly held by monasteries, are now drawn by lay rectors. (See APPRO PRIATION.) See Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infiniae Latinitatis, ed. L. Favre (Niort, 1883, &c.); Migne, Encyclopedie theologique, series i. vol. 10 (Droit Canon); Comte de Mas Latrie, Tresor de chronologie (Paris, 1889); and Sir R. J. Phillimore, Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (2nd ed. 1895). (E. O'N.)

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