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A bishop (from ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος epískopos , 'overseer', 'guardian', 'protector') is the holder of an office in many churches who has the spiritual and administrative direction of a certain area, which usually includes numerous local parishes . The episcopate and all of the bishops are called the episcopate .

Old church

In the New Testament, the Greek words epískopos (ἐπίσκοπος, “overseer”), presbýteros (πρεσβύτερος, “elder”, the root of the word “priest”) and diákonos (διάκονος, “servant”) denote services in the community.

The early Christian communities were not led by individuals, but - as was common in other religious communities in antiquity - by a group of elders. Depending on the need and usually for a limited period of time, they set up an epískopos or voted it out again. Only in the course of the first centuries and depending on the level of organization of the respective congregation did the office of bishop and deacon develop as permanent institutions with defined responsibilities in addition to the council of elders. During this time, the so-called “monarchical episcopate” emerged step by step and at regionally very different speeds, in which the bishop alone ( mónos , μόνος ) was given control ( archía , ἀρχία ) after the council of elders had proposed him and confirmed the community . Because the principle was: "Whoever heads everyone must be elected by everyone." According to current Catholic teaching, however, the monarchical episcopate already existed in the middle of the first century, and Simon Peter was the first bishop of Rome .

A monepiscopate is first reliably documented in the second century in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch , but it was not until late antiquity that the presbyters were systematically excluded from the leadership of the community and a clear hierarchy was created. In the late 2nd and 3rd centuries, however, the bishop was mostly only the leader of a local congregation, sometimes comprising fewer than 20 people, preaching and leading the celebration of the Eucharist . He was supported by a committee of elders and deacons. These official functions, with different names, are still present in most churches today.

After the apostolic age, from the end of the second century, in addition to the still existing local bishops, more and more bishops established themselves who supervised several parishes. In such cases, presbyters, as representatives of the bishop, presided over the Eucharistic celebration in the local congregations; the deacons were the bishop's co-workers at the inter-congregational level. The area of ​​such a bishop was called a diocese (from Greek διοίκησις dioíkēsis , administration [district] ”) since the 4th century and usually comprised a city and the surrounding villages; the city was the bishopric. The church thus took over the administrative structure of the late ancient Roman Empire, in which there were also dioceses: the ecclesiastical hierarchy ( diocese , diocese and patriarchy) even in the demarcation of the districts corresponded in part to the secular of the province or civitas , diocese and Praetorian prefecture . She kept them after the end of Roman rule. When northern and central Germany and other northern and eastern European areas beyond the Roman borders were Christianized, there were no cities there, so the new dioceses there became fairly large rural districts. Even today, the dioceses here are much larger than in the former territory of the Roman Empire , where there were cities in ancient times.

In dealing with heretical currents, three norms developed to distinguish the Christian doctrine of the faith from deviating teachings:

  • the canon of scripture
  • the generally accepted creeds
  • the episcopate as the office of doctrine and liturgy , which is in the tradition of the Church

As a result, the bishops had different areas of responsibility, with some bishops, usually those of a provincial capital, assuming a supervisory function over the other bishops in the area, from which a hierarchy of patriarch , metropolitan or archbishop and bishop developed ( ecclesiastical province ).

Orthodox churches

In its understanding of the office of bishop, the Eastern Church follows closely that of the old Church. The Orthodox bishops, like the Catholic ( Roman Catholic , Old Catholic , Anglican ), are in apostolic succession .

The liturgical clothing of Orthodox bishops includes the jacket , the omophorion corresponding to the Roman Catholic pallium , the miter or stephanus provided with a cross and the epigonation worn on the right side .

There is a threefold understanding of ministry, and in the episcopate there are different ranks from bishop to patriarch. However, the Orthodox Church has no spiritual hierarchy of bishops: patriarch and metropolitan are only primus inter pares in the college of bishops, not hierarchical superiors, and a bishop is not bound by the instructions of a superior bishop within his own diocese. On the other hand, a local synod can make decisions to which the local bishop is bound, and the decisions of ecumenical or pan-orthodox councils are also binding on patriarchs.

Since bishops are celibate in the Orthodox Church , but priests and deacons are usually married, most Orthodox bishops come from monasticism - but a widowed priest can also become a bishop.

The election of bishops is regulated differently in the individual Orthodox churches, but the collective approval of the population is ensured by the call of Axios! (Greek for "he is worthy ") seen as an important part of consecration. The abdication of bishops due to popular pressure is also more common than in the Catholic Church. The sizes of the dioceses differ greatly between the individual Orthodox churches.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, the sacrament of Confirmation is not reserved for the bishop, but is donated by the priest directly after baptism. The essence of the ancient church tradition of the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the baptized by the bishop is retained, however, in that the oil used for confirmation may only be consecrated by certain bishops (usually by the head of the respective autocephalous church or even only by the Ecumenical Patriarch) .

Roman Catholic Church

Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller with miter , staff , pectoral and ring , 2006
Coat of arms of a Roman Catholic bishop, recognizable by the green bishop's
hat ( galero ) with twelve tassels (fiocchi) hanging down on the side and the episcopal cross erected behind the coat of arms

The episcopate is the highest level of the sacrament of consecration . A Roman Catholic bishop is always male and must first be ordained a deacon and then a priest . The ordination as bishop takes place by another bishop (the main consecrator principalis ), usually with two other assisting bishops, the so-called co- consecrators ( Episcopi consecrantes ). Consecration is only allowed if the Pope has previously allowed it. The corresponding decree is read out in the ordination liturgy.

Local bishops (diocesan bishops) are appointed directly by the Pope, depending on the diocese, or are elected by various electoral bodies (usually cathedral chapters ) in various local procedures. The election is considered legal if it is confirmed by the Pope. The prerequisite for taking office is the episcopal ordination, which is donated to the appointee - if he is not yet bishop.

The bishops are subject to the pope's primacy of jurisdiction . This includes:

  • the appointment as (consecrated) bishop
  • the appointment and dismissal of a local bishop of a diocese
  • the decision in criminal matters (canon law)

According to Catholic doctrine, the power of teaching and leadership that Jesus gave to the twelve apostles continues in the bishops . In an uninterrupted "series of laying on of hands " ( apostolic succession ) all today's bishops are connected with the apostles. Thus the office of bishop is part of divine right . The supreme service of unity falls to the Bishop of Rome .

According to tradition and tradition of the Catholic Church, the apostle Peter was the first bishop of the city of Rome; on this rests the primacy of his successor on the chair of Peter . The Roman Curia and the Rota Romana as the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops are available to support the Pope in his tasks . The following applies to the Pope: it is true that any male Catholic who is able and willing to take office can be elected Bishop of Rome; but if the elected is not a bishop, the necessary ordinations will be given to him in the conclave . In practice this has no meaning, since since the election of Urban VI. In 1378 all the Popes came from the College of Cardinals. As the last Pope who was cardinal but not bishop at his election , Gregory XVI. Elected to this office in 1831.

In 2016 there were 5,237 bishops worldwide.


A bishop is either a diocesan bishop (also called a resident bishop or local bishop) or a titular bishop . Auxiliary bishops are always assigned to titular bishops and a diocesan bishop to assist in the episcopal functions. The diocesan bishop is the head of his diocese (diocese) and has full authority over it (supreme teaching and legal authority). He is solely responsible to the Pope . Several clerics are at the side of the bishop for the administration of the diocese and form the episcopal curia with him; among others the vicar general (the general and permanent representative of the bishop), the official (holder of the ordinary judicial authority) and the chancellor (head of the episcopal registry). Priestly and lay bodies have advisory functions. Bishops consult across diocesan borders in the mostly national bishops' conference . If necessary, a bishop can also convene a diocesan synod for his diocese .

The diocesan bishop can be supported by auxiliary bishops, who usually each oversee part of the diocese on behalf of the diocesan bishop. Other auxiliary bishops have special pastoral duties or are part of the episcopal curia. In the German-speaking area, also for historical reasons, almost all dioceses usually have several auxiliary bishops, which is not the case elsewhere.

A metropolitan or archbishop is the head of an ecclesiastical province that consists of several dioceses, the suffragan dioceses . The metropolitan is the diocesan bishop within the ecclesiastical province. However, he does not have any power to manage the suffragan bishops.

The term archbishop was originally synonymous with that of the metropolitan. The titular bishops of former archbishopric who have no jurisdiction are also referred to as archbishop. From there, the term archbishop has now established itself as a kind of rank; all canonical functions of the Metropolitan are only listed under the latter title in canon law. Senior curial bishops and all nuncios are appointed titular archbishops. Individual exemte and suffragan dioceses have received the honorary rank of archdiocese (e.g. Strasbourg ), and individual bishops of other dioceses also receive the honorary title of archbishop (e.g. Josef Stimpfle ). Two things in particular can be observed as common practice: Archbishops of the Curia who are transferred to a simple bishopric always keep their title (e.g. Johannes Dyba ). And if the circumscription changes, the metropolitan seats are canceled or moved, but the degraded dioceses are invariably compensated by the fact that they remain in the rank of an archdiocese (e.g. Aix et Arles ). Nevertheless, the terms archbishop and metropolitan, at least in Germany, are still commonly used as synonyms. Against this background, it is to be seen as a curiosity that the archbishops of Udine and Izmir are listed as "Metropolitans without suffragans". Nevertheless, archbishops without a metropolitan seat are still the exception both in principle and in numbers.

Some Roman Catholic bishops bear the honorary title of patriarch (Venice, Lisbon, East India), others are patriarchs in the sense of a separate jurisdiction over their patriarchy ( Uniate Eastern Churches and Jerusalem ), combined with special privileges. Until 2005, the title "Patriarch of the West" (also "Patriarch of the West") was one of the Pope's titles and identified the Pope as a patriarch with jurisdiction over the Western Church .

The cardinals are appointed by the Pope and elect the successor after the end of a pontificate. As a rule, a cardinal has already been ordained a bishop before his appointment, otherwise, according to canon law, this has to be done after the appointment. In individual cases (e.g. in old age), the Pope can dispense with it (as happened with Cardinal Leo Scheffczyk and Cardinal Karl Josef Becker SJ). That being said, cardinal dignity has nothing to do with the office of bishop. Only the cardinal bishops have historically emerged from episcopal offices, namely from the suffragans of the Pope . The cardinal priests and deacons , on the other hand, do not refer to the offices of bishops, but to those of the Roman city pastors and deacons; When the Cardinal Bishops were originally elected papal elections, these classes initially had the right to consult, and in 1059 they received voting rights.

The Pope as Bishop of Rome leads the universal Church and has the highest jurisdiction over all bishops (jurisdiction primacy). The Roman Curia assists the Pope in administering the universal Church . His most important employees are in the rank of cardinal (curia cardinal) or titular bishop (archbishop or bishop).

Episcopal See

The Episcopal See represents the office of a bishop and is both an independent legal entity and asset holder , in Germany mostly as a public corporation . In addition to the bishop as a representative, the episcopal chair also includes the administrative institutions of the diocesan curia . If a bishop dies or leaves his office for other reasons, the episcopal chair is vacant ( sedis vacancy ). The term “chair” is derived from the function of the cathedra , a symbol of the authority of a public official that has been handed down since ancient times.

In the old church , the term “holy see” was used synonymously for every bishopric . Only later did it focus on the particularly important episcopal chair of the Diocese of Rome and has been referring to this almost exclusively since the 19th century. As a “non-state sovereign power”, the Holy See forms a separate subject of international law and represents the State of Vatican City and the entire Roman Catholic Church in international relations .

Duties and dismissal

“The individual bishops who are entrusted with the care of a particular Church, under the authority of the Pope, as their proper, ordinary and immediate Shepherds, feed their sheep in the name of the Lord, exercising their task of teaching, sanctifying and guiding them . "

- Second Vatican Council : Decree Christ Dominus on the pastoral role of the bishops, no.11

The bishop has for his diocese, without prejudice to the duties towards the Pope, the full power of leadership, teaching and sanctification (“as teacher in instruction, as priest in holy cult, as servant in leadership”) and is thus also the first dispenser of the sacraments . He reserves the right to give the sacrament of ordination (episcopal ordination, priestly ordination and deacon ordination) and confirmation (this can be delegated to priests in exceptional cases). The dispensation of certain sacramentals - such as the consecration of the virgin , the consecration of the Holy Oils and the church and altar consecration - are reserved for the local bishop.

The office of bishop is for life. However, when they reach the age of 75, all diocesan bishops are entitled to do so according to can. 401 §1 CIC and the Apostolic Letter Imparare a congedarsi stopped to offer the Pope their resignation from office (see Altdiözesanbischof ). Likewise, a bishop can offer to resign before the age of 75 if he is no longer able to carry out his official duties due to “poor health or for another serious reason” ( bishop emeritus ). A resignation from office is not always accepted.


The so-called pontificals of a bishop are miter , staff (clarification of the pastoral task), bishop's ring (or fishing ring of the bishop of Rome) and pectoral cross . In addition, there are the seldom used pontifical shoes and pontifical gloves as well as the dalmatic worn under the chasuble (the bishop speaks of pontifical dalmatics ), the actual clothing of the deacon , which is supposed to symbolize the sacramental authority of the bishop. A diocesan bishop is entitled to move into all the churches of his diocese with the cappa magna . Some of these insignia are also found on non-episcopal officials with special jurisdiction , such as abbots . However, they are not allowed to use pontifical shoes, gloves or dalmatics. In addition to the insignia described above, metropolitans wear the pallium given to them by the Pope. In addition, the archbishops of Paderborn and Krakow and the bishops of Eichstätt and Toul-Nancy are entitled to carry the rationale .


The proper address of a bishop is "Excellency" , "Most Revered Lord" or "Mr. Bishop", for an archbishop it is "Mr. Archbishop". Until the first half of the 20th century, the salutation “Your Bishop's Grace” was also widespread, which in correspondence with “Ew. Episcopal graces ”could be abbreviated. The formal address of a cardinal is "Your Eminence" or "Mr. Cardinal".

Salary in Germany

The height of the Bishop grade is based on the official grade for conductive positions of the higher administrative service, the pay regulation B . There are differences between the dioceses. Archbishops are paid a maximum of grade B 11 , which corresponds to a gross monthly income of around 12,000 euros. The diocesan bishops of Freiburg (Archbishop) and Rottenburg-Stuttgart are paid according to B 8, the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Freiburg are paid according to B 4 and B 6, the auxiliary bishops of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese only according to B 2 / B 3. The diocesan bishop von Speyer is assigned to B 7, his auxiliary bishop to B 4. The Archbishop of Munich-Freising is paid roughly according to B 10, the Archbishop of Bamberg according to B9 and the other five Bavarian diocesan bishops according to B 6. Payment is based on smaller dioceses of the bishop according to B 2 to B 6 (especially in the new federal states).

The Roman Catholic and Protestant regional church bishops are not paid from church tax funds, but from the respective federal state - with the exception of Hamburg and Bremen. However, the leading clergy are usually not paid a direct salary, but the basis of these payments are contracts from the 19th century, when church property was expropriated in the course of secularization and total amounts for the annual payments were agreed in the state church treaties to compensate for this, so-called endowments that are freely available to the Church. For the endowments to the churches in 2010 a total of 459 million was estimated in the budget of the federal states.


According to Article 10 § 1a of the Bavarian Concordat from 1924 , these payments are to be replaced:

“The state will endow the archbishop's and episcopal chairs [...] with an endowment in goods and permanent funds, the annual net income of which is based on those stipulated in the aforementioned concordate, with the monetary value from 1817 being taken into account. "

The Bavarian state therefore continues to pay the net income directly to the dioceses. The payments are part of the so-called state payments to the religious communities.

Old Catholic Church

According to the Old Catholic understanding, the office of bishop is the highest office of the church and is linked to an actually existing diocese . This expresses the principle of the old church, which Urs Küry added the second half-sentence: nulla ecclesia sine episcopo, nullus episcopus sine ecclesia (no church without a bishop, no bishop without a church). Therefore, there are only auxiliary bishops in the Old Catholic Churches in rare cases (e.g. serious illness or old age of the incumbent bishop).

The prerequisite for episcopal ordination is that the candidate for the office of bishop has already been ordained a deacon and a priest before the episcopal ordination (ordinations made in other Catholic churches are recognized as valid and therefore not repeated). The following steps must be observed:

  1. The candidate must be elected bishop by the appointed body of a diocese or regional church ( cathedral chapter or synod ). This is the current form of the early ecclesiastical election of bishops "by clergy and people"
  2. Episcopal consecration takes place through the consecration prayer with the laying on of hands by a bishop in apostolic succession and usually with the assistance of at least two other bishops

A characteristic of an Old Catholic bishop is therefore that he was both elected and consecrated. Failure to take the first step (as is the case with vagante bishops ) calls into question the validity of the ordination. If, on the other hand, the consecration has been validly elected, but the ordination has not yet taken place, he can already exercise episcopal functions as "bishop electus" - if the order of his local church allows this - which do not require episcopal ordination.

The Old Catholic Churches are autonomous local churches. The Archbishop of Utrecht , who is also President of the International Bishops' Conference of the Union of Utrecht , has honorary priority as the holder of the oldest bishopric, but he has no judicial powers that go beyond his district .

The entry into retirement and the maximum age of the bishop are regulated at the local church , i.e. national level. In Germany, for example, the bishop retires when the statutory retirement age is reached. In Switzerland, 70 is the age limit after which a bishop must retire. Even after that, he or she can still exercise episcopal functions in the liturgy, while the leadership of the diocese is the sole responsibility of the successor.

The insignia of an Old Catholic bishop correspond to those of a Roman Catholic bishop: miter , staff , ring and pectoral cross . Due to the separation from Rome, the Archbishops of Utrecht have not worn a pallium since 1723 . However, at the solemn entry they claim the privilege of a lecture cross , which is turned with the body towards them. This privilege was originally associated with the award of the pallium.

According to the ancient church tradition, the consecration of the holy oils, the church and altar consecration as well as the sacraments of Confirmation and Consecration are reserved for the consecrated bishop. If he is present at a service, he is usually responsible for the administration of Holy Mass and the possible administration of other sacraments, even if they are not expressly reserved for him. An Old Catholic bishop can perform acts of worship in all parishes of his diocese for pastoral reasons (e.g. baptisms , weddings , anointing of the sick , requiem ).

In some Old Catholic churches, since women were also admitted to ordination by synodal resolutions, women can be ordained bishops. Old Catholic bishops are not obliged to be celibate .

Churches of the Reformation

Lutheran churches

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt from the SELK

In the Lutheran territorial churches in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the respective sovereigns actually took over the leadership of the churches (" sovereign church regiment "). As “substitute bishops” they did not exercise their competencies directly, but through consistory . Attempts to reform the episcopate on an evangelical basis were unsuccessful. In the further course of the 16th century, superintendent generals were installed in almost all territories to exercise spiritual oversight. That only changed in the German monarchies when they were abolished by the revolutions of 1918/1919. As a result of the debates in the 1920s, a "synodal-episcopal mixed system" emerged in the German Reich. In Denmark, in the course of the Reformation in 1537, the bishops were replaced by superintendents whose competences corresponded to the German general superintendents. Only in Sweden was the historic episcopate largely preserved.

Today in the Lutheran churches in Germany ( VELKD ) as well as in Northern Europe there is usually the office of the bishop, who is responsible for a region or a regional church and has a leadership role towards the pastors of the local congregations. This office is usually referred to as a bishop, and the term regional bishop is also common. The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), an old confessional Lutheran church in Germany, is headed by a bishop. He is bishop of his church for the entire Federal Republic of Germany .

Among the Lutheran churches in the United States, some are presided over by a bishop (e.g., ELCA ), while others (e.g., Missouri Evangelical Lutheran Synod ) have the chief minister called a preacher.

In Germany, in contrast to most of the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia and overseas, there is no separate rite of ordination for bishops; these are only introduced into their office. The function is not seen as a higher spiritual rank, but as a kind of pastor in the church leadership. There are no sacraments that are reserved for the bishop to administer. In the German-speaking area (in contrast to the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic states, for example), apostolic succession in the episcopate does not play a role for the Lutheran churches. Evangelical Lutheran office holders are usually elected by the synod (church parliament) for a certain period of time or for life (usually up to 65 or 68 years of age).

In most Protestant churches the office can be exercised by both men and women. In the SELK, like the ordination as a pastor, it is reserved for men.

Reformed churches

Most Reformed churches have a Presbyterian structure in which the leadership of the church is not with a bishop but with a body of elders that can be called a presbytery, synod, or general assembly. These elders are usually not ordained; however, their ministry is seen as spiritual ministry, and some churches have special ordinations for elders.

In contrast to bishops, however, the elders usually limit themselves to managerial functions, the sacraments are administered by ordained pastors - the elders, however, are responsible for leading the church according to the tradition that lies with the bishop in episcopal denominations.

Exceptions to this rule can be found today in the Evangelical Reformed Church in Poland , the Reformed Church in Hungary and the other Hungarian Reformed churches in Eastern Europe ( Romania , Serbia , Slovakia , Ukraine ), where, similar to most Lutheran churches, have bishops exercise the ministry of personal supervision and lead the church together with the synods. The Unitarian Church , which emerged from the Reformed Church in Hungary in the 16th century (exists today in Hungary and Transylvania ) also knows the episcopate, as it has taken over the church organization of the Reformed Church.

In the reformed regional churches in Germany, the highest church leader is called general or regional superintendent ( Lippische Landeskirche ), church president ( Evangelical Reformed Church in Bavaria and Northwest Germany ) or president or secretary ( Bremen Evangelical Church ), in uniate regional churches the president ( Rhineland , Westphalia ) or church president ( Evangelical Church of the Palatinate , Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau ). The Reformed churches in Switzerland are organized in a Presbyterian way and have no bishops.

Anglican Church

The Anglican Church also knows the sacramental episcopal ordination and an episcopal hierarchy with primate , archbishop, bishop and assistant bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury , who is also Senior Shepherd of the Church of England , is also seen as the primus inter pares of the universal Church. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not authorized to give instructions to other national churches. According to the prevailing opinion, Anglican bishops are also in apostolic succession (although this is denied by the Roman Catholic Church).

For Anglicans, the diocese is the essential unit of the church. Dioceses are grouped together to form provincial churches that either coincide with the territory of a part of a nation-state, the territory of a single nation-state, or the territories of several nation-states. The bishops of a provincial church are united in a bishops synod, which has different powers and tasks depending on the provincial church. An Anglican bishop may only serve in another diocese with the consent of the local bishop.

Anglican bishops are often married, in many Anglican churches (including the Church of England since 2014 ) a woman can also be ordained a bishop (see Anglican Fellowship # Women's Ordination ). The election of bishops takes place according to the statutes of the church concerned, usually by a committee of priests and lay people .

Methodist Church

The beginning of the Methodist movement lies within the Anglican Church , whose bishops are in apostolic succession. The first Methodists therefore made use of the sacraments of the Anglican Church.

With the United States' Declaration of Independence, a time came for Methodists in the United States when there were no Anglican bishops within reach. Going back to the Orthodox tradition, for example in the Patriarchate of Alexandria in the third century, when the presbyters elected one of their own bishops, John Wesley defined the Methodist understanding of the episcopate: there is no difference between a bishop and an elder (presbyter, pastor) Degree of ordination, but only one difference in function: a bishop is a presbyter who has a leading role towards the presbyters of his region. Therefore, the episcopate in a Methodist Church can be limited in time, and the bishop is a presbyter again after the end of his term of office like any other, for example leads a congregation. However, there are also local church ordinances in which the election of a bishop for life is possible. The first bishops of the Methodist Church were elected by John Wesley and several other ordained ministers of the Anglican Church. So in the Methodist tradition there is no apostolic succession of the episcopate.

The office of bishop in the Methodist Church in Europe is in many cases transnational: the northern European district includes, for example, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, south-eastern European France, central Europe excluding Germany, the Balkans and North Africa. For political reasons, Germany had to become a separate district in the 1930s and has remained its own district to this day.

Congregational denominations

Pēteris Sproģis, Latvian Baptist Bishop

Congregationally structured denominations, for example the Baptists and many Pentecostal congregations , only rarely have a supra-congregational bishopric. Exceptions are, for example, the Baptists in Latvia , Georgia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Congregational church communities emphasize the autonomy of the local congregations and consider the terms bishop and elder to be synonymous. Most of these congregations, however, know the functions of the threefold office at the congregation level under different names: there is a congregation leader (episkopos), a body of elders (presbyteroi) and diaconal functions. They justify this, among other things, with reference to Acts 20 : 17-35 ELB ( Paul's farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesus community; see especially verses 17 and 28). In her opinion, the fact that the episcopate was originally a function of the local community is also clear from the old Catholic practice of combining the title of bishop with a place name.

New Apostolic Church

The New Apostolic Church (NAK) knows three official classes: deacons, priests and apostles. The apostles , summarized in the apostolate with the chief apostle as head, form the highest hierarchy of offices.

Of the priestly offices, the bishop's office level is the highest. As a rule, like the apostles, bishops are ordained directly by the chief apostle. They support their apostle partly in voluntary work, partly also in the permanent service of the church. The priestly offices in the NAK conduct church services, dispose of the sacrament of Holy Baptism with water and the sacrament of Holy Communion, accept new members into the church, bless church members for confirmations, engagements, weddings, wedding anniversaries and perform funeral ceremonies. The office of bishop is also described in the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church , published in 2012 :

“Bishop (Greek: 'episkopos') means 'overseer'. The bishop is a direct collaborator with the apostle. In oneness with the apostle, he supervises and instructs the ministers and performs special pastoral tasks. "

Association of Apostolic Congregations (VAG)

Due to the history of the union of apostolic congregations and their origins in the Catholic-Apostolic and New Apostolic tradition, these communities also know a three-way division of the ordained service into: apostle, priestly offices (priest, shepherd, evangelist, elder and bishop) and diaconate. However, there is no hierarchy among the priestly offices. There are the three charismatic offices of priest, shepherd and evangelist and the leadership offices of elder and bishop. The bishops are the apostles' closest collaborators. They are at the side of the apostles in the spiritual and organizational leadership, which is also expressed in the fact that they have been participating in the apostles' conferences for several years. As a rule, the bishops are responsible for several districts of elders, which in turn consist of individual parishes. Until a few years ago, the right of ordination in the VAG was not held by the bishops, but by the apostles. This has since changed and bishops also have the right to ordain.

In the German apostolic community , the apostles, bishops and elders form the statutory board, which has to answer to the assembly of delegates, which is elected by the members. The same applies to the Association of Apostolic Christians in Switzerland. In France, due to the very small size of the community, there is no bishop. Since the retirement of the Apostle Den Haan on March 18, 2012, the Dutch congregations have been led by the newly ordained Bishop Bert Wolthuis , who also has the community in the Apostle and Representing the Bishops' Assembly of the European Communities.

Since 2003, women can be ordained for all offices in the European VAG. T. implemented, d. This means that the office of bishop can also be exercised by both sexes.

Bible and early Christian literature

From the bishops - 1 Tim 3,1-7  EU :

“The word is credible: whoever aspires to the office of bishop, aspires to a great task. Therefore the bishop should be a man without blame, married only once, sober, prudent, of worthy demeanor, hospitable, able to teach; he is not a drinker or a violent person, but considerate; he is neither contentious nor greedy for money. He should be a good family man and raise his children in obedience and all decency. Whoever cannot manage his own household, how can he care for God's Church? He must not be a new convert, otherwise he could become haughty and succumb to the judgment of the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he does not come under bad gossip and fall into the devil's trap. "

From the Elders and Bishops - Tit 1.5-9  EU :

“I left you in Crete so that you can finish what still needs to be done and place elders in the individual cities, as I have instructed you to do. An elder should be innocent and married only once. His children should be believers; one should not be able to say that they are dissolute and disobedient. For a bishop must be innocent because he administers the house of God; he must not be arrogant and irascible, not a drinker, not violent or greedy. Rather, he should love what is good, he should be hospitable, level-headed, just, pious and controlled. He must be a man of the true word of doctrine; then he can admonish the community with healthy teaching and refute the opponents. "

The office of bishop in the early Christian church order (2nd century) - Didache 15: 1-2:

“Now choose yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord, men, mild and without greed and truthful and tried; for they also do the service of prophets and teachers for you. So do not despise them. For they are those among you who have been honored by God, together with the prophets and teachers. "

See also


  • Johannes Neumann, Günther Gaßmann , Gerhard Tröger: Bishop I. The Catholic Bishopric II. The Historical Bishopric III. The Protestant Bishopric IV. The Synodal Bishopric . In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . 6: 653-697 (1980).
  • Erwin Gatz , Clemens Brodkorb: The bishops of the Holy Roman Empire 1448 to 1648. A biographical lexicon. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-428-08422-5 .
  • Georg Kretschmar , Dorothea Wendebourg (Hrsg.): The episcopal office: Church history and ecumenical studies on the question of the church office. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1999, ISBN 3-525-55436-2 .
  • Martin Leitgöb: From shepherds to guides . Exploring the self-image of the episcopate in the 19th and 20th centuries. The inaugural shepherd letters of the Germanic bishops 1837–1962 . Herder, Rome 2004, ISBN 3-451-26458-7 .
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: The episcopate in late Byzantium. A directory of the metropolitans and bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1204 to 1453 . Publishing house Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 3-8364-8786-1 .
  • Dorothea Sattler , Gunther Wenz (ed.): The church office in apostolic succession. Volume 2: Origins and Changes (= Dialogue of the Churches 13). Herder, Freiburg i. Br. / Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006. ISBN 3-451-28618-1 / ISBN 3-525-56934-3 .
  • Thomas Schumacher: Bishop - Presbyter - Deacon. An overview of the history and theology of the office. Pneuma-Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-942013-01-7 .
  • Norbert Roth: The Bishop's Office of the Protestant Church. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-7887-2643-0 .
  • Sabine Demel , Klaus Lüdicke: Between power of attorney and powerlessness. The pastoral power of the diocesan bishop and its limits. Herder, Freiburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-451-80693-3 .


  1. ^ Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary . G. Freytag Verlag / Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, Munich / Vienna 1965.
  2. See Joachim Grzega , Ae. bisc (e) op and its Germanic relatives , in Anglia 120 (2002): 372-383.
  3. ^ András Handl: Viktor I (189? -199?) Of Rome and the emergence of the “monarchical” episcopate in Rome . In: Sacris Erudiri . tape 55 , January 1, 2016, ISSN  0771-7776 , p. 7–56 , doi : 10.1484 / J.SE.5.112597 ( [accessed April 2, 2017]).
  4. See Stefan Rebenich : Monarchy . In: Reallexikon für Antike und Christianentum , Vol. 24, Stuttgart 2012, pp. 1170f.
  5. ^ Heinrich Fries : Suffering from the church . In: Christ in der Gegenwart , Vol. 41, No. 7 of February 12, 1989.
  6. Ign. Ant. Smyrn. 8.1f.
  7. Pedro Barceló : The Roman Empire in the Religious Change of Late Antiquity. Emperor and bishops in conflict. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7917-2529-1 , p. 54.
  8. Cf. for example Gregor von Nyssa, Vita Gregorii, 10,1,15.
  9. St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary ( Memento of September 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  10. Codex of Canon Law, Can. 377 § 1
  11. Statistics of the Catholic Church 2016
  12. Ask the Father: Father Bernd Hagenkord SJ answers. In: Vatican Radio . Archived from the original on November 6, 2013 ; accessed on February 12, 2015 .
  13. Second Vatican Council: Lumen Gentium No. 20.
  14. Alexander Schwabe: German Bishops' Conference: Shepherd duel in heavenly gates. In: Spiegel Online . February 9, 2008, accessed April 12, 2020 .
  15. ^ Salaries of clerics. (PDF) In: Salaries of clergy of the Evangelical and Catholic Church 8/2004. Research group Weltanschauungen in Germany, August 12, 2005, archived from the original on March 24, 2012 ; Retrieved May 10, 2010 .
  16. ^ Section 0 of the 2010/11 budget of the Archdiocese of Freiburg. (PDF; 247 kB) December 12, 2009, p. 3 , archived from the original on September 19, 2011 ; Retrieved August 8, 2010 .
  17. Priest pay and pension regulations of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. (PDF; 95 kB) September 29, 2003, p. 10 , archived from the original on January 31, 2012 ; Retrieved August 8, 2010 .
  18. Oberhirtliches Ordinance Sheet. Official journal for the Diocese of Speyer. (PDF) March 25, 2010, archived from the original on March 5, 2012 ; Retrieved August 8, 2010 .
  20. Why does the state actually pay the bishop's salaries?
  21. See, for example, Art. 18 of the Concordat between the Holy See and Saxony-Anhalt of January 15, 1998 and Art. 14 Wittenberg Treaty .
  22. Hunt for the church mice. (htm) In: Der Spiegel. July 26, 2010, accessed February 15, 2014 .
  23. ^ Text of the 1924 , accessed on February 4, 2011 .
  24. ^ Law on the remuneration of archbishops, bishops and members of the cathedral chapters as well as on the subsidies for personnel expenses of the regional church council. December 8, 2009, accessed August 8, 2010 .
  25. Synodal and Congregation Ordinance (SGO) of the Old Catholic Church in Germany, Section 26, Paragraph 1
  26. Wijding van Dick Schoon dead Bisschop van Haarlem
  27. In exceptional cases, e.g. B. Confirmation in the context of an adult baptism, a confirmation power of attorney can be given to the baptizing priest. Likewise, if the bishop is unable to attend, the confirmation can be given by a commissioned priest. This is usually the vicar general . In danger of death, every priest can and must administer the sacrament to an unconfirmed baptized person without special authority.
  28. See Dorothea Wendebourg : The Reformation in Germany and the episcopal office. In: This: The one Christianity on earth. Essays on church and ecumenical history. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2000, pp. 195-224.
  29. ^ Friedrich Wilhelm Graf : The Protestantism. History and present. 3. Edition. Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-70824-4 (CH Beck Wissen), p. 38
  30. ^ Catechism of the New Apostolic Church

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