Dean (church)

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The dean or dean (from Latin decanus from decem 'ten') is the head of a group of priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Also in the Anglican Church as Dean and in some Protestant regional churches there is the official title "Dean" for a pastor who performs management functions at the middle administrative level. This official title is also superintendent in other regional churches .

Roman Catholic Church

For the Roman Catholic Church, general Catholic canon law states :

1. in Can. 352 CIC the Dean of the College of Cardinals . (cf. Cardinal Dean );
2. in Can. 553 CIC the dean (also: dean, archpriest) as head of the priesthood of several parishes. His district is called the Dean's Office .

In addition, in the particular law of many dioceses, especially in German-speaking countries, there is still:

3. the cathedral dean as the dignity of a cathedral chapter ;
4. the dean of the monastery as head of a collegiate monastery .

The following paragraphs refer to the dean as the head of the priesthood of several Roman Catholic parishes.

Appointment, duties and administration

Unless otherwise stipulated in diocese law, the diocesan bishop is responsible for appointing the dean, and he must seek advice from the priests working in the dean's office concerned. In many dioceses the office of dean is tied to certain parishes . If the bishop appoints a new pastor for such a pastor, he is automatically dean. If this is not the case, the bishop can appoint any pastor in the district as dean. Then he can also limit the exercise of the office in terms of time. (In contrast, a parish is always transferred for life or until voluntary resignation.)

According to the CIC, the dean's duties are :

  • Coordination and promotion of joint pastoral work in the deanery,
  • Supervision of the clergy in his district so that they can conscientiously carry out their official duties and maintain a way of life appropriate for priests,
  • To ensure that the services are celebrated according to the rules of the liturgy , that the churches and sacred implements are in good condition and that the consecrated hosts are properly stored,
  • Control of church registers as well as asset and building management in the individual parishes,
  • to encourage priests to take part in further theological training, retreats and the like.

The diocesan bishops can also delegate other tasks to their deans. The rights and duties laid down in the CIC characterize the dean primarily as the supervisory body of the bishop, to whose instructions he - like all other diocesan priests - is fully bound. Deans do not have their own jurisdiction , but always act on behalf of the bishop.

The dean regularly visits the parishes of his district on behalf of the bishop. In his pastoral work in the dioceses of the German-speaking area, various committees made up of priests and lay people are at his side: the priest and pastoral council (the latter includes not only clergy but also other full-time church employees), and finally the dean's council; in these the parishes send elected lay people as their representatives. Depending on the size and financial strength of the dioceses, the dean has a number of employees who are paid from the diocesan budget and have special tasks in pastoral care or church administration. A deanery usually consists of 8 to 15 parishes. In densely populated Catholic regions, several deaneries are combined to form city ​​or district deaneries .

Historical development

Early Christianity was initially an urban religion. By the beginning of the 4th century, Christian communities had been formed in almost every Roman city, each headed by a bishop. At his church, the respective bishop had a college of priests , presbytery , which supported him in the celebration of the liturgy and in pastoral care. The rural areas remained pagan for a long time. The emerging bishoprics of that time were often roughly congruent with the political communities municipia , which consisted of the city itself and a larger area (interspersed with villages, villas and individual farms).

At the latest with the elevation of Christianity to the state religion by Emperor Theodosius I , the Christian religion increasingly spread to the flat country. Many priests were now permanently active in the country and had their own churches there. The parishes came into being. In the turmoil of the Great Migration, many cities then disappeared and with them the old bishoprics. The remaining bishops now had to administer large territories. Therefore it became necessary to appoint representatives who supervised the work of the pastors on behalf of the respective bishop.

This new office was named differently in different regions and the tasks also varied in part. But in the 4th century it was clarified at various synods in the East that these new officials were not allowed to have jurisdiction rights so that the authority of the bishops would not be restricted. The Synod of Laodicea (380) abolished the so-called Chorepiskopoi (German choir bishops or rural bishops) and replaced them with Periodeutai . These were priests whose duties and their relationship with the bishop corresponded almost exactly to those of today's deans.

In the Latin-speaking part of the Roman Empire and its successor states, the helpers of the bishop were called decanus . The title is related to decurio . In the Roman Empire, it was used to designate the representative or head of a group of ten people (for example a unit of ten soldiers in the early Roman army). The dean was and is still responsible for around ten parishes.

In the Franconian Empire , which was entirely rural and feudal, Emperor Karl d. Great expansion of the deanery in order to be able to better control the vast areas of his kingdom with the help of the church. In the west, too, the choir bishops were abolished in the 9th century (Synods of Paris and Aachen, 829 and 836, respectively) and replaced by archdeacons , who since then have been a middle level of administration between bishops and deans. The latter were also called archpriests in many dioceses. For example, the diocese of Meissen was divided into archdeaconates, which in turn were assigned some arch priestly seats.

In order to better connect with the bishop, but also to secure the ministers financially, the deaneries and archdeaconates were often associated with well-endowed canons at the cathedral chapter or in collegiate chapters.

Until the codification of canon law in the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1917, the rights and duties of the deans were almost exclusively described in the particular laws of the dioceses. Only in the last century did a certain standardization take place, which was then introduced in the Can. 553 of the new CIC (1983) was also reflected in canon law.

Protestant churches

The superintendent (Latin superintendens, literally "overseer", loan translation from ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος epískopos , bishop ') is an ecclesiastical office comparable to the dean in some German Protestant regional churches , in the Evangelical Church AB in Austria , in many Methodist churches and in the self-employed Evangelical Lutheran Church . The superintendent is the leading clergyman of a church district , a diocese ( superintendent or superintendent in Austria) or a church district .


Older (by publication date):

  • Bernhard Dietrich Haage: A previously unpublished letter from Johannes von Indersdorf. Everyday school life in the Middle Ages. In: Specialized prose research - Crossing borders. Volume 10, 2014, pp. 81–88 (on a letter from 1431 showing the everyday tasks of a decanus ).
  • Andreas Müller: Lexicon of Canon Law and the Roman Catholic Liturgy: In relation to the former with constant consideration of the latest Concordate, papal paraphrase bulls, and the special conditions of the Catholic Church in the various German states. Volume 2 (of 5) D-F . 2nd Edition. Etlinger publishing house, 1838, keyword Decani rurales: Dechante in the country and Decanate. Pp. 13–99 - detailed article on the historical position and tasks (pp. 24–75 Austria, from p. 75 other German states; Google eBook, full view ).
  • Article Dean and Archpriest . In: Charles George Herbermann u. a. (Ed.): The Catholic encyclopedia . New York 1913 ff.
  • Franz Gescher: The dean's office and archdeaconate in Cologne in their creation and first development. A contribution to the constitutional history of the German Church in the Middle Ages. (= Canonical treatises. Ed. By Ulrich Stutz , Volume 95). Stuttgart 1919 (reprint: Edition Schippers, 1963); also theological dissertation Freiburg 1919.
  • Dean. In: The religion in the past and present (RGG). Volume 2. 3rd edition. 1958.

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