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Since early Christianity, the office of the metropolitan has been a chief bishop who presides over a network of dioceses and has his seat in a provincial capital ( ancient Greek μητρόπολις, mētrópolis "mother city" (a colony ); cf. metropolis ). Today the office of the metropolitan still exists in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Churches , although the legal structure differs.

Orthodox metropolis


Μητρόπολις referred to the capital of a province in the eastern part of the Roman Empire (ἐπαρχία, eparchía ). The political term was adopted in church terminology and referred to the amalgamation of several dioceses (ἐνορία, enoría ; ἐπισκοπή, episkopḗ ) under the direction of a chief bishop.

The metropolitan title is based on the so-called ecclesiastical metropolitan constitution, the origin of which goes back to the second century, and which was fully developed up to the fourth century. During this period, Christian diocesan associations (metropolises) had formed in the Roman Empire, the scope of which was based on the political structure of the empire and which at that time became the epitome of the local church . Since the Christian mission mostly emanated from the cities, the authority of the metropolitan bishop also extended to the surrounding areas.

At the Synod of Antioch there was a noticeable tendency towards convergence of ecclesiastical and state administrative units (Can. 9). In the canons of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea  (325) μητρόπολις (Can. 7) and μητροπολίτης (Can. 4, 6) are mentioned, whereby the metropolis corresponds to the political province (ἐπαρχία) (Can. 4, 5, 6). The correspondence between ecclesiastical and state administrative structures was confirmed in the Council of Chalcedon (can. 17) and at the Trullanum II (can. 38).


The metropolitans were responsible for the disciplinary supervision of their province, they were the second instance after the Bishops' Court and the first instance in disputes between the bishops. They were also responsible for overseeing and confirming the election of suffragan bishops , as well as leading and convening metropolitan synods , which were originally supposed to take place twice a year, at Easter and in autumn.

In the course of the formation of the patriarchal constitution in the fifth century, the metropolitans lost their importance, but continued to participate in the patriarchal administration by taking part in the Endemusa Synod (patriarchal synod) and in the election of the patriarch and the metropolitans.


Some metropolitans of the Eastern Churches carried the title archiepískopos (ἀρχιεπίσκοπος), e.g. B. Athens, Thessaloniki and Ephesus. The Patriarch of Alexandria is probably the first high bishop to hold the title of archiepiskopos before the fourth century . The title was widespread in the Illyricum and is likely to have been taken from the terminology of the Roman church (archbishop). Metropolitans of cities that invoked an apostolic origin also held the title of Archiepiskopos.

In contrast to Archiepiskopoi, the autocephalous archbishops (ἀρχιεπίσκοποι αὐτοκέφαλοι) held a rank between metropolitans and bishops. These were mostly dioceses which, in the course of history, had become independent of their metropolises by a fortunate coincidence; In contrast to metropolitan areas, they were usually not subject to any suffragan bishoprics. Otherwise the autocephalous archbishops were metropolitans on an equal footing and were entitled to participate in the Endemusa , for example . The autocephalous archbishops often formed a political pillar of the patriarchs against the interests of the metropolitans.

In contrast to the small autocephalous archbishops, the archbishops of some large autocephalous archbishops such as Ohrid (Bulgaria), Cyprus and Kiev were de facto patriarchates without patriarchal titles. From the 13th and 14th centuries, the Serbian Archdiocese of Žiča (Peć) and the Bulgarian Archdiocese of Trnovo were temporarily recognized as patriarchates.


The rank of metropolitans, archiepiskopoi and bishops within their categories was determined by the rank of their dioceses, which was recorded in several diocesan lists ( Klesis , Notitiae episcopatuum ) from the 4th to the 15th century . The Metropolitan of Kaisareia, as the highest-ranking metropolitan of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, was designated as the protothronos of the Patriarchate. Similarly, the highest ranking suffragan of a metropolis was its protothronos .


The election of the metropolitan originally resembled an ordinary bishopric and was incumbent on the metropolitan synod. In the Patriarchate of Constantinople, however, from about the seventh century onwards, the Endemusa proposed the Metropolitans and had them selected by the Patriarch. The Endemusa proposed three candidates to the Patriarch, of which the Patriarch appointed one Metropolitan. The emperor reserved a veto right against the three-way proposal .

The election as Patriarch of Constantinople followed the same pattern: the Endemusa proposed three candidates, of which the Emperor elected one as Patriarch.

Eastern Catholic Churches

In the Eastern Catholic Churches , the role of the Metropolitan is the same as that in the Orthodox Church.

Roman Catholic Church

Ecclesiastical provinces

Coat of arms of an archbishop as a metropolitan

In the Roman Catholic Church , the metropolitan is the head of an ecclesiastical province, an association of dioceses. He is archbishop and resident bishop of a diocese of the ecclesiastical province ( can. 435 CIC ). This diocese has a metropolitan seat and is referred to as the metropolitan bishopric, the other dioceses of the ecclesiastical province are its suffragans (suffragan dioceses). The cathedral of the metropolitan bishopric is also called the Metropolitan Church.


The metropolitan has the following additional rights vis-à-vis the diocesan bishops of the dioceses belonging to his ecclesiastical province:

  • He should ensure that faith and ecclesiastical discipline are preserved and that any abuses are reported to the Pope.
  • He should make a canonical visitation if a suffragan bishop has failed to do so; however, the reason for this must first be recognized by the Apostolic See.
  • If a bishop's chair is vacant, he should appoint the diocesan administrator if this has not been legitimately elected within eight days or does not meet the requirements prescribed by law ( can. 436 §1 CIC ).
  • The court of the metropolitan usually functions as a court of second instance in its ecclesiastical province ( can. 1438 §1 No. 1 CIC ).
  • He convenes the provincial council with the consent of his suffragan bishops .

If special circumstances so require, special tasks and powers can be assigned to the Metropolitan by the Apostolic See, which are to be precisely defined in legal terms ( can. 436 §2 CIC ); the metropolitan has no other powers of governance. However, he can exercise spiritual acts in all the churches of his ecclesiastical province like a bishop in his own diocese , but in another episcopal church only after prior agreement of the bishop ( can. 436 §3 CIC ).

Metropolitans also have the right to wear the pallium during the celebration of the Eucharist within their ecclesiastical province , which they received as a special sign from the Pope.

Metropolises in the German-speaking area

Metropolitan dioceses in Germany are the archbishoprics of Berlin , Bamberg , Freiburg , Hamburg , Cologne , Munich and Freising and Paderborn .

Metropolitan seats in Austria are the Archdioceses of Salzburg and Vienna .

Switzerland has no metropolitan seats, as the Confederation sees the establishment of church provinces as being against the egalitarian spirit of the cantons. Also, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein have no church provinces but each consisting of one archdiocese, which immediately the Holy See is under (Immediate, exemption ). These archbishops are therefore not metropolitan bishops and do not wear the pallium .

The mostly German-speaking diocese of Bozen-Brixen belongs to the Italian metropolitan bishopric of Trento .

Protestant churches

The title is not common in Protestant churches. Only in the Landgraviate of Hesse were individual pastors (mostly at city churches) designated as metropolitan on a part-time basis as early as the 16th century . They were subordinate to the superintendent and each had the supervision of the pastor in a smaller area. Both in the Evangelical Church in Hesse and in the Evangelical Church in Hesse-Kassel , this office existed until the 19th century.


  • Ernst Haiger: royalty and church organization. Archdiocese founded in the High Middle Ages. In: Journal of Church History . 112, 2001, pp. 311-329.
  • Matthias Schrör : Metropolitan violence and the turning point in the history of the pope (= historical studies 494). Matthiesen, Husum 2009, ISBN 978-3-7868-1494-8 (also: Düsseldorf, Univ., Diss., 2008).
  • Heinrich Hohl: The office of the metropolitan and the metropolitan constitution in the Latin Church (BzMK 59). Ludgerus, Essen 2010,

Web links

Commons : Metropolitan bishops  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Hohl: The Office of the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan Constitution in the Latin Church . In: (BzMK 59) . Ludgerus, Essen 2010.