Particular council

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According to the law of the Latin Church, particular councils are the plenary council and the provincial council ( can. 439 CIC ). It is an assembly of a particular Church, in contrast to the Ecumenical Council , which is an assembly of the universal Church.


The councils (or synods, these terms were previously used synonymously) are the oldest synodal institutions of the Catholic Church. Its origins go back to the 2nd century AD when several bishops gathered in a particular region at which important theological or ecclesiastical issues were discussed. The significance of the resolutions often extended beyond the dioceses of the participating bishops. As the church increasingly received a firm legal structure, the terms provincial council and plenary council emerged.

Plenary council

The plenary council means an assembly of the bishops of a certain country (also national council). It has been used very rarely over time. It was replaced from the 19th century onwards by the Bishops' Conferences , which, under certain circumstances, have also had executive powers since the reform of canon law after the Second Vatican Council . Nevertheless, the plenary councils are still provided for in canon law. Today it is a particular council for one and the same bishops' conference (can 439 § 1 CIC). If there is only one ecclesiastical province in the area of ​​a bishops' conference, only a plenary council can be convened there (can 439 § 2 CIC).


The calling of a plenary council is incumbent on the respective bishops' conference (can. 441, no. 1 CIC). It meets as often as the bishops' conference considers necessary or useful. The decision of the Bishops' Conference requires the approval of the Apostolic See (can 439 § 1 CIC).


The order of the plenary council is determined by the bishops' conference. As mistress of the assembly, she alone determines the beginning, duration, adjournment, postponement and conclusion of the council. Furthermore, it issues the council rules, which regulate the rules of procedure, the extraordinary right to participate and the right to host.


The conference of bishops elects the council president from among the diocesan bishops belonging to it (can 441 No. 3 CIC). His election must be confirmed by the Apostolic See. The required majority is not specified under common law.

Items to be discussed

The council can only decide on the subjects determined by the bishops' conference. In this respect, the assembly differs from the Ecumenical Council, which may add further items to be discussed, but which must be confirmed by the Pope.

Provincial Council

Roman Provincial Council in 1725 with Pope Benedict XIII.

The provincial council (also provincial synod) is an assembly of the bishops of a church province under the chairmanship of the respective metropolitan . In church history it represents the more common variant of a particular council. For a long time the regular holding of a provincial council was prescribed, but in reality it could seldom be observed. Although the Council of Trent renewed the obligation to hold provincial councils, the institution became practically meaningless in most areas of the Church.


A provincial council cannot be convened if the ecclesiastical province is the only one in the territory of a bishops' conference. In this case only plenary councils can take place. Unlike the plenary council, no special authorization is required to convene a provincial council. The right to convene, however, lies solely with the Metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province; accordingly, a provincial council can be convened neither against its will nor if the metropolitan seat is vacant (can 440 § 2, 442 CIC). The decision to convene a provincial council is made by the metropolitan with a majority of the votes of his suffragan bishops .

Metropolitan Rights

The metropolitan has the right to determine the place of the council (can 442 § 1 No. 2 CIC). He determines the subjects of negotiation and the rules of procedure and decides on the duration, postponement, adjournment and termination of the council (can 442 § 1 No. 3 CIC). He has to lead the meeting himself if he is not lawfully prevented. In this case, the management is incumbent on a representative elected from among the diocesan bishops present (can 442 § 2 CIC). However, the deputy does not have the aforementioned organizational rights.

Participation rules

The rights of the participants are to be differentiated into membership and guest rights, ordinary and extraordinary membership, decisive and advisory voting rights.

Membership and Hospitality

A member of a special council is anyone who has the right to participate by law or by lawful invitation and who has decisive or advisory voting rights (can 443 § 1-5 CIC). The members are obliged to participate. If a member with decisive voting rights is lawfully prevented from doing so, a representative can be sent, who then only has advisory voting rights (can 444 § 2 CIC). Membership is divided into ordinary and extraordinary membership.

Ordinary members are according to can 443 § 1 and 3 CIC:

  • the diocesan bishops
  • the coadjutors and auxiliary bishops (auxiliary bishops)
  • other titular bishops who exercise a special office delegated by the Apostolic See or the Bishops' Conference in the area, such as the Apostolic Nuncio .
  • the vicars general and episcopal vicars
  • elected higher superiors of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, the number of which is determined by the bishops' conference or the metropolitan and his suffragan bishops
  • the rectors of the Catholic universities and the deans of the Catholic and Canonical faculties
  • some rectors of the area's seminaries, the number being determined by the conference of bishops or the metropolitan and his suffragan bishops

Extraordinary members are after a special invitation according to can 443, § 2 and 4 CIC:

  • Titular bishops residing in the area, even if retired
  • Priests and other believers, the number of which must not exceed half of the members already mentioned

Guests who have observer status can be invited to particular councils. However, they can also be asked to give their opinion. They cannot take part in votes. The bishops' conference determines the invitation of guests at the plenary council, and the metropolitan together with the suffragan bishops at the provincial council (can 443 § 6 CIC).

Right to vote

All bishops who are ordinary or extraordinary members of the council have decisive voting rights. At least the final vote on the Council documents is reserved for the members with decisive voting rights.

All other members of the council have consultative voting rights.

Task and authority

Particular councils meet to discuss and decide on common pastoral needs in the respective area. The resolutions are to be based on the overriding law of the church, which must not be affected by the resolutions. The primary tasks are the promotion of faith and morals, the organization of common pastoral work and the preservation, introduction and protection of general ecclesiastical discipline. To carry out its task, the particular council disposes of all necessary powers, both legislative and executive. The previously not insignificant judicial power is today severely restricted by general canon law, but not completely excluded.

Conclusion of the particular council

According to can 446 CIC, after the conclusion of the particular council, the council president has to submit all council acts to the Apostolic See, more precisely to the Congregation for Bishops. The decrees passed by the council may only be promulgated after review by the Apostolic See .

Particular councils in ecclesiastical practice

Despite the wishes of the Second Vatican Council, there has not been a revival of the Council's activity on a particular level. More than ever, the decisive organ for the joint exercise of pastoral care is the bishops' conference of a given country, which has been considerably strengthened by legal reforms.

Individual evidence

  1. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 299
  2. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Catholic Church Law II, p. 300
  3. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 303
  4. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Catholic Church Law II. P. 202
  5. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 303
  6. Aymans; Mörsdorf: Catholic Church Law II , p. 299f.
  7. ^ Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 305.
  8. ^ Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 305
  9. ^ Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 305
  10. Aymsn - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 306
  11. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Catholic Church Law II, p. 306
  12. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 301
  13. Aymans - Mörsdorf, Kath. Kirchenrecht II, p. 301
  14. Aymans -Mörsdorf, Catholic Church Law II, p. 308


  • Aymans , Mörsdorf : Canon Law. Volume 2: Constitutional and Association Law. 13th completely revised edition. Schöningh, Paderborn 1997, ISBN 3-506-70482-6 .
  • Reimund Haas : "... and to the spiritual persons and believing lay people in our province". 150 years of the Cologne Provincial Council from 1860. In: Pastoral Journal for the dioceses of Aachen, Berlin, Essen, Hildesheim, Cologne and Osnabrück. Volume 63, 2011, pp. 121-125.