Abbot (2)

Abbot (sometimes written abbat), the head or superior of an abbey or monastery, corresponding to abbess for a house of nuns.

1. Different Kinds. — Abbots were distinguished by the epithets commendatory, crosiered, field, lay, mitred, oecumenical (i.e. general), according to circumstances. SEE ABBOT (in vol. 1).

2. The Election of Abbots. — Thomassin (Discipline de l'Eglise) states that after A.D. 500 the bishops were the ordinary and universal collators to all benefices, and that the privilege of electing abbots was granted subsequently to monasteries, and by its general use became at last a common right. But he does not well prove his statement; and, on the other hand, it is certain that bishops in the time of St. Benedict had little to do with the election of abbots. The rule of that saint, A.D. 526, expressly enacts that the abbot shall be chosen by the whole community. Upon the occasion of an election, leave was sought, first of all from the prince, and in certain cases the consent of the bishop of the diocese was required; after this, a day was fixed for the election, and all absent electors notified by letter; the latter, however, having the privilege of voting by proxy if necessarily absent. The three days previous having been passed in fasting, on the day of election, the mass of the Holy Spirit being ended, all the brethren assembled in the chapter-house, and the chapter De Ordinando Abbate and, the constitution of the Lateran De Electione Facienda per Scrutinium, etc., were read. The election was then made in one of three ways: 1. Per inspirationem, i.e. the whole fraternity with one voice required the same man for abbot. 2. Per scrutiniunm, i.e. by electing three members of the fraternity to receive secretly the votes of the others. 3. Per compromissum, i.e. when certain members of the fraternity were appointed to elect an abbot. The election having been pronounced, the abbot elect was led into the abbey church, and, receiving from the altar the pastoral staff, was conducted to the abbot's seat in the choir. In the chapter-house he took the oath upon the gospels to preserve the liberties and privileges of the house; after which the members of the fraternity were introduced to him, kissed him, and promised obedience.

3. Confirmation and Benediction. — After election, the assent of the prince having been obtained, the confirmation of the election was required. This originally belonged to the bishop of the diocese, but afterwards passed into the hands of the pope, who appointed a person to see whether the election had been proper, and, if so, to confirm it. Subsequently, the different orders obtained of the pope the privilege of electing one of their number a local prelate, i.e. a person who, having received the confirmation of his own election from the pope, had the power to confirm the elections of the abbots of the order to which he belonged. The benediction was received from the bishop three days after the confirmation in the presence of two other abbots. The benediction of an abbot was not absolutely essential, and yet without it an abbot could not confer orders nor exercise many other privileges.

4. Duties, Power, etc. — The duties of abbots (according to the rule of St. Benedict) were to instruct by their conversation and to edify by their example; to care for the spiritual and temporal affairs of their abbeys; to act as fathers to all, without respect of persons; etc. Novices received the tonsure from the abbot upon entering the monastic state. It was the duty of the abbot to proceed to Rome every three years, unless excused by the pope; to administer the eucharist on Holy Thursday; to feed twelve poor persons during Lent; to clean the sanctum sanctorum on Easter-eve; to perform the office of cook on Christmas-day and at Easter to give the blessing at table; to keep the keys of the abbey at night, etc. (Marthne, De Ant. Monach. Rit.). The power of the abbot was almost absolute. In spiritual matters he could excommunicate and grant dispensations to his monks; he could, either in person or by deputy, absolve them; he could reserve certain cases (specified in the bull of Clement VIII, 1593) to himself. He could not, however, without the consent of the community, profess novices, nor nominate to the abbey benefices, nor depose the conventual priors elected canonically by the chapters. He could bless the ornaments of the church and the altar of his monastery, but not the chalices, nor anything that required unction, without the pope's leave. He could give the tonsure and the four lowest orders in cases where he possessed episcopal jurisdiction or had papal authority to do so. In temporal matters the abbot could buy, sell, bargain, exchange, etc., but could not alienate the goods or property of the monastery, nor give up any of its privileges, nor dispose of the savings which he might have made.

5. Rights, Prerogatives, etc.

(1.) Abbots took rank immediately after the bishop, and with them had the title of prelate.

(2.) Many abbots had the privilege granted them by the pope of wearing within their own churches the gloves, mitre, and pastoral staff in common with the bishops.

(3.) Abbots had the right of giving the benediction within their own churches after vespers, mass, and matins, but could not do so without special permission when a bishop was present.

(4.) Certain abbots had the privilege of wearing the episcopal vestments, such as the rochet, but only of the color of their order.

(5.) According to the reply of Gregory XIII to questions put to him by the Council of Rouen in 1581, the following is the order of precedence observed in synods:

[1] Abbots who have received the benediction and who are privileged to use the mitre; [2] abbots commendatory; [3] dignitaries of cathedrals; [4] proctors.

6. Deposition. — Abbots immediately subject to the holy see could be deposed by the pope alone; those not exempt, by their bishops, or by their superiors, or the general chapter. The crimes specially punished with deposition were incontinence or extravagance. See Gilbert, Inst. Eccles. p. 368; Bingham, Christ. Antiq. bk. 7 ch. iii, § 12 sq.

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