Dean (decanus, from δέκα, ten), an ecclesiastical title which has had several applications.
(1.) The oldest use of it was to designate an officer in the ancient monasteries, in which every ten monks were subject to one called the decanus, or dean, from his presiding over ten; and every hundred had another officer called centenarius, from his presiding over one hundred. The business of the dean was to exact every man's daily task, and to bring it to the oeconomus, or steward of the house, who himself gave a monthly account to the father of all. The word dean is occasionally used in early writers for archpresbyter.
(2.) In the Church of England there are two sorts of deans: 1st, the dean of a cathedral, who is an ecclesiastical magistrate, next in degree to the bishop. He is chief of the chapter, and is called a dean (decanus) because he formerly presided over ten prebendaries or canons. He is by law a sole corporation — that is, he represents a whole succession, and is capable of taking an estate as dean and conveying it to his successors. 2d, rural deans, whose office is of ancient date in the Church of England, long prior to the Reformation, and which many of the bishops are now reviving. Their chief duty is to visit a certain number of parishes, and to report their condition to the bishop. There are two means of creating deans, because there are two foundations of cathedral churches in England, the old and the new. Those of the old foundation are appointed to their dignity much like bishops, the king first issuing his congi d'elire to the chapter, the chapter then choosing, and the bishop confirming and giving his mandate to install them.
(3.) The word dean is also applied in England to the chief officers of certain peculiar churches or chapels, as the dean of the king's chapel, the dean of the arches, the dean of St. George's Chapel at Windsor, and the dean of Bocking, in Essex.
(4.) The dean and chapter constitute the governing body of a cathedral. A chapter consists of the dean, with a certain number of canons or prebendaries, heads of the church capita ecclesiae. They are the council of the bishop, to assist him with their advice in affairs of religion as well as in the temporal concerns of his see. When the rest of the clergy were settled in the several parishes of each diocese, these were reserved for the celebration of divine service in the bishop's own cathedral; and the chief of them, who presided over the rest, obtained the name of decanus, or dean, being prob. ably at first appointed to superintend ten canons or prebendaries. The dean and chapter are the nominal electors of a bishop.
(5.) The dean of a college faculty is its presiding officer. — Siegel, Handbuch d. christl. Alterthümer, 1:485; Hook, Church Dictionary, s.v. SEE CHAPTER.