(Μητροπολίτης) is the name of an ecclesiastical dignitary an episcopal officer who, by virtue of his residence in the capital of a country or province, exercises not only the authority of a presiding officer in his own diocese, but exerts, in some sense, jurisdiction over the other bishops of the same country or province; and in this respect differs from the archbishop (q.v.), who simply enjoys some additional privileges of honors and respect not common to the plain bishop (comp. Schaff, Ch. Hist. 1:270).
The office originated in the Roman countries, when the chief city of a province was called μητρόπολις. The date of its origin cannot be exactly fixed, but "the third century," says Coleman (Manual of Prelacy and Ritualism, page 235), "may be regarded as the period in which it was chiefly consolidated and established." Romanists hold that it can be traced, at least in germ, to the days of the apostles, and that mention is made of the office in the letters of Paul to Timothy and to Titus (comp. Pierre de Marca, Concord. lib. 6, Giorgi, De Antiquo Ital. Metropol.). Several of the Church fathers also mention the fact that the metropolitan office existed in apostolic days (e.g. Chrysostom, 15 Hom. in V. Tim., and Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 3, c. 4); but it is clear that "the name of metropolitan does not occur until the 4th century" (Coleman, Anc. Christianity Exemplified, page 143). The title was first publicly adopted by the Church at the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, and there seems good ground for the belief that, like all other episcopal offices, the metropolitan government " was not the production of a day, but the result of a gradual modification of the diocesan government, by a further concentration of episcopal power, and the extension of its influence over a wider range of territory" (Coleman, Prel. and Rit. page 242; comp. Schaff, Ch. Hist. 2:270).
The following maybe considered as the rights and privileges of the office. The metropolitan had precedence of all other bishops of his province, a decisive voice in their election, and the power of confirming and ordaining them. He summoned provincial councils, presided in them, and drew up the decrees. He had the oversight of the provincial bishops, and the ecclesiastical superintendence of the whole province. He had the privilege of determining all causes of special importance in provincial council, but in concurrence with the other bishops of the province. In extreme cases, appeal was made to him, when he had the power of controlling a provincial bishop, without the assistance of other bishops. He could give and receive letters of communion, and publish and carry into effect laws enacted either by emperors or by councils relating to the Church. The bishops of a province elected and ordained their metropolitan. without the concurrence of the metropolitan of any other province.
The ninth canon of the Council of Antioch (341) thus defines the office of the metropolitan: "The bishops of each eparchy (province) should know that upon the bishop of the metropolis (the municipal capital) also devolves a care for the whole eparchy, because in the metropolis all, who have business, gather together from all quarters. Hence it has been found good that he should also have a precedence in honor, and that the other bishops should do nothing without him-according to the old and still binding canon of our fathers — except that which pertains to the supervision and jurisdiction of their parishes (i.e., dioceses in the modern terminology), and the provinces belonging to them; as in fact they ordain presbyters and deacons, and decide all judicial matters. "Otherwise they ought to do nothing without the bishop of the metropolis, and he nothing without the consent of the other bishops." In the nineteenth canon, this council forbade a bishop being ordained without the presence of the metropolitan, and the presence or concurrence of the majority of the bishops of the province. The writers of the Latin Church use promiscuously the words archbishop and metropolitan, making either name denote a bishop, who, by virtue of his see, presides over or governs several other bishops. Thus in the newly- constituted hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in England the archbishop of Westminster has the rank of metropolitan. In the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland, the archbishops of Armagh, Dublin, Cashel, and Tuam, all possess the same rank. In the Church of England, also, the real meaning of the term metropolitan seems to have been lost sight of, and the archbishops of Canterbury and York, in England, and in Ireland those of Armagh and Dublin, are called metropolitans. The Greeks, however, use the name only to denote him whose see is really a civil metropolis. See Farrar, Eccles. Dict. s.v.; Hook, Church Dict. s.v.; Walcott, Sacred Archaeology, s.v.; Siegel, Handbuch d. christl.-kirchl. Alterthumer, 3:264 sq.; Planck, Gesch. d. christl.-kirchl. Gesellschaftsverfassung, 1:572 sq.; Ziegler, Versuch d. kirchl. Verfassungsformen, page 61 sq.