Parish is now generally used to designate a certain extent of territory in city or country, with its church and church equipments. The word is from the Greek παροικία, which signifies habitation, sojourning, or living as a stranger or inmate; for so it is used among, the classical Greek writers. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew. word גֵּר, a foreigner, by πάροικος (Ge 15:13, etc.), and the word מָגוֹר, a dwelling-place, by παροικία (Ps 119:54). The primitive Christians seem to have obtained the word from the Jews. These were in the habit of calling
sojourners in a society — i.e. Jews who had come from foreign parts and established themselves either in a synagogue of their own or a temporary place of worship — the παροικία. At the beginning of Christianity its adherents were very much in the condition of these Jewish sojourners. The primitive Christians lived, as we know, in a retired condition, sequestered from the world; and little mixing with its affairs. For this reason St. Peter addresses them ώς παροικους, etc., "as strangers and pilgrims" (1Pe 2:11). This number of strangers in the heathen cities was called the παροικία, over which there was set, by apostolical authority, a bishop, a προεστώς, a chazan, an inspector, or a rosh cohel, a head of the congregation; all which names denoted the episcopal authority, and which in a little time centered in the one most usual name of ἐπίσκοπος, or bishop, as is plainly seen by the Ignatian epistles. Thus the ἐπισκοπος and παροικία became relative terms; he that had the superintendency of the congregation, whether one or more, was called the bishop, and the congregation under his care was called the παροικία. Hence, in the earliest days of the Greek Church, the word παροικία was used to signify what we now call a diocese; and thus, in the apostolic canons, a bishop that leaves his diocese for another is to be reduced to lay-communion. Hence it is said, "The bishop of the diocese of Alexandria departed this life." And again, "the glory of the diocese of Caesarea." The Latins took up the same way of expression, from the Greek, denoting a diocese by the word parochia, which mode of expression lasted- until after the time of Charlemagne. But it is to be observed that when the word parochia signified a diocese, the word diocesis signified a parish. So in the Council of Agatha, presbyter dum diocesin tenet, "while the presbyter is in possession of his living." And in the third Council of Orleans, diocesis is the same with basilica, a parish church.
The distribution into parishes appears to be comparatively modern. Originally all the clergy were (in the opinion of the Episcopalian churches) but coadjutors of the bishop, and served in his church, at which all the faithful assembled. Necessity, no doubt, and convenience gave rise to the division of parishes; for when the number of believers so increased in large and populous cities that a single church could not care for them, there was a necessity of erecting other churches. At Alexandria, and afterwards at Rome. a number of minor churches were opened, which were served by the clergy, at first not permanently attached to them, but sent from the principal or bishop's church, and in progress of time permanently fixed in the charge. The city of Rome had above forty such churches, there called tituli (q.v.), before the end of the 3d century. In France the Council of Vaison speaks of country parishes in the beginning of the 5th century. In England we have not so early an account of them, because the records we have remaining of the ancient British Church make no mention of parishes. Dugdale and others think Honorius, the fifth archbishop of Canterbury, divided so much of the nation as was converted into parishes about the year 640; but others understand this division rather of dioceses than parishes. In England the first legislation on the subject occurs in the laws of Edgar, about 970. The parochial division of districts seems in great measure to have followed the civil distribution into manors, or other feudal divisions of territory; and it is probable that it is to the same state of things the English owe the practice of lay patronage, the priest officiating in a manorial church being chosen, with the bishop's consent, by the lord of the manor. The parochial revenue; however, by no means followed the same rules which now prevail. Settlement in a parish, whether in city or country, did not immediately entitle a man to the revenue arising from that cure, whether in tithes, oblations, or any other kind; for anciently all Church revenues were delivered into the common stock of the bishop's church, whence, by direction and approbation of the bishop, a monthly or annual division was made among the clergy under his jurisdiction. At Constantinople no parish church had any appropriated revenues till the middle of the 5th century. In the Western Church, particularly in Spain, in the middle of the 6th century, the bishops and city clergy still had their revenues out of a common fund. SEE MENSA. But the country clergy were upon a different footing; and from this time we may date the appropriation of revenues in Spain to the country parochial churches. In Germany and France the revenues of the parochial churches seem to have continued in the hands of the bishops some ages longer. Broughton says: Some are of opinion that. the bishops had their portion of the ecclesiastical revenues with the parochial clergy for a considerable time after the first settlement of parishes; for they suppose that originally the bishop's cathedral was the only church in a diocese from whence itinerant or occasional preachers were sent to convert the country people, who for some time resorted to the cathedral for divine worship. Afterwards; by degrees, other churches were built for the convenience of such as were at too great a distance from the cathedral, some by the liberality of the people themselves, others by the bishops, and others by the Saxon kings; but chiefly the lords of manors were the great instruments in this work of founding parish churches. The bishops seem voluntarily to have relinquished their title to parochial revenues, though whether they made any canon about it is uncertain." At first, all ecclesiastical income, from whatever district, was carried into a 'common' fund, which was placed at the disposal of the bishop, and was generally divided into four parts-for the bishop, for the clergy, for the poor, and for the Church. By degrees, however, beginning first with the rural parishes, and ultimately extending to those of the cities, the parochial revenues were placed at the disposal of the parish clergy (subject to the same general threefold division, for the clergy, for the poor, and for the Church); and in some places an abusive claim, which was early reprobated, arose upon the part of the lord of the manor to a portion of the revenue. Properly, a parish has but one church;' but when the district is extensive, one or more minor (succursal) churches, sometimes called "chapels of ease," are permitted.
"In the law of England, a parish is an important subdivision of the country for purposes of local self-government, most of the local rates and taxes being confined within that area, and to a certain extent self-imposed by the parties who pay them. The origin of the division of England into parishes is not very clearly ascertained by the authorities. Some have asserted that the division had an ecclesiastical origin, and that a parish was merely a district sufficient- for one priest to attend to. But others have asserted that parishes had a civil origin long anterior to ecclesiastical distinctions advantage being merely taken to engraft these on so convenient an existing subdivision of the country; and that a parish was a subdivision of the ancient hundred, known as a hill or town, and through its machinery the public taxes were anciently collected. Hobart fixes the date of the institution of civil parishes in 1179, and his account has been generally followed. Much difficulty has occasionally arisen in fixing the boundaries of parishes. Blackstone says the boundaries of parishes were originally ascertained by those of manors, and that it very seldom happened that a manor extended itself over more parishes than one, though there were often many manors in one parish. Nevertheless, the boundaries of parishes are often intermixed, which Blackstone accounts for by the practice of the lords of adjoining manors obliging their tenants to appropriate their tithes towards the officiating minister of the church, which was built for the whole. Even in the present day these boundaries often give rise to litigation, and the courts have always decided the question according to the proof of custom. This custom is chiefly established by the ancient practice of perambulating the parish in Rogation-week in each year. SEE PERAMBULATION. There are some places as to which it is uncertain whether they are parishes or not, and hence it has been usual to call them reputed parishes. There are also places called extra-parochial places, which do not belong to any parish, such as forest and abbey lands. In these cases the persons inhabiting were not subject to the usual parochial rates and taxes, and other incidents of parochial life. But in 1857 a statute was passed which put extra-parochial places upon a similar footing to parishes, by giving power to justices, and in some cases to the Poor-law Board, to annex them to adjoining parishes, after which they are dealt with in much the same way as other places. One of the chief characteristics of a parish is that there is a parish church, and an incumbent and churchwardens attached to it, and by this machinery the spiritual wants of the parishioners are attended to. These several parish churches, and the endowments connected therewith, belong in a certain sense to the nation, and the incumbents are members of the Established Church of England, and amenable to the discipline of the bishops and the spiritual courts. The private patronage, or right of presenting a clergyman to an incumbency, is technically called an advowson, and is generally held by an individual as a salable property, having a market value. The patron has an absolute right (quite irrespective of the wishes of the parishioners) to present a clerk or ordained priest of the Church of England to a vacant benefice, and it is for the bishop to see to his qualifications. The bishop is the sole judge of these qualifications, and if he approves of them, the. clerk or priest. is instituted and inducted into the benefice, which ceremony completes his legal title to the fruits of the benefice. The incumbents of parish churches are called rectors, or vicars, or perpetual curates, the distinction being chiefly founded on the state of the tithes. When the benefice is full, then the freehold of the church vests in the rector or parson, and so does the church-yard; but he holds these only as a trustee for the use of the parishioners. There are certain duties which the incumbent of the parish church, is bound by law to perform for the benefit of the parishioners. He is bound, as a general rule, to reside in the parish, so as to be ready to administer the rites of the Church to them. The first duty of the incumbent is to perform public worship in, the parish church every Sunday, according to the form prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, which is part of the statute-law of England. He must adhere strictly to, the forms and ceremonies, and even to the dress prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer and Canons. The incumbent is also bound to baptize the children of all the parishioners, and to administer the rite of the Lord's Supper to the parishioners not less than three times each year. The incumbent is also bound to allow the parishioners to be buried in the church-yard of the parish, if there is accommodation, and to read the burial-service at each interment. He is also bound to marry the parishioners on their tendering themselves, and complying with the marriage acts, within the parish church and during canonical hours, and it is said he is liable to an action of damages if he refuse. In respect to burials and marriages, certain fees are frequently payable by custom; but unless such a custom exists, no fee is exigible for performance of these duties. In many cases, where one church had become insufficient for. the increased population, the old parish has been subdivided under the Church Building Acts, the first of which was passed in 1818, into two or more ecclesiastical districts or parishes, for each of which a new church was built, and an incumbent appointed. The incumbents in these ecclesiastical parishes have generally been provided for by the incumbent of the mother-parish or by voluntary- benefactors; and by the aid of pew-rents. But these ecclesiastical parishes, so far as the poor and. other secular purposes are concerned, make no change in the old law. Another incident of the parish church is that there must be churchwardens appointed annually, who are accordingly leading parochial officers, and whose duty is partly ecclesiastical and partly civil. Their civil duties consist chiefly in this, that they must join the overseers in many of the duties arising out of the management of the poor, and incidental duties imposed by statute. But their primary duty is to attend to the repair and good order of the. fabric of the church. The common law requires that there should be two churchwardens one of whom is appointed by the incumbent, and the other is chosen by the parishioners in vestry assembled, but sometimes this rule is varied by a local custom. The appointment and election take place in Easter-week of each year. In electing the people's churchwarden there is often much local excitement, and it is common to poll the parish, all those who pay poor-rates being entitled to vote, the number of votes varying according to the rent, but no person having more than six votes. SEE CHURCH WARDENS. The next most important business connected with the parish is that which concerns the poor, the leading principle being that each parish is bound to pay the expense of relieving its own poor. Another important feature of the parish is that all the highways within the parish must be kept in repair by the parish, i.e. by the inhabitants who are rated to the poor. The above duties in reference to the parish church, the poor, and the highways are the leading duties attaching to the parish as a parish: but over and above these, many miscellaneous duties have been imposed on the parish officers, particularly on the overseers and churchwardens. In nearly all cases where the parish, as a parish, is required to act, the mode in which it does so is by the machinery of a vestry. A vestry is a meeting of all the inhabitants householders rated to the poor. It is called by the churchwardens, and all questions are put to the vote. Any rate-payer who thinks the majority of those present do not represent the majority of the whole parishioners is entitled to demand a poll. At these meetings great excitement, often prevails, especially in meetings respecting church- rates. Wherever a parish improvement is found to be desirable, the vestry may meet and decide whether it is to be proceeded with, in which case they have powers of rating themselves for the expense. Such is the case as to the establishment of baths and wash-houses, watching and lighting. Returns are made of all parish and local rates to Parliament every year. The parish property, except 'the goods of the parish church, which are vested in the churchwardens, is vested in the overseers, who hold and manage the same, requiring the consent of the Poor-law Board in order to sell it. Of late a statute has authorized benefactors to dedicate greens or playgrounds to the inhabitants of parishes through the intervention of trustees." — Chambers.
In Scotland the division into parishes has existed from the most ancient times, and is recognized for certain civil purposes relative to taxation and otherwise, as well as for purposes purely ecclesiastical. The Court of Session, acting as the commission of teinds, may unite two or more parishes into one; or may divide a parish, or disjoin part of it, with consent of the heritors (or landholders) of a major part of the valuation; or apart from their consent, if it be shown that there is within the disjoined part a sufficient place of worship, and if the titulars of triends or others who have to pay no less, than three fourths of the additional stipend, do not object. By Ac 7; Ac 8 Vict. c. 44, any district where there is an endowned church may be erected into a parish quoad sacra, for such purposes as are purely ecclesiastical. Endowed Gaelic congregations in the large towns of the Lowlands may similarly be erected into parishes quoad sacra. The principal application of the parochial division for civil purposes relates to the administration, of the poor-law. Under the old system the administrators of the poor-law were the kirk-session in county parishes, and the magistrates, or certain managers selected by them, in burghal parishes. The Ac 8; Ac 9 Vict. c. 83, which remodeled the poor-law of Scotland, retained the old administrative body so long as there was no assessment; but, on a parish being assessed, substituted for it a new one, consisting in rural parishes of the owners of heritable property of £20 yearly value, of the magistrates of any royal burgh within the bounds, of the kirk-session, a certain number of members chosen by the persons assessed; and in burghal parishes of. members, not exceeding thirty, chosen by the persons assessed, four members named by the magistrates, and not above four by the kirk-session or sessions. The Board of Supervision may unite two or more parishes into a combination for poor-law purposes. There is not the same extensive machinery for parochial self-government that exists in England. The burden of supporting the fabric of the church falls on the heritors, and there are no churchwardens. Highways are not repairable by the parish, and there are no elections of surveyors or way-wardens. The meeting of the inhabitants in vestry, which so often-takes place in England, is unknown in Scotland, and hence the rate-payers do not interest themselves so much in local affairs. Many of the duties which in England are discharged by parochial officers, are in Scotland discharged by the sheriff-clerk, a county officer. In Scotland there is a school in every parish, while in England the parochial school is unknown. SEE PARISH-SCHOOL.
In Ireland the parish system has undergone considerable modification. It is in its present condition far more liberal than the Church of England parochial system, and may be fairly pronounced republican in character. There is, first, in each diocese a committee of "patronage" or appointment, consisting of the bishop, with two clerical and one lay member, elected by the Diocesan Synod. Then in each parish the parishioners, who must be members of the Church of Ireland, elect three lay communicants to be nominators for the parish. When a vacancy occurs, these two bodies form a Board of Nomination, in which the diocese, in its three orders, bishop, presbyters, and laymen, and the parish, are both fairly represented. The bishop is ex officio president, and has both an ordinary and a casting vote. Provision is made for filling vacancies in both branches of this board. If the bishop should not be satisfied with the fitness of the clergyman so nominated, he may decline to institute; but, if required, must give him his reasons in writing. Provision is also made for an appeal in behalf of the clergyman so rejected. If no nomination is made to the bishop in three months after a vacancy, the appointment lapses to the bishop. If the nominators of any cure shall signify top the bishop, in writing, their desire to leave the nomination to him. he may institute any duly qualified clergyman whom he may think fit. A clergyman resigning cannot withdraw from the duties of his cure until his resignation has been accepted and registered by the bishop and notified to the churchwardens. Nor can an incumbent be removed without his own consent, unless upon the decision of a competent tribunal. These regulations seem fairly to consider the rights of all parties. A parish cannot be kept vacant by its own perversity or negligence, nor any loyal parish unduly obstructed in its choice. A clergyman is not to be dismissed without canonical cause, and by authority, nor yet to be obtruded upon an unwilling people. The bishop's ultimate responsibility and prerogative is recognized, and a fair opportunity given to keep the clergy employed, and to put the right man in the right place. There is besides a general sustentation fund, which is to become the chief support of the clergy, and is intended to give to the ministry an income irrespective of employment, so that congregations may not at their will withhold the pastor's salary.
In the United States the Protestant Episcopal Church adheres to the parish idea. The whole of each diocese is divided into parishes, and the spiritual wants of each geographical parish are confided to the local Church and its pastor. But the parish is of course purely ecclesiastical. There were, however, in our colonial days parishes set off and named by the civil authority. These existed in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, almost coeval with their settlement as colonies of Great Britain. We find notices of such parishes in Virginia as far back as 1629, in Maryland in 1692, in South Carolina in 1708, created such by acts of the colonial assemblies. When the Church was in process of time, established in any of these civil parishes, the ecclesiastical was made coextensive with the colonial parish. The power to divide these parishes is acknowledged to reside in the Diocesan Conventions; and in several dioceses (e.g. Virginia and Maryland) they have legislated fully on the subject. Most of the Episcopal parishes however are of the second class named, and simply mean the congregation statedly worshipping in any given church. . So intermingled are the congregations in large towns and cities, that legislation upon this subject is both delicate and. difficult. The 31st canon of 1832 thus speaks:
"No clergyman belonging to this Church shall officiate, either by preaching, reading prayers, or otherwise, in the parish or within the-parochial cure of another clergyman, unless he have received express permission for that purpose from the minister of the parish or cure, or, in his absence, from the churchwardens and vestrymen, or trustees of the congregation. Where parish boundaries are not defined by law or otherwise, each city, borough, village, town, or township in which there is one-Protestant Episcopal church or congregation, or more than one such church or congregation, shall be held, for all the purposes of this canon, to be the parish or parishes of the Protestant Episcopal clergyman or clergymen having charge of said church or churches, congregation or congregations. And in case of such a vicinity of two or more churches, as that there can be no local boundaries drawn between their respective cures or parishes, it is hereby ordained that in every such case no minister of this Church, other than the parochial clergy of said cures, shall preach within the common limits of the same, in any other place than in one of the churches thereof, without the consent of the major number of the parochial clergy of the said churches." In Massachusetts law a parish signifies an ecclesiastical society, without local reference — that is, those inhabitants of a town who belong to one Church, though they live among people belonging to other churches. The civil functions of the parish officers are now performed in the main by the town organization. The term parish is also used in a popular but inaccurate way to signify the members of the congregation worshipping in any local church of any denomination. It may not be out of place here to add that the Protestant Episcopal notion of the parish is fast dying out in this country. There is now an. agitation on foot to give it greater efficiency by creating such a sustentation fund as the Irish Church has established; but if that should fail, it is likely the parish system will have to be altogether abandoned, or be confined to the narrow limits of its own membership. In 1867 the parochial distribution, gave rise to a most animated discussion. Dr. Stephen Tyng Jr., by invitation of the deceased principal editor of this Cyclopoedia, preached in a Methodist church (St. James's) at New Brunswick, N. J. The rector of the Protestant Episcopal church held his ground invaded, as Dr. Tyng had not asked his consent, and the matter was carried to the highest courts in the Protestant Episcopal Church. There has never been a definite settlement reached. Dr. Tyng, though an offender against the canon, remains in that Church, and his own congregation support the action, frequently repeated since by him and other clergymen of the Protestant Episcopal Church. One of the ablest editorials for the Low-Church view was presented by the American Presbyterian, March 26,1868. The High-Church view was taken by the New York Church Journal, and we refer to its pages for a general representation of the parish question from 1868 to our own time, especially to their publications of Dec. 9,1875, and Feb. 3, 1876. For general inquiry on the parish system we refer to Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 727 sq.; Coleman, Ancient Chrnistianity Exemplfied; Bingham, Christian Antiquities; Siegel, Christliche Alterthumer, 4:378 sq.; Hook, Eccles. Dict. s.v.; Blunt, Hist. Dict. s.v.; Green, Short Hist. of the English People, p. 66 sq.; Walcott, Sacred Archaeology, s.v.; Freeman, Comparative Politics, p. 116, 417.