(Gr. πατριά, family, and ἄοχων, head or ruler) are in the Christian Church ecclesiastical dignitaries, or bishops, so called from the paternal authority which they are claimed to have exercised. In the ancient Christian Church patriarchs were next in order to metropolitans or primates. They were originally styled archbishops and exarchs, and were the bishops of certain great metropolitan sees, and though they held rank next to the metropolitans, they enjoyed a jurisdiction almost identical with that of the metropolitan in his own province. The territory over which they ruled was after their own office called a patriarchate.
The title Patriarch, which is of Eastern origin, is almost synonymous with primate (q.v.), and is by those who use it derived from Ac 7:8. They claim that the apostles were so called because they were regarded by the apostolic Christians as the fathers of all other churches. Baronius and Schelstraate derive it from St. Peter only, as they do the pope's supremacy, SEE POPE, but other Romanists assert that the patriarchs took their rise a short time previous to the Council of Nice; and a third party, among whom is Balzamon and other Greek writers, maintain that they were first instituted by that council. In confutation of the last opinion, it may be stated that the evidence in favor of an earlier origin is too strong to be easily set aside; and, further, that the words of Jerome, upon which the error is founded, refer to the canonical confirmation of those rights, titles, and privileges which custom had already established, and not to the creation of any new dignities. The patriarchal sees were by the sixth canon of the Council of Nice acknowledged as of" ancient custom." Originally the name patriarch seems to have been given commonly to bishops, or at least was certainly given in a less special sense than what it eventually bore. The date at which the title first assumed its now accepted use we think cannot be exactly determined. It is certain, however, that even as late as the time of the Council of Nice no supremacy was recognized in the patriarchs over the provincial metropolitans, and that the authority which the patriarchs have since exercised was arrogated by them at a later period. It was by degrees that the supremacy of the patriarchate rose paramount to all other ecclesiastical dignities; for we find that about the close of the 4th century the established privileges of the patriarchs included, among other things, the right of consecrating bishops, summoning district councils, appointing vicars for remote provinces, invested with their own authority, and giving a decisive judgment in those cases of appeal which came before them from other courts. In short, nothing was done without consulting them, and their decrees were executed with the same regularity and respect as those of princes. The first time we meet with the name patriarch given to any bishop by public authority of the Church is in the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, which mentions the most holy patriarchs, particularly Leo, patriarch of great Rome. Among private authors, the first who mentions patriarchs by name is Socrates, who' wrote his history about the year 440, eleven years before the Council of Chalcedon. At first each quarter of the Christian world lad its patriarch-Europe, Rome; Asia, Antioch; Africa, Alexandria: at a later period there were two more-those of Jerusalem, as the mother of all churches, "the apostolical see" of St. James the First, founded by the Council of Chalcedon: and Constantinople, by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 451), as Byzantium was then another Rome and imperial city: All these were independent of one another, till Rome by encroachment, and Constantinople by law, gained a superiority over some of the rest. The subordinate patriarchs nevertheless still retained the title of exarchs of the diocese, and continued to sit and vote in councils. The contests between the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople were among the chief causes of the Greek schism. SEE GREEK CHURCH. After the Greek schism, and particularly after the establishment of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, Latin prelates were appointed with the title and rank of patriarch in the four great Eastern sees. It was hoped that the union of the churches, effected at the Council of Florence, would have put an end to the contest thus created; but that union proved transitory, and the double series of patriarchs has been continued to the present day. The Nestorian and Eutychian sections of .the Eastern churches, too, have each their own patriarch, and the head of that portion of the former which in the 16th century was reconciled with the Roman see, although known by the title of Catholicos, has the rank and authority of patriarch. SEE NESTORIANS. Besides these, which are called the Greater Patriarchates, there have been others in the Western Church known by the name of Minor Patriarchates. Of these the most ancient were those of Aquileia and Grado. The latter was transferred to Venice in 1451; the former was suppressed by Benedict XIV. France also had a patriarch of Bourges; Spain, for her colonial missions, a patriarch of the Indies, and Portugal a patriarch of Lisbon. These titles, however, are little more than honorary. The Armenians likewise have their own patriarch at Jerusalem.
In the non-united Greek Church the ancient system of the three patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem is nominally maintained, and the authority of the patriarchs is recognized by their own communion. But the jurisdiction-limits of the patriarch of Constantinople, who is acknowledged as the head, have been much modified. The patriarch resides at Constantinople, and is styled the thirteenth apostle. The right of election is vested in the archbishops and bishops, but the power of confirming the appointment is exercised by the sultan of Turkey who exacts twenty-five thousand crowns, and sometimes more, on the occasion of the patriarch's installation. Besides this immense sum, the various fees of the ministers of state and other officers swell the oppressive amount so much that the patriarch is generally encumbered with heavy debts during the period of his patriarchate. Before an election, it is usual for the bishops to apply to the grand vizier for his license to proceed; he replies by summoning them to his presence, when he demands if they are fully determined to proceed with the election. Being answered in the affirmative, his consent is then given. The election over, the vizier presents the patriarch with a white horse, a black capuche, a crosier, and an embroidered caftan. A pompous and magnificent procession is then formed, consisting of the patriarch, attended by a long train of Turkish officers, the Greek clergy, and a vast concourse of people. The patriarch is received at the church door by the principal archbishops, who hold wax tapers in their hands; and the bishop of Heraclea, as chief archbishop, takes him by the hand and conducts him to his throne, and he is then invested with the insignia of his office. When the patriarch subscribes any ecclesiastical document his title is, "By the mercy of God, archbishop of Constantinople, the new Rome, and oecumenical patriarch." The sultan retains the unmitigated power of deposition, banishment, or execution; and it is needless to add that even the paltry exaction on institution is motive sufficient for the frequent exertion of that power; and it has sometimes happened that the patriarch, on some trifling dispute, has been obliged to purchase his confirmation in office. He possesses the privilege (in name, perhaps, rather than in reality) of nominating his brother patriarchs; and, after their subsequent election by the bishops of their respective patriarchates, of confirming the election; but the barat of the sultan is still necessary to give authority both to themselves and even to every bishop whom they may eventually appoint in the execution of their office. The election of the other patriarchs, as they are farther removed from the center of oppression, is less restrained, and their deposition less frequent. But this comparative security is attended by little power or consequence; and two at least of the three are believed to number very few subjects who remain faithful to the orthodox Church.
The patriarch of Antioch has two rivals who assume the same title and dignity; the one as the head of the Syrian Jacobite Church, the other as the Maronite patriarch, or head of the Syrian Catholics. The patriarch of Alexandria, who resides generally at Cairo, has also his Coptic rival; and the few who are subject to him are chiefly found in the villages or capital of Lower Egypt. The patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem reside usually at Constantinople, and enjoy very slender and precarious revenues. The Russo-Greek Church withdrew from the patriarchate of Constantinople partially in the 17th, and finally in the 18th century. There was then established at Moscow a metropolitan, whose name and authority was finally transformed into that of patriarch. But the emperor Peter the Great eventually abolished the titles altogether. SEE RUSSIA. Greece proper has been practically separated from the patriarchate of Constantinople since the independent establishment of the kingdom of Greece (q.v.), but its formal separation took place later.
In the Roman Catholic Church the title of patriarch is now little more than an honorary title. The dress of the five patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, ranking next to cardinals, resembles that of cardinals except that the color is purple. In the papal chapel they wear over their soutane and rochets amices and a purple serge cappa, gathered up with a fold under the left arm, with a white ermine tippet, and when the pope officiates, plain linen mitres and copes of the color of the day. The Greek patriarchs have a lampadouchon, or lighted candlestick, carried before them. In the 12th century the right, hitherto exclusively attached to the pontificate, of having a cross borne before them was conceded to all patriarchs and metropolitans, and granted to all archbishops from the time of Gregory IX. See Bingham, Origines Eccles. bk. 2, ch. xvii, § 12, 19; Morin, De Patriarcharum origine Exerc. 3, etc.; Ziegler, Pragmat. Gesch. der kirchl. Veof. Formen, p. 164 sq.; Siegel, Christl. Alterthumer, 3:288; 4:195 sq.; Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 219, 228 sq.; Neale, Hist. Eastern Church (Introd.), ch. i.