Pluralities is a term used in canon law for the possession by one person of two or more ecclesiastical offices, whether of dignity or emolument. This practice, it is held by Non-Episcopalians, was generally forbidden in the early Church, and they quote for their authority the instructions of the apostle Paul (Tit 1:5). Others contend even that, instead of a plurality of churches to one pastor, we ought to have a plurality of pastors to one church (Ac 14:23). Episcopalians contend there is no impropriety in a presbyter holding more than one ecclesiastical benefice. A bishop could not hold two dioceses; a presbyter, however, might officiate in more than one parochial church, but not in two dioceses. In the Church of England pluralities originated in the poorness of many of the livings. Originally a clergyman might hold two or more livings if under the nominal value of £8. The distance between them was fixed by the canon law as not to be greater than thirty miles, but custom now tolerates forty-five. Two thousand parishes, it is said, want in this way a resident pastor. By those who thus evade the Canon, it is held that the prohibition is not absolute, and admits of possible exception, the natural ground of the prohibition being the impossibility, in ordinary cases, of the same individual adequately discharging the duties of more than one office, and that therefore, in cases in which this impossibility does not exist, the union of two or more offices in the hands of one person might, speaking absolutely. be permitted without infringing the divine law. Hence canonists distinguish between "compatible" and "incompatible" benefices or dignities. Two benefices may be incompatible in three ways: 1, If each requires residence (ratione residentice); 2, if the duties of both fall to be discharged at one and the same time (ratione servitii); 3, if the revenue of either fully suffices for the becoming maintenance of the incumbent (ratione sentationis). In other cases, benefices or dignities are considered compatible, and with the due dispensation may be held by the same person. The rules by which dispensations from the law of residence are to be regulated, as well as the penalties for its violation, whether on the part of the patron or on that of the recipient, have formed the subject of frequent legislation, as in the third and the fourth councils of the Lateran, in the decretals of Innocent III and many other popes, and especially in those of the Council of Trent. In general, it may be said that the canon law regards as incompatible, 1, two benefices, each having the cure of souls; 2, two "dignities;" 3, a "dignity" and a cure of souls; 4, a cure of souls and a simple benefice requiring residence. In other cases than these, the pope is held to have the power of dispensing. There is no department of discipline, however, in which the tendency to relaxation has been greater or more persistent; and one of the gravest of the abuses of the Church was the prevalence of pluralism of incompatible benefices, even of bishoprics; and although a constant effort was made to prevent this abuse, the evasions of the law were not only frequent, but even screened from punishment. By 13 and 14 Victoria, c. 98, it is provided that no incumbent of a benefice shall take and hold together with it another benefice, unless the churches are within three miles of one another by the nearest road, and the annual value of one of them does not exceed £100. Nor can two benefices be held together if the population of one exceeds 3000, and that of the other exceeds 500. The word benefice, in this sense, includes any perpetual curacy, endowed public chapel, parochial chapelry, or district chapelry. But a dispensation or license can be obtained from the archbishop, so as to allow two benefices to be held together; and if the archbishop refuse his license, the party may appeal to the Privy Council. A special provision is also contained in the statute whereby the head ruler of any college or hall in the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, or warden of Durham University, is prohibited from taking any cathedral preferment, or any other benefice. If any spiritual person holding a benefice shall accept another benefice contrary to the statute, the first benefice shall ipso facto become void. At the same time provision is made by statutes for uniting benefices where the aggregate population does not exceed 1500, and the aggregate yearly value does not exceed £500. In Ireland, no faculty or dispensation can be granted to any spiritual person to hold two or more benefices. In Scotland, before the Reformation, pluralities were also common. Abbacies and priories were likewise often bestowed in commendam. SEE COMMENDAM. Of the twenty abbots that sat in the Parliament which decreed the Reformation, fourteen were commendators. Thus speaks the Second Book of Discipline: "Meikle less is it lawful that only person among these men sould have fyve, sax, ten, or twenty kirks, or mae, all having the charge of salles: and bruik the patrimonie thairof, either be admission of the prince or of the kirk, in this licht of the evangell; for it is but mockage to crave reformation where sic lyke hes place." The question of pluralities in the Church of Scotland was raised in 1779, renewed in 1813, and the General Assembly decided against them in 1814 by an act which, however, was repealed in 1816. In 1817 it was enacted that no professor could hold a parish unless it was near the seat of the university. The question was again raised and keenly debated in 1824 to wit, the holding of a chair in a college and of a parochial charge at the same time. The university commission soon after disapproved of the practice, but not the General Assembly of that period. The tenure of many benefices by one person was finally abolished in the Church of England by I and II Victoria, c. 106. In the Roman Catholic Church this practice has been forbidden from a very early period in its history, as by the councils of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) and that of Nice (A.D. 787), and is still prohibited both by the Roman Catholic canon law and by statute law in the Established Church of England. But the prohibition is evaded in various ways: and in all established churches pluralism, in one form or another, is not uncommon. See Hammond, Canons of the Church, p. 105 sq.

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