Tithes (Anglo-Saxon, teotha, a tenth) a tenth part of the produce of the land, which by ancient usage, and subsequently by law, is set aside for the support of the clergy and other religious uses. In the Christian dispensation the very circumstance of the existence of the clergy is supposed by many to imply a certain fixed provision for their maintenance. This obligation has been put forward in ecclesiastical legislation from the earliest period. The Apostolic Canons, the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Church, and the works of Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the other fathers of both divisions of the Church, abound with allusions to it. In the early Christian Church the custom of consecrating to religious purposes a tenth of the income was voluntary, and it was not made obligatory until the Council of Tours in 567. The second Council of Macon, in 585, enjoined the payment of tithes under pain of excommunication; and Charlemagne, by his capitularies, formally established the practice within those portions of the ancient Roman empire to which his legislation extended.
The introduction of tithes into England is ascribed to Offa, king of Mercia, at the close of the 8th century; and the usage passed into other divisions of Saxon England, and was finally made general by Ethelwolf. They were made obligatory in Scotland in the 9th century, and not long after in Ireland.. At first the choice of the Church to whom a person paid tithes was optional; but by a decretal of Innocent III, addressed to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1200, all were directed to pay to the clergy of their respective parishes. According to English law, tithes are of three kinds- predial, mixed, and personal. Predial tithes are those which arise immediately from the ground, as grain, fruit, herbs, etc. Mixed tithes are those proceeding from things nourished by the earth, as calves, lambs, pigs, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. Personal tithes are those arising from the profits of personal industry in the pursuit of a trade, profession, or occupation. The latter were generally paid in the form of a voluntary offering at Easter, or some other period of the year. The law exempted mines, quarries, wild animals, game, fish, and also tame animals kept for pleasure, and not for use or profit.
Another and a more arbitrary distinction is into great and small — the first being tithes of grain, hay, wood, etc.; the second being the other kind of predial, as well as all personal and mixed tithes. The great tithes of a parish belonged to the rector, and the small tithes to the vicar. Tithes were originally paid in kind, as the tenth sheaf, the tenth lamb; but the inconvenience and trouble involved in this mode of payment led to the adoption of other methods. This was done either by the payment of a fixed amount each year, irrespective of actual produce, or by a money payment mutually agreed upon; by a partial substitution of payment or labor, as when a person contributed a smaller amount of produce, but free from the expense of harvesting, etc.; or by the payment of a bulk sum in redemption of the impost, either for a time or forever, as the case might be, so that the land became tithe-free. By 1 Elizabeth, c. 19, and 13 Elizabeth, c. 10, such alienations of tithe-payment were restricted to a term of twenty-one years; or three lives.
Originally convents occupying lands in England paid tithes to the parochial clergy; but by a decretal of Paschal II they were exempted from such payments in regard to lands held by themselves in their own occupation. This exemption was confined by subsequent legislation to the four orders, Templars, Hospitallers, Cistercians, and Premonstratensians, and after the fourth Council of Lateran, A.D. 1215, only in respect of lands held by them before that year. At the Reformation many of the forfeited Church lands when sold were held free of tithes.
These partial exemptions, and the fact that the tithes were a tax for the support of the clergy of the Established Church, made it very unpopular with those who were obliged to pay, and especially so to Dissenters. A measure of commutation became absolutely necessary, but, although recommended as far back as 1822, did not become law until 1838. Various statutes for England or Ireland have since been enacted regulating the payment of tithes (6 and 7 William IV, c. 71; 7 William IV and 1 Victoria, c. 69; 1 and 2 Victoria, c. 64; 2 and 3 Victoria, c. 32; and 5 and 6 Victoria, c. 54). Their object for England is to substitute a money rent-charge, varying on a scale regulated by the average price of grain for seven years for all the other forms of payment. In Ireland the settlement was effected by a commutation of tithe into a money rent-charge three fourths the former value. The Disestablishment Act of 1869 abolished tithes and created a common fund for the support of the Protestant Episcopal Church and clergy. In France tithes were abolished at the Revolution, and this example was followed by the other Continental countries. In the Canadian provinces of Quebec, tithes are still collected by virtue of the old French law, yet in force there. In the United States, tithes are exacted by the Mormon hierarchy. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. bk. 5, ch. 5, § 1 sq.