Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Title of "Excellency" for Bishops

Throughout the ages, Catholic clergy have been styled by various titles.  The most common title is Reverendus.  In addition to the superlative degree thereof (Reverendissimus), clerical dignitaries also were styled with various secular titles such as Dominus (Lordship), Illustrissimus, and Amplitudinis (Grandeur).  Into the twentieth century, bishops continued to be addressed as Most Reverend and Illustrious Lordship, while, in the English speaking world, archbishops were  addressed, in the style of dukes, Your Grace.  Cardinals were and are styled Eminence after the highest officials of the Byzantine court, and the Pope is called Sanctitas (Holiness) or Beatissimus Pater (Most Blessed or Holy Father).

The title of Excellency is secular in origin and began to be given to civil officials such as ambassadors in the eighteenth century.  Thus apostolic nuncios (papal ambassadors) and other dignitaries of the papal court acquired the title Excellentia with the addition of Reverendissima to distinguish it from secular excellencies. Diocesan bishops began to acquire the title with greater frequency in the nineteenth century.  For example, Metropolitan Sheptytsky, who held various state offices in the Austrian Imperial system, was addressed as Excellency inside Austria but as Illustrissimus ac Reverendissimus Dominus by the Roman Curia or Amplitudo Vestra/Votre Grandeur by other clergy.

With the fall of the continental empires  at the end of the First World War, noble titles lost the universal legal force they once possessed and their use began to wane somewhat in civic circles.  The ambassadorial title of Excellency began to be attributed to bishops with greater frequency.  The solemn concordats concluded between the Apostolic See and new European regimes had force of law in both civil and ecclesiastical spheres, and granted state recognition to the Catholic Church and its structures.  Thus, following the conclusion of  the 1925 concordat with Poland, the Roman Curia began to address Polish bishops with the title of Excellency as opposed to Lordship.  Throughout the British Empire, however, the ducal style of Grace for archbishops and Lordship for bishops was recognized in civil law for Anglican hierarchs, the lords spiritual, each of which was a parliamentary peer of the realm. The same titles were used out of courtesy for Catholic bishops of the Empire.

Following the conclusion of the Concordat with Italy and the Lateran Treaty, the Holy See gained international legal recognition.  The Pope, as spiritual and temporal sovereign, was thus able to grant an internationally recognized legal title to all Catholic bishops throughout the world.  In the audience given to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Ceremonial on 11 December 1930, Pope Pius XI decreed that, henceforth, the title of Excellentia Reverendissima (Most Reverend Excellency) was to be used to style both Latin and Oriental patriarchs, apostolic nuncios, archbishops and bishops, and certain  dignitaries of the Roman Curia.  The decree enacting this decision was issued by the Prefect, Cardinal Gennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte on 31 December 1930 and was subsequently published in the Osservatore Romano issue of 24 January and on page 22 of the 1931 Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

Immediately, the problem of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs arose.  As spiritual heads of their Churches they had been styled Beatitude in order to raise them above other metropolitans and bishops.  Since the mainstream Catholic theology and canon law did not yet understand the concept of Particular Churches, many Roman curialists considered the title Beatitude to be abusive, and proper only to the Roman Pontiff because it had been addressed by St. Jerome to Pope St. Damasus in 384.  Such was the tenure of the previous decree of the Ceremonial Dicastery (June 1893) and was the verdict of an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

It appears, however, that the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Church(es) had not been consulted on the matter.  Regarding the new title of Excellency, Monsignor Amletto Cicogniani, assessor of the Oriental, sent a formal thank you to Ceremonial on 22 January 1931.  Nevertheless, only two months later, the dicastery’s head, Cardinal Luigi Sincero, brought the matter to the attention of the Pope in an audience of 14 March.  He explained that the Cardinals of the Ceremonial Congregation had ignored the preparatory studies for the codification of Oriental Canon Law which had recommended that patriarchs retain a title distinct from bishops.  Perhaps not wanting to provoke further conflicts in the other curial departments, the  Pope ordered that, henceforth, the Oriental Congregation address Eastern Catholic patriarchs as Beatitude so that “in this way, this qualification would be introduced without issuing, for the moment, a special decree.”

In January 1938, papal secretary of state Cardinal Pacelli consulted the Oriental Congregation regarding letters to be sent to the Melchite Patriarch. The drafts in question had been addressed to “His Excellency”, at which Sincero’s successor, Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, remarked: “Why withold the title Beatitude for the Melchite Patriarch?  Is it someone from the Secreteriat of State?”  Pacelli, upon becoming Pope Pius XII, would  correct this oversight definitively for with his motu proprio Cleri Sanctitati in 1957, he finally granted the title Beatitude to Eastern Catholic patriarchs by full force of the law (canon 273, 10).


Protodeacon David said...

Reverend and Dear Fr. Athanasius,
Thanks for a very informative and interesting article. What is your view about Eastern Catholic hierarchs using the same courtesy titles as their Orthodox brethren?

Bishop: Your Grace
Archbishop: Your Eminence
Metropolitan: Your Eminence
Patriarch: Your Beatitute/Your Holiness

Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, HED said...

The question is a valid one and requires serious study. First one must distinguish between a courtesy title and a title de jure. A point to examine might be how old are contemporary Orthodox titles and whether they courtesy titles or titles given by church law. In the East, the problem of “self-style” is ever present. How extended is the use of each titles, and is it a question of everyone styling themselves by a greater title than their peers? Is there some shadow-styking regarding Roman titles (Eminence)? We must never forget that the Byzantine Empire was Rome, not a domain of popular “Greek” culture.

Replying to Father Cyrille Korolevskij, Metropolitan Sheptytsky wrote, slightly tongue-and-cheek:
“Ah, again you address me as as Eminence!!!! Your are convinced that all the oriental bishops have the right to the title but for me this theory is a bit dangerous and it is very difficult for us to accept without protesting.” (30 March 1926). Incedentally, Kotolevskij saw early on that the rump of the Kyivan Church, the Church of Lviv-Halych, was an autonomous (Particular) Church equal to an orthodox major archbishopric [to Sincero, June 1931]. This topic qill be treated on a future post on the See of Halych.

Protodeacon David said...

Dear Fr. Athanasius you raised an interesting point in regards to law on this matter. I must give this considerable thought. However, for your consideration you might find the following of interest.

The Secretariat of State issued the Instruction Ut sive sollicite, on the vesture, titles, and insignia of cardinals, bishops, and lesser prelates on March 31, 1969: AAS 61 (1969) 334-340. In Part II Titles and Coats-of-Arms §30, the text reads: “With regard to the dress and titles of cardinals and patriarchs of the Eastern rites, the traditional usages of their individual rite is [sic] to be followed.” If the hierarchs of the Eastern rites were to follow the practice of the Latin Church, then it seems that there would be no need for this directive as §22 reads: “For cardinals the title “Eminence” and for bishops, “Excellency,” may still be used and the adjectival phrase “Most Reverend” added.” Possibly, I am only reading into this but it seems that the tone of this instruction which is the current law of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between the usages of the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches. While the text refers only to cardinals and patriarchs and not to bishops in regards to their dress [clerical attire] and titles, I am not certain why it would not also extend to bishops. Within our own Church [Ukrainian Catholic] I have seen considerable change among the hierarchs in regards to their dress. At one time most of them dressed like Latin bishops but now, more and more are attired in the traditional clerical dress of their own Church which clearly corresponds to the dress of the Orthodox. This same point was later reinforced in the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches §66 “As for the non-liturgical dress of the clergy, it is appropriate that the individual Churches sui iuris return to the style of the traditional Eastern usage.”

I am sorry to have strayed solely from the topic of titles and have also included clerical attire. Yet, the underlying point is one of traditional usage. This in no way is a criticism of your excellent article on the usage of “Excellency” for bishops in the Catholic Church. You have provided a detailed historical picture. Thanks so much. Ut sive sollicite may be of interest to you in regards to your future piece on Coats-of-Arms. I certainly look forward to that forthcoming article.

Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, HED said...

I am very familiar with Ut sive sollicite. It was issued in a climate when people though everything from the Old World was to be abolished ("don't trust anyone over 30"). The decree was intended to simplify certain ceremonial usages of the Papal Court (renamed the Papal Household). These included forms of address in official correspondence. Titles were left untouched but the forms of address for the Roman Curia were simplified for official correspondence. No distinction was made between East and Wet except for Patriarchs because the debate as to their precedence was still hot from Vatican II. There was no debate on Eastern Catholic bishops. Dress is a matter beyond this post. Thank You for Yr. insightful comments.

Convenor said...

Dear Reverend Dr.,

I found this article fascinating. I wonder if you would consider writing an article on the subject or on some similar subject for the journal of St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association published here in Ireland:

God bless,


Christian said...

Is it, therefore, an abuse that Lordship for bishops and Grace for Archbishops is still the standard use in Great Britain?

Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, HED said...

1. Yes I would consider writing.

2. A lawful custom is not an abuse. However, it would be quite correct to address them as Excellency, as the nuncio does. I suspect he also uses Excellency when writing in English.