An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


In ecclesiastical terms, primacy is the status of being first, or presiding, among other bishops. In the early church, primacy was often accorded to the bishop of the chief city or metropolis of a geographical region. This primate was often called a metropolitan. The Archbishop of Canterbury held a regional primacy by the middle ages, and in 1353 it was finally agreed that he would be known as Primate of All England. There are many regional primates in the worldwide Anglican Communion today. They are variously known as primate, metropolitan, archbishop, or primus. In the Anglican Communion, the place of honor (but not of jurisdiction) is always given to the See of Canterbury. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has, since the 1982 General Convention, been known as “Chief Pastor and Primate.” Regular meetings of the primates of all the Anglican provinces have been held since 1979, as requested by the Lambeth Conference of 1978. From the later fourth century the Bishop of Rome began to claim and exercise primacy over all the other churches of the western world. By the later eleventh century the Bishop of Rome began to claim and exercise a universal primacy over the entire church. Claims of universal primacy by the Bishop of Rome have been resisted by many who are not members of the Roman Catholic Church. The issue of universal primacy has been a stumbling block in ecumenical discussions involving the Roman Catholic Church.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.