PRIMATE: In general ecclesiastical usage, the chief prelate of a land or of a people. The early hierarchic organization followed the political division of the Roman Empire, but the terms applied to the higher officials of the Church changed in the course of time. In the East the system was headed by patriarchs, under whom were exarchs in the dioceses (in the Greek sense of the word) and eparchs in the provinces or eparchies. In the West this order finds its counterpart in the relation of the pope, the primates, and the archbishops. The designations primas, episcopus primœ sedis, or episcopus primœ cathedrœ were originally synonymous with metropolitan, and occur after the beginning of the fourth century. Episcopus primœ cathedrœ was applied to Secundus of Tigisis in the synodal acts of Certa (305), and occurs in canon 58, Synod of Elvira (306). The mode of speech is used with reference to Africa, Italy, and Gaul in the fifth and sixth centuries. The bishop of Carthage, however, had a different position from the other primates, since he exercised supervision over all the churches of the African provinces; called and presided over the African general synods; and he could ordain anywhere. On the other hand, he had no special name, being termed merely primas or senex. His position accordingly corresponded to that of an oriental patriarch, but had no parallel in the West. The appellation "primate" gradually gave place to the title of archbishop, which was given to all metropolitans. It was reserved for those metropolitans who were also papal vicars. In the PseudoIsidore (see PSEUDO-ISIDORIAN DECRETALS) there is a marked tendency to deny the rank of primate to metropolitans. It was considered synonymous with patriarch (Anacletus, Epist., ii. 26); and was accordingly restricted to the ancient primates, or to those whom the Curia, beginning with Nicholas 1., desired to honor with that special title, thus leading to the practise of appointing primates in various countries to increase papal influence.

The bishops of Rome claimed the highest primacy in the Church, but, while accepting the pseudo-Isidorian identification of primate and patriarch, they were inclined to give larger prerogatives to the four ancient patriarchs than to the other primates; as, for instance, Innocent III. in view of the reunion of the Eastern Church with the Western. After the attempt had failed, however, the primates appointed by Rome took second place in the hierarchy, after the patriarchs. Their powers, partly determined by the older canons, partly by usage, and partly by special papal privileges, included the confirmation of the bishops and archbishops of their jurisdictions; the calling and conducting of national synods; the supervision of their territories; the court of higher appeal; and the right of royal coronation. At the present time, the primates possess little more than certain honorary privileges. The title of primate is now borne by the archbishops of Salzburg, Antivari, Salerno, Gnesen, Tarragona, Grau, Mechlin, Armagh, Braga, and Bahia in the Roman Catholic Church.


In the Anglican Church the archbishop of Canterbury is primate of All England; the archbishop of York, primate of England; the archbishop of Sydney, primate of Australia; since 1893 the archbishop of the West Indies is primate for that territory; the Episcopal Church of Scotland has a primus; the archbishop of Toronto is primate of All Canada. In the Church of Ireland the archbishop of Armagh was primate of All Ireland, and the archbishop of Dublin was primate of Ireland.