PROVOST (PRÆPOSITUS): In general, a presiding officer, whether temporal or spiritual; as a special term it was applied to a monastic official subordinate to the prior. According to the Benedictine rule, the provost ranks immediately after the abbot; later a dean was also appointed, coordinate with the provost. In the nunneries a præposita or priorissa followed in rank the abbess. At the cathedral church, the archdeacon became cathedral provost; in the chapters of the churches, he kept the simpler designation of provost. Thenceforth provost and dean occupied the two uppermost positions in the chapters, ranking as prelates (see PRELATE). Their position varied in the different foundations according to the appertaining statutes. Inasmuch as the administration of temporalia frequently interfered with the provost's actual residence and prevented him from giving his attention to other business of the chapter, he sometimes withdrew from the chapter altogether, and was replaced by the dean as capitulary chief.
In later times provosts were largely retained as priors of cloisters, as among the Augustinians, Dominicans ("provost or prior"), and Cistercians ("provost or guardian"). As distinguished from these provosts of the regular clergy, there were temporal provosts of cloisters, whose business it was to administer the property as stewards or to serve as their protectors. The term occasionally denotes other custodians who hold membership offices in the church councils of particular congregations. The chief of the army chaplains, or military clergy, is sometimes called "field provost," "principal chaplain."
The title also passed over to the Evangelical church, and is sometimes borne by superintendents, as under the Swedish occupancy of Pomerania, and in Mecklenburg. In foundations retained from the medieval Church, the provost's office continued active, as at the cathedral foundation in Naumburg and in Berlin. Cloister provosts are not unknown to the Evangelical church, where the name denotes certain officials entrusted with supervision over the property of Evangelical sisterhood foundations.