ARCHDEACON, a high official of the Christian Church. The office of archdeacon is of great antiquity. Originally the archdeacon was, as the name implies, the chief of the deacons attached to the bishop's cathedral, his duty being, besides preach ing, to supervise the deacons and their work. His close relation to the bishop gave him, though only in deacon's orders, great importance, which continually developed. In the East, in the 5th century, the archdeacons were already charged with the proof of the qualifications of candidates for ordination; they attended the bishops at ecclesiastical synods, and sometimes acted as their representatives; they shared in the administration of sees during a vacancy. In the West, in the 6th and 7th centuries, arch deacons had in addition certain well-defined rights of visitation and supervision, being responsible for the good order of the lower clergy, the upkeep of ecclesiastical buildings, and the safeguarding of the church furniture. During the 8th and 9th centuries the office tended to become more exclusively administrative, the archdeacon relieving the bishop of the details of government and keeping him informed of the condition of his diocese. The arch deacon had thus become the oculus episcopi, "the bishop's eye," hut, empowered as he was to impose penance and even to excom municate offenders, his power tended to grow at the bishop's expense. This process received a great impulse from the erection in the 8th to 12th centuries of defined territorial jurisdictions for the archdeacons. The dioceses were now mapped out into several archdeaconries, and these defined spheres gradually came to be regarded as independent centres of jurisdiction. The bishops, now increasingly absorbed in secular affairs, were content with a somewhat theoretical power of control, while the archdeacons rigorously asserted an independent position which implied great power and possibilities of wealth.
The power of the archdeacon reached its zenith at the outset of the 13th century. He possessed in his own right the powers of visitation, of holding courts and imposing penalties, of deciding in matrimonial causes and cases of disputed jurisdiction, of test ing candidates for orders, of inducting into benefices; and these powers he might exercise through delegated officiales. His juris diction had become, in fact, co-ordinate with that of the bishop.
From the 13th century onward a reaction set in. The bishops began to circumvent the power of the archdeacons by appointing new officials to exercise in their name the rights to which they laid claim. These were the officiales f oranei, whose jurisdiction was parallel with that of the archdeacons, and the officiales prin cipales and vicars-general, who presided over the courts of appeal. The clergy having thus another authority to appeal to, the power of the archdeacons declined; and, so far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, it received its death-blow from the Council of Trent (1564), which confined the power of the archdeacons to holding visitations in connection with those of the bishop and with his consent. In the Roman Church to-day the office of arch deacon, where it exists, is merely titular, his sole function being to present the candidates for ordination to the bishop. His ancient functions are exercised by the vicar-general.
In the Church of England the office, which occurs in 803, but did not become general until the Conquest, survives, with many ancient prerogatives. The archdeacons are appointed by their respective bishops, and they are, by an act of 1840, required to have been six full years in priest's orders. Their functions are ancillary to those of the bishop of the diocese. They inspect the churches to see that the fabrics are kept in repair, and hold annual visitations of the clergy and churchwardens of each parish, for the purpose of ascertaining that the clergy are in residence, of admitting the newly elected churchwardens into office, and of receiving the presentments of the outgoing churchwardens. They present all candidates for ordination to the bishop of the diocese. It is their duty also to induct the clergy into the temporalities of their benefices. Every archdeacon is entitled to appoint an official to preside over his archidiaconal court, from which there is an appeal to the consistory court of the bishop. The archdeacons are ex officio members of the convocations of their respective prov inces.
In the Dominions the functions of archdeacons correspond to those of English archdeacons. In the Episcopal Church of Amer ica the office of archdeacon exists in only one or two dioceses.
See Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, ii. §§ 86, 87 ; Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon (1882-1901) ; Schroder, Die Entwicklung des Archi diakonats bas zum i r Jahrhundert ; Herzog-Hauck, Realency klopadie (ed. 1896) ; Phillimore, Ecclesiastical Law, part ii. chap. v. (1895).