ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS. Tribunals having jurisdiction more especially in causes re lating to religion and to the discipline of reli gious bodies. Their origin is to he found in the first years of Christianity, when the Christians made every effort to settle their disputes among themselves and to maintain their discipline with out resorting to the courts presided over by pagan officials. These primitive Christian courts developed around the bishops. who came to take cognizance of all causes, temporal as well as spiritual. among the brethren. Later still cer tain matters were assigned to them as proper causes for their especial jurisdiction. such as questions of taxation for the support of religion and matrimonial and testamentary causes. The character and extent of the jurisdiction of ec clesiastical courts must of necessity depend upon the relation subsisting between a State and the religious bodies within it. See ESTARLIsIINIENTS, ECCLESIASTICAL.
According to the leading authorities in this matter, no separate ecclesiastical courts existed in England before the Norman Conquest. as all causes, both civil and spiritual, were heard in the single county court. in Which the bishop and the earl sat together. By a charter of William I. a distinction was made between courts civil and courts ecclesiastical. and authority was given to the bishops to hear ecclesiastical causes according to the canon law. which was imported from the Continent. The extent of the jurisdiction of these ecclesiastical courts became a chronic source of dispute between the English Crown and the See of Rome. mail the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome was completely excluded by Ilenry VIII.
The ecclesiastical courts of England now Con sist of the following: The Archdeacon's. Consis tory, Peenliars. Arches Court, and. in cases of appeal only, the Crown in Council. The Public! Worship Regulation Act of 1874 created a new ecclesiastical judgeship, having jurisdiction main ly of offenses in matters of ritual. In 1857 the greater part of the ancient jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts was taken awa;.. and it is now vested in the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty divisions of the High Court of Justice. They have, however, still to deal with questions of Church government and discipline. If they in any manner exceed the limits of their jurisdic tion. they are 'prohibited' by the nigh Court of Justice. The power of the ecclesiastical courts over the laity is now practically obsolete. The decrees of these courts are enforced by suspension, deprivation. degradation, and by imprisonment under a writ de eon t umuce capiendo. In the Isle of Man the ecclesiastical courts still have, as they formerly had in England. jurisdiction in probate and matrinionial causes. in Scotland the chief ecclesiastical courts have been the Gen eral Assembly. the Commissary Court. and the Court of Teinds. The first is the highest tri bunal for the consideration of questions of doc trine and discipline according to the Presbyterian usage of the Established Church. The courts of the American Church bodies are considered under the varions denominational titles.