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An ecclesiastical province is one of the basic forms of jurisdiction in Christian Churches with traditional hierarchical structure, including Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity. In general, an ecclesiastical province consists of several dioceses (or eparchies), one of them being the archdiocese (or archeparchy), headed by metropolitan bishop or archbishop who has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over all other bishops of the province.
In the Greco-Roman world, ecclesia (Greek ; Latin ecclesia) was used to refer to a lawful assembly, or a called legislative body. As early as Pythagoras, the word took on the additional meaning of a community with shared beliefs. This is the meaning taken in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), and later adopted by the Christian community to refer to the assembly of believers.
In the history of Western world (sometimes more precisely as Greco-Roman world) adopted by the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, Christian ecclesiastical provinces were named by analogy with the secular Roman province as well as certain extraterritorial formations of western world in early medieval times (see Early Middle Ages). The administrative seat of each province is an episcopal see. In hierarchical Christian churches that have dioceses, a province is a collection of those dioceses (as a basic unit of administration).
Over the years certain provinces adopted the status of metropolis and have a certain degree of self-rule. A bishop of such province is called the metropolitan bishop or metropolitan. The Catholic Church (both Latin and Eastern Catholic), the Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion all have provinces. These provinces are led by a metropolitan archbishop.
Ecclesiastical provinces first corresponded to the civil provinces of the Roman Empire. From the second half of the 2nd century, the bishops of these provinces were accustomed to assemble on important occasions for common counsel in synods. From the end of that century the summons to attend these increasingly important synods was usually issued by the bishop of the capital or metropolis of the province, who also presided over the assembly, especially in the East. Important communications were also forwarded to the bishop of the provincial capital to be brought to the notice of the other bishops. Thus in the East during the 3rd century the bishop of the provincial metropolis came gradually to occupy a certain superior position, and received the name of metropolitan.
At the First Council of Nicaea (325) this position of the metropolitan was taken for granted, and was made the basis for conceding to him definite rights over the other bishops and dioceses of the state province. In Eastern canon law since the 4th century (cf. also the Synod of Antioch of 341, can. ix), it was a principle that every civil province was likewise a church province under the supreme direction of the metropolitan, i.e. of the bishop of the provincial capital.
This division into ecclesiastical provinces did not develop so early in the Western Empire. In North Africa the first metropolitan appears during the 4th century, the Bishop of Carthage being recognized as primate of the dioceses of Northern Africa; metropolitans of the separate provinces gradually appear, although the boundaries of these provinces did not coincide with the divisions of the empire. A similar development was witnessed in Spain, Gaul, and Italy. The migration of the nations, however, prevented an equally stable formation of ecclesiastical provinces in the Christian West as in the East. It was only after the 5th century that such gradually developed, mostly in accordance with the ancient divisions of the Roman Empire. In Italy alone, on account of the central ecclesiastical position of Rome, this development was slower. However, at the end of antiquity the existence of church provinces as the basis of ecclesiastical administration was fairly universal in the West. In the Carolingian period they were reorganized, and have retained their place ever since.
In the Catholic Church, a province consists of a metropolitan archdiocese and one or more suffragan dioceses headed by diocesan bishops. The archbishop of the metropolitan see is the metropolitan of the province. The delimitation of church provinces in the Latin Church is reserved to the Holy See.
However, there have always been dioceses which are exempt from the authority of a metropolitan archdiocese, and are directly subject to the Holy See, such as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Strasbourg. There are also some archdioceses that are not metropolitan sees, such as the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is similarly exempt, and some that are suffragan to another archdiocese; their archbishops do not receive the pallium.
The authority of a Latin Church metropolitan over the other sees within his province is now very limited. During a vacancy in a suffragan diocese, the metropolitan names a temporary diocesan administrator if the College of Consultors of the diocese fails to elect one within the prescribed period. A metropolitan generally presides at the installation and consecration of new bishops in the province, and the tribunal of the metropolitan see generally serves as the first court of appeal regarding canonical matters of provincial diocesan tribunals. The metropolitan's insignia is the pallium. The article in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 on "metropolitan" shows that the metropolitan then had scarcely any power more than now.
In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the patriarchal or major archiepiscopal Churches may also be divided into ecclesial provinces, each headed by a metropolitan. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has several, two of them in the United States and Canada. Some other Eastern Catholic Churches of a lower category and generally less populous, are known as metropolitanates. They are headed by a single metropolitan, the hierarch of a fixed episcopal see, As head of an autonomous Church, his name is mentioned in the liturgy of that Church immediately after that of the Pope and, in suffragan eparchies, ahead of that of the local hierarch.
The borders of provinces have often been inspired, or even determined, by historical or present political borders; the same is often true of diocesan borders within a province. The following are some examples:
Historical development of ecclesiastical provinces in the Eastern Orthodox Church was influenced by strong tendencies of internal administrative centralization. Since the First Ecumenical Council (325), the Archbishop of Alexandria was given supreme jurisdiction over all provinces of Egypt. Similar authority was also granted to Archbishop of Antioch regarding jurisdiction over provinces of Orient. Since the Fourth Ecumenical Council (451), Patriarch of Constantinople was given the right to consecrate metropolitan bishops in all regions that were placed under his supreme jurisdiction. In time, previous administrative autonomy of original ecclesiastical provinces was gradually and systematically reduced in favor of patriarchal centralization. Ancient practice of annual councils of provincial bishops, headed by their local metropolitans, was also abandoned in favor of centralized councils, headed by patriarchs and attended by metropolitan bishops.
The creation of new autonomous and autocephalous jurisdictions was also marked by tendencies of internal centralization. The newly created Archbishopric of Ohrid (1018) was structured as a single ecclesiastical province, headed by an archbishop who had jurisdiction over all of his suffragan bishops. In 1219, autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church was also organized as one ecclesiastical province, headed by archbishop with direct jurisdiction over all Serbian bishops. By the end of Middle Ages, each autocephalous and autonomous church in Eastern Orthodoxy was functioning as a single, internally integrated ecclesiastical province, headed by local patriarch or archbishop.
Only in modern times, some Eastern Orthodox Churches have revived the ancient practice by creating internal ecclesiastical provinces on the middle (regional) level of church administration. In the Romanian Orthodox Church there are six regional metropolitanates, headed by local metropolitans who preside over regional synods of local bishops, and have special duties and privileges. For example, the Metropolitan of Oltenia has regional jurisdiction over four local dioceses. On the other hand, a majority of Eastern Orthodox Churches remain and function as highly centralized church bodies, each of them functioning as a single ecclesiastical province.
Member churches of the Anglican Communion are often referred to as provinces. Some provinces are coterminous with the boundaries of political states, some include multiple nations while others include only parts of a nation. Some, such as the Church of the Province of West Africa, have the word "province" in their names. These member churches are known as "provinces of the Anglican Communion," and are headed by a primate, who is usually also styled archbishop, but may have an alternative title such as primus (for example, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church), presiding bishop, or moderator.
The word is also used to refer to a grouping of dioceses within a member church, commonly known as a metropolitical province, metropolitan province, or internal province. The Church of England is divided into two such provinces: Canterbury and York. The Anglican Church of Australia has five provinces: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, and an extraprovincial diocese. The Anglican Church of Canada has four: British Columbia and Yukon, Canada, Ontario, and Rupert's Land. The Church of Ireland has two: Armagh and Dublin. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) numbers, rather than names, its nine provinces. In all cases apart from ECUSA each metropolitan or internal province is headed by a Metropolitan bishop with the title archbishop.
The Evangelical State Church in Prussia, formed in 1821 (renamed: Evangelical State Church in Prussia's older Provinces in 1875, Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union in 1922), had ecclesiastical provinces (Kirchenprovinz[en]) as administrative subsections mostly following the boundaries of those political Provinces of Prussia which formed part of the state before 1866, with some border changes after 1920 following WWI territorial cessions.
|Name||Congregations comprised were located in||Seat||Leading bodies (legislation, executive) and persons||Status as eccl. province||Successor organisation|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Brandenburg (1821-1926)
German: Kirchenprovinz Brandenburg
Ecclesiastical Province of the March of Brandenburg (1926-1948)
German: Kirchenprovinz Mark Brandenburg
|Province of Brandenburg and
Berlin (politically separate since 1881)
|provincial synod (Provinzialsynode),
1829-1933: general superintendents for (1) Berlin inner city, (2) Berlin suburbia (1911-1933), (3) Kurmark and (4) Lusatia and New March
1933-1935: provincial bishops of Berlin and of Brandenburg, provosts of Kurmark and of New March-Lower Lusatia
|1821-1948||Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg|
|Regional Synodal Federation of the Free City of Danzig
German: Landessynodalverband der Freien Stadt Danzig
|Free City of Danzig||Danzig||regional synod (Landessynode), consistory,
1922-1933: general supintendent
1933-1940: provincial bishop of Danzig
|1922-1940||Ecclesiastical Region of Danzig-West Prussia|
|Ecclesiastical Region of Danzig-West Prussia
German: Kirchengebiet Danzig-Westpreußen
|Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia||Danzig||no synod, consistory,
bishop of Danzig
|1940-1945||de facto dissolved by flight, murder and expulsion of parishioners|
|Ecclesiastical Province of East Prussia
German: Kirchenprovinz Ostpreußen
|Province of East Prussia
plus West Prussia governorate in 1922
minus Memel Territory in 1925
plus Memel Territory March 1939
minus West Prussia governorate in 1940
|Königsberg in Prussia||provincial synod, consistory,
1886-1933: general superintendent, 1933-1945: provincial bishop and general superintendent for Memel (1939-1944)
|1886-1945||de facto dissolved by flight, murder and expulsion of parishioners|
|Regional Synodal Federation of the Memel Territory
German: Landessynodalverband Memelgebiet
|Klaip?da Region||Memel||regional synod, consistory (est. 1927),
general superintendent (as of 1926)
|1925-1939||Ecclesiastical Province of East Prussia|
|United Evangelical Church in Polish Upper Silesia
German: Unierte Evangelische Kirche in Polnisch Oberschlesien Polish: Ewangelicki Ko?ció? Unijny na polskim Górnym ?l?sku
|East Upper Silesia||Katowice||regional synod, regional ecclesiastical council (Landeskirchenrat),
|1923-1937||church body continued without status as ecclesiastical province till 1939, then merged in the Ecclesiastical Province of Silesia|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Pomerania
German: Kirchenprovinz Pommern
|Province of Pomerania||Stettin (till 1945),
Greifswald (since 1945)
|provincial synod, consistory,
1883-1933: general superintendents (east and west region), 1933-1945: provincial bishop
|1821-1950||Pomeranian Evangelical Church|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Posen
German: Kirchenprovinz Posen
|Province of Posen||Posen||provincial synod, consistory,
|1821-1920||Ecclesiastical Province of Posen-West Prussia (west), United Evangelical Church in Poland (centre; German: Unierte Evangelische Kirche in Polen, Polish: Ewangelicki Ko?ció? Unijny w Polsce)|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Posen-West Prussia
German: Kirchenprovinz Posen-Westpreußen
|Province of the Frontier March of Posen-West Prussia||Schneidemühl||provincial synod, consistory,
1923-1933: general superintendent, 1933-1939: provost
|1921-1939||Ecclesiastical Province of Pomerania|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Prussia
German: Kirchenprovinz Preußen
|Province of Prussia||Königsberg in Prussia||provincial synod, consistory,
|1821-1886||Ecclesiastical Province of East Prussia (east), Ecclesiastical Province of West Prussia (west)|
|Ecclesiastical Province of the Rhineland
German: Kirchenprovinz Rheinland
|Rhine Province, western parts of the Saar Protectorate (1920-1935), Hohenzollern Province (since 1899)||Coblence (till 1934), Düsseldorf (since)||provincial synod, consistory,
|1821-1947||Evangelical Church in the Rhineland|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Saxony
German: Kirchenprovinz Sachsen
|Province of Saxony||Magdeburg||provincial synod, 4 consistories in Magdeburg (1815-2008), Roßla (1719-1947), Stolberg at the Harz (1553-2005) and Wernigerode (1658-1930; the latter three with regional competences),
1815-1933: 3 general superintendents, 1933-1950: provincial bishops
|1821-1950||Evangelical Church of the Ecclesiastical Province of Saxony|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Silesia
German: Kirchenprovinz Schlesien
|Province of Silesia (1821-1919, 1938-1941)
Province of Lower Silesia and Province of Upper Silesia (1919--1938, and 1941--1945)
|Breslau (till end of 1946),
|provincial synod, consistory,
1829-1933: 2 general superintendents, 1933-2003: (provincial) bishop
|1821-1947||Evangelical Church of Silesia|
|Ecclesiastical Province of Westphalia
German: Kirchenprovinz Westfalen
|Province of Westphalia||Münster in Westphalia||provincial synod, consistory,
|1821-1945||Evangelical Church of Westphalia|
|Ecclesiastical Province of West Prussia
German: Kirchenprovinz Westpreußen
|Province of West Prussia||Danzig||provincial synod, consistory,
1883-1920: general superintendent
|1886-1921||Regional Synodal Federation of the Free City of Danzig (north), Ecclesiastical Province of East Prussia (east), Ecclesiastical Province of Posen-West Prussia (southwest), United Evangelical Church in Poland (centre)|
The term province, or occasionally religious province, also refers to a geographical and administrative subdivision in a number of orders and congregations. This is true of most, though not all, religious communities founded after the year AD 1000, as well as the Augustinians, who date from earlier.
A province of a religious institute is typically headed by a provincial superior. The title differs by each institute's tradition (provincial minister for Franciscans; provincial prior for Dominicans; provincial for the Augustinians, simply "provincial" or "provincial father" for the Jesuits and many others, for instance).
The borders of a religious institute's provinces are determined independently of any diocesan structure, and so the borders often differ from the 'secular', or diocesan, ecclesiastical provinces. The orders' provinces are usually far larger than a diocese, a secular province, or even a country, though sometimes they are smaller in an institute's heartland.
Most monastic orders are not organized by provinces. In general, they organise their administration through autonomous houses, in some cases grouped in larger families. For example, each Benedictine abbey is an independent foundation, but will often choose to group themselves into congregations based on historical connections.