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The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church (above major archbishop and primate), and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs (and in certain cases also popes).

The word is derived from Greek πατριάρχης (patriarchēs),[1] meaning "chief or father of a family",[2] a compound of πατριά (patria),[3] meaning "family", and ἄρχειν (archein),[4] meaning "to rule".[2][5][6][7]

Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is termed patriarchy. Historically, a patriarch has often been the logical choice to act as ethnarch of the community identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (such as Christians within the Ottoman Empire). The term developed an ecclesiastical meaning, within the christian church. The office and the ecclesiastical circumscription of a christian patriarch is termed a patriarchate.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period during which they lived is termed the Patriarchal Age. The word patriarch originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible.[8]


Catholic ChurchEdit

Catholic Patriarchal (non cardinal) coat of arms

Patriarchate of the West (not extant)Edit

In the Pentarchy formulated by Justinian I (527–565), the emperor assigned as a patriarchate to the Bishop of Rome the whole of Christianized Europe (including almost all of modern Greece), except for the region of Thrace, the areas near Constantinople, and along the coast of the Black Sea. He included in this patriarchate also the western part of North Africa. The jurisdictions of the other patriarchates extended over Roman Asia, and the rest of Africa. Justinian's system was given formal ecclesiastical recognition by the Quinisext Council of 692, which the see of Rome has, however, not recognized.

Popes have in the past occasionally used the title Patriarch of the West, without defining it. Beginning 1863, this title appeared in the annual reference publication, Annuario Pontificio, which in 1885 became a semi-official publication of the Holy See. This publication suppressed the title in its 2006 edition. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity explained the decision in a press release issued later that year. It stated that the title "Patriarch of the West" had become "obsolete and practically unusable" and that it was "pointless to insist on maintaining it". Since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Church, with which the title could be considered associated, is now organized as a number of episcopal conferences and their international groupings.[9]

Extant Latin patriarchatesEdit

Other historical Latin patriarchatesEdit

Patriarch as title ad personamEdit

The pope can confer the rank of Patriarch without any see, to an individual Archbishop, as happened on 1676.02.24 to Alessandro Cescenzi, Somascans (C.S.R.), former Latin Titular Patriarch of Alexandria (1671.01.19 – retired 1675.05.27), who resigned the title on 1682.01.09.

Eastern Catholic patriarchatesEdit

Map of Justinian's Pentarchy
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch with Archbishop Jules Joseph Zerey

Six of the particular Eastern Catholic Churches are headed by a patriarch with a claim to one (or more) of the ancient patriarchal sees:

Major archbishopricsEdit

Four more of the Eastern Catholic Churches are headed by a prelate known as a "Major Archbishop," a title essentially equivalent to that of Patriarch and originally created by Pope Paul VI in 1963 for Josyf Slipyj:[10]

Within their proper sui iuris churches there is no difference between patriarchs and major archbishops. However, differences exist in the order of precedence (i.e. patriarchs take precedence over major archbishops) and in the mode of accession. Whereas the election of a major archbishop has to be confirmed by the pope before he may take office,[11] no papal confirmation is needed for a newly elected patriarch before he takes office. Rather, a newly-installed patriarch is required to petition the pope as soon as possible for the concession of what is called ecclesiastical communion.[12][13]

Current and Historical Catholic Patriarchates
Type Church Patriarchate Patriarch
Patriarch of the West Latin Rome renounced in 2006
Titular and actual Latin-Rite Patriarchs Latin Aquileia suppressed in 1751
Latin Grado suppressed in 1451
Latin Jerusalem vacant since 2016
Latin Lisbon Manuel Clemente
Latin Venice Francesco Moraglia
Latin Alexandria suppressed in 1964
Latin Antioch suppressed in 1964
Latin Constantinople suppressed in 1964
Latin East Indies Filipe Neri Ferrão
Latin West Indies vacant since 1963
Eastern Catholic Patriarchs Coptic Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak
Syrian Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Maronite Antioch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi
Greek-Melkite Antioch Youssef Absi
Armenian Cilicia Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni
Chaldean Babylon Louis Raphaël I Sako
Eastern Catholic Major Archbishops Ukrainian Kiev-Halych Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Syro-Malabar Ernakulam-Angamaly George Alencherry
Syro-Malankara Trivandrum Baselios Cleemis
Romanian Făgăraş and Alba Iulia Lucian Mureșan

Eastern ChristianityEdit

Eastern OrthodoxEdit

Eastern Patriarchs outside the Orthodox CommunionEdit

Oriental Orthodox ChurchesEdit

Church of the EastEdit

Patriarchs of the Church of the East, sometimes also referred to as Nestorian, the Church of Persia, the Sassanid Church, or, in modern times, the Assyrian Church of the East, trace their lineage of patriarchs back to the 1st century.


The term patriarch has also been used for the leader of the extinct, dualist, heretical Manichaeist sect, initially based at Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) and later at Samarkand.

Other independent usesEdit

The title of "Patriarch" is assumed also by the leaders of certain relatively recent groups, in particular those that are called independent Catholic Churches, who are in communion with none of the historic Christian Churches.

Latter Day Saint movementEdit

In the Latter Day Saint movement, a patriarch is one who has been ordained to the office of patriarch in the Melchizedek priesthood. The term is considered synonymous with the term evangelist, a term favored by the Community of Christ. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the patriarch's primary responsibilities is to give patriarchal blessings, as Jacob did to his twelve sons according to the Old Testament. Patriarchs are typically assigned in each stake and possess the title for life.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ πατριάρχης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. ^ a b Online Etymological Dictionary: "patriarch"
  3. ^ πατριά, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ ἄρχω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ Merriam-Webster: "patriarch"
  6. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "patriarch"
  7. ^ Oxford Dictionaries: "patriarch"
  8. ^   Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Patriarch". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  9. ^ ZENIT News Agency: "Communiqué on title 'Patriarch of the West'". Retrieved 20 July 2013
  10. ^ "CCEO: text - IntraText CT". 4 May 2007. Retrieved July 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium: Can. 153
  12. ^ Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium: Can. 76
  13. ^ An example of the petition and the granting of ecclesiastical communion: "Exchange of letters between Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Antonios Naguib". Holy See Press Office. Retrieved 2013-01-18. 
  14. ^ L'idea di pentarchia nella cristianità
  15. ^ A Summary of Christian History– Google Knihy. November 1, 2005. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  16. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance (ID: 20).
  17. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support (ID: 21).
  18. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance (ID: 18).
  19. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance (ID: 17).
  20. ^ Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral assistance (ID: 19).
  21. ^ When a woman was elected head of this Church, she was styled Matriarch. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 

Further readingEdit

Sources and external linksEdit