(Adapted from Knightlife Magazine, Winter 2017) - Today most of the faithful are used to appointed Bishops. However, that is not always the case. Hereditary Bishops were not at all uncommon in antiquity, and some still exist. These Bishops held jurisdiction over an ecclesiastical diocese and sometimes also over temporal titles. Although the Holy Orders themselves were not hereditary, jurisdiction was. The hereditary Bishops still had to be consecrated in order to exercise the sacramental office. However, there were instances of Bishops, hereditary and non-hereditary, who held jurisdiction without ever being ordained as a cleric. In this article, some examples of hereditary Bishops are given, but the list is by no means exhaustive or complete.
One of the most famous examples of this was the Hereditary Bishop of Armagh. That See remained hereditary until 1129, when Saint Ceallach chose to appoint his successor.
The Armenian Patriarchate was also hereditary from AD 301 - 428, being held by several dynasties.
|Saint Gregory the Illuminator,|
Hereditary Catholicos (Patriarch) of Armenia
Crinan of Dunkeld was Hereditary Lay Abbot of Dunkeld and was t he progenitor of the House of Dunkeld, which ruled Scotland from the 11th century through the 13th century. Crinan was married to the daughter of Malcolm II, King of Scots, and it was from that marriage that he obtained his claim to the throne of Scotland.
|Duncan I, King of Scotland|
Son of Crinan, Hereditary Lay Abbot of Dunkeld
In the Chaldean Church, hereditary Bishops and Patriarchs were the norm, usually passing from uncle to nephew. It was not until 1976 that Mar Dinkha IV became the first non-hereditary Patriarch.
In Rome, a form of hereditary succession for the Papacy was not even uncommon, with the Papal nipoti (nephews) sometimes becoming Popes themselves (though only after an election in the conclave). Giugliano della Rovere, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, for example, became Pope Julius II. Indeed, "Cardinal-Nephew" was long an honored position within the Papal Court.
Until it was secularized, the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück was largely hereditary. The last Prince-Bishop, who was actually Protestant (Osnabrück actually passed back and forth between the Catholics and Protestants during the time of the Reformation), was Prince Fredrick, Duke of York and Albany, son of George III, King of England and Hanover. He held that office from 1764-1803.
|Fredrick, Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück|
More recently, sources suggest that, during the Second World War, Pope Pius XII had arranged as a contingency to transfer the papacy to Liechtenstein, much like the transfer of the papacy to Avignon in antiquity. In exchange for this transfer, the Prince of Liechtenstein apparently would have been given an hereditary Cardinal's hat.
|Prince Franz Josef of Liechtenstein, whom|
sources say may have received an
hereditary Cardinal's hat if he had
given his lands to the Pope.
In the modern era, two examples are the Principality of Miensk and San Luigi and the Patriarchate of St. Stephen. The offices of Patriarch and Governor-General, due to their patrimony rooted in the Holy Roman Empire and the Merovingian Dynasty are both hereditary, with formal succession confirmed by the Patriarchal Electors. The present Patriarch succeeded to his titles via his father, the Count of Valais, who, as a Protestant, preferred to decline the Patriarchal office. The Principality of Miensk and Abbey-Principality of San Luigi are likewise hereditary and stem from the Eastern Roman Empire, with ties to the late King Peter II of Yugoslavia. The present Prince-Bishop is the adopted son of the late Bishop and Prince of Miensk and San Luigi.