Ordinariate: the word itself

It is not exactly a new word in the Catholic Church, but since Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated nearly two years ago, ordinariate has been slung around in speech in print at an exponentially higher rate than at any point previous. But what, when you stop and look at it, does it really mean?

It’s kind of a tricky word, actually. Like many other ecclesiastical neologisms for positions or offices, words whose English translations end in -ate (e.g. episcopate, metropolitanate, patriarchate), the Latin term being translated here is constructed to follow the Fourth Declension family of nouns, as shown here:

singular plural
nominative ordinariatus ordinariatus
genitive ordinariatus ordinariatuum
dative ordinariatui ordinariatibus
accusative ordinariatum ordinariatus
ablative ordinariatu ordinariatibus

So the translation is fairly transparent, if a tad ungainly to the English-speaking tongue. But what does it mean? What, if anything, is ordinary about an ordinariate?

Well, nothing, really, at least not in the sense the word has in everyday English. In canon law the term indicates that which is the jurisdiction of an ordinarius (typically rendered in canonical English as ordinary): a person who has rule or authority (ordo) over a particular jurisdiction. A diocesan bishop is an ordinary in this sense: he enjoys jurisdiction (potestas) over a set territory. But he may not be the only ordinary in that territory. Canon 134 §1 defines the term ordinarius to include “in the law diocesan bishops and others who, even if only temporarily, are placed over some particular church or a community equivalent to it according to the norm of can. 368 as well as those who possess general ordinary executive power in them, namely, vicars general and episcopal vicars; likewise, for their own members, major superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right who at least possess ordinary executive power.” So an ordinarius is the holder of an office that has some degree of jurisdiction, exercising by virtue of an ecclesiastical office at least “general ordinary executive power” within the circumscription of that jurisdiction.

A diocesan bishop, in his particular church (i.e. his diocese), possesses a potestas that is ordinary, proper, and immediate. This means, put very briefly, that his authority is due to the office he holds (ordinary), exercised in his own name, not in the name of a superior authority (proper), and applied directly to his subjects without intermediaries (immediate). By contrast, in the provisions of AC there is a very significant variance of this phrase that made all the canonists in the world perk up their ears and sit up straight in their chairs. The ordinarius of a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans is to have potestas that is ordinary, vicarious, and personal. His power is due to his office, just like a diocesan bishop, (ordinary), but it is “exercised over all who belong to the Ordinariate” (personal, and most interesting, it is “exercised in the name of the Roman Pontiff” (vicarious). This is a very different (dare I say lesser?) authority than that given to diocesan bishops. Of course this could change over time as the experiment goes forward, but in the meantime… well, make of that what you will.

Another thing to note before we go: ordinariate is really only half the term in question. The apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus provides for personal ordinariates (personales ordinariatus). The phrase appears only five times in the text of AC, but it is enough to sketch out clearly what is meant. These are not territorial jurisdictions, like a diocese is, but jurisdictions over a specified group of people, in this case former Anglicans who have joined the Catholic Church in groups (coetus). The ordinary has a flock of persons which, while necessarily given some sort of bounds as well, is not ultimately defined by territorial boundaries. This structure was already in existence for hierarchical organization of pastoral care of military personnel, scattered as they are throughout the world. The application of the idea for these new arrangements for formerly Anglican congregations is fascinating on many levels, and will continue to be watched with close interest by canonists.


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