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An ecclesiastical province is a large jurisdiction of religious government, so named by analogy with a secular province, existing in certain hierarchical Christian churches, especially in the Catholic Church (both Latin and Eastern Catholic) and Orthodox Churches and in the Anglican Communion. In the early church, and in some modern churches, its chief city and seat is called a metropolis and its bishop is called a metropolitan.

Secular or diocesan church organisation

Early history

Ecclesiastical provinces first assumed a fixed form in the Eastern Roman Empire. The more important centres (e.g. Antioch for Syria, Ephesus for the Province of Asia, Alexandria for Egypt, Rome for Italy), whence Christian missionaries issued to preach the Gospel, were regarded as the mother-churches (hence the Greek term metropolitan) of the newly-founded Christian communities. From the second half of the second century, the bishops of the territories within the same natural geographical boundaries 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 of the state province (eparchy), 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 third 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 fourth 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 fourth 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 fifth 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 Carlovingian period they were reorganized, and have retained their place ever since.

Eastern Christian churches

After the East-West schism the early Christian communities and structures remained. In Eastern Orthodoxy all parishes belong to an eparchy, the equivalent of a diocese, which is governed by a bishop. Eparchies normally follow civil boundaries, but there are exceptions. Eparchies are part of an autonomous church, headed by an archbishop, metropolitan or patriarch depending on the status of the particular autonomous church. Autonomous churches normally follow civil or national boundaries.

Catholic Church

In general

In the Catholic Church, a province consists of a metropolitan archdiocese and one or more of other particular churches, usually dioceses. 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 individual dioceses which do not belong to any province, but are directly subject to the Holy See. There are also some archdioceses that are not metropolitan sees and some that are suffragan to another archdiocese.[1]

The authority of the metropolitan over the sees within his province is very limited. During a vacancy in a suffragan see, the metropolitan can name a temporary diocesan administrator if the College of Consultors of the diocese fails to elect one within the prescribed period.[2] A metropolitan generally presides at the installation and consecration of new bishops in the province, and serves as the first court of appeal regarding canonical matters of provincial diocesan tribunals. The metropolitan's insignia is the pallium.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the term metropolitan is used in a similar way to the Eastern Orthodox churches. In some of the sui iuris Eastern Churches, the head of the Church is a metropolitan. These sui iuris metropolitan churches are generally less populous than patriarchal or major archiepiscopal churches, and are subject to greater oversight by the pope and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

The authority exercised by the metropolitan over his suffragan dioceses is as limited today as it ever has been in history. Emphasis is placed on each bishop having a direct relationship with the pope and not dependent on the metropolitan. The metropolitan is supposed to hold a provincial council every three year. Because of restrictions, he probably cannot officially visit dioceses other than his own, that are technically within his jurisdiction. He can nominate candidates for vacancies to the bishopric within his province.[3]

Provincial boundary lines

The borders of provinces have often been inspired, or even determined, by historical and/or present political borders; the same is often true of diocesan borders within a province. The following are some examples:

  • In France, where the boundaries partly reflected later Roman provinces, most have been arranged to fit new administrative regions.
  • A comparable process (to that of France) occurred earlier in Spain.
  • In southern Germany, the diocesan boundaries follow the political boundaries that existed between 1815 and 1870.
  • In Ireland, the province of Armagh and several dioceses including Armagh itself straddle the internal border.
  • In Scotland, the dioceses (and subsequently the 2 provinces) follow both civil and geographical boundaries such as rivers.
  • In geographically large nations with a sizeable Catholic population, such as the United States, ecclesiastical provinces typically follow state lines, with less populous states being grouped into provinces. In the United States, there are five exceptions:
    • California has two metropolitan archdioceses (and provinces): Los Angeles and San Francisco.
    • Texas has two metropolitan archdioceses (and provinces): Galveston-Houston and San Antonio.
    • Maryland is unusual in that fourteen of its 23 counties belong to dioceses whose see cities are outside Maryland: (1) the nine counties of Maryland's Eastern Shore (Delmarva Peninsula) are part of the Diocese of Wilmington (Delaware) and (2) the five counties adjacent to the District of Columbia and in southern Maryland are part of the Archdiocese of Washington, which is a different province. Only the remaining nine counties and the City of Baltimore are part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
    • Fishers Island, a part of Suffolk County, New York, and north of Long Island, is part of the Diocese of Norwich (Connecticut), which is a different province.
    • Those parts of Idaho and Montana that are within Yellowstone National Park are part of the Diocese of Cheyenne (Wyoming), which is a different province.
    • In addition, the Diocese of Gallup (New Mexico) contains two Arizona counties — Apache County and Navajo County — and part of a third county, i.e., those parts of the Navajo and Hopi reservations that are in Coconino County (Arizona). New Mexico and Arizona, however, together form one province.
  • Most countries contain more than one province, except those with a small population or few Catholics.

Anglican Communion

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. A list of all member churches of the Anglican Communion is available at the main Anglican Communion article. These member churches are known as "provinces of the Anglican Communion," and are headed by a primate, who may also be referred to as a primus (for example, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church), presiding bishop, or moderator.

The word "province" is also used to refer to groupings of dioceses within a member church. The Church of England is divided into two 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 the 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 numbers, rather than names, its nine provinces.

Regular equivalent

The term province, or occasionally religious province, also refers to a geographical and administrative subdivision in a number of religious orders or congregations. This is true of most, though not all, religious communities founded after the year AD 1000.

A province of a religious community is typically headed by a provincial superior. The title differs by each congregational tradition (provincial minister for Franciscans; provincial prior for Dominicans; simply "provincial" or "provincial father" for the Jesuits and many others, for instance). The borders of such juridsdictions are determined independently of the diocesan structure, and so often differ from the abovementioned 'secular' ecclesiastical provinces, usually far larger in most parts of the word, sometimes even smaller in a congregation's heartland, while many are absent from large parts of the world.

Most monastic orders do not use provincial distinctions. In general, they organise their administration through autonomous houses, in some cases grouped in larger families. By way of example, each Benedictine abbey is an independent foundation, but abbeys often choose to group themselves into congregations based on historical connections.