/i pis"keuh peuh see/, n., pl. episcopacies.
1. government of the church by bishops; church government in which there are three distinct orders of ministers, namely bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons.
2. episcopate.
[1640-50; EPISCOP(ATE) + -ACY]

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System of church government by bishops.

It existed as early as the 2nd century AD, when bishops were chosen to oversee preaching and worship within a specific region, now called a diocese. Today local congregations are shepherded by priests and deacons, but only bishops can ordain priests, perform the rite of confirmation, and consecrate other bishops. Their special duties are closely tied to the idea of Apostolic succession. Some Protestant churches abandoned episcopacy during the Reformation, but it was retained by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Swedish Lutheran churches, among others.

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      in some Christian (Christianity) churches, the office of a bishop and the concomitant system of church government based on the three orders, or offices, of the ministry: bishops, priests (priest), and deacons (deacon). The origins of episcopacy are obscure, but by the 2nd century AD it was becoming established in the main centres of Christianity. It was closely tied to the idea of apostolic succession, the belief that bishops can trace their office in a direct, uninterrupted line back to the Apostles of Jesus.

      A 2nd-century bishop was charged with the spiritual welfare of his congregation; he was the chief liturgical minister, and he baptized, celebrated the Eucharist, ordained, absolved, controlled finances, and settled matters of dispute. With state recognition of Christianity in the 4th century, the bishop came to be regarded not only as a church leader but also as an important figure in secular affairs.

      As the bishops' duties increased and congregations (congregation) grew in size and number, it became necessary either to have more bishops or to delegate some of their functions to others. Congregations in an area (diocese) were entrusted to presbyters (priests), assisted by deacons, under the supervision of a bishop. It was this system of church government that became established throughout the church. The bishop retained as his exclusive right the power to confirm church members, ordain priests, and consecrate other bishops.

      As the Middle Ages advanced, the system of delegation of duties became excessively organized, and an ecclesiastical bureaucracy came into being. A complex hierarchy of subordinate officials acted on the bishop's behalf. Although bishops made important contributions to the medieval state, this activity interfered with the office of church leader.

      During the Reformation in the 16th century, episcopacy was repudiated by most Protestant (Protestantism) churches, partly on the grounds of its involvement in political rule but also because many believed the system was not based on the New Testament. The Roman Catholic (Roman Catholicism), Eastern Orthodox (Eastern Orthodoxy), Anglican, Old Catholic, and Swedish Lutheran churches have the episcopal form of church government, as do some German Lutheran churches, the United Methodist Church, and others.

      In the 20th-century ecumenical movement (ecumenism), episcopacy was problematic for churches seeking reunion. Some maintained its necessity to the church, others thought it beneficial to the church, and still others considered it neither necessary nor beneficial. Most Christians agreed that episkopos in its original Greek sense of “overseer” is essential to the church, but they differed as to the functions of the overseer. See also ministry; bishop.

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • episcopacy — ► NOUN (pl. episcopacies) 1) government of a Church by bishops. 2) (the episcopacy) the bishops of a region or church collectively …   English terms dictionary

  • Episcopacy — E*pis co*pa*cy, n. [See {Episcopate}.] Government of the church by bishops; church government by three distinct orders of ministers bishops, priests, and deacons of whom the bishops have an authority superior and of a different kind. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • episcopacy — 1640s; see EPISCOPAL (Cf. episcopal) + CY (Cf. cy) …   Etymology dictionary

  • episcopacy — [ē pis′kə pə sē, ipis′kə pə sē] n. pl. episcopacies [< LL(Ec) episcopatus, office of a bishop < episcopus, BISHOP] 1. the system of church government by bishops 2. EPISCOPATE …   English World dictionary

  • Episcopacy —    The name given to that form of Church government in which Bishops are the Chief Pastors with Priests and Deacons under them. The word is derived from the Greek Episcopos, meaning overseer; Bishop being the Anglicized form of the Greek word.… …   American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • episcopacy — UK [ɪˈpɪskəpəsɪ] / US noun Word forms episcopacy : singular episcopacy plural episcopacies a) [uncountable] a system of governing a church by bishops b) [countable] the bishops of a church …   English dictionary

  • episcopacy — [ɪ pɪskəpəsi, ɛ ] noun (plural episcopacies) government of a Church by bishops. ↘(the episcopacy) the bishops of a region or church collectively. Origin C17: from eccles. L. episcopatus episcopate …   English new terms dictionary

  • episcopacy — noun (plural cies) Date: 1647 1. government of the church by bishops or by a hierarchy 2. episcopate …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • episcopacy — noun a) Government of the church by bishops. b) bishops collectively; episcopate …   Wiktionary

  • Episcopacy — It means overseer. The system of Church Government by bishops. Where it prevails it is commonly held to be the continuation of the institution of the Apostolate by Christ …   Dictionary of church terms

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