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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > O > Ordinary


(Latin ordinarius, i. e., judex)

An Ordinary in ecclesiastical language, denotes any person possessing or exercising ordinary jurisdiction, i.e., jurisdiction connected permanently or at least in a stable way with an office, whether this connexion arises from Divine law, as in the case of popes and bishops, or from positive church law, as in the case mentioned below. Ordinary jurisdiction is contrasted with delegated jurisdiction, a temporary communication of power made by a superior to an inferior; thus we speak of a delegated judge and an ordinary judge. A person may be an ordinary within his own sphere, and at the same time have delegated powers for certain acts or the exercise of special authority. The jurisdiction which constitutes an ordinary is real and full jurisdiction in the external forum, comprising the power of legislating, adjudicating, and governing. Jurisdiction in the internal forum, being partial and exercised only in private matters, does not constitute an ordinary. Parish priests, therefore, are not ordinaries, though they have jurisdiction in the internal forum, for they have not jurisdiction in the external forum, being incapable of legislating and acting as judges; their administration is the exercise of paternal authority rather than of jurisdiction properly so called.

There are various classes of ordinaries. First, they are divided into those having territorial jurisdiction and those who have not. As a rule ordinary jurisdiction is territorial as well as personal, as in the case of the pope and the bishops; but ordinary jurisdiction may be restricted to certain persons, exempt from the local authority. Such for instance is the jurisdiction of regular prelates, abbots, generals, and provincials of religious orders making solemn vows; they can legislate, adjudicate and govern; consequently they are ordinaries; but their jurisdiction concerns individuals not localities; they are not, like the others, called local ordinaries, ordinarii locorum. Superiors of congregations and institutes bound by simple vows are not ordinaries though they may enjoy a greater or less degree of administrative exemption. The jurisdiction of local ordinaries arises from Divine law or ecclesiastical law. The pope is the ordinary of the entire church and all the faithful; he has ordinary and immediate jurisdiction over all (Conc. Vatic., Const. "Pastor æternus", c. iii). Bishops are the pastors and ordinary judges in their dioceses, appointed to govern their churches by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:28). Certain bishops have, by ecclesiastical law, a mediate ordinary power over other bishops and dioceses; these are the metropolitana, primates, and patriarchs. In a lower rank, there is another class of ordinaries, viz., prelates who exercise jurisdiction in the external forum over a given territory, which is not a diocese, either in their own name, as in the case of prelates or abbots nullius or in the name of the pope, like years and prefects Apostolic until the erection of their territories into complete dioceses.

Local ordinaries being unable personally to perform all acts of their jurisdiction may and even ought to communicate it permanently to certain persons, without however, divesting themselves of their authority; if the duties of these persons are specified and determined by law, they also are ordinaries, but in a restricted and inferior sense. This is vicarial jurisdiction, delegated as to its source, but ordinary as to its exercise, and which would be more accurately termed quasi-ordinary. In this sense vicars-general and diocesan officials are ordinaries; so also, in regard to the pope, the heads of the various organs of the Curia are ordinaries for the whole Church; the cardinal vicar for the Diocese of Rome and his district; the legate a latere, for the country to which he is sent. Finally, there are ordinaries with an interimary and transitory title during the vacancy of sees. Thus when the Holy See is vacant, the ordinaries are the College of Cardinals and the cardinal camerlengo; when a diocese the chapter and also the vicar capitular, and in general the interimary administrator; so, too, the vicar, for religious orders. These persons possess and exercise exterior jurisdiction, although with certain restrictions, and this in virtue of their office; they are therefore ordinaries.

In practice, the determination of the persons included under the term ordinary is of importance in the case of indults and the execution of rescripts issued from Rome. Since the decrees of the Holy Office dated 20 February, 1888, and 20 April, 1898, indults and most of the rescripts, instead of being addressed to the bishop, are addressed to the ordinary; and it has been declared that the term ordinary comprises bishops, Apostolic administrators, vicars, prelates or prefects with separate territorial jurisdiction, and their officials or vicars-general; and also, during the vacancy of a see, the vicar capitular or lawful administrator. Thus the powers are handed on, without intermission or renewal, from one ordinary to his successor. (See JURISDICTION.)


See the canonical writers on the titles De officio judicis ordinarii. 1. I, tit. 31, and De officio ordinarii, 1. I, tit. 16, in VI; SÄGMÜLLER, Lehrbuch des kathol. Kirchenrechts (Freiburg, 1909), §60, 87 sq.

About this page

APA citation. Boudinhon, A. (1911). Ordinary. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Boudinhon, Auguste. "Ordinary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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