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Advocate of The Church

ADVOCATE OF THE CHURCH (Lat. Advocatus or Defensor Ecclesiæ): An officer charged with the secular affairs of an ecclesiastical establishment, more especially its defense, legal or armed. The beginnings of the office appear in the Roman empire. From the end of the fifth century there were defensores in Italy, charged with the protection of the poor and orphans as well as with the care of Church rights and property. In the Merovingian kingdom legal representatives of the churches had the title. In the Carlovingian period, in accordance with the effort to keep the clergy as far as possible from worldly affairs, bishops, abbots, and other ecclesiastics were required to have such an official. The development of the law of immunity made such advocati necessary—on the one hand, to uphold Church rights against the State and in court, on the other hand to perform judicial and police duties in ecclesiastical territory. The Carlovingian kings had the right of appointment, but sometimes waived it in individual cases. These officers were at first generally clerics, later laymen, and finally the office became hereditary. Often this advocate of the Church developed into a tyrant, keeping the establishment in absolute submission, despoiling and plundering it. He usurped the whole power of administration, limited the authority of the bishop to purely spiritual affairs, absorbed the tithes and all other revenues, and doled out to the clergy a mean modicum only. Innocent III. (1198-1216), however, succeeded in checking the growing importance of this institution, and soon the office itself disappeared.

Bibliography: R. Happ, De advocatia ecclesiastica, Bonn, 1870; H. Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, ii. 302, Leipsic, 1892.

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