Benefice (beneficium ecclesiasticum) is a term which includes two meanings: the spiritual, relating to the ecclesiastical duties attached to it; and the temporal, relating to the income and other worldly advantages of the office. The latter is more strictly the meaning of the word, though the connection of the two was early recognized in the phrase beneficium datur propter officium. Indeed, the term beneficium is not generally used where there is only the temporal side, with no corresponding duties. Such a case may be a commenda, whose holder has a right to the revenues of a church without any responsibilities; or a prœstimonium, which is a charge for support on the revenues of the church; or a pensio, the use of a part of the revenues. These relations, however, when they are permanent fall under the general rules applicable to benefices. The benefice proper is ordinarily permanent, though sometimes founded for a specified time.
Historically in the primitive Church all the property of a diocese formed one whole, administered by the bishop; its purpose was primarily the support of the poor–bishop and clergy lived as belonging to that class, and were supposed, if they had no private means, to support themselves by their own labors. Those who had no other means of support received a monthly stipend from
The intimate connection between officium and beneficium is shown by a review of the provisions affecting benefices. They are divided into regular and secular, according as they are served by monastic or secular clergy; into beneficia curata, those to which the cure of souls is attached, and non curata, such as those of chaplains, canons of cathedrals, and the like. The Council of Trent forbade changing a beneficium curatum into a non curatum or simplex. The erection or constitution of a benefice, the permanent attachment of certain revenues to the performance of certain duties, was held to be reserved to the ecclesiastical authorities. The foundation of bishoprics was originally a function of provincial synods, but later came to the pope, who also had power alone to found collegiate churches. The bishop has power to found other benefices within his diocese, and his officials decide whether the endowment is sufficient and whether the proposed foundation will be useful and not injure any other party. The founder has certain rights of imposing conditions for the tenure of his benefice, which, once confirmed, are perpetual.
The appointment to a benefice (provisio, institutio canonica) includes the choice of the person (designatio) and the conferring of the benefice (collatio, concessio, institutio in the narrower sense). The designation to the greater benefices (bishoprics and the like) is sometimes by election, sometimes by nomination of the sovereign; to the lesser, by the choice of the bishop, frequently on the nomination of a patron. The collation is the act of ecclesiastical superiors–of the pope to bishoprics (confirmatio), of the bishop to the lesser benefices.
The conditions of a proper canonical appointment to a benefice are several: (1) A vacancy must exist, and that a real one, not such as would be caused by the forcible expulsion of the incumbent. Thus expectancies are forbidden; but the election of a coadjutor-bishop cum jure successionis is allowed. (2) The person appointed must be a persona regularis and idonea, i.e., properly qualified to hold the benefice. Under this head comes the possession of the qualifications necessary for ordination, though, where it is required, a delay of a year or other specified time may be granted. Intellectual qualifications are included, to be determined, according to the Council of Trent, by examination; and the law has sometimes required native birth also, other things being equal. (3) The appointment must be made within the legal time, the rule being that no benefice shall remain vacant more than six months; otherwise the right of presentation is lost (see DEVOLUTION, LAW OF). (4) There must be no simony involved. (5) What are called subreption and obreption are also forbidden; this affects especially cases where a person obtains a benefice without letting it be known that he already holds another. The church law forbids plurality of benefices, except, for example, in cases where a beneficium simplex is held concurrently with a beneficium curatum, these being held to be compatible. This rule was often violated by papal dispensation, which caused great dissatisfaction. (6) The proper forms, both in the designation and in the collation, must be observed (see BISHOP; INVESTITURE; etc.).
The rights and duties connected with a benefice are partly matters of universal law, partly special to the particular case. The incumbent has a right to the usufruct of any property belonging to the benefice, tithes, fees, oblations, etc. All this is his absolutely; but the view that he ought only to use so much of it as will suffice for his support, devoting the rest to ecclesiastical purposes and especially to the poor, influenced legislation very early, so that what came from the Church was supposed to revert to the Church, if it had not been used, at the cleric's death. This rule, which at one time was positive, has been very much relaxed, within certain limits. Of course the incumbent's power over church property is limited by the rights of his successor, arid no arrangements can be made lasting beyond his lifetime, unless by the concurrence of the proper authorities.
A benefice is supposed to be conferred for life, and is normally vacated only by the death of the incumbent, but it may be vacated earlier by resignation, either express or tacit. Resignation can not be arbitrary with the incumbent, as he has by his acceptance of it incurred certain obligations from which he must be released–bishops by the pope, the lower clergy by their bishops. There must also be a valid ground for it. Tacit resignation may come about through any act which ipso facto dissolves the relationship: the taking monastic vows by the holder of a beneficium sœculare, the acceptance of a secular office, marriage (see CELIBACY), the acceptance of another incompatible benefice,
The technical use of the word benefice in Protestant Churches is largely confined to the Church of England where a great part of the prescriptions given above is still in force. In the statute law of England the term is practically restricted to a benefice with cure of souls, as distinct from cathedral preferment. In the State Churches of Germany also the distinction between beneficium and officium is still maintained, and the erection and alteration of benefices is a matter concerning jointly the ecclesiastical and secular authorities. Here the ordinary collator to a benefice is the consistory. The tendency of the most modern legislation is toward giving the congregation a voice in the selection of the pastor.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bingham, Origines, book v; L. Thomassin, Vetus et nova ecclesiœ disciplina, II, iii, 13, § 5, Paris, 1698; C. Gross, Das Recht an der Pfründe, Graz, 1887; Galante, Il beneficio ecclesiastico, Milan, 1895; U. Stutz, Geschichte des kirchlichen Benefizialwesens von seinen Anfängen bis auf die Zeit Alexanders III, Berlin, 1895.
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