Religion Information

Catholic Hierarchy: The Nobiliary Element in the Catholic Church


It seems to me that some of the oldest still surviving hierarchies are those of the nobility, the Church and the military. What is perhaps not commonly known is how they correspond with each other. Below is an outline of the correspondence between the catholic hierarchy of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and that of the nobility.

Let me first say that all noblemen are dependent on a Prince or Monarch for their noble rank. Catholic priests have since time immemorial held rank equivalent to that of an (untitled) nobleman, nobile. It is from a nobiliary standpoint interesting to reflect upon the Lateran Pacts of 1929 between the Holy See and Italy. The Vatican City State is recognized as a sovereign country and the Supreme Pontiff as its Sovereign, in this capacity equal to the King of Italy. Article 21 of the "Conciliation Treaty" states that "All Cardinals shall enjoy, in Italy, the honours due to Princes of the Blood". (For the text, see http://www.aloha.net/~mikesch/treaty.htm).

This means that the two top levels of the noble hierarchy are defined, and they correspond to equal ranks of the priesthood. The other steps follow by extrapolation in the only way possible.

Catholic Hierarchy Noble hierarchyPope MonarchCardinal PrinceArchbishop Duke/MarquisBishop / Aux. Bishop Count/BaronMonsignore/Priest Noble

Of course a number of details may be argued. It should however be noted that other codification exists as well. In the Almanach de Gota, all Cardinals are listed as having the rank of Prince (http://www.almanachdegotha.com/). In his book "The Holy See and the International Order", that most distinguished diplomat of the Holy See H.E. Archbishop Hyginus Eugene Cardinale has devoted part of a chapter to "Armorial bearings, attire and titles of Catholic priests", and the entire book is highly recommended.

It should further be noted that the nobiliary hierarchy is usually regarded as logarithmic. The step between noble and Baron is often regarded as greater than that between Baron and Count, etc. I am not competent to judge if this is also the case with the catholic hierarchy of the Church, but it will be evident that for a number of reasons it is only possibly to make approximations when trying to bring the rank systems above in harmony with each other.

Popes have granted a number of nobiliary titles to deserving subjects during the course of the centuries. According to the Lateran Pacts of 1929, in the Concordat Art 42, "Italy shall admit the recognition of titles of nobility conferred by the Supreme Pontiff, even after 1870, and of those that shall be conferred in the future". In 1947 the Constitution of the Italian Republic abolished the use of nobiliary titles, in the sense that they are place outside the legal system of the Republic (see the excellent article by the Italian lawyer Gherardo Guelfi Camaiani at http://www.dirittonobiliare.com/titoli.html).

Here in Sweden we have the example of the margravely family Lagergren, where Claes Lagergren was granted the title of Marquis in the year 1889 by Pope Leo XIII.

Jan-Olov von Wowern lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and isthe head of the Swedish branch of the von Wowern family, dating back to its founder who was born around 1090 and made a Marquis in 1141. He is active in European charitable and nobiliary work. Visit his page at http://www.findyournobleancestors.com and download a FREE chapter from his book.


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