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(Gr. oikonomos from oikos, a house, and nemein, to distribute, to administer)
An Episcopal Œconomous is one who is charged with the care of a house, an administrator. In canon law this term designates the individual who is appointed to take charge of the temporal goods of the Church in a diocese; it is used also of the person in charge of the property of a monastery. This office originated in the Eastern Church and dates back to the fourth century: a law of Honorius and Arcadius in 398 speaks of it as if it were then widespread (Cod. Theodos., IX, tit. 45, lex. 3). The Council of Chalcedon (451) ordered an œconomus to be appointed in every diocese; to take charge of ecclesiastical property under episcopal authority (canon xxvi in Mansi, VII, 367). They were established in the Eastern Church and have continued down to the present day in the schismatical Greek Church (Silbernagi, "Verfassung und gegenwärtiger Bestand sämtlicher Kirchen des Orients", 2nd ed., Ratisbon, 1904, 37). The increase of church property after the Edict of Milan (313) and the multiplication of episcopal duties rendered this office very useful. In the West, we meet with the œconomus in Spain (Council of Seville, 619, can. ix), in Sardinia, and perhaps in Sicily, at the end of the sixth century (Jaffé-Wattenbach, "Regesta Pontificum Romanorum", Leipzig, 1881, I, nn. 1282, 1915). But as a general rule the Western bishops contented themselves with the aid of a confidential assistant, a vicedominus, who looked after the temporalities and ranked next to the bishop. The establishment of a domain in connexion with each church made the task of administering the ecclesiastical property much lighter. The office of vicedominus was modified by the influence of the feudal system, and by the fact that the bishops became temporal sovereigns. The Council of Trent ordered the chapters of cathedral churches to establish, in addition to a capitulary vicar, one or more œconomi to administer the temporal property of the diocese during an episcopal vacancy (Sess. XXIV, De Reformatione, c. xvi). At the present time, the bishop is not obliged to appoint an œconomus, though he is not hindered from so doing. The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (c. lxxv) advises bishops to select one from among the ecclesiastics or even the laity, who is skilled in the civil law of the country.
LOENING, Gesch. des deutdchen Kirchenrechts (Strasburg, 1878), I, 235; II, 342; STUTZ, Gesch. des kirchl. Benefizialwesens, I (Berlin, 1895), 9 sq.; SENN, L'institution des Vidamies en France (Paris, 1907); LESNE, Hist. de la propriété ecclés. en France, I. Epoque Romaine et Mérovingienne (Paris, 1910).
A. VAN HOVE.