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A phrase used in canon law to designate a certain manner of collating an ecclesiastical benefice. The word commendam is the accusative of the Low Latin noun commenda, "trust", or "custody", which is derived from the verb commendare (to give in trust). The phrase in commendam was originally applied to the provisional collation and occupation of an ecclesiastical benefice which was temporarily without an actual occupant. It was thus opposed to the phrase in titulum which was applied to the regular and unconditioned collation of benefices.
The custom of giving benefices in commendam dates back to the fourth century. Thus St. Ambrose makes mention of a church which he gave in commendam, while he was Bishop of Milan: "Commendo tibi, fili, Ecclesiam quae est ad Forum Cornelii . . . donec ei ordinetur episcopus (Ep. ii, P.L., XVI, 886-87) The Third Council of Orleans, held in 538, in its eighteenth canon puts commendams under episcopal supervision. St. Gregory the Great on various occasions gave churches and monasteries in commendam to such bishops as had been driven from their sees by the invading barbarians, or whose own churches were too poor to furnish them a decent livelihood (Epp. i, 40; ii, 38; iii, 13; vi, 21; in P. L., LXXVII, 493, 577, 614, 812). In course of time the custom arose of allowing ecclesiastics, and even laymen, to draw the revenues of ecclesiastical benefices, without having any jurisdiction over spiritual affairs. In many cases, also, the one who held a benefice in commendam in this manner had the right and the obligation to engage and pay an ecclesiastic for fulfilling the spiritual obligations of the benefice. In the Middle Ages such commendams were often given to students, professors, church diplomats, cardinals, and others (Concerning the abuses of this practice and the efforts of popes and councils to put an end to them, see COMMENDATORY ABBOT.) The pope has now reserved to himself the right of giving benefices in commendam, but makes use of this right only in cases of cardinals who reside in Rome.