Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The right to intercede for criminals, which was granted by the secular power to the bishops of the Early Church. This right originated rather in the great respect in which the episcopal dignity was held in the early centuries of Christianity, than in any definite enactment. Reference to its existence is made in the seventh canon of the Council of Sardica about 344 ( Mansi, "Collectio Amplissima Conciliorum", III. It is also mentioned by St. Augustine (Epp. cxxxiii and cxxxix, in Migne, P.L., XXXIII, 509, 535), St. Jerome (Ep. lii, in Migne, P.L., XXII, 527-40), and by Socrates in his "Church History" (V, xiv; VII, xvii). St. Augustine repeatedly interceded for criminals with Macedonius, who was then governor of Africa (Epp. clii-cliii, in Migne, P.L., XXXIII, 652). Martin of Tours interceded with Emperor Maximus for the imprisoned Priscillianists in 384-5: and Bishop Flavian of Antioch interceded with Emperor Theodosius I in 387 on behalf of the inhabitants of Antioch, who had wantonly destroyed the imperial statues in that city. St. Ambrose induced Emperor Theodosius I to enact a law which forbade the execution of the death penalty and the confiscation of property until thirty days after sentence had been passed. It was the purpose of this law to leave room for clemency and to prevent the punishing of the innocent [see Bossuet, "Gallia Orthodoxa" pars I, lib. II, cap. v, in "Œuvres Complètes", XII (Bar-le-Duc, 1870), 98]. To enable them to exercise their right of intercession, the bishops had free access to the prisons (Codex Theodosii, app., cap. xiii). They were even exhorted to visit the prisoners every Wednesday and Saturday in order to investigate the cause of their imprisonment, and to admonish the supervisors of the prisons to treat those committed to their charge with Christian charity. In case the prison-keepers were found to be inhuman or remiss in their duty towards their prisoners, the bishops were to report these abuses to the emperor. The rights of the bishops, which were almost unlimited in this respect, were somewhat regulated for the bishops of the Eastern Empire in "Codex Justiniani", lib. I, tit. 4: "De episcopali audientia"; for the bishops of the Western Empire in the "Edicta Theoderici", cap. xiv (Mon. Germ. Leg., V). Closely allied with the right of episcopal intercession was the right of asylum or sanctuary (see RIGHT OF ASYLUM), and the right and duty of the bishops to protect orphans, widows, and other unfortunates. Thus Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, interceded with Empress Pulcheria in behalf of the poor of his diocese, who were overladen with taxes; the Third Council of Carthage, held in 399, requested the emperor to accede to the wishes of the bishops by appointing advocates to plead the causes of the poor before the courts, while the Council of Mâcon, held in 585, forbade all civil authorities to begin judicial proceedings against widows and orphans without previously notifying the bishop of the diocese to which the accused belonged.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 3:1-10
1 Once, when Peter and John were going up to the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
1 Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh, call on his name, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 24:13-35
13 Now that very same day, two of them were on their ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 23rd, 2014 Image

St. George
April 23: Pictures of St. George usually show him killing a dragon to ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter