Abbot

The title given to the head of a community of monks of the Benedictine Order or some of the regular canons. The name comes from the Hebrew word for “father”, and was commonly used in the Eastern churches for all the older monks. In the West, where it derives from the Latin abbas, it was applied to the head of the community alone. At first the abbot was a layman and was under the control of the local bishop. During the Middle Ages abbots became responsible to the pope and assumed authority sometimes greater than that of the bishop. At first the abbot was appointed by the bishop, but in time the monks elected the head of their house. The bishop now confirmed and blessed the new abbot, giving him a mitre, crosier, and ring. These symbols recognized his semi-episcopal power, which was wielded in both church and state. At the end of the Middle Ages his authority over his own house had become such that he often lived in great state. In the sixteenth century the long struggle to gain exemption from episcopal control ended, when all orders of monks gained immunity. The abbot is now directly responsible to the pope. He is elected to his office for a period of years, or more usually for life.