General Chapter

The meeting of a religious order to determine policy for the organization and especially to elect new leaders. Although the orders vary widely in the frequency, functions, and powers accorded to the general chapter, it is generally composed of heads and representatives of the constituent communities, convoked every three or four years, and constituted as the highest authority in the order under the pope, although in some cases the head is not bound by its decrees. The institution only became standard with the Cistercians-who established an annual general chapter of all abbots as the ultimate authority within the order-and was made mandatory for all orders by the Fourth Lateran Council.