Volume 1: 1771 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica!


Abbott, the superior of an abbey or convent of monks. In the first ages of Christianity, the abbots were plain disinterested men, and lived contented with the government of their monasteries, which were generally erected in the most solitary parts: but being called from their deserts to oppose the heresies in the church, they soon began to entertain sentiments of ambition, and endeavored to shake off their dependency on the bishops. Hence arose the distinctions of mitred abbots, crosiered abbots, oecumenical abbots, cardinal abbots, etc. The principal distinction which subsists at present among abbots, is that of regular and commendatory; the former of which take the vow, and wear the habit of the order; the latter are seculars, though they are obliged to take orders at the proper age. Before the Reformation in England, there were abbots elective and representative; some mitred, and others not. The mitred abbots were invested with episcopal authority within their own limits, independent of the bishop; but the others were subject to the diocesan in all spiritual government. Mitred abbots were Lords of parliament, of which number Sir Edward Coke reckons 27, who sat in Parliament, besides two Lords Priors.

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