- This article is about ecclesiastical dioceses.
In some Christian churches, the diocese is an administrative territorial unit administrated by a bishop, hence also referred to as a bishopric or Episcopal Area (as in United Methodism) or episcopal see, though more often the term episcopal see means the office held by the bishop. The diocese is the key unit of authority in the form of church governance known as episcopal polity. In the Roman Catholic Church, an important diocese is called an archdiocese (usually due to size, historical significance, or both), which is governed by an Archbishop, who may in the Catholic hierarchy either be exempt from or have Metropolitan authority over the other ('suffragan') dioceses within a wider jurisdiction called ecclesiastical province. As of 2003, there are approximately 569 Roman Catholic archdioceses and 2014 dioceses.
The Church of England continued and developed this diocesan structure after the Reformation.
In the later organization of the Roman Empire, the increasingly subdivided provinces were administratively associated in a larger unit, the diocese. (Latin dioecesis, from the Greek term διοίκησις meaning "administration").
The Catholic Church adopted the Roman diocesan structure of authority during the 5th and 6th centuries, as each bishop fully assumed the role of the former Roman praefectus. This transfer of authority from secular officials to ecclesiastical leaders was facilitated by the Christian practice of establishing areas of ecclesiastical administration that coincided with those of the Roman civil administration. In modern times, many an ancient diocese, though later divided among several dioceses, has preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division. See also: Bishops and civil government.
In the Roman Empire
The earliest use of 'diocese' as an administrative unit was in the Greek-speaking East. Three districts— Cibyra, Apamea and Synnada— were added to the province of Cilicia in the time of Cicero, who mentions the fact in his familiar letters (EB 1911). The word 'diocese', which at that time was equivalent to a tax-collecting district, came to be applied to the territory itself.
The reorganization of the Empire known as Tetrarchy began under Emperor Diocletian, who divided the vast Empire into four quarters, originally each under a co-emperor ('Tetrarch') but as these soon were abolished under their former chiefs of staff, styled praetorian prefects, who had authority over the next, also new administrative level: twelve dioceses. The largest, Oriens, included sixteen provinces, and the smallest, Britain, was comprised of only four provinces. A list of Roman dioceses as they existed in 395 CE can be found at the entry for Roman provinces.
Each diocese of the Empire was governed by a vicarius. Between the 4th and 6th centuries, as the older administrative structure began to crumble, the role of the bishops in the western lands of the Empire enabled those lands and their peoples to maintain a semblance of civilisation as the authority of Rome vanished. The senatorial aristocracy, especially in the provinces, continued in many places to serve as sources of local authority to complement the authority assumed by the Church. At that time, ecclesiastical political power was often vested in the spiritual offices of the bishops in each region. It is, therefore, unsurprising that, as the Catholic, and later the Eastern Orthodox, churches began to define their respective administrative structures, they relied on the older Roman terminology and methods to describe administrative units and hierarchy, which caused the division between ecclesiastical and secular authority to often disappear. In theEastern Empire, this became fundamental doctrine: see Caesaropapism.
Modern Christian usage of 'diocese' tends to refer to the sphere of a bishop's jurisdiction. This became commonplace during the self-conscious "classicizing" structural evolution of the Carolingian empire in the 9th century, but this usage had itself been evolving from the much earlier parochia ("parish"), dating from the increasingly formalised Christian authority structure in the 4th century (see EB 1911).
In the United Methodist Church, a bishop is given oversight over a geographical area called an Episcopal Area. The clergy under his supervision along with their churches are collectively referred to as the Annual Conference. Thus, depending on how the term "diocese" is being used (whether to refer to geography or a group of churches) either the term "Episcopal Area" or "Annual Conference" might be the appropriate UMC equivalent.
In English-speaking countries, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the term ward, rather than parish, to refer to the jurisdiction of the bishop and his counselors. However, the ward is not equal in size to a Catholic diocese; rather, a stake is.
- Catholic Archdioceses in the Philippines
- Catholic Dioceses in the Philippines
- Roman Catholicism
- Complete list of Catholic dioceses worldwide by Giga-Catholic Information
- Virtually complete list of current and historical Catholic dioceses worldwide
- List of current Anglican/Episcopalian dioceses