Canon (priest)

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A canon (from the Latin canonicus and Greek κανωνικωσ 'relating to a rule') is a priest who is a member of certain bodies of the Christian clergy subject to a rule (canon).

Originally, a canon was a cleric living with others in a clergyhouse or, later, in one of the houses within the precinct or close of a cathedral and ordering his life according to the orders or rules of the church. This way of life began to become common (and be referred to in manuscripts) in the eighth century. In the eleventh century, some churches required clergy so living together to adopt the rule first proposed by Saint Augustine that they renounce private property. Those who embraced this change were known as Augustinian or regular canons, whilst those who did not were known as secular canons.

One of the functions of the cathedral canons in the Roman Catholic Church is to elect a Vicar Capitular to serve during a sede vacante period of the diocese.


Secular canons

All canons of the Church of England have been secular (that is, not professed monks) since the Reformation. Mostly, however, they are ordained (that is, priests or members of the clergy). Today, the system of canons is retained almost exclusively in connection with cathedral churches. A canon is a member of the chapter of (for the most part) priests, headed by a Dean, which is responsible for administering a cathedral or certain other churches that are styled collegiate church. The Dean and Chapter are the formal body which has legal reponsibility for the Cathedral and for electing the (arch)bishop. In addition to their regular (ordained clergy) canons, cathedrals of the Church of England may also have lay canons, who are not clergy.

Honorary canons

Canon is still used as a largely honorary title in many dioceses to senior parish priests. This is usually awarded as a recognition of long and dedicated service to the Diocese. These priests are entitled to call themselves Canon and still have a role in the administration of the cathedral. Honorary canons are members of the Chapter in name but are non-residential and receive no emoluments. Minor canons are those clergy who are members of the cathedral's establishment and take part in the daily services but are not part of the formal Chapter.

Canons regular

The members of certain religious orders in the Roman Catholic church, exclusively composed of priests, notably:

  • Canons Regular of the Lateran
  • Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross
  • Confederation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine
  • Order of the Canons Regular of Premontre; Norbertines
  • Order of the Holy Cross
  • Swiss Congregation of Canons Regular of Saint Maurice of Agaune
(not to be confused with clerics regular)


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