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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
in canon law, means the duty by which the various gradations in ecclesiastical organization are held subject, in all things consistent with the law of God or of the Church, to the several superiors placed immediately above them, respectively, in the hierarchical scale. Thus priests and inferior clergy owe canonical obedience to the bishop, and priests are bound thereto by a solemn promise administered at ordination. The bishop primitively took a similar oath to the metropolitan; but by the modern law the jurisdiction of the metropolitan is confined to the occasions of his holding a visitation or presiding in the provincial synod. Bishops, by the present law of the Roman Catholic Church, take an oath of obedience to the pope. This obedience, however, is strictly limited by the canons, and is only held to bind in things consistent with the divine and natural law.
In ecclesiastical history the word obedience has ‘ a special signification, and is applied to the several parties in the Church who during the great Western schism (q.v.) adhered to the rival popes. Thus we read of the "Roman obedience," which included all who recognized the pope chosen at Rome, and the "Avignon obedience," which meant the supporters of the Avignon pope. So, again, historians speak of "the obedience of Gregory XII," and "the obedience of Benedict XIII," etc.
Applied to the monastic institute, obedience means the voluntary submission which all members of religious orders vow, at their religious profession, to their immediate superiors, of whatever grade in the order, as well as to' the superior general, and still more to the rules and constitutions of the order. This forms, in all orders, one of the essential vows. It is, however, expressly confined to lawful things; and although it is held that a superior can command certain things under pain of sin, yet Roman Catholics repudiate the notion that the command of a superior can render lawful, much less good, a thing which is of its own nature or by the law of God sinful or bad.
The word "obedience" is in this connection used also to designate a place or office, with the estate and profits belonging to it, in a monastery, subordinate to the abbot, and corresponding to a dignity in a cathedral or collegiate church. In 1222 the incumbeits were required to render half- yearly or quarterly accounts, as well as the greater prelates, abbots, and priors. The obedientiares were usually the subprior, precentor, cellarer, sacristan, chamberlain, kitchener, infirmarer, keeper of annals, hosteler, almoner, pitanciar, lumberer, and master of the lady chapel. But the obediences varied according to the size of the monastery; sometimes the gardener, fruiterer, or keeper of the orchard was included.
The word is also sometimes given to the written precept or other formal instrument by which a superior in a religious order communicates to one of his subjects any special precept or instructions-as, for example, to undertake a certain office, to proceed upon a particular mission, to relinquish a certain appointment, etc. The instruction, or the instrument containing it, is called an "— obedience," because it is held to bind in Virtue of religious obedience.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Obedience (Ecclesiastical)'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/o/obedience-ecclesiastical.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.