• Greek: presbyteros, elder


In the early Church, member of a college which advised the bishop, who was himself called a presbyter; this group formed the presbytery, the governing body of the community. Outside of this presbytery, a presbyter had no official duties as an individual. He could, however, be commissioned and deputed by the bishop to perform duties much like those of a priest, as baptizing, preaching, celebrating Mass, etc. As a member of the college, administering juris- diction and discipline, the presbyter had to be of blameless life, and had to do his duty unmindful of human respect. They were usually men of advanced age, and like bishop and deacon were chosen by the congregation. The number was unrestricted; the rank was above that of a deacon and below that of a bishop; they were called co-presbyters of the bishop. Irenreus tells that at an earlier date the name of presbyter was a title of honor borne by worthy and prominent men in the congregation. He also mentions the name of presbyters in connection with that of bishops in such a manner that we can infer that at some time the bishop held a position not higher than the other members of the college. In the early congregations there was a three-fold organization: the spiritual, the administrative, and the patriarchal. The last consisted of leaders and of led, tbe former being the elder and the latter the younger members of the congregation. Out of this distinction there arose a further separation which resulted in the development of a ruling college, or presbytery.

MLA Citation

  • “presbyter”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 December 2010. Web. 24 January 2019. <>