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Definitors (in Religious Orders)

The governing council of an order

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Definitors (in RELIGIOUS ORDERS), generally speaking, the governing council of an order. Bergier describes them as those chosen to represent the order in general or provincial chapters, but this is not altogether correct, for the usage varies in different orders. With the Dominicans all who are sent to represent the provinces in a general chapter are definitors; amongst the Cluniac monks there existed a similar regulation (though normally in the Benedictine Order definitors have no place). On the other hand, in the Franciscan Order, definitors are elected by the general and provincial chapters to assist the general or provincial superiors in the government of the order and a similar rule exists amongst the Carmelites and the Hermits of St. Augustine. But in this case it would seem that the definitors form a sort of executive committee of the chapter, since they are subject to the legislative enactments of the chapter. Definitors, strictly so called, have a decisive vote in congregation equally with the general or provincial superior; in this they differ from mere consultors such as exist in some orders and in the Society of Jesus. Nor may the general or provincial superior act in matters of greater moment without taking the vote of the definitors. A definitor, however, has the right to vote only when present in congregation. When called to give his opinion in congregation he is bound in conscience to speak candidly according to his own judgment, even if he knows his opinion to be contrary to that of the other definitors, and if he fails to do so in matters of gravity, he is held to sin gravely. Yet when the vote is taken, he is bound to sign the declaration of the majority, though he has the right to insist upon a minority report. In some orders, e.g. the Capuchin, the junior definitor gives his opinion first, that he may not be influenced by the seniors; but in other orders the senior speaks first. Again, in some orders the local superiors are appointed by the definitors; in others they are elected by the local community. Thus, amongst the Franciscans, the provincial superior is selected by the provincial chapter, subject to confirmation by the minister general and his definitors, whereas the superiors of houses are appointed directly by the provincial definitors: whilst amongst the Dominicans all local superiors are elected by the local community.

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