Prior

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Prior is an ecclesiastical title, derived from the Latin adjective for 'earlier, first', with several notable uses.

Monastic superiors

A Prior is a monastic superior, usually lower in rank than an Abbot. In the Rule of St. Benedict the term prior occurs several times, but does not signify any particular superior; it is indiscriminately applied to any superior, be he Abbot, Provost, Dean, etc. In other old monastic rules the term is used in the same generic sense.

With the Cluniac reform the term Prior received a specific meaning; it supplanted the provost (praepositus) of the Rule of St. Benedict. In the congregation of Hirschau, which arose in Germany in the eleventh century, the term Prior was also substituted for Provost, and the example of the Cluniac and Hirschau congregations was gradually followed by all Benedictine monasteries, as well as by the Camaldolese, Vallombrosians, Cistercians, and other offshoots of the Benedictine Order.

Compound and derived titles

In the Benedictine Order and its branches, in the Premonstratensian Order, and in the military orders there are three kinds of priors: the claustral prior, the conventual prior, and the obedientiary prior.

The claustral prior (Latin prior claustralis), in a few monasteries called dean, holds the first place after the abbot (or grand-master in military orders), whom he assists in the government of the monastery, functioning effectively as the abbot's second-in-charge. He has no ordinary jurisdiction by virtue...
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