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Primus inter pares

Revision as of 02:04, September 9, 2006 by Hellenica (talk | contribs) (Wiki Import edit)

First among equals is a phrase which indicates that a person is the most senior of a group of people sharing the same rank or office. The concept is also known by its Latin equivalent, primus inter pares, from which it originates. Examples include the Prime Minister of many Commonwealth nations, the President of the European Commission, the Chief Justice of the United States, and some religious figures, such as the Dean of the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church, or the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The term was also used by Roman Emperors (see Princeps) as a means of reducing the appearance of dictatorship (which was particularly important during the early Roman Empire to appease those who may have longed for a return to the old Roman Republic).


The phrase "first among equals" is also used by some to describe the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who, as the Ecumenical Patriarch, is considered the first among all the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. According to those views, the title does not mean that the holder has special authority over the other bishops; rather, it is an acknowledgement of his historic significance.

This is not the view of the Roman Catholic Church, which considers the Pope to be Vicar of Christ, successor of Saint Peter, and leader of the bishops, successors of the Apostles. Because of this, the Roman Catholic Church sees the Pope as holding an office senior to that of other bishops, rather than merely being the most senior bishop. This claim was one of the main causes of the East-West Schism in the Christian church, finalized in 1054. However, the Dean of the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church is generally considered to be the first among equals in the College.

In the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury is often considered to be "first among equals". The Moderator of the General Assembly in a Presbyterian church is similarly designated. The senior bishop of the seven diocesean bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church bears the truncated title Primus from primus inter pares.

In the Church of Sweden, the Archbishop of Uppsala is considered primus inter pares.