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in commendam, in trust


  1. A vacant benefice commended to a cleric until an incumbent was provided

Extensive Definition

In canon law, commendam (or in commendam) was a form of transferring an ecclesiastical benefice in trust to the custody of a patron. The practice of benefices held in commendam came into widespread use and abuse in the 14th and 15th centuries, but the origins can be found in the Early Middle Ages; then, during periods of upheaval and invasion, church property (ecclesiastical benefices) would be given to a member of the church to safeguard until order was restored.
The phrase in commendam was originally applied to the provisional occupation of an ecclesiastical benefice, which was temporarily without an actual occupant – a corollary of the phrase in titulum, which was applied to the regular and unconditional occupation of benefices. An abbot thus in commendam was a patron, not the working head of an abbey on the site; he drew the revenue, but was not concerned with the abbey's working or spiritual discipline. Abbots in commendam ordinarily did not reside in their abbey.


The origins of the practice can be found in the Early Middle Ages when temporarily unoccupied church property (ecclesiastical benefice) would be temporarily entrusted to the protection of a member of the church, to safeguard it until order was restored and a new permanent holder of the position was granted in titulus. The safeguarder would receive any revenues generated from the property in the meantime. Each of the early basilicas of Rome was under the guardianship of a patron.
Specifically, the custom of giving benefices in commendam dates from the fourth century. In a letter Ambrose makes mention of a church which he gave in commendam, while he was Bishop of Milan: "Commendo tibi, fili, Ecclesiam quae est ad Forum Cornelii... donec ei ordinetur episcopus" (Epistle ii). The Third Council of Orléans, (538), in its eighteenth canon reserves the right of granting commendams to bishops, an early move against proprietary churches and abbeys, less common in Gaul than they were in Germany. St. Gregory the Great on various occasions gave churches and monasteries in commendam to such bishops as had been driven from their sees by the invading barbarians, or whose own churches were too poor to furnish them a decent livelihood.
The practice of granting benefices in commendam was employed by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604).
When in 1122 the Investiture Controversy was settled in favor of the church, the appointment of laymen as abbots in commendam was abolished.
The practice came into widespread use in the 14th and 15th centuries, and was open to abuse; such benefices were multiplied in the hands of favored cardinals, who accepted them like lay absentee landlords, increasing the coffers of favorite church members. The arrangements were no longer temporary and could last a lifetime. Monastic communities, from which the grants were taken, were hard hit; they lost the revenues and gained nothing in return.
By the 16th century the practice was less common, but remains to this day in limited form. The pope today has reserved to himself the right of giving benefices in commendam, but makes use of this right only in cases of cardinals who reside in Rome.

Church of England

In the Church of England the stipends of some bishops were sometimes augmented by the stipends of benefices held in commendam. These were made illegal by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1836 (c.77), section 18, which is still in force.


The word "commendam" is the accusative of the Low Latin noun commenda, "trust", or "custody", which is derived from the verb commendare ("to give in trust"). The phrase in commendam was originally applied to the provisional collation and occupation of an ecclesiastical benefice which was temporarily without an actual occupant. It was thus opposed to the phrase in titulum which was applied to the regular and unconditioned collation of benefices.



commendam in Italian: In commendam
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