Primus inter pares

Primus inter pares

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Primus inter pares is Latin phrase describing the most senior person of a group sharing the same rank or office.

When not used in reference to a specific title, it may indicate that the person so described is formally equal, but looked upon as an authority of special importance by their peers. However, in some cases it may also be used to indicate that while the person described appears to be an equal, they actually are the group's unofficial or hidden leader, and thus the reference to this person being "equal" to the rest is intended to be sarcastic.

Examples of use


The term is used with reference to the Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

s' way of reducing the appearance of dictatorship (which was particularly important during the early Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 to appease those who may have longed for a return to the old Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

; see Princeps
Princeps
Princeps is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person."...

). Other examples include the Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 of many parliamentary regimes, the President of the European Commission
European Commission
The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union....

, the Chief Justice of the United States
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

, and some religious figures, such as the Dean of the College of Cardinals
College of Cardinals
The College of Cardinals is the body of all cardinals of the Catholic Church.A function of the college is to advise the pope about church matters when he summons them to an ordinary consistory. It also convenes on the death or abdication of a pope as a papal conclave to elect a successor...

 of the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, or the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

.

Commonwealth usage


In Commonwealth realms, such as Canada and Australia where they share a common head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, a Governor-General is appointed to represent the Queen during her absence.

In Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, lieutenant-governors represent the Queen in each of the provinces, thus acting as the heads of state in their own provinces. Similarly in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 there are governors
Governors of the Australian states
The Governors of the Australian states are the representatives of the Queen of Australia in each of that country's six states. The Governors perform the same constitutional and ceremonial functions at the state level as does the Governor-General of Australia at the national level...

 to represent the Queen in each of the individual states that make up the Commonwealth of Australia, making them head of state in each of their own territories. In each case, these several governors or lieutenant-governors are not subordinate to the Governor General, so the Governor-General of Australia
Governor-General of Australia
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia is the representative in Australia at federal/national level of the Australian monarch . He or she exercises the supreme executive power of the Commonwealth...

 and the Governor General of Canada
Governor General of Canada
The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II...

 – representing the dominion as a whole – is first among equals.

Unlike the governors of the Australian states
Governors of the Australian states
The Governors of the Australian states are the representatives of the Queen of Australia in each of that country's six states. The Governors perform the same constitutional and ceremonial functions at the state level as does the Governor-General of Australia at the national level...

, the lieutenant governors in Canada are not appointed by the Queen, but by the Governor General
Governor General of Canada
The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II...

 on the advice of the Premier
Premier (Canada)
In Canada, a premier is the head of government of a province or territory. There are currently ten provincial premiers and three territorial premiers in Canada....

 of the province where the Lieutenant Governor will serve.

Germany


Mayor
Mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

s of German city states have traditionally acted as primus inter pares. In Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, Lübeck
Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...

 and Bremen
Bremen (state)
The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is the smallest of Germany's 16 states. A more informal name, but used in some official contexts, is Land Bremen .-Geography:...

, which had been Free Imperial Cities from the times of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, the government was called Senate and the mayor was one senator amongst many, often referred to as President of the Senate rather than Mayor. This ended in Lübeck
Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...

 with the incorporation into Prussia
Gesetz über Groß-Hamburg und andere Gebietsbereinigungen
The Greater Hamburg Act was passed by the government of Nazi Germany on January 26, 1937, and mandated the exchange of territories between Hamburg and the Free State of Prussia...

 in 1937, while in a constitutional reform in 1996 the mayor of Hamburg was given broad powers to shape the politics of the Senate of Hamburg, thus ending his status as primus inter pares. However, in the city state of Bremen
Bremen (state)
The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is the smallest of Germany's 16 states. A more informal name, but used in some official contexts, is Land Bremen .-Geography:...

, which was created after the Second World War, the mayor has had a similar role in the Senate of Bremen
Senate of Bremen
The Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is the government of the city-state of Bremen . The senate has existed since mediæval times. The senate is headed by a President, who also holds the title of Mayor. The President's deputy also holds the title Mayor...

. The same was true until 1995 for the Governing Mayor of Berlin
Governing Mayor of Berlin
The Governing Mayor of Berlin is the head of government in the city-state of Berlin, one of the States of Germany. It is the equivalent of the Ministers-President of the other German states except the two other city-states of Hamburg and Bremen, where the heads of government are called "First...

 among his colleagues within the Senate of Berlin
Senate of Berlin
The Senate of Berlin is the executive body governing the city of Berlin, which at the same time is a state of Germany. According to the Constitution of Berlin the Senate consists of the Governing Mayor of Berlin and up to eight Senators appointed by the Governing Mayor, two of whom are appointed ...

.

Netherlands


The Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 (officially, the "Minister President") is the chairman of the Council of Ministers
Council of Ministers of the Netherlands
The Dutch Council of Ministers is the executive council of Dutch government, formed by all the ministers. This executive council initiates laws and policy. The Council of Ministers is distinct from the Cabinet which also includes state secretaries...

 and active executive authority of the Dutch
Politics of the Netherlands
The politics of the Netherlands take place within the framework of a parliamentary representative democracy, a constitutional monarchy and a decentralised unitary state. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state...

 government. Although formally no special powers are assigned, the Prime Minister functions as the "face" of the cabinet of the Netherlands
Cabinet of the Netherlands
The cabinet of the Netherlands is the main executive body of the Dutch government. The current cabinet of the Netherlands is the Rutte cabinet.-Composition and role:...

. Usually, the prime minister is also Minister of General Affairs. Until 1945, the position of head of the Council of Ministers officially switched between the ministers, although practices differed throughout history. In 1945, the position was formally instituted. Although not formally necessary, the Prime Minister in practice is the leader of the largest party in the majority coalition in the House of Representatives, the lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

 of parliament.

Switzerland


In Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 the seven-member Federal Council
Swiss Federal Council
The Federal Council is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the federal government of Switzerland and serves as the Swiss collective head of state....

 constitutes the government. Each year, the Federal Assembly elects a President of the Confederation. By convention, the positions of President and Vice President rotate annually, each Councillor thus becoming Vice President and then President every seven years while in office.

The President is not the Swiss head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

, but he or she is the highest-ranking Swiss official. He or she presides over Council meetings and carries out certain representative functions that, in other countries, are the business of the Head of State
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

. In urgent situations where a Council decision cannot be made in time, the President is empowered to act on behalf of the whole Council. Apart from that, though, the President is a primus inter pares, having no power above and beyond the other six Councillors.

United Kingdom


The term "Prime Minister" can be compared to "primary minister" or "first minister". Because of this, the Prime Ministers of many countries are traditionally considered to be "first among equals" – they are the chairman or "head" of a Cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 rather than holding an office that is de jure superior to that of ministers.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 has frequently been described as "first among equals." In the UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the executive is the Cabinet, and during Hanoverian
House of Hanover
The House of Hanover is a deposed German royal dynasty which has ruled the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg , the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 times a minister had the role of informing the monarch about proposed legislation in the House of Commons and other matters. In modern times, however, although the phrase is still used, it understates the powers of the Prime Minister, which now include many broad, exclusive, executive powers over which cabinet members have little influence.

First Among Equals is the title of a popular novel (1984) by Jeffrey Archer, about the careers and private lives of several men vying to become British Prime Minister. It was later adapted into a ten-part miniseries, produced by Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

.

Countries and jurisdictions that have adapted the British parliamentary system (such as Canada and Australia) would have the same use for the phrase.

United States



The phrase "first among equals" has also been used to describe the Chief Justice of the United States. The Chief Justice has considerable administrative powers, and can assign the writing of decisions in cases in which he is in the majority, but has no direct control over the decisions of his colleagues on the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

. This situation is often found in supreme court
Supreme court
A supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, instance court, judgment court, high court, or apex court...

s around the world.

Chairmen/chairwomen/chair


In many private parliamentary bodies, such as clubs, boards, educational faculty, and committees, the officer or member who holds the position of chair or chairman is often regarded as a "first among equals." That is, while most rules of order will grant the chair special powers within the context of a meeting
Meeting
In a meeting, two or more people come together to discuss one or more topics, often in a formal setting.- Definitions :An act or process of coming together as an assembly for a common purpose....

, the position of chair is usually temporary, rotating, and powerless in other contexts, making the occupant merely a temporary leader required to instil order. This is the case for mayors under a council-manager government
Council-manager government
The council–manager government form is one of two predominant forms of municipal government in the United States; the other common form of local government is the mayor-council government form, which characteristically occurs in large cities...

, as the "mayor" has the same vote as all other council members and cannot override them, although their opinion may have more sway among other members.

Eastern Orthodox Church


The phrase "first among equals" is also used to describe the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

, who, as the Ecumenical Patriarch, is the first among all the bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

es. He has no direct jurisdiction over the other patriarch
Patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

s or the other autocephalous Orthodox churches and cannot interfere in the election of bishops in autocephalous churches but he alone enjoys the right of convening extraordinary synods consisting of them and/or their delegates to deal with ad hoc situations and has also convened well-attended Pan-Orthodox Synods in the last forty years. His title is an acknowledgement of his historic significance and of his privilege to serve as primary spokesman for the Eastern Orthodox Communion
Eastern Orthodox Church organization
This article covers the organization of the Eastern Orthodox Churches rather than the doctrines, traditions, practices, or other aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy...

 and his moral authority is highly respected.

The Eastern Orthodox Church also uses the term "first among equals" in regard to the Bishop of Rome. Whereas the Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

 is now considered first among the Orthodox patriarchs, the Orthodox Church considers the Bishop of Rome (regarded as the "Patriarch of the West") the "first among equals" in the Pentarchy
Pentarchy
Pentarchy is a term in the history of Christianity for the idea of universal rule over all Christendom by the heads of five major episcopal sees, or patriarchates, of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem...

 of the Patriarchal Sees according to the ancient, first millennial order (or "taxis" in Greek) of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem after Constantinople became the eastern capital of the Roman/Byzantine Empire.

Roman Catholic Church


The Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches consider the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 to be the Vicar of Christ
Vicar of Christ
Vicar of Christ is a term used in different ways, with different theological connotations throughout history...

, successor of Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, and leader of the bishops, successors
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

 of the Apostles. Due to this, these Churches see the Pope as holding an office senior to that of other bishops, rather than merely being the most senior bishop. This jurisdictional claim was one of the main causes of the East-West Schism
East-West Schism
The East–West Schism of 1054, sometimes known as the Great Schism, formally divided the State church of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively...

 in the Christian church, which became formal in 1054. The Dean of the College of Cardinals
Dean of the College of Cardinals
The Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals is the president of the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, and as such always holds the rank of Cardinal Bishop. The Dean is not necessarily the longest-serving member of the whole College...

 in the Roman Catholic Church is generally considered to be the first among equals in the College.

Anglican Communion


In the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

, the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 is considered to be "first among equals" in his presidency over the Communion. The senior bishop of the seven diocesan bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church
Scottish Episcopal Church
The Scottish Episcopal Church is a Christian church in Scotland, consisting of seven dioceses. Since the 17th century, it has had an identity distinct from the presbyterian Church of Scotland....

 bears the truncated title Primus
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
The Primus, styled The Most Reverend the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, is the presiding bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The current Primus is the Most Revd David Chillingworth who became Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church on 13 June 2009...

 from primus inter pares. Leading bishops, or primates in other Anglican churches are often said to be primus inter pares within their provinces.

Based on the antiquity with which ecumenical councils have conceded some kind of universal primacy to the Bishops of Rome, participants in Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues have acknowledged for decades that the Pope would properly serve as the titular leader of a reunited church; the Anglicans typically have in mind an honorary (non-jurisdictional) primacy such as the phrase "primus inter pares" implies. In one example of such acknowledgement, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, in its 2007 agreed statement Growing Together in Unity and Mission, “urge[s] Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

Presbyterianism


The Moderator of the General Assembly
Moderator of the General Assembly
The Moderator of the General Assembly is the chairperson of a General Assembly, the highest court of a presbyterian or reformed church. Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries may also style the chairperson as moderator....

 in a Presbyterian church
Presbyterianism
Presbyterianism refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, which are organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures,...

 is similarly designated as a primus inter pares.

Church of Sweden


In the Church of Sweden
Church of Sweden
The Church of Sweden is the largest Christian church in Sweden. The church professes the Lutheran faith and is a member of the Porvoo Communion. With 6,589,769 baptized members, it is the largest Lutheran church in the world, although combined, there are more Lutherans in the member churches of...

, the Archbishop of Uppsala
Archbishop of Uppsala
The Archbishop of Uppsala has been the primate in Sweden in an unbroken succession since 1164, first during the Catholic era, and from the 1530s and onward under the Lutheran church.- Historical overview :...

is considered primus inter pares.