Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login


Ask a question about 'Prothonotary'
Start a new discussion about 'Prothonotary'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as "principal clerk of a court," from L.L. prothonotarius (c.400), from Greek protonotarios "first scribe," originally the chief of the college of recorders of the court of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, from Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  protos "first" + Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

A notarius is a public secretary who is appointed by competent authority to draw up official or authentic documents . In the Roman Catholic Church there have been apostolic notaries and even episcopal notaries...

("notary"); the -h- appeared in Medieval Latin. The title was awarded to certain high-ranking notaries
Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers , and a lawyer will usually only hold one title...


Byzantine usage

The office of prōtonotarios , also proedros
Proedros was a senior Byzantine court and ecclesiastic title in the 10th to mid-12th centuries. The female form of the title is proedrissa .-Court dignity:...

or primikērios of the notarioi, existed in mid-Byzantine (7th-10th c.) administration as head of the colleges of the notarioi in various administrative departments. There were prōtonotarioi of the imperial notarioi (secretaries of the court), of the various sekreta or logothesia (government ministries), as well as for each thema or province. The latter appeared in the early 9th century and functioned as the chief civil officials of the province, directly below the governing general (stratēgos
Strategos, plural strategoi, is used in Greek to mean "general". In the Hellenistic and Byzantine Empires the term was also used to describe a military governor...

). They were responsible chiefly for administrative and fiscal affairs (characteristically, they belonged to the financial ministry of the Sakellion), and were also responsible for the provisioning of the thematic armies. The office vanished after the 11th and 12th centuries, along with the themata and the logothesia, although there are traces of a single prōtonotarios functioning as the emperor's chief secretary until the Palaiologan period.

Catholic Church usage

In 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...

, protonotaries apostolic (Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 protonotarii apostolicii) are prelate
A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means "carry before", "be set above or over" or "prefer"; hence, a prelate is one set over others.-Related...

s in the Roman Curia
Roman Curia
The Roman Curia is the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church, together with the Pope...

 who perform certain duties with regard to papal documents. Also, after examining the candidates, they name annually a fixed number of doctors of theology and canon law. Historically, the college of protonotaries developed out of the seven regional notaries of Roman antiquity, and are therefore called protonotaries de numero (of the number). They are also called "participating" protonotaries, because they shared in the revenues as officials of the Roman Chancery
Apostolic Chancery
The Chancery of Apostolic Briefs , is a former office of the Roman Curia, merged into the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs by Pope Pius X on June 29, 1908 with the apostolic constitution Sapienti Consilio...


These high papal officials are the highest class of Monsignor
Monsignor, pl. monsignori, is the form of address for those members of the clergy of the Catholic Church holding certain ecclesiastical honorific titles. Monsignor is the apocopic form of the Italian monsignore, from the French mon seigneur, meaning "my lord"...

, are often raised directly to the cardinalate
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

, and hold distinctive privileges in address and attire. Current practice is based on Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI
Paul VI , born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it...

's two motu proprio
Motu proprio
A motu proprio is a document issued by the Pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him....

s, Pontificalis Domus
Pontificalis Domus
The apostolic letter motu proprio Pontificalis Domus was issued by Pope Paul VI on March 28, 1968, in the fifth year of his pontificate. Its purpose was the reorganization of the Papal Household, which had been known as the Papal Court before the promulgation of the letter.-Introduction:Paul VI...

of March 28, 1968 and Pontificalia Insignia of June 21, 1968. They are addressed formally as "most reverend monsignor," and they wear the mantelletta
A mantelletta, Italian diminutive of Latin mantellum 'mantle', is a sleeveless, knee-length, vest-like garment, open in front, with slits instead of sleeves on the sides, fastened at the neck, once even more common than the mozzetta.-History:...

, the purple choir cassock, the biretta with red tuft, and rochet
A rochet is a white vestment generally worn by a Roman Catholic or Anglican Bishop in choir dress. It is unknown in the Eastern Churches. The rochet is similar to a surplice, except that the sleeves are narrower...

 for liturgical services, the black cassock
The cassock, an item of clerical clothing, is an ankle-length robe worn by clerics of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church and some ministers and ordained officers of Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Ankle-length garment is the meaning of the...

 with red piping and purple sash at other times, and may add the purple ferraiuolo to the black cassock for formal ceremonies of a non-liturgical nature, e.g., a graduation.

There are also honorary protonotaries, referred to as supernumerary (or 'beyond the number'), on whom the pope has conferred this title and its special privileges. This title is purely honorary and is not attached to any duties in the Curia. This is the type of protonotary found outside of Rome, and is the highest grade of monsignor found in most dioceses. Priests so honored are addressed as "reverend monsignor", wear the purple choir cassock (with surplice) for liturgical services, the black cassock with red piping and purple sash at other times, may add the purple ferraiuolo to this for formal non-liturgical ceremonies, and may put the letters "P.A." after their names, but use none of the other accoutrements mentioned above.


In the Federal Court (Canada)
Federal Court (Canada)
The Federal Court is a Canadian trial court that hears cases arising under certain areas of federal law. The Federal Court is a superior court with nationwide jurisdiction...

, the Prothonotary is not a clerk, but instead is a judicial officer appointed under the Federal Courts Act and exercises many of the powers and functions of a Federal Court Judge. The Prothonotary's authority includes mediation, case management, practice motions (including those that may result in a final disposition of the case, regardless of the amount in issue), as well as trials of actions in which up to $50,000 is claimed (see Rules 50, 382, and 383 to 387 of the Federal Courts Rules). The current members of the Court are found at Prothonotaries.

Chief court clerk

The prothonotary is the chief court clerk
Court clerk
A court clerk is an officer of the court whose responsibilities include maintaining the records of a court. Another duty is to administer oaths to witnesses, jurors, and grand jurors...

 in certain courts of law in certain Anglo-American jurisdictions, including the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 states of Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 and Delaware
Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, and to the north by Pennsylvania...

, the Canadian
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...

 provinces of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

 and Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is a Canadian province consisting of an island of the same name, as well as other islands. The maritime province is the smallest in the nation in both land area and population...

, and the Supreme Courts of the 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...

n states of New South Wales
Supreme Court of New South Wales
The Supreme Court of New South Wales is the highest state court of the Australian State of New South Wales...

 and Victoria
Supreme Court of Victoria
The Supreme Court of Victoria is the superior court for the State of Victoria, Australia. It was founded in 1852, and is a superior court of common law and equity, with unlimited jurisdiction within the state...


In Australia the prothonotary is the official in charge of processing a certification of readiness from the two parties involved in a tort.


U.S. President Harry S Truman was introduced to a prothonotary during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Allegheny County. Regionally, it anchors the largest urban area of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley, and nationally, it is the 22nd-largest urban area in the United States...

in 1948. It is widely rumored that Truman's first reaction upon hearing the term "prothonotary" was to say "What the hell is a prothonotary?" Truman is also attributed with saying that "prothonotary" was the most impressive-sounding political title in the U.S.