Primate (Lat. primas, one first in rank), a hierarchical title generally given to archbishops, and sometimes to bishops, and denoting jurisdiction or precedence over the episcopal body of a whole country. The title belongs to the Latin church, and corresponds with that of exarch ( ) in the Greek church. The name first occurs in connection with the see of Carthage, whose bishop, as being the metropolitan of the African province, probably first bore the title of primas. "When Oonstantine divided Africa into six provinces, the title of primate ceased to designate metropolitan rank, and attached only to seniority. In the countries of western Europe, outside of Italy, the use of this title for many centuries was regulated by no fixed rule. The first rank, primatus, was conceded universally to the Roman bishop. In the earliest times the bishops only who filled the office of papal legates were called primates; such were in Spain the bishops of Seville and Tarragona, and in Gaul the bishops of Aries and Vienne. In the 8th century Pope Zachary bestowed the title of primate upon the bishop of Mentz; and Beda says that in his time it was enjoyed by the bishops of London and Canterbury. It was conferred on the bishop of Pisa by Pope Alexander III. (died in 1181). In the English church before the reformation Canterbury held primatial rank, and it has retained the rank as a Protestant see.
In Ireland Armagh, as being the see of St. Patrick, held primatial rank, its archbishop styling himself in later times " primate of all Ireland," while the archbishop of Dublin claims to be "primate of Ireland." Such is even now the style assumed by both the Protestant and Roman Catholic occupants of these sees. On the continent primatial rank and jurisdiction varied with the political limitations of each country. In France, before the concordat of 1801, seven archbishops received the title of primate, viz.: those of Rheims, Lyons, Sens, Bourges, Bordeaux, Aries, and Vienne, besides the bishop of Nancy, who styled himself primate of Lorraine; the archbishop of Lyons, as being the successor of St. Irenseus, took the title of "primate of primates." In Germany the primatial sees are Mentz and Treves, besides Gnesen for all Poland; in Sweden, Lund; in Bohemia, Prague; in Hungary, Gran; and in German Austria, Salzburg. Since the beginning of the present century the policy of the court of Rome has been to grant to no bishop, who was not already canonically entitled to it, the title and rights of primate.