Tithes (Ang. Sax. teotha, a tenth), a tax of one tenth of the increase of crops, stock, and avails of personal industry, formerly and still in some countries levied for the support of the officers of religion, religious worship, or the assistance of the poor. This tax seems to have been of patriarchal origin (Gen. xiv. 20), and existed in many of the nations of antiquity. Under the Jewish theocracy the tenth part of the increase of the property of the Jews was accorded to the Levites, as a substitute for the landed inheritance which they forfeited by their consecration to the temple worship, and also as a compensation for their services. Other tithes were also prescribed for the sacrifices of the temple, and at particular periods for the poor. The early Christian church adopted voluntarily the custom of consecrating to religious purposes a tenth of the income, it being admitted that first fruits and tithes were not of divine precept in the new law, but held that the obligation of supporting the ministers of religion is of divine origin. It does not appear that the payment of tithes was ever enjoined as obligatory by the Greek or other eastern churches.
The first known canonical enactment made for that purpose in the Latin church was a statute of the second council of Tours in 567, and this collection was enforced under pain of excommunication by the second council of Macon in 585. In France, Charlemagne established them by decree in the 8th century. In England the first law in relation to them is believed to have been that of Offa, king of Mercia, who brought the civil power to the aid of the clergy in collecting their tithes. This was subsequently extended over the whole of England by Ethelwulf. In the 9th century they were also made obligatory in Scotland, and not long after in Ireland. At first they were paid to whatever church the payer chose, but the decretal of Pope Innocent III. directed their payment to the parsons of the respective parishes in which they arose. By the ecclesiastical law tithes were divided into three kinds: "progdial," or such as arose immediately from the ground, like grain of all kinds, fruits, herbs, grasses, hops, wood, etc.; " mixed," natural products, but nurtured, and preserved in part by the care of man, such as wool, milk, pigs, butter, cheese, etc.; and "personal," as of manual occupations, trades, fisheries, etc.
The first two kinds were payable in gross, but of the third class only the tenth part of the clear gains and profits was due. In France, Charlemagne divided the tithes into four parts, one to maintain the edifice of the church, another to support the poor, a third to maintain the bishop, and a fourth the parochial clergy. By the original law in England, all lands except those of the crown and of the church itself were tithable; but at the reformation many of the forfeited church lands when sold were specially exempted, and some were also exempted by composition and some by prescription. These partial exemptions only made the burden more galling to those who were compelled to pay; and as the tithes were a tax for the support of the clergy of the established church, it was particularly annoying to dissenters, and has been for two centuries a constant subject of complaint. Until the reign of William IV. the payment of tithes might be exacted in kind, but by the act of 6 and 7 William IV., c. 71, and subsequent acts, tithes have been converted into a rent charge payable in money, but varying annually according to the average price of corn for the preceding seven years.
In Ireland they had been compounded at three fourths their former estimated value previous to the disestablishment act of 1869, which abolished tithes, and created a common fund for the support of the Protestant Episcopal church and clergy. In France tithes were abolished at the revolution, and this example was followed afterward by the other continental states. In the Canadian province of Quebec tithes are still collected by the Roman Catholic clergy, in virtue of the old French law still in force there. In the United States tithes are only exacted by the Mormon hierarchy, and among them the system is modelled on that of the Jewish theocracy.