Or ABELONIANS, a sect which arose in the diocese of Hippoo in Africa, and is supposed to have begun in the reign of Arcadius, and ended in that of Theodosius. Indeed, it was not calculated for being of any long continuance. They regulated marriage after the example of Abel, who, they pretended, was married, but lived in a state of continence: they therefore allowed each man to marry one woman, but enjoined them to live in the same state. To keep up the sect, when a man and woman entered into this society, they adopted a boy and a girl, who were to inherit their goods, and to marry upon the same terms of not having children, but of adopting two of different sexes.
Abelians, Abelites, Abelonians. a sect which arose about the year 360, near Hippo, in Africa, and borrowed their name from Abel, the son of Adam, because, as they supposed, he died unmarried, and without children. Though they did not abstain from matrimony, yet they had no carnal knowledge of their wives, that they might not be instrumental in propagating original sin. That their numbers might be kept up, they adopted the children of others, on whom they settled their property, on condition that they would adhere to the principles of the sect. It does not appear to have continued long in existence, but it has recently been revived among the Shakers of America.
The superior of an abbey or convent of nuns. The abbess has the same rights and authority over her nuns that the abbots regular have over their monks. The sex, indeed, does not allow her to perform the spiritual functions annexed to the priesthood, wherewith the abbot is usually invested; but there are instances of some abbesses who have a right, or rather a privilege, to commission a priest to act for them. They have even a kind of Episcopal jurisdiction, as well as some abbots who are exempted from the visitation of their diocesan.
The chief ruler of a monastery or abbey. At first they were lay-men, and subject to the bishop and ordinary pastors. Their monasteries being remote from cities, and built in the farthest solitudes, they had no share in ecclesiastical affairs; but, there being among them several persons of learning, they were called out of their deserts by the bishops, and fixed in the suburbs of the cities; and at length in the cities themselves. From that time they degenerated, and, learning to be ambitious, aspired to be independent of the bishops, which occasioned some severe laws to be made against them. At length whoever, the abbots carried their point, and obtained the title of lord, with other badges of the episcopate, particularly the mitre. Hence arose new distinctions among them. Those were termed mitred abbots who were privileged to wear the mitre, and exercise episcopal authority within their respective precincts, being exempted from the jurisdiction of the bishop. Others were called crosiered abbots, from their bearing the crosier, or pastoral staff. Others were styled aecumenical or universal abbots, in imitation of the patriarch of Constantinople, while others were termed cardinal abbots, from their superiority over all other abbots. At present, in the Roman catholic countries, the chief distinctions are those of regular and commendatory. The former take the vow and wear the habit of their order; whereas the latter are seculars, though they are obliged by their bulls to take orders when of proper age.
The same with Abbot, which see. Also the name of curious popular characters in France; who are persons who have not yet obtained any precise or fixed settlement in church or state, but most heartily wish for and would accept of either, just as it may happen. In the mean while their privileges are many. In college they are the instructors of youth, and in private families the tutors of young gentlemen.
This was formerly a title belonging to the head of a French monastery, corresponding to that of Abbot in England. [Abbot]. In the age preceding the French Revolution it became the designation of a multitude of sinecurists, who drew large incomes from the monasteries, and who were not always even priests, dispensation from Holy Orders being frequently granted to lay Abbés by the Popes. In more modern times the title of Abbé has been given to secular priests (that is, priests not belonging to any monastic order), who have no cure of souls, those who are parish priests being called Curés.
Abbe, before the French Revolution, was the title of all those Frenchmen who devoted themselves to divinity, or had at least pursued a course of study in a theological seminary, in the hope that the king would confer on them a real abbey; i.e. a certain part of the revenues of a monastery. Ordained clergymen were those only who devoted themselves entirely to the performance of clerical duty; the others were engaged in every kind of literary occupation. There were so many of them, poor and rich, men of quality and men of low birth, that they formed a particular claim in society, and exerted an important influence over its character. They were seen everywhere; at court, in the halls of justice, in the theatres, the coffee-houses, etc. In almost every wealthy family was an abbé, occupying the post of familiar friend and spiritual adviser, and not seldom, that of the gallant of the lady. They corresponded, in a certain degree, to the philosophers who lived in the houses of the wealthy Romans in the time of the emperors.