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.