AskDefine | Define prior

Dictionary Definition

prior adj : earlier in time [syn: anterior, prior(a)] n : the head of a religious order; in an abbey the prior is next below the abbot

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Of that which comes before, in advance.
    I had no prior knowledge you were coming.
  2. former, previous
    His prior residence was smaller than his current one.


  1. A high-ranking member of a monastery, usually lower in rank than an abbot.
  2. A previous criminal offense on someone's record.


a high-ranking member of a monastery, usually lower in rank than an abbot
a previous criminal offense on someone's record



Usage notes

Generally suffixed with "to", as in: prior to. This word is often seen as causing confusion, as well as being perceived as somewhat pompous, and using "before" instead of "prior to" has often been recommended.




prior comparative, m./f. sing., third declension (superlative: prīmus)
  1. former, previous, prior
  2. in front
  3. better, superior
  4. In the context of "substantive|Medieval Latin": abbot, prior

Usage notes

There is no positive form of this adjective.


la-decl-comparative pr

Related terms

Extensive Definition

For other uses, see Prior (disambiguation)
Prior is a title, derived from the Latin adjective for 'earlier, first', with several notable uses.

Monastic superiors

A Prior is a monastic superior, usually lower in rank than an Abbot. In the Rule of St. Benedict the term prior occurs several times, but does not signify any particular superior; it is indiscriminately applied to any superior, be he Abbot, Provost, Dean, etc. In other old monastic rules the term is used in the same generic sense.
With the Cluniac reform the term Prior received a specific meaning; it supplanted the provost (praepositus) of the Rule of St. Benedict. In the congregation of Hirschau, which arose in Germany in the eleventh century, the term Prior was also substituted for Provost, and the example of the Cluniac and Hirschau congregations was gradually followed by all Benedictine monasteries, as well as by the Camaldolese, Vallombrosians, Cistercians, and other offshoots of the Benedictine Order.

Compound and Derived titles

In the Benedictine Order and its branches, in the Premonstratensian Order, and in the military orders there are three kinds of priors: the claustral prior, the conventual prior, and the obedientiary prior.
The claustral prior (Latin prior claustralis), in a few monasteries called dean, holds the first place after the abbot (or grand-master in military orders), whom he assists in the government of the monastery, functioning effectively as the abbot's second-in-charge. He has no ordinary jurisdiction by virtue of his office, since he performs the duties of his office entirely according to the will and under the direction of the abbot. His jurisdiction is, therefore, a delegated one and extends just as far as the abbot desires, or the constitutions of the congregation prescribe. He is appointed by the abbot, generally after a consultation in chapter with the professed monks of the monastery, and may be removed by him at any time. In many monasteries, especially larger ones, the claustral prior is assisted by a subprior, who holds the third place in the monastery. In former times there were in larger monasteries, besides the prior and the subprior, also a third, fourth and sometimes even a fifth prior. Each of these was called circa (or circator), because it was his duty to make the rounds of the monastery to see whether anything was amiss and whether the brethren were intent on the work allotted to them respectively. He had no authority to correct or punish the brethren, but was to report to the claustral prior whatever he found amiss or contrary to the rules. In the Congregation of Cluny and others of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries there was also a greater prior (prior major) who preceded the claustral prior in dignity and, besides assisting the abbot in the government of the monastery, had some delegated jurisdiction over external dependencies of the abbey. In the high days of Cluny, the abbot was assisted by a coadjutor styled Grand-Prior (Grand-prieur in French).
The conventual prior (Latin prior conventualis) is the independent superior of a monastery that is not an abbey (and which is therefore called a "priory"). In some orders, like the Benedictine, a monastery remains a priory until it is considered stable and of the whole order is not called prior general, but master general.
The Carthusians have conventual priors and a prior general, but no provincial priors. Their prior general is the only superior of an order who does not reside in Rome. Before their suppression in France, the prior of the mother house Grande Chartreuse was always prior general, an office now filled by the prior of Farneta near Lucca in Central Italy.
In all these orders the second superior of a monastery is called subprior and his office is similar to that of the claustral prior in the Benedictine Order.

Other orders

Compound and Derived titles

  • In some orders there is only one Grand prior, e.g. in the Portuguese Order of Christ; in other orders there are several, each in charge of a geographical province called grand priory after him, as in the Order of Malta
prior in Czech: Převor
prior in German: Prior
prior in Estonian: Prior
prior in Spanish: Prior
prior in French: Prieur
prior in Icelandic: Príor (titill)
prior in Limburgan: Prior
prior in Hungarian: Perjel
prior in Dutch: Prior
prior in Norwegian: Prior
prior in Polish: Przeor
prior in Russian: Приор
prior in Swedish: Prior

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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