It is known that since Augustus new collegiums (judical persons) could be established only by the senate's decree.

It is known that under the late empire the church operated as a collegium.

As such, at what date did the senate established the church as a judical body?

There are known edicts by various emperors legalizing Christianity, but I never encountered a senate's act establishing this collegium.

  • 3
    Can you include some sources to help those that might research your question?
    – ihtkwot
    Jul 9, 2013 at 2:57
  • Related and fourth bullet
    – MCW
    Jul 9, 2013 at 16:46
  • 1
    What @ihtkwot said... Jul 9, 2013 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


This has been a particularly vexing question. First, it is well established that Constantine "legalized" Christianity in 313 AD. In doing so, it appears that Constantine granted specific rights to Christians regarding property and constructing churches. It's possible these specific rights were conferred by the Senate in the form of recognizing the Church as a collegium, but I can't seem to find that anywhere.

Additionally, what I can find about collegiums is that they were typically more related to "trade associations" of people, but not exclusively. When people used the legal vehicle for religious reasons it was often for a "funeral club." Assuming that collegiums for religious reasons were typically "funeral clubs," then I'm not sure why the Senate would take the time to recognize the whole christian church as a collegium, because it appears that collegia were normally established to buy a communal funeral plot of land.

Barring some additional sources, or direction, from the OP, I'm not sure how else to answer this question, other than it doesn't appear that the Senate would have even needed to issue such a thing. I can't seem to find anything that states that collegium was the sole legal person distinction recognized by Roman law (which makes sense), and as such the early Church could have been recognized under a different legal fiction.


The Catholic Church was a separate judicial person during the Middle Ages due to the existence of ecclesiastical courts. But the pope is the head of the Collegium Pontificum (College of Pontiffs), which is different than a collegium. The Collegium Pontificum in the Roman Empire was the group of high pagan priests headed by the caesar. Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, officially granted the title to the pope in Rome as the supreme religious leader of the Roman Empire.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Pope Leo I began using the title Pontifex Maximus around 440 to emphasize the authority of the Pope. The term "chief priests" in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and "high priest" as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17, etc.

So mostly, the Catholic Church granted it to itself.

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