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A canonical term variously defined by different writers. Zitelli (Appar. Jur. Eccl.) calls it a real obligation or annual tribute imposed on a pious institute by the bishop and payable to himself or others. Aicher (par. 79) says that it is an offering to be made by a benefice in sign of subjection, or for some exemption or other right conceded to it. Laurentius (III, p. 70) defines it as the obligation of an annual payment in money or kind perpetually imposed upon a benefice. Ferraris considers census as a right of receiving an annual payment from something which is fruitful and on which it is founded. He insists that the census is not the thing itself or the property which affords the tribute, but the right of drawing the annual tribute from it. Other authorities, however, as Von Scherer, seem to consider census to be the property itself or its equivalent in money, viewed as giving to some one a right to draw revenue from it.

Census canonically considered must be distinguished from pensio. The latter is the right which a superior concedes to a person of receiving a portion of the revenues of a benefice in the possession of a third party. Later canonists sometimes use the words census and pensio as practically synonymous. A census is called ancient of it is imposed on its benefice at its very foundation and has been approved by the bishop. It is called new if it is placed upon a benefice already erected. According to a canon of the third Council of the Lateran (1179) no one but the pope can impose on a benefice a new census, or increase an ancient one. A census is said to be reservative when a person transfers the property to another, keeping only the right to an annual revenue for himself. It is named consignative when he sells or consigns to another the right to an annual pension from something of which he himself retains the dominion. Such consignative census is reducible to a species of buying and selling, and is treated as such in the decrees of Martin V and Callistus III embodied in the Corpus Juris Canonici.

The imposing of a census upon a benefice is considered as equivalent to dismemberment or division, inasmuch as it diminishes the revenues. If the census be perpetual it is looked on as a species of alienation of church property and as such falls under the ecclesiastical laws governing such alienation. Generally the census is imposed by the patron of a new benefice retaining the right to a part of its revenues, or by a bishop requiring that a portion of the income of a church which he incorporates with a monastery be paid to himself, or the census may take the form of a tribute paid to a mother church by one of its daughter establishments which has become independent. The "Liber Censuum Romanæ Ecclesiæ," edited by Fabre and Duschesne (Paris, 1889 sqq.), not only throws light on the subject at issue, but also affords an explanation of many historical events of the Middle Ages.


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