AskDefine | Define prothonotary

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  1. a chief clerk of any of various courts of law.

Extensive Definition

The word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as "principal clerk of a court," from L.L. prothonotarius (c.400), from Greek protonotarios "first scribe," originally the chief of the college of recorders of the court of the Byzantine empire, from Greek protos "first" + Latin notarius (compare notary); the -h- appeared in Medieval Latin.
The title was awarded to certain high-ranking notaries.
A Protonotarios in mid-Byzantine (7th-10th c.) administration was also recorded as a rough equivalent of a commissar for the Emperor in Constantinople in various themata or provinces. A Protonotarios was also responsible for overseeing the gathering of resources -monetary and material- by the Thematarch or province governor in preparation of a military campaign.

Catholic Church usage

In the Roman Catholic Church, protonotaries apostolic (Latin protonotarii apostolicii) are prelates in the Roman Curia who perform certain duties with regard to papal documents. Also, after examining the candidates, they name annually a fixed number of doctors of theology and canon law. Historically, the college of protonotaries developed out of the seven regional notaries of Roman antiquity, and are therefore called protonotaries de numero (of the number). They are also called "participating" protonotaries, because they shared in the revenues as officials of the Roman Chancery.
These high papal officials are the highest class of Monsignor, are often raised directly to the cardinalate, and hold distinctive privileges in address and attire. Current practice is based on Pope Paul VI's two motu proprios, "Pontificalis Domus" of March 28 1968 and "Pontificalia Insignia" of June 21 1968. They are addressed formally as "most reverend monsignor," and they wear the mantelletta, the purple choir cassock and rochet for liturgical services, the black cassock with red piping and purple sash at other times, and may add the purple ferraiuolo and the biretta with red tuft to the black cassock for formal ceremonies of a non-liturgical nature, e.g., a graduation.
There are also honorary protonotaries, referred to as supernumerary (or 'beyond the number'), on whom the pope has conferred this title and its special privileges. This title is purely honorary and is not attached to any duties in the Curia. This is the type of protonotary found outside of Rome, and is the highest grade of monsignor found in most dioceses. Priests so honored are addressed as "reverend monsignor", wear the purple choir cassock (with surplice) for liturgical services, the black cassock with red piping and purple sash at other times, may add the purple ferraiuolo to this for formal non-liturgical ceremonies, and may put the letters "P.A." after their names, but use none of the other accoutrements mentioned above.

Secular judiciary

The prothonotary is the chief court clerk in certain courts of law in certain Anglo-American jurisdictions, including the American states of Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Federal Court of Canada, the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and the Supreme Courts of the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria. In Australia the prothonotary is the official in charge of processing a certification of readiness from the two parties involved in a tort.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman was introduced to a prothonotary during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh in 1948. It is widely rumored that Truman's first reaction upon hearing the term "prothonotary" was to say "What the hell is a prothonotary?" There are more colorful versions of the tale. Truman is also attributed with saying that "prothonotary" was the most impressive-sounding political title in the U.S.



prothonotary in German: Apostolischer Protonotar
prothonotary in Polish: Protonotariusz apostolski
prothonotary in Russian: Апостолический протонотарий
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