A layman, usually a lawyer, charged with the defense of the interests of the church in lawsuits and in any conflicts with secular authorities. Most of the evidence for the existence of defensores ecclesiae comes from North Africa, where they are mentioned by Possidius, bishop of Calama in 403 (Vita Augustini 12). They are also the subject of a of Emperor Honorius (15 November 407), addressed to Porfyrius, proconsul of Africa, maintaining the inviolability of the privileges of the African clergy that had been requested by the North African bishops (Codex Theodosianus XVI.2.38: see also The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers . . . 1956, canon 97). The institution was found in other churches in the West, including Rome (Pope Zosimus, 1721, Letters 9.3), but no evidence has survived of its existence in Egypt.


  • The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers who Assembled at Carthage.
  • African Code XCVII. In A Select Library of Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd ser., ed. Schaff and Henry Wace. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956.
  • Martroye, F. “Les defensores ecclesiae aux Ve. et VIe. siècles.” Revue historique de Droit français et étranger, 4th ser., (1923):597-622.