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legate (lĕgˈət) [Lat. legare=to send], one sent as a representative of a state or of some high authority. In Roman history a legate was sent by the senate to the provinces as an envoy of the emperor. Sometime during the 12th cent. the word came into use to designate a papal ambassador. There are various types of papal legate, including the legatus a latere, a cardinal commissioned for a special confidential assignment as a representative of the pope; the nuncio or internuncio, who represents the Holy See, both temporally and ecclesiastically, in countries that exchange ambassadors with the Vatican (see nuncio, apostolic); and the apostolic delegate, a papal representative in a country that does not exchange ambassadors with the Vatican.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In ancient Rome an ambassador appointed by the Senate or a representative authorized to carry out a political assignment. During the period of the late republic assistants to military commanders and vicegerents were referred to as legates. Legates were first given command of legions during the rule of Caesar. In the period of the empire legates of the emperor carried out the functions of vicegerents in imperial provinces.

(2) Papal legate—the title of a higher class of diplomatic representatives of the pope. The term “legate” is frequently used to designate any ambassador or diplomatic agent.

Several types of legates exist in the Catholic Church. The title legatus natus (nati) is conferred upon a Catholic prelate by virtue of the post he occupies (for example, archbishop); he has the primacy of jurisdiction in relation to all other prelates within the limits of a given territory. Representatives of the pope who are sent to Catholic countries with a special mission are referred to as legatus datus or missus (missi). Such representatives have three ranks. The nuncius apostolicus is a permanent diplomatic representative of the pope, accredited with heads of state. Greatest authority is enjoyed by the legatus a latere, who has the power to remove bishops from their positions and has full jurisdiction in relation to all prelates within the limits of a given territory. The legatus delegatus is generally appointed by the pope from the members of the local clergy for the purpose of carrying out a special mission; his authority is limited to specific church affairs.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a messenger, envoy, or delegate
2. RC Church an emissary to a foreign state representing the Pope
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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