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- (in contemporary usage) a living from a church office or the property attached to a church.
- (historically, and in sociology) the institution in Western European feudalism whereby a vassal was given land or a position by an overlord from which the vassal could gain an income. Especially where land was involved, more commonly this was known as a fief. See FEUDALISM AND FEUDAL SOCIETY.
(1) In ancient Rome, some kind of privilege, as for example, one granted to a debtor and, during the empire period, also various tax exemptions, grants bestowed by emperors, and so forth.
(2) In Western Europe in the early Middle Ages, the benefice in its classical form was a temporary grant, usually of land, in return for performance of administrative or military service. The classical benefice came into use in the Frankish kingdom after the benefice reform of Charles Mar-tel in the 730’s. According to this reform, gifts of land, which were earlier considered the unconditional property of great lords or vassals, were replaced by grants bestowed only as a benefice for lifelong use, primarily in return for military service. This formalized the territorial relations within the emerging feudal landlord class. As the practice of granting benefices, which came with the peasants dwelling on that land, became widespread, it led to increased dependence of the peasants upon the landholders and to a concentration of military and political power in the hands of the ruling class. Benefices served as the economic base underlying feudalism’s hierarchy. Owners of benefices gradually succeeded in turning their lifelong grants into hereditary feudal property, or fiefs. There was a certain similarity to the West European benefice in the milost’ (favor) and later the po-mest’e (estate) in Russia and, in the Arab countries, in the ikta (before they acquired a hereditary character).
(3) The ecclesiastical benefice, in the Catholic church, is the awarding of a profitable post to a clergyman. During the Middle Ages there was a struggle between the clerical and secular authorities over the right to dispose of ecclesiastical benefices, which included tracts of land. For example, such a struggle occurred between the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy over the question of investiture in the 11th and 12th centuries.
A. IA. SHEVELENKO