Proper form of address: “Your Lordship” or “Your Excellency”?

Some weeks ago the gentleman whose email appears below wrote to tell me that my use of "Your Excellency" was wrong. After I provided him with answers from clergy, including bishops, from across the Traditionalist spectrum, the correspondence became unfruitful because he endeavored to point out to me how I and all of these clergy were sadly mistaken, and that he, an Englishman living in Germany, knew much more. Alas! But, for your edification and knowledge, find below the comments his email elicited.
Dear Stephen,

In your recent personal intervention in the Bishop’s weblog which you moderate you refer to the Bishop as ‘His Excellency’.

This form of reference together with the form of address ‘Your Excellency’ are – in the case of a bishop – Germanisms, incorrect in English unless the bishop possesses ambassador status (Nuntius, Papal Legate), in which case however it is not his episcopal but his diplomatic rank which is being addressed.

Where the former alone is in question, an archbishop/bishop is referred to as ‘His Grace/His Lordship’, as your own correspondents do in their messages, and addressed as ‘Your Grace/Your Lordship’.

As a native speaker of English long resident in Germany, I have noticed that there is a long-standing and continuing tendency for Germans and Americans to be taken in by ‘false friends’ in each other’s language. In the interest of notional clarity, I do what I can to oppose such confusion in each of the two linguistic groups.

Things are simpler in Italian and French where all prelates (for the most part bishops and monsignori) are referred to as ‘Mgr N.’ and addressed as ‘Monsignore’ or as the case may be ‘Monseigneur’. The English usage is parallel with that applied to the secular aristocracy (Dukes/other peers). The German usage appears to me to reflect rather the post-revolutionary period from 1815 on; the State salaries of bishops are tied to those of Secretaries of State, these latter being traditionally referred to as ‘Seine Exzellenz’ and addressed as ‘Euer Exzellenz’. I have the impression, however, that the title has fallen into desuetude in the German Federal Republic except in the case of bishops and ambassadors.

I hope you may find this little aide-mémoire helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. X (I anonymized his name)

Replies...


Dear Stephen

This person does not know what he is talking about.

The United States is not England. The U.S. Constitution forbids titles, and therefore "Your Lordship" is forbidden in this country. "Your Grace" was never used. "His Excellency" was always used for people of rank in this country. It was the way in which George Washington was addressed, and in principle governors of States also have the title. It is a generic title of honor in this country.

In England, "Your Lordship" is reserved only for diocesan ordinaries, whereas the proper title for non-jurisdictional bishops is "Monsignor." (This was told to me by Fr. Oswald Baker) In this country, "Your Excellency" was always used for all bishops, whether jurisdictional or not.

Each country has its own peculiarities.

Bishop Donald Sanborn

Dear Stephen

Every bishop and archbishop is addressed as Eccellenza (formal Eccellenza Reverendissima) by the Roman Curia, and this is the only proper form of address according to the current Roman protocol. The exclusive Latin form of address for a bishop or archbishop is Excellentissimus ac Reverendissimus Dominus.

Americans rejected the British court forms of address (Your Grace, Your Lordship) in favor of the Roman ones. Rightly so.

If you are incorrect in referring to a bishop as His Excellency, then everyone is incorrect, even the Roman Congregations and all the American chancery offices. There is always someone in our circles who decides that everybody has been wrong, including the authority, usually after reading an obsolete and maybe incorrect book or article like the amazingly messed up -even for its time- http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01137a.htm

See the mania of calling Archbishop Lefebvre "monsignor". The ones who do so are convinced that it sounds more elegant, more European, more "traditional," when in fact they are demoting -in English- the good Archbishop to the rank of a lower prelate, since in English a monsignor is a papal chaplain, a prelate of honor, or a protonotary.

Same with the lordshipping and gracing; acceptable in British Commonwealth domains, they are the lay court titles given in Britain to regular peers (baron,earl,marquis) and to dukes. This is why in English-speaking Canada an archbishop is still called nowadays Your Grace.

Father X (he wishes to remain anonymous)

Dear Stephen

Actually he's wrong. Correct American usage is Your Excellency. English usage dictates My Lord for bishops, and Your Grace for Archbishops (and dukes). They are not interchangeable. (The titles, I mean, but dukes and bishops aren't either.) The other Romance languages are much easier with some form of Monsignor, but there you have it.

So much for your learned correspondent!

Bishop Daniel Dolan

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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1 Response

  1. Pablo says:

    I am in awe of all the linguistic terms and phrases, titles and nome de plumes of things Catholic in Europe…

    And just how strong is the Faith in Europe with all these trappings? In America?