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In the broadest sense, a vicar (from the Latin vicarius) is anyone acting as a substitute or agent for a superior (compare "vicarious"). In this sense, the title is comparable to lieutenant. Usually the title appears in a number of Christian ecclesiastical contexts, but in the Holy Roman Empire a local representative of the emperor, perhaps an archduke, might be styled "vicar".
In Roman Catholic canon law, a vicar is the local representative of any ecclesiastic. The Romans had used the term to describe officials subordinate to the praetorian prefects. In the early Christian churches, bishops likewise had their vicars, such as the archdeacons and archpriests, and also the rural priest, the curate who had the cure of all the souls outside the episcopal cities. The position of the Roman Catholic vicar as it evolved, is sketched in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 
The Pope uses the title Vicarius Christi, meaning, the vicar of Jesus Christ. The papacy first used this title in the eighth century; earlier they used the title vicar of St. Peter or vicarius principis apostolorum, the vicar of the chief of the apostles. The distinction in the claim for authority will be immediately apparent.
Some papal legates are honoured by the title Vicar of the Apostolic See.
In the Anglican Communion, vicar is the ordinary title given to certain parish priests. Historically, Anglican parish clergymen were divided into rectors, vicars, and perpetual curates. These were distinguished according to the way in which they were remunerated. The church was supported by tithes - taxes (traditionally, as the etymology of tithe suggests, of 10%) levied on the agricultural output of the parish. These were divided into greater tithes levied on wheat, hay and wood, and lesser tithes levied on the remainder. A rector received both greater and lesser tithes, a vicar the lesser tithes only. A perpetual curate received no tithe income and was supported by the diocese. The adjective perpetual emphasises that such a clergyman enjoyed the same security of tenure as his more affluent peers. An Act of Parliament of 1868 permitted perpetual curates to style themselves vicars. The conjunction of this change with near-contemporaneous church reforms aimed at reducing the disparities of income among clergymen meant that the distinction between the grades of clergymen became progressively less relevant and remarked upon.
In either tradition, a vicar can be the priest of a "chapel of ease", a church which is not a parish church. Non-resident canons led also to the institution of vicars choral, each canon having his own vicar, who sat in his stall in his absence (see Cathedral).
Oliver Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, and in France Honoré de Balzac's The Vicar of Tours (Le Curé de Tours) all evoke the impoverished world of the 18th and 19th century vicar, while the satiric ballad "The Vicar of Bray" reveals the changes of conscience a vicar in Berkshire might be forced through, in order to retain his meagre post, between the 1680s and 1720s.
Many English culture figures started life as the educated but impoverished son of a vicar: Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Hobbes, John Henley, John Lightfoot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge Adam Sedgwick,Cecil Rhodes, Nassau William Senior, or Charles Kingsley, for some examples drawn from various intellectual fields. Robert Herrick was himself a vicar.
In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a vicar is a priest in charge of a mission, that is, a congregation supported by its diocese, as opposed to a self-sustaining parish, which is headed by a rector.
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