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A consistory is a type of ecclesiastical council charged with tasks of governing a religious organization. The term is also used within some non-religious organizations. Consistory courts are often involved in the administration of church business, especially in highly hierarchical churches, and historically took a major role in what we would now think to be secular law, such as probate, defamation, promises (contracts), and matrimony e.g. property settlement from divorce. In England the transfer of probate to a secular court, as an example, occurred in 1857 with the Court of Probate Act 1857.
Originally, the Latin word consistorium meant simply 'place of assembly', just as the Greek syn(h)edrion (of which the Biblical sanhedrin was a corruption).
In the Roman empire, it was specifically applied to a formal meeting of the comites consistoriales, i.e. those members of the Emperor's court with the title of Comes (meaning "companion;" literally "go with") who were assigned—and this conferred the highest rank amongst Comites—to advise him in official, important matters, such as drafting bills and other written decisions, rather like the privy council of a feudal king. As the senate—in law still retaining the highest constitutional position, since the republic was never formally ended—lost most of its political importance, being reduced almost to a rubber stamp as a single-party state's parliament usually is, they stepped in as an official alternative power to the throne, but real power could just as well lie mainly elsewhere, depending on the imperial favor and personal machinations
Roman Catholic Church 
The consistory is a formal meeting of the Sacred College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, except when convened to elect a new pope (in which case the meeting is called a conclave, and special rules of membership, procedure, and secrecy apply). Consistories are held in Vatican City for taking care of the business of the college, which usually involves advising the Pope on important matters concerning the church.
Consistories can be ordinary or extraordinary. Only ordinary consistories can be public.
Since the Pope creates new cardinals in the presence of the college, the consistory is where this takes place (as of December 2012[update], the most recent consistory for the creation of new cardinals took place on November 24, 2012). The identities of the cardinals-to-be are generally announced some time in advance, but only at the time of the consistory does the elevation to the cardinalate take effect, since that is when the Pope formally publishes the decree of elevation. Some men have died before the consistory date, and if a Pope dies before the consistory all the nominations are voided. The cardinal, however, does not have to attend the consistory for his elevation to be effective. For example, then-Bishop John Fisher was imprisoned by King Henry VIII on April 26, 1534. A year later, Pope Paul III created Fisher a cardinal-priest in May 1535. King Henry, however, forbade the cardinal's hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send the head to Rome instead. Cardinal Fisher was beheaded a month later, on June 22.
Those new cardinals present are presented with their rings, zucchetti (small skullcaps), and birette (four-cornered silk hats) by the Pope. Formerly they also received an elaborate broad-brimmed tasseled hat, the galerum rubrum, at the ceremony, but Pope Paul VI abolished this in 1967 and those cardinals who want these obtain them privately from a maker in Rome.
The zucchetto, the biretta, and the galerum rubrum are all scarlet, the distinctive color of cardinals' vestments. When a diocesan cardinal dies, his galerum rubrum is suspended from the ceiling of his cathedral.
At the consistory cardinals are generally assigned titular churches in the diocese of Rome, though Pope Paul VI abolished their functional involvement in the governance of these churches; the cardinals formally "take possession" of these churches at a later date.
In Protestant churches 
In Scandinavia, the word consistory (Konsistorium etc.) has been used for the chapter of a cathedral.
In the Lutheran territories of imperial immediacy in the Holy Roman Empire episcopal offices were not staffed any more and the secular government assumed the function of the bishop. In the 16th and 17th centuries most governments of Lutheran territories pooled the administrative and religious affairs in a distinct office called the consistory. While Protestantism often still did not form a separate legal entity, with state and Protestantism not being separated, the consistory turned out to be the oldest body of many modern church bodies, which developed as independent legal entities in the 18th and 19th centuries. With territorial changes (heritage and conquest) many territories became multi-denominational.
The consistory, being rather a governmental than a religious office, was then often competent for all (Protestant) denominations (e.g. in Bremen-Verden) or even all religions (e.g. in Prussia, see Evangelical Church in Prussia) in the respective territory. The rather governmental character of the consistory is the reason why the term was given up in many church bodies after the separation of state and religion. In Germany today a single Protestant church body, the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, uses the term consistory for its administrative office. Consistories used to be and still are usually staffed with clerics and jurists. Today they are usually led by a consistorial president, a laymen (usually a jurist), historically General Superintendents, clerics, presided them. The other members bear the title (Upper) Consistorial Councillor (German: (Ober-)Konsistorialrat).
Also the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia uses the term consistory for its central administrative office.
In the Reformed churches, a Consistory is a congregation's governing body of elected officials that include the Elders and the Deacons, thus making the body similar to the Session in Presbyterian churches.
In Jewish usage, a consistory is a body governing the Jewish congregations of a province or of a country; also the district administered by the consistory. The Jews in countries under French influence made use of the term in the beginning of the 19th century, when the movement for political emancipation demanded the creation of a representative body which could transact official business with a government in the name of the Jews, and when the desire for reform among the educated classes demanded the creation of a body vested with authority to render religious decisions.
The word consistory (konsistorium) is also used in the sense of "university board" at some universities in Germany, Scandinavia and Finland (konsistori). In other countries another august assembly lends an alternative name to an equivalent body, e.g. senat in Belgium.
In the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, a consistory is the body which confers the Thirty-first and Thirty-second degrees. It is preceded by the Council of Knights Kadosh and succeeded by the Supreme Council. The term is especially appropriate to this Scottish Rite body as the Thirty-second degree is often considered[who?] the gathering together of all the previous degrees of Freemasonry. In common usage, members of the Scottish Rite will often refer to the local Scottish Rite Temple, or the local Scottish Rite organization, including all four Scottish Rite bodies, as "the consistory". Some[who?] might argue the last usage is "incorrect".
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