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in the Christian church, originally the chief deacon at the bishop's church; during the European Middle Ages, a chief official of the diocese; an honorary title in the modern Roman Catholic church. The name was first used in the 4th century, although a similar office existed in the very early church. Appointed by the bishop, the archdeacon was charged with the duties of preaching, supervising the deacons and their work, and supervising the distribution of alms. Eventually he became the first assistant to the bishop in the administrative and disciplinary work of the diocese and even represented the bishop at councils. When the bishop died, the archdeacon governed the diocese until a successor was elected.