During the 8th and 9th centuries the office tended to become more and more exclusively purely administrative, the archdeacon by his visitations relieving the bishop of the minutiae of government and keeping him informed in detail of the condition of his diocese.
The clergy having thus another authority, and one moreover more canonical, to appeal to, the power of the archdeacons gradually declined; and, so far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, it received its death-blow from the council of Trent (1564), which withdrew all matrimonial and criminal causes from the competence of the archdeacons, forbade them to pronounce excommunications, and allowed them only to hold visitations in connexion with those of the bishop and with his consent.
It is his especial duty to inspect the churches within his archdeaconry, to see that the fabrics are kept in repair, and to hold annual visitations of the clergy and churchwardens of each parish, for the purpose of ascertaining that the clergy are in residence, of admitting the newly elected churchwardens into office, and of receiving the presentments of the outgoing churchwardens.
In 1862 he published his pamphlet entitled The Three Panics, the object of which was to trace the history and expose the folly of those periodical visitations of alarm as to French designs with which England had been afflicted for the preceding fifteen or sixteen years.
The organization of the Benedictine houses into provinces or chapters under this legislation interfered in the least possible degree with the Benedictine tradition of mutual independence of the houses; the provinces were loose federations of autonomous houses, the legislative power of the chapter and the canonical visitations being the only forms of external interference.