A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy, such as a cardinal, abbot, or bishop, who has authority over lesser clergy. Both Catholic and Protestant religions have prelates in their ranks.
The source of prelate is the Latin adjective praelatus, "noble," whose meaning is appropriate to the modern meaning, a high-level church dignitary. The word was applied to those high-ranking clergymen around the beginning of the 13th century, the Middle English coming from the Middle French prelat. As the church's importance increased, so did the importance implied by the word prelate. Ambrose Bierce referred to a prelate as "one of Heaven's aristocracy."