Charles Buck Theological Dictionary 
The same with Abbot, which see. Also the name of curious popular characters in France; who are persons who have not yet obtained any precise or fixed settlement in church or state, but most heartily wish for and would accept of either, just as it may happen. In the mean while their privileges are many. In college they are the instructors of youth, and in private families the tutors of young gentlemen.
Webster's Dictionary 
(n.) The French word answering to the English abbot, the head of an abbey; but commonly a title of respect given in France to every one vested with the ecclesiastical habit or dress.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
the French name for abbot (q.v.). It is used in France not only to designate the superior of an abbey, but is also the general title of the secular clergy. Before the French Revolution it was even sometimes assumed by theological students (unordained) in the hope that the king would confer upon them a portion of the revenues of some abbey. There were at one time in France so many unordained abbes, poor and rich, men of quality and men of low birth, that they formed a particular class in society, and exerted an important influence over its character. They were seen everywhere; at court, in the halls of justice, in the theaters, the coffee- houses, etc. In almost every wealthy family was an abbe, occupying the post of familiar friend and spiritual adviser, and not seldom, that of the gallant of the lady. They corresponded, in a certain degree, to the philosophers who lived in the houses of the wealthy Romans in the time of the emperors.
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
Name of a class of men who in France prior to the Revolution prepared themselves by study of theology for preferment in the Church, and who, failing, gave themselves up to letters or science.