Papal bull

From New World Encyclopedia

A papal bull is a special kind of patent or charter issued by a pope. It is named after the seal (bulla) that is appended to the end to authenticate it.

Papal bull of Pope Urban VIII, 1637 C.E., sealed with a leaden bulla.

Papal bulls were originally issued by popes for various reasons of public communication, but after the fifteenth century C.E., they were only issued for the most formal or solemn of occasions. Modern scholars have retroactively used the term "bull" to describe any elaborate papal document issued in the form of a decree or privilege (solemn or simple), including some papal letters. Traditionally, papal bulls always bore a metal seal, but today bulls only do so on the most solemn of occasions.


Papal bulls have been in use since at least the sixth century CE, but the term was not used until around the middle of the thirteenth century C.E., and then it only referred to internal unofficial papal record keeping purposes; the term became official in the fifteenth century, when one of the offices of the papal chancery was named the "register of bulls" (registrum bullarum).

Original papal bulls exist in quantity only after the eleventh century when the transition from fragile papyrus to the more durable parchment was made. None survives in entirety from before 819 C.E. Some original leaden seals, however, still survive from as early as the sixth century C.E.

The "Bulla" (Seal)

The most distinctive characteristic of a bull was its metal seal, which was usually made of lead, but on very solemn occasions was made of gold (as Byzantine imperial deeds often were). The "bulla" depicted the founders of the Church of Rome, the apostles Peter and Paul, identified by the letters Sanctus PAulus and Sanctus PEtrus. The name of the issuing pope was usually on the reverse side. The seal was then attached to the document either by cords of hemp (in the case of executory letters or letters of justice) or by red and yellow silk (in the case of letters of grace), which was looped through slits in the vellum of the document. Bulla is the name of this seal, which to ancient observers looked like a bubble floating on water: Latin bullire, "to boil."

Since the late eighteenth century C.E., the lead bulla has been replaced with a red ink stamp of Saints Peter and Paul with the reigning pope's name encircling the picture.

Format, Style, and Content

A papal bull traditionally begins with a Latin sentence containing three elements: the pope's name, the papal title episcopus servus servorum Dei, meaning “bishop, servant of the servants of God,” and the few Latin words that constitute the incipit from which the bull would also take its name for record keeping purposes, but which might not be directly indicative of the bull's purpose.

The bull is the only written communication in which the pope refers to himself as episcopus servus servorum Dei. For example, Benedict XVI, when he issues a decree in bull form, will begin the document with Benedictus, Episcopus, Servus Servorum Dei.

Apart from the above, the body of the text has no specific conventions for its formatting; it is often very simple in layout. The closing section consists of a short datum, mentioning the place it was issued, the day of the month and the year of the pope's pontificate and signatures, near which is attached the seal.

For the most solemn bulls, the pope will sign the document himself, in which case he used the formula Ego X Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopus (I, X, Bishop of the Catholic Church). Following the signature in this case would be an elaborate monogram, the signatures of any witnesses, and then the seal. Nowadays, a member of the Roman Curia signs the document on behalf of the Pope, usually the Cardinal Secretary of State, and thus the monogram is omitted.

In terms of content, the bull is simply the format in which a decree of the pope appears. Any subject may be treated in a bull, such as statutory decrees, episcopal appointments, dispensations, excommunications, apostolic constitutions, canonizations and convocations. The bull was the exclusive letter format from the Vatican until the fourteenth century, when the papal brief began to appear. The papal brief is the less formal form of papal communication and is authenticated with a wax impression (now a red ink impression) of the Ring of the Fisherman. There has never been an exact distinction of usage between a bull and a brief, but nowadays most letters, including papal encyclicals, are issued as briefs.

Some Papal Bulls

The following list provides a sample of some Papal bulls organized by the year in which they were issued (the list is not exhaustive):

Year Bull Issuer Description
1079 Libertas ecclesiae Gregory VII
1079 Antiqua sanctorum patrum Gregory VII Granted the church of Lyon primacy over the churches of Gaul.
1120 Sicut Judaeis Callixtus II Provided protection for the Jews who suffered at the hands of the participants in the First Crusade.
1136 (July 7) Ex commisso nobis Innocent II Bull of Gniezno.
1139 (March 29) Omne Datum Optimum Innocent II Endorsed the Knights Templar.
1144 Milites Templi ("Soldiers of the Temple") Celestine II Provided clergy protection to the Knights Templar and encouraged contributions to their cause.
1145 Militia Dei ("Soldiers of God") Eugene III Allowed the Knights Templar to take tithes and burial fees and to bury their dead in their own cemeteries.
1145 (December 1) Quantum praedecessores Eugene III Called for the Second Crusade.
1155 Laudabiliter Adrian IV Gave the English King Henry II lordship over Ireland.
1184 Ad Abolendam Lucius III Condemned heresy, and listed some punishments (though stopped short of death).
1185 Post Miserabile Innocent III Called for a Crusade.
1187 (October 29) Audita tremendi Gregory VIII Called for the Third Crusade.
1199 (February 19) Innocent III Assigned the uniform of a white tunic with a black cross to the Teutonic Knights.
1205 Etsi non displaceat Innocent III
1213 Quia maior Innocent III Called for the Fifth Crusade.
1216 (December) Religiosam vitam Honorius III Established the Dominican Order
1218 In generali concilio Honorius III
1219 Super speculam Honorius III
1223 (November 29) Solet annuere Honorius III Approved the Rule of St. Francis.
1231 (April 13) Parens scientarum ("The Mother of Sciences") Gregory IX Guaranteed the independence of the University of Paris.
1232 (February 8) Ille humani generis Gregory IX
1233 Etsi Judaeorum Gregory IX
1233 Licet ad capiendos Gregory IX
1239 Si vera sunt Gregory IX
1247 Lachrymabilem Judaeorum Innocent IV
1252 (May 15) Ad exstirpanda Innocent IV Authorized the use of torture for eliciting confessions from heretics, and authorized the execution of relapsed heretics by burning them alive during the Inquisition.
1254 (October 6) Querentes in agro Innocent IV
1267 Turbato corde Clement IV
1274 Ubi Periculum Gregory X
1296 (February 25) Clericis Laicos Boniface VIII Excommunicated all members of the clergy who, without authorization from the Holy See, payed to laymen any part of their income or the revenue of the Church. Also excommunicated all rulers who receive such payments.
1299 De Sepulturis Boniface VIII Prohibited the dismembering and boiling of bodies so that the bones, separated from the flesh, could be carried for burial in their own country.
1302 (November 18) Unam Sanctam ("The One Holy") Boniface VIII Declared that there is no salvation outside the Church (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus), and that the Church must remain united.
1307 (November 22) Pastoralis praeminentiæ Clement V Ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar and the confiscation of their possessions.
1308 Fasciens misericordiam Clement V Set out the procedure to prosecute the Knights Templar.
1308 Regnans in coelis]] Clement V Convened the Council of Vienne to discuss the Knights Templar.
1312 (March 22) Vox in excelso Clement V Disbanded the Knights Templar.
1312 (May 2) Ad providam Clement V Granted the bulk of Templar property to the Knights Hospitallers.
1312 (May 6) Considerantes dudum Clement V
1312 (May 16) Nuper in concilio Clement V
1312 (December 18) Licet dudum Clement V
1312 (December 31) Dudum in generali concilio Clement V
1313 (January 13) Licet pridem Clement V
1317 Sane Considerante John XXII
1425 Martin V Founded the Université Catholique de Louvain
1439 (July 6) Laetantur Coeli Eugene IV
1452 (June 18) Dum diversas Nicholas V Authorized Afonso V of Portugal to reduce any Muslims, pagans, other unbelievers to perpetual slavery.
1455 (January 5) Romanus Pontifex Nicholas V Sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands discovered during the Age of Discovery and encouraged the enslavement of natives.
1470 (April 19) Ineffabilis providentia Paul II
1478 (November 1) Exigit sinceræ devotionis Sixtus IV
1481 (June 21) Aeterni regis Sixtus IV Confirmed the Treaty of Alcáçovas.
1484 (December 5) Summis desiderantes Innocent VIII Condemned an alleged outbreak of witchcraft and heresy in the region of the Rhine River Valley, and deputized Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger as inquisitors to root out alleged witchcraft in Germany.
1493 (May 4) Inter caetera Alexander VI Divided the New World between Spain and Portugal.
1493 (June 25) Piis Fidelium Alexander VI Granted Spain vicarial power to appoint missionaries to the Indies.
1497 (October 15) Ad sacram ordinis
1513 (December 19) Apostolici Regiminis Leo X
1514 Supernæ Leo X Declared that the cardinals in a body should come immediately after the pope and precede all others in the church.
1520 (June 15) Exsurge Domine ("Arise, O Lord") Leo X Demanded that Martin Luther retract 41 of his 95 theses, as well as other specified errors, within 60 days of its publication in neighboring regions to Saxony.
1521 (January 3) Decet Romanum Pontificem ("[It] befits [the] Roman Pontiff") Leo X Excommunicated Martin Luther.
1537 (May 29) Sublimus Dei Paul III Forbade the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
1540 (September 27) Regimini militantis ecclesiae ("To the Government of the Church Militant") Paul III Approved the formation of the Society of Jesus.
1543 (March 14) Injunctum nobis Paul III
1550 (July 21) Exposcit debitum ("The Duty demands") Julius III Second and final approval of the Society of Jesus
1565 (January 17) Æquum reputamus Pius V
1570 (February 25) Regnans in Excelsis ("Ruling from on high) Pius V Declared Elizabeth I of England a heretic and released her subjects from any allegiance to her.
1582 (February 24) Inter gravissimas Gregory XIII Established the Gregorian calendar.
1586 (January) Coeli et terrae Sixtus V condemned "judicial astrology" as superstitious.
1588 (February 11) Immensa Aeterni Dei Sixtus V
1665 Ad Sacram Alexander VII
1713 Unigenitus Clement XI Condemned Jansenism.
1738 In eminenti Clement XII Banned Catholics from becoming Freemasons.
1814 Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum ("The care of all the churches") Pius VII Reestablished the Society of Jesus.
1850 (September 29) Universalis Ecclesiae Pius IX Recreated the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England.
1868 (June 29) Aeterni Patris Pius IX Summoned the First Vatican Council.
1869 (October 12) Apostolicæ Sedis Moderationi Pius IX Regulated the system of censures and reservations in the Catholic Church.
1871 Pastor aeternus Pius IX Defined papal infallibility.
1880 (July 13) Dolemus inter alia Leo XIII
1896 Apostolicae Curae Leo XIII Declared all Anglican Holy Orders null and void.
1910 Quam singulari Pius X Allowed the admittance of Communion to children who have reached the age of reason (about seven years old).
1950 (November 1) Munificentissimus Deus ("The most bountiful God") Pius XII Defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.
1961 (December 25) Humanae salutis John XXIII Summoned the Second Vatican Council.
1965 (November 18) Dei Verbum ("Word of God") Paul VI
1998 (November 29) Incarnationis mysterium John Paul II

Finally, a recurrent papal bull, In Coena Domini ("At the table of the Lord"), was issued annually between 1363 and 1770 at first on Holy Thursday, and later on Easter Monday.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Huna, Ludwig. The Bulls of Rome. Kessinger Publishing. 2005. ISBN 978-1419123061
  • Signorotto, Gianvittorio, and Visceglia, Maria Antonietta (Eds.). Court and Politics in Papal Rome. Cambridge University. 2002. ISBN 978-0521641463
  • Waite, Arthur Edward. Papal Bulls. Kessinger Publishing. 2006. ISBN 978-1430433293

External Links

All links retrieved November 18, 2022.


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