Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica

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The origin of this office goes back to the fourth century when notaries were appointed to draw up papal documents. These notaries of the Roman church were headed by the primicerius, who was in turn aided by a secundicerius. The notaries, in their capacity as scriniarii, also supervised the archives. Up until the eighth century documentation concerning this office is limited.

Gregory the Great, following the example of the Roman emperors of the East, gathered the notarii of the church into a school (schola notariorum) presided over by the primicerius notariorum and assisted by the secundicerius (letter of March 598). The primicerius, in his office as head of the palatine judges (iudices palatini), was the most influential official in the papal administration. By the end of the eighth century the duties of primicerius had been united to those of the bibliothecarius (librarian) and the latter title was used for nearly a century.

In the middle of the tenth century a great change took place in the general direction of the office. The term cancellarius was substituted for primicerius, first appearing in a document of Pope Formosus (Nov. 894). [See P. Jaffe, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII (Leipzig, 1885-1888), vol. 1, pp. 435 and 438, n. 3499.] The last authentic papal document from the primicerius is a bull of Benedict VII (Dec. 30, 982) [Jaffe, vol. 1, p. 483].

Shortly after this an entirely new title appeared in the Curia, that of archicancellarius. In 1051 Leo IX conferred this title on Hermann, archbishop of Cologne, who already served Holy Roman Emperor Henry III as arch-chancellor for the affairs of Italy. This title disappeared under Gregory VII (1073-1085) and that of bibliothecarius et cancellarius, by now common in all documents, continued to be used. By the time of Lucius II (1144) that of cancellarius prevailed. Notarii also began gradually to replace scriniarii so that from the pontificate of Honorius II (1124-1130) onward, the latter title disappears.

Innocent III (1198-1216) was the first to establish a consistent archival policy and to regularize the care of records. The series of Vatican Registers begins with his pontificate. In 1227 Honorius III entrusted the chancellorship to persons not of cardinalatial rank and the title of the head of the Chancery was changed to vice-chancellor. This title was kept even when, under John XXII (1325), the supervision of the office was placed in the hands of a cardinal.

Toward the end of the fourteenth century the substitute, who had already begun to function in the absence of the vice-chancellor, was given the title of regens (regent) or locumtenens cancellariae. The task of this office was defined by Gregory XI who in 1377 conferred the title for the first time on Bartolomeo Prignano, archbishop of Bari (the future Urban VI), giving him the duties of Cardinal Pierre de Monteruc, vice-chancellor, who had refused to follow Gregory XI from Avignon to Rome.

As the Chancery became busier, specialized subdepartments developed at various times: abbreviatores to prepare the notae, brevia, or minutae that conveyed the essential data of a letter; scriptores or grossatores to write out the beautiful final copies; registratores to keep the Chancery's own copies in its registra; and bullatores to affix the pope's lead seal to the finished letters. Nicholas III (1278) drew up the oldest surviving regulations for the Chancery; John XXII gave it a complete set of norms (constitution Ratio iuris, Nov. 16, 1331); Benedict XII (1335) confirmed these; Nicholas V (Mar. 7, 1447) expanded them; Paul V (1605-1621) added to them. But the Regulae Cancellariae ceased to be effective with the death of each pope who had given or confirmed them. From 1730 onward, however, the Regulae, then totaling seventy-two, carried over from one papacy to another.

The Regulae applied specifically to four classes of letters: (1) Litterae Expeditoriae (rules for formal dispatch), (2) Reservatoriae (benefices), (3) Iudiciariae (rules defining procedures to be followed), and (4) Revocatoriae (those letters that annulled the faculties accorded by the preceding popes). To these were added the rules that determined the rights and duties of the vice-chancellor.

The notaries of the Chancery, who assumed the title protonotarii in the middle of the fifteenth century, attended to the preparation of the papal letters, assisted by abbreviatores and grossatores or scrittori. Suppressed for a short time by Paul II (constitution Illa quorum, Dec. 3, 1464), the abbreviatores were reestablished by Sixtus IV who, with his constitution Divina aeterna Dei (Jan. 11, 1478), fixed their number at seventy-two, divided into three categories but forming one college.

Until the fifteenth century the Apostolic Chancery was the only office of dispatch of papal documents. Martin V (1417-1431) separated the Dataria Apostolica from the Cancellaria. In the course of the fifteenth century the Datary took on a greater share of the work previously done solely by the Cancellaria. During this time Datary responsibilities expanded far beyond those of dating and countersigning pontifical letters to include grants of favor. When the use of briefs became generalized, Alexander VI (1502) separated a secretary of briefs with responsibility for letters of nondiplomatic and nonspiritual content. This office occasionally provided the means for dispatching such letters under the lead seal. In the late sixteenth century many of the duties of the Consistory were assigned to the newly established Roman congregations. This development in turn contributed to the ultimate diminution of the functions of the Apostolic Chancery. There remained for this office, then, only the execution of favors that were to be dispatched in solemn form by way of a bull or letters apostolic sub plumbo.

With the exception of minor innovations as were introduced by Innocent XI (constitution Decet Romanum Pontificem, Jun. 28, 1689) and by Clement XII (1730-1740) at the end of his pontificate, the office remained practically unchanged up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The collection of taxes for letters of appointment to vacant benefices, called vacabili, were transferred from the Chancery to a Collegio dei Vacabili by Pius VII. Leo XIII decreed the complete suppression of the vacabili (motu proprio La cura, Jul. 4, 1898) and confirmed it with a chirograph of June 11, 1901. He also ordered a commission of cardinals to prepare a plan for reorganization of the Chancery itself. This was approved in audiences of February 5 and July 30, 1901.

Pius X's constitution Sapienti consilio (Jun. 29, 1908) stated that the sole purpose of the Cancellaria was to seal and dispatch the apostolic letters concerning the provision of consistorial benefices; the institution of new ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses, and chapters; and the proclamation of canonized saints, doctors of the church, and jubilee years. These letters or bulls were to be sent only on order of the Congregatio Consistorialis or the pope. The manner of forwarding the letters was to be per viam Cancellariae, according to rules given separately; the former methods, known as per viam secretam, de Camera, and de Curia, were then suppressed. The abbreviatores were suppressed and their office of signing apostolic bulls was transferred to the College of Apostolic Protonotaries. Pius X also provided for the revision of the Regole della Cancellaria (motu proprio In Romanae Curiae, Dec. 8, 1910) but these rules were later abrogated by the norms of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Paul VI reconfirmed the above functions with his constitution Regimini Ecclesiae universae (Aug. 15, 1967) and affirmed that the Chancery be presided over by a cardinal chancellor with the help of a regent. Its function was to dispatch decrees, apostolic constitutions, and apostolic letters in the form of bulls or briefs of major importance, as established by law or as entrusted to it by the pope or by departments of the Roman Curia. The chancellor was to preserve with the utmost care the lead seal and the fisherman's ring. The document also made provision for the Secretariat of State to include an office for issuing in Latin the apostolic letters, epistles, and other documents committed to it by the pope. It stated that the Apostolic Chancery was to be so arranged that there would be one single office for sending apostolic letters.

In the motu proprio Quo aptius (Feb. 27, 1973), Paul VI dissolved the Apostolic Chancery as a separate curial office and transferred its functions to the Secretariat of State.

To see a general agency history for the Curia Romana, enter "FIN ID VATV214-A"

From the description of Agency history record. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 145567142

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Registra avenionensia, 1316-1418. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. Spoglio del Teodolfo Mertel, 1846-1899. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Archivio segreto, ca. 1854-1923. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Regesta litterarum apostolicarum, 1901-1963. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Dataria Apostolica. [Miscellaneous SF/169], 1587-1900. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Rota Romana. Miscellanea, 1317-1922 (bulk 1650-1850). University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Armarium LIII, ca. 1200-1500. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. Varia, 1567-1832. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Pius III, Pope, ca. 1440-1503. Pope Pius III bull, 1503. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Regulae ordinationes et constitutiones cancellariae apostolicae, 1758-1823. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Papal bulls and briefs : manuscript, 1338-1884. Houghton Library
creatorOf Santini family. Fondo Santini, 1505-1899. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Dataria Apostolica. [Miscellaneous SF/181], ca.1850-1899. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Agency history record. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Sforza, Ascanio Maria, 1455-1505. Ascanio Maria Sforza notarial document, 1503. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Pius III, Pope, ca. 1440-1503. Pope Pius III bull, 1503. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. Spoglio del Carlo Maria Pedicini, 1816-1823. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Registra lateranensia, bulk 1389-1892. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Instrumenta miscellanea, 819-1921. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Records, 1316-1963. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. [Miscellanea SF/183-SF/184], 1870-1959. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Registra Vaticana, 872 (copy ca. 1070)-1605 (bulk 1198-1572). University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Dataria Apostolica. [Miscellaneous SF/180], 1620-1902. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Abbreviatori e giudicatura, 1820-1869. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Catholic Church. Camera Apostolica. Armarium XXXI, 872-1605. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Duplès-Agier, Henri, 1825-1891,. Ambassade de France à Rome : Recueil de piéces secrètes : manuscript, 1815-1816. Houghton Library
referencedIn Julius II, Pope, 1443-1513. Pope Julius II bull, 1504. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Catholic Church. Cancellaria Apostolica. Regulae Cancellariae Romanae paperum Johannis XXII, Benedicti II, Clementis VI, Innocentii VI, Urbani V, Gregorii XI, Urbani VI et Bonifacii IX [microform] 15th cent. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Catholic Church. Dataria Apostolica. [Miscellaneous SF/142], ca. 1400-1879. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Catholic Church. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Abbreviatores apostolica de curia. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Camera Apostolica. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Congregatio Consistorialis. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Dataria Apostolica. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Diocese of Venice. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Pope. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Rota Romana. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. corporateBody
associatedWith Catholic Church. Secretariatus Status. corporateBody
associatedWith Hill Monastic Manuscript Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Julius II, Pope, 1443-1513. person
associatedWith Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. corporateBody
associatedWith Pflugk-Harttung, Julius von, 1848-1919. person
associatedWith Pius III, Pope, ca. 1440-1503. person
associatedWith Santa Maria alla Scala (Church : Milan, Italy) corporateBody
associatedWith Santini family. family
associatedWith Sforza, Ascanio Maria, 1455-1505. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Loreto (Italy)
Recanati (Italy)
Austria--Vienna
Fabriano (Italy)
Macerata (Italy)
Subject
Manuscripts, Latin (Medieval and modern)--Facsimiles
Bulls, Papal
Letters, Papal
Papacy--History
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Latin,

German,

Italian

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