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A papal bull is a type of public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by a pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal ( bulla ) that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.
Papal bulls have been in use at least since the 6th century, but the phrase was not used until around the end of the 13th century, and then only internally for unofficial administrative purposes. However, it had become official by the 15th century, when one of the offices of the Apostolic Chancery was named the "register of bulls" ("registrum bullarum").
By the accession of Pope Leo IX in 1048, a clear distinction developed between two classes of bulls of greater and less solemnity. The majority of the "great bulls" now in existence are in the nature of confirmations of property or charters of protection accorded to monasteries and religious institutions. In an epoch when there was much fabrication of such documents, those who procured bulls from Rome wished to ensure that the authenticity of their bull was above suspicion. A papal confirmation, under certain conditions, could be pleaded as itself constituting sufficient evidence of title in cases where the original deed had been lost or destroyed.
Since the 12th century, papal bulls have carried a leaden seal with the heads of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul on one side and the pope's name on the other. Papal bulls were originally issued by the pope for many kinds of communication of a public nature, but by the 13th century, papal bulls were only used for the most formal or solemn of occasions.Papyrus seems to have been used almost uniformly as the material for these documents until the early years of the eleventh century, after which it was rapidly superseded by a rough kind of parchment.
Modern scholars have retroactively used the word "bull" to describe any elaborate papal document issued in the form of a decree or privilege, solemn or simple, and to some less elaborate ones issued in the form of a letter. Popularly, the name is used for any papal document that contains a metal seal.
Today, the bull is the only written communication in which the pope will refer to himself as " Episcopus Servus Servorum Dei " ("Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God").For example, when Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree in bull form, he began the document with "Benedictus, Episcopus, Servus Servorum Dei".
While papal bulls always used to bear a metal seal, they now do so only on the most solemn occasions. A papal bull is today the most formal type of public decree or letters patent issued by the Vatican Chancery in the name of the pope.
A bull's format formerly began with one line in tall, elongated letters containing three elements: the pope's name, the papal title "Episcopus Servus Servorum Dei" ("Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God"), and its incipit, i.e., the first few Latin words from which the bull took its title for record keeping purposes, but which might not be directly indicative of the bull's purpose.
The body of the text had no specific conventions for its formatting; it was often very simple in layout. The closing section consisted of a short "datum" that mentioned the place of issuance, day of the month and year of the pope's pontificate on which issued, and signatures, near which was attached the seal.
For the most solemn bulls, the pope signed the document himself, in which case he used the formula "Ego N. Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopus" ("I, N., 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.
The most distinctive characteristic of a bull was the metal seal ( bulla ), which was usually made of lead, but on very solemn occasions was made of gold, as those on Byzantine imperial instruments often were (see Golden Bull). On the obverse it depicted, originally somewhat crudely, the early Fathers of the Church of Rome, the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, identified by the letters Sanctus PAulus and Sanctus PEtrus (thus, SPA •SPE or SPASPE). St. Paul, on the left, was shown with flowing hair and a long pointed beard composed of curved lines, while St. Peter, on the right, was shown with curly hair and a shorter beard made of dome-shaped globetti (beads in relief). Each head was surrounded by a circle of globetti, and the rim of the seal was surrounded by an additional ring of such beads, while the heads themselves were separated by a depiction of a cross.On the reverse was the name of the issuing pope in the nominative Latin form, with the letters "PP", for Pastor Pastorum ("Shepherd of Shepherds"). This disc was then attached to the document either by cords of hemp, in the case of letters of justice and executory letters, or by red and yellow silk, in the case of letters of grace, that was looped through slits in the vellum of the document. The term "bulla" derives from the Latin "bullire" ("to boil"), and alludes to the fact that, whether of wax, lead, or gold, the material making the seal had to be melted to soften it for impression.
In 1535, the Florentine engraver Benvenuto Cellini was paid 50 scudi to recreate the metal matrix which would be used to impress the lead bullae of Pope Paul III. Cellini retained definitive iconographic items like the faces of the two Apostles, but he carved them with a much greater attention to detail and artistic sensibility than had previously been in evidence. On the reverse of the seal he added several fleurs-de-lis, a heraldic device of the Farnese family, from which Pope Paul III descended.
Since the late 18th century, 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, though very formal letters, e. g. the bull of Pope John XXIII convoking the Second Vatican Council, still receive the leaden seal.
Original papal bulls exist in quantity only after the 11th century onward, when the transition from fragile papyrus to the more durable parchment was made. None survives in entirety from before 819. Some original lead bullae, however, still survive from as early as the 6th century.
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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, and many were and are, including statutory decrees, episcopal appointments, dispensations, excommunications, Apostolic constitutions, canonizations, and convocations.
The bull was the exclusive letter format from the Vatican until the 14th century, when the papal brief appeared. The brief is the less formal form of papal communication and was 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 encyclicals, are issued as briefs.
An Abbreviator or Breviator was a writer of the Papal Chancery who adumbrated and prepared in correct form Papal bulls, briefs, and consistorial decrees before these were written out in extenso by the scriptores.
Canonization is the declaration of a deceased person as an officially recognized saint, specifically, the official act of a Christian communion declaring a person worthy of public cult and entering his or her name in the canon, or authorized list, of that communion's recognized saints.
The pope, also known as the supreme pontiff or the Roman pontiff, is the bishop of Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state or sovereign of the Vatican City State. The primacy of the bishop of Rome is largely derived from his role as the apostolic successor to Saint Peter, to whom primacy was conferred by Jesus, giving him the Keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the church would be built.
A seal is a device for making an impression in wax, clay, paper, or some other medium, including an embossment on paper, and is also the impression thus made. The original purpose was to authenticate a document, a wrapper for one such as a modern envelope, or the cover of a container or package holding valuables or other objects.
Pope Adeodatus I, also called Deodatus I or Deusdedit, was the bishop of Rome from 19 October 615 to his death. He was the first priest to be elected pope since John II in 533. The first use of lead seals or bullae on papal documents is attributed to him. His feast day is 8 November.
"Regnans in Excelsis" is a papal bull that Pope Pius V issued on 25 February 1570. It excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England, referring to her as "the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime", declared her a heretic, and released her subjects from allegiance to her, even those who had "sworn oaths to her", and excommunicated any who obeyed her orders: "We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication." Among the queen's alleged offences, "She has removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics."
A golden bull or chrysobull was a decree issued by Byzantine Emperors and later by monarchs in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, most notably by the Holy Roman Emperors. The term was originally coined for the golden seal, attached to the decree, but came to be applied to the entire decree. Such decrees were known as golden bulls in western Europe and chrysobullos logos, or chrysobulls, in the Byzantine Empire.
An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Roman Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Late Latin encyclios.
Servant of the servants of God is one of the titles of the pope and is used at the beginning of papal bulls.
The process of beatification and canonization has undergone various reforms in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. For current practice, as well as a discussion of similar processes in other churches, see the article on canonization. This article describes the process as it was before the promulgation of the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1983.
The Ring of the Fisherman, also known as the Piscatory Ring, is an official part of the regalia worn by the Pope, who is head of the Catholic Church and successor of Saint Peter, who was a fisherman by trade. It used to feature a bas-relief of Peter fishing from a boat, a symbolism derived from the tradition that the apostles were "fishers of men". The Fisherman's Ring is a signet used until 1842 to seal official documents signed by the Pope. Since at least the Middle Ages it has been a tradition for Catholics meeting the Pope to show their devotion by kissing the ring.
An apostolic constitution is the most solemn form of legislation issued by the Pope. The use of the term constitution comes from Latin constitutio, which referred to any important law issued by the Roman emperor, and is retained in church documents because of the inheritance that the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church received from Roman law.
A bulla is an inscribed clay or soft metal or bitumen or wax token used in commercial and legal documentation as a form of authentication and for tamper-proofing whatever is attached to it.
Letters close are a type of obsolete legal document once used by the British monarchy, certain officers of government and by the Pope, which is a sealed letter granting a right, monopoly, title, or status to an individual or to some entity such as a corporation. These letters were personal in nature, and were delivered folded and sealed, so that only the recipient could read their contents. This type of letter contrasts with the better-known letters patent.
A papal brief or breve is a formal document emanating from the Pope, in a somewhat simpler and more modern form than a papal bull.
Ecclesiastical letters are publications or announcements of the organs of Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority, e.g. the synods, but more particularly of pope and bishops, addressed to the faithful in the form of letters.
Papal diplomatics is the scholarly and critical study (diplomatics) of the authentic documents of the Papacy, largely to distinguish them from spurious documents. The study emerges in the Middle Ages and has been further refined in the centuries since.
Mariological papal documents have been a major force that has shaped Roman Catholic Mariology over the centuries. Mariology is developed by theologians on the basis not only of Scripture and Tradition but also of the sensus fidei of the faithful as a whole, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful", and papal documents have recorded those developments, defining Marian dogmas, spreading doctrines and encouraging devotions within the Catholic Church.
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