papal legate

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papal legate
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- K. Henry 2. Kissing the knee of the Popes Legate comming into England.gif -
A woodcut showing Henry II of England greeting the pope's legate.
{{Catholic Church hierarchy sidebar}}A papal legate or apostolic legate (from the ancient Roman title legatus) is a personal representative of the pope to foreign nations, or to some part of the Catholic Church. He is empowered on matters of Catholic faith and for the settlement of ecclesiastical matters.The legate is appointed directly by the Pope (the bishop of Rome, head of the Catholic Church and (historically) head of state of the papal states). Hence a legate is usually sent to a government, a sovereign or to a large body of believers (such as a national church) or to take charge of a major religious effort, such as an (ecumenical) council, a crusade to the Holy Land, or even against a heresy such as the Cathars.The term legation is applied both to a legate's mandate and to the territory concerned (such as a state, or an ecclesiastical province). The relevant adjective is legatine.


{{expand section|history in early Church to 1300, and material other than English and Wolsey|date=April 2016}}
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- Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.jpg -
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, papal legate to England during the reign of Henry VIII
In the High Middle Ages, papal legates were often used to strengthen the links between Rome and the many parts of Christendom. More often than not, legates were learned men and skilled diplomats who were not from the country they were accredited to. The Italian-born Guala Bicchieri served as papal legate to England in the early 13th century and played a major role in both the English government and church at the time. By the Late Middle Ages it had become more common to appoint native clerics to the position of legate within their own country, such as Cardinal Wolsey acting as legate to the court of Henry VIII of England. The reason for this switch in policy could be attributed to a change in attitude on the eve of the Reformation; by this point, foreign men representing the papacy would be more likely to reinforce dissent than bring Christendom closer together.BOOK, The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union, Pagden, Anthony, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2010, 2002, 13, 9780521795524, {{non sequitur|date=April 2016}}Papal legates often summoned legatine councils, which dealt with church government and other ecclesiastical issues.BOOK, Robinson, I. S., The Papacy 1073–1198: Continuity and Innovation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990, 0-521-31922-6, 150, According to Pope Gregory VII, writing in the Dictatus papae, a papal legate "presides over all bishops in a council, even if he is inferior in rank, and he can pronounce sentence of deposition against them". During the Middle Ages, a legatine council was the usual means that a papal legate imposed his directives.BOOK, Robinson, I. S., The Papacy 1073–1198: Continuity and Innovation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990, 150, 0521319226,

Diplomatic ranks

There are several ranks of papal legates in diplomacy, some of which are no longer used.

Apostolic nuncio

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- Giovanni Francesco Commendone.PNG -
Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Commendone, sometime papal nuncio to Urbino, Ferrara, Venice, Parma, and England.
The most common form of papal legate today is the apostolic nuncio, whose task it is to strengthen relations between the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church in a particular country and at the same time to act as the diplomatic representative of the Holy See to the government of that country.BOOK, Collinge, William, Historical Dictionary of Catholicism, 251, 2, Scarecrow Press Inc., Maryland, USA, 2012, 9780810857551, An apostolic nuncio is generally equivalent in rank to that of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, although in Catholic countries the nuncio often ranks above ambassadors in diplomatic protocol. A nuncio performs the same functions as an ambassador and has the same diplomatic privileges. Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which the Holy See is a party, a nuncio is an ambassador like those from any other country. The Vienna Convention allows the host state to grant seniority of precedence to the nuncio over others of ambassadorial rank accredited to the same country, and may grant the deanship of that country's diplomatic corps to the nuncio regardless of seniority.JOURNAL, United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Article 16, United Nations, 1961,


Pro-nuncio was a term used from 1965 to 1991 for a papal diplomatic representative of full ambassadorial rank accredited to a country that did not accord him precedence over other ambassadors and ex officio deanship of the diplomatic corps. In those countries, the papal representative's precedence within the corps is exactly on a par with that of the other members of ambassadorial rank, so that he becomes dean only on becoming the senior member of the corps.BOOK, 462, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Beal, John P., Coriden, James A., Green, Thomas J., Study, Paulist Press, NJ, USA, 2000, 9780809140664,

Apostolic delegate

For countries with which the Holy See has no diplomatic relations, an apostolic delegate is sent to serve as a liaison with the Catholic Church in that country, though not accredited to its government.


{{anchor|Legatus a latere|Legatus a Latere}}

Legatus a latere

This highest rank (literally "from the (Pope's) side", i.e. "intimately" trusted) is normally awarded to a priest of cardinal rank. It is an exceptional investiture and can either be focused or broad in scope. The legate a latere is the alter ego of the Pope, and as such, possesses full plenipotentiary powers.BOOK, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 331, Livingstone, E. A., Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 9780199659623, 3rd, 2013, 1977,

Legatus natus

Literally "born legate", i.e. not nominated individually but ex officio, namely a bishop holding this rank as a privilege of his see, e.g. archbishops of Canterbury (pre-Reformation), Prague, Esztergom, Udine, Salzburg, Gniezno and Cologne. The legatus natus would act as the pope's representative in his province, with a legatus a latere only being sent in extraordinary circumstances. Although limited in their jurisdiction compared to legati a latere, a legatus natus was not subordinate to them.BOOK, The Law Glossary, Tayler, Thomas, 300, Baker, Voorhis & Co., NY, USA, 1866,

Legatus missus

Literally "sent legate", possessing limited powers for the purpose of completing a specific mission. This commission is normally focused in scope and of short duration.BOOK, Bellenger, Dominic Aidan, Fletcher, Stella, Princes of the Church: A History of the English Cardinals, Sutton, Stroud, UK, 2001, 0-7509-2630-9, 2,

Gubernatorial legates

Some administrative (temporal) provinces of the Papal states in (mostly central) Italy were governed by a Papal Legate. This has been the case in Benevento, in Pontecorvo (of Campagna e Marittima/ of Frosinone) and in Viterbo.In four cases, including Bologna, this post was awarded exclusively to Cardinals; the Velletri post was created for Bartolomeo Pacca.The title could be changed to Apostolic Delegate, as happened in Frosinone (for Pontecorvo) in 1827.



See also

{{commons category|Papal legations}}
Papal diplomacy
  • Nuncio – an envoy whose diplomatic status is recognized by the receiving state – usually a titular archbishop.
  • Internuncio – a lower rank than Nuncio for a papal diplomatic representative, a title historically used at a time when states sent to some less important countries diplomatic representatives, called Envoys or Ministers, lower in rank than Ambassadors.
  • Papal apocrisiarius
  • List of papal legates to England



  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Legate
  • WorldStatesmen - Italy to 1860 - Papal State
  • BOOK, Maseri, Pellegrino, De Legatis et Nunciis Apostolicis Iudiciis Ecclesiasticis Civilibus et Criminalibus Oneribusque Civitatum Cameralibus et Communitativis,weblink 1709, Plachus, Rome, Latin,
  • BOOK, Langhaider, Konstantin, Commentatio Canoncia de Legatis et Nuntiis Pontificum,weblink 1785, None given, None given, Latin,
  • BOOK, Schott, Johann, De Legatis Natis,weblink 1778, Klietsch, Bamberg, Latin,
  • BOOK, Heidemann, Josef, Die englische Legation des Cardinals Guido Fulcodi, des spaeteren P. Clemens IV,weblink 1904, Westfalische Vereinsdruckerei, Munster, German,
  • BOOK, Wynen, Arthur, Die päpstliche Diplomatie: geschichtlich und rechtlich dargestellt /von Arthur Wynen,weblink Das Völkerrecht, Heft 10, 1922, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, German,
  • BOOK, Paro, Gino, The Right of Papal Legation,weblink 1947, Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC USA,
  • JOURNAL, Wasner, Franz, Fifteenth-century texts on the Ceremonial of the papal 'Legatus a latere', Traditio, 1958, 14, 295–358, 27830370,
  • JOURNAL, Wasner, Franz, 'Legatus a latere': addenda varia, Traditio, 1960, 16, 405–416, 27830415,
  • BOOK, Harvey, Margaret M., England, Rome, and the Papacy, 1417-1464: The Study of a Relationship,weblink 1993, Manchester University Press, Manchester UK, 978-0-7190-3459-6,
  • BOOK, Gillett, Andrew, Envoys and Political Communication in the Late Antique West, 411–533,weblink 2003, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 978-1-139-44003-5,
  • BOOK, Melnyk, Roman A., Vatican Diplomacy at the United Nations: A History of Catholic Global Engagement,weblink 2009, Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston NY USA, 978-0-7734-3881-1,
  • BOOK, Rennie, Kriston R., The Foundations of Medieval Papal Legation,weblink 2013, Palgrave Macmillan UK, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire UK, 978-1-137-26494-7,

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