The noun see, meaning seat, is now used only of the seat of a bishop, in the sense of the place where he presides, or the church over which he rules. In early Christian literature the term apostolic was applied to those churches that had been founded by one of the Apostles and hence were looked upon as primary witnesses of the apostolic tradition, agreement with which was a norm of orthodoxy for the other churches. In this sense, Tertullian appealed to Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, and Rome as "Apostolic Churches, in which the seats of the Apostles still preside" (De praescr. haer. 36; Corpus Christianorum 1:216). While in the eastern part of the Roman Empire there were many apostolic sees, the most prominent of which were Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, the only church in the West recognized as an apostolic see was Rome.
See of Rome. One finds Rome referred to as the "see of Peter" in the writings of St. Cyprian (Epist. 59.14; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3.2:683), Optatus (Contra Parm. 23.2.; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 54:63–64), as also in the synodical letter of the Council of Sardica to Pope Julius (Denz 136). It is in the writings of Pope Damasus I (366–384) that one first finds the term Apostolic See used consistently of Rome. From this time onward it was a characteristic of papal letters, and it was similarly used in the acts of Western synods and in the writings of the Latin Fathers, for whom Rome was the Apostolic See. While the Greek Fathers recognized Rome to be the see of Peter, and thus the first among apostolic sees, examples are rare of their adopting the Latin usage of referring to Rome simply as the Apostolic See.
The Code of Canon Law gives a working definition of Apostolic See in these words: "the term Apostolic See or Holy See refers not only to the Roman Pontiff, but also to the Secretariat of State, the Council for the public affairs of the Church, and other Institutes of the Roman Curia, unless it is otherwise apparent from the nature of the matter or context of the words" (Codex iuris canonici c. 361). Canon 360 adds a more specific listing of the Roman Curia by stating that: "The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State of the Papal Secretariat, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, congregations, tribunals, and other institutes."
The term Apostolic See was in constant use during the Middle Ages to designate the pope together with his Curia. However, such a concept only gradually entered the written law, and the designation given in the Code is the most general and absolute use of this term. In international diplomacy the term Holy See, and not Vatican City, is the proper nomenclature. In 1957 the United Nations, as a result of an agreement with the Holy See, discontinued the use of the term Vatican City in international conferences.
The composition of the Roman Curia changed as a result of the 1988 apostolic constitution of John Paul II, Pastor bonus [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 80 (1988) 841–934]. The Curia now consists of the Secretariat of State, nine congregations, three tribunals, twelve pontifical councils, several commissions, three offices, and a number of institutes (New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law [New York and Mahwah 2000] 481–489.).
Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 15, 1:1427–31. p. batiffol, "Papa, sedes apostolica, apostolatus," Rivista di archelogia cristiana 2 (1925) 99–116; Cathedra Petri (Paris 1938) 151–168. m. maccarrone, "'Sedes Apostolica' et 'Sedes Apostolicae': de titulo et ratione apostolicitatis in aetate patristica et in altiore Medio Aevo," Acta Congressus Internationalis de Theologia Concilii Vaticani II (Vatican City 1968) 146–162; "'Sedes Apostolica-Vicarius Petri.' La perpetuità del Primato di Pietro nella Sede e nel Vescovo di Roma," in Romana Ecclesia Cathedra Petri (Rome 1991) 1:1–101.
[f. a. sullivan/
j. f. dede/
"Apostolic See." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/apostolic-see
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