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Dictatus Papae


A term in diplomatics that designates a letter or memorandum dictated or drafted by the pope himself rather than by officers of the papal chancery. In common scholarly usage, it refers specifically to one entry in the Register of Gregory VII (107385) consisting of 27 titles or propositions that affirm the spiritual headship of the bishop of Rome over all Christians and his official dominance over all other clergy and temporal princes. Three letters in the Register also bear the title Dictatus Papae (Register II, 31, 37, 43), but the term has become permanently attached only to this list (Register II, 55a).

Of the propositions, 24 treat of ecclesiological matters, particularly of the special position of the Church and bishop of Rome in the universal Church. The first title affirms "that the Roman Church was founded by the Lord alone"; subsequent titles elaborate upon the sanctity of this institution and deal with the specific ways in which the pope's supreme juridical, legislative, and administrative powers in the Church may be exercised. Only three propositions are directly related to the powers of the bishop of Rome over temporal princes. According to them, only the Roman pontiff may use the imperial insignia (no.8), only his feet are kissed by all princes (no. 9), and the pope may depose emperors (no. 12). Scholars tend to associate with these titles those dealing with the accusation of superiors by their subjects on papal warrant (no. 24), and with the power of the pope to absolve subjects from their allegiance to their superiors (no. 27); Gregory's actions indicate that he himself applied these principles to dealings with secular rulers as well as with ecclesiastical princes.

The interpretation of these 27 titles is highly problematical, since the purpose for which they were written is unclear. The list was written into the original manuscript of the Register, which still exists, between a letter dated March 3, 1075, and one dated March 4, 1075; the first is to the clergy of Laon and the second to Archbishop Manasses of Reims. Both letters concern the reform of ecclesiastical abuses. The Dictatus certainly grew out of Gregory's effort to vindicate his principles of reform, and it is likely that they derived at least in part from Gregory's struggle with Henry IV, which began in earnest during March 1075. Some scholars have proposed that the Dictatus were crisp statements of principle, complete in themselves, and others have held the similar opinion that they comprised a sort of aide-mémoire. It has since been cogently argued that they were simply chapter headings for a short collection of canonical authorities reflecting the revival of the study of Canon Law that Gregory VII encouraged. In any case, one can not assess the Dictatus as indications of Gregory's thought or relate them to his policies toward spiritual and temporal princes until their precise purpose and character has been ascertained.

The influence of the Dictatus on the development of Canon Law is negligible. But in the second half of the 12th century there was written another list conceptually similar to the Dictatus of Gregory VII. This second list, the so-called Dictatus of Avranches, is of an uncertain provenance. Apparently independent of the Dictatus Papae, it has no textual affinity to the Gregorian propositions, and indeed it contains no statements related to Dictatus Papae nos. 1, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, and 27.

Bibliography: Eds. of the Dictatus Papae: e. caspar, ed., "Das Register Gregors VII," Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae selectae (Berlin 1826) 2.55a:201208 (best ed.). j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio (Paris 18891927; repr. Graz 1960) 20:168. Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 148:407. p. jaffÉ, Bibliotheca Gregoriana (Berlin 1865) 174. Dictatus of Avranches: s. lÖwenfeld, ed., "Der Dictatus Papae Gregors VII. und eine Überarbeitung desselben im 12. Jh.," 16 (1890) 193202. Recent interpretations of the Dictatus Papae: j. bernhard, La Collection en deux livres (Strasbourg 1962) v.1 La Forme primitive . k. hofmann, Der 'Dictatus Papae' Gregors VII (Paderborn 1933); "Der Dictatus Papae Gregors VII, als Index einer Kanonessammlung?" Studi gregoriani 1 (1947) 531537. s. kuttner, "Liber Canonicus: A Note on Dictatus Papae c. 17," Studi gregoriani 2 (1947) 387401. r. morghen, "Richerche sulla formazione del Registro di Gregorio VII," Annalli di Storia del Diritto, 34 (195960) 3563.

[k. f. morrison]

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