Diplomatics is the systematic critical study of historical sources, such as charters, public and private acts, judicial records, and related written documents. Ecclesiastical diplomatics is concerned with papal and other Church records of the same basic character but with emphasis on their special distinguishing features.
History. The Romans first used the word diploma, a word borrowed from the Greek, to indicate a double or folded sheet, or two sheets hinged together like the bronze plates employed in military discharges. Subsequently they used the term to designate a certificate or license to travel by the cursus publicus, or public post, and then for official grants or privileges in general. The word passed on to the Middle Ages and, in the Renaissance, came to be used as a designation for public, especially royal, acts and privileges and for medieval documents in general. The adjective diplomaticus is a coinage of Renaissance Latin. Res diplomatica was employed to designate the study of medieval documents in particular. Hence it was only natural that J. mabillon should choose the term as the title of his epoch-making work, De re diplomatica (1681), in which he founded the twin sciences of paleography and diplomatics. It remained for his confrere B. de montfaucon to coin the word palaeographia in his Palaeographia Graeca (1708). Mabillon's work was further elaborated by the maurists Toustain and Tassin, in their Nouveau traité de diplomatique (1750–65). The modern science of diplomatics, however, was developed especially at the École des Chartes in Paris (founded 1821), and at the Institut für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung in Vienna (founded 1854 and reorganized 1878).
Types of Documents. There are three major groups of documents: papal, imperial, and private. By private documents are meant all documents that are neither papal nor imperial. Ecclesiastical diplomatics is strictly speaking papal diplomatics; all documents originating outside the Roman curia in the episcopal curias, in abbeys, and in other ecclesiastical institutions are to be considered private documents. In form, style, and material, ecclesiastical documents usually follow contemporary developments in the various countries of origin. Aside from originals, they are found chiefly in special collections as in the libri traditionum of old monasteries. Generally speaking the documents were drawn up by notaries according to certain formularies in the chanceries of secular or ecclesiastical rulers. Seals were appended or attached, and the names of witnesses were inserted in the documents.
Notaries. The institution of ecclesiastical notaries most probably dates back to the times of the primitive Church. During the persecution clerics were employed particularly in Rome to draw up the acts of the martyrs. During the reign of Pope julius i (337–352) notaries had an important position at the Roman Curia. Fifth-century sources mention the notaries of the apostolic see. Even before the time of gregory i the great (590–604), a college (schola ) of notaries had been established, headed by the primicerius notariorum. Most probably notaries were the first officials of the apostolic chancery. The first signs of an organization can be found during the pontificate of Pope adrian i (772–795). The primicerius or secundicerius notariorum signed the papal documents.
Epistles. During the time of the primitive Church and in the first centuries afterward, the form of an epistle (litterae encyclicae ) was used, first by the Apostles, and later by popes and bishops.
Formularies. In the 7th century, collections of formularies came into use not only to improve the style, but also to give uniformity to the legal contents. Among the most important collections of formularies were the two volumes collected by the monk Marculf. They were composed c. 660 and contained ecclesiastical as well as secular formularies, and were employed generally in the chanceries of Europe. The Roman Curia also used formularies. The most important curial formulary was the liberdiurnus, composed between the 7th and the 9th century. During the time of gregory vii (1073–85) the use of the Liber diurnus was discontinued.
Summae Dictaminis. By 1228 there were several summae dictaminis. Some kind of official collection, called Liber provincialis, later Provinciale cancellariae, was in use in the Roman Curia. In Avignon an addition was made, the Quaternus albus, used together with the Liber provincialis until 1560. The most important collections were the so-called Rules of the Papal Chancery, which came into existence some time during the 12th century, taking over several rules from the Liber diurnus. These rules underwent changes and modifications from time to time. The most modern rules were approved by Pope pius x (1910). It must be added that all these collections, besides being used as formularies in the strict sense, also contained administrative and procedural law to be used in composing papal documents. The same is true of collections and formularies used by bishops.
Privilegia and Litterae. Since the time of Pope Hadrian I, two kinds of papal documents can be distinguished: privilegia and litterae. Privilegia are more formal documents, usually containing dispositions of permanent character. The litterae were less elaborate, concerning political, administrative, and jurisdictional matters. To those that were of a judicial character, a leaden seal was attached with silken laces. From the 12th century on, documents containing mostly administrative matters (gratiae ) were distinguished from those concerned with judicial matters (mandata ). The seal for gratiae was appended with silken laces; for mandata, with hempen laces (see sigillography). Bulls. Since inno cent iv (1243–54) the bull has become the usual form for more important documents. It was written in a formal curial style (see paleography, latin), which had been preceded by the so-called Lombard hand; under the influence of avignon (see avignon papacy), Gallic characters were introduced. From the time of adrian vi (1522–23), Gothic characters were used, the so-called litterae sancti Petri or Bullaticum Teutonicum, to be replaced during the 19th century with modern typeface. The bull was reserved for matters of great importance. Its seal, usually made of lead, bore on one side a representation of the heads of SS. Peter and Paul, separated by a Latin cross with the initials S.P.-S.P. beneath. On the obverse the name of the reigning pontiff was inscribed. The document was written with red or black ink upon a rectangle of parchment, made usually of sheepskin. The name of the pope without the number was given first, followed by the words servus servorum Dei. The place of issuance was mentioned at the end of the document. Finally the date was given in this order: year, day, month, and the year of the pontificate. Until the time of Pope Pius X, bulls were dated by the years of Incarnation reckoned from March 25. The days were also reckoned originally in the Roman fashion, by calends, nones, and ides (see chronology, medieval, 2).
Modern Papal Documents. Beginning with 1908 the dates of papal documents have been reckoned by the regular civil calendar. Bulls concerning matters of great importance, given in the papal consistory, are signed by the pope and by all the cardinals of the Curia. These bulls are called consistorial bulls. In other cases bulls are signed by the cardinal chancellor and other officials of the apostolic chancery or by the chancellor together with the cardinal prefect of a Roman congregation. The name "bull" stems from the Latin bulla (capsule or disk) wherein the seal is embedded. Usually these capsules were made of lead. In rare cases they were of silver or gold. Golden bulls usually were those confirming the election of a Roman emperor. In 1878 leo xiii had ordered that only in the most solemn circumstances was a leaden bull to be appended to a papal document. In all other cases a red, waxen seal was to be appended or a red rubber seal stamped on the documents.
Briefs. In the time of martin v (1417–31) the ancient form of litterae was replaced by brevia or apostolic briefs. They are simpler in style and deal with matters of relatively minor importance. They are sealed with the fisherman's seal, representing St. Peter seated in a boat and drawing his net from the sea. Originally the impression was made on the document in red wax with the fisherman's ring. Now they are in red varnish. The brief is written on thin white parchment, oblong in shape; its method of dating follows that for bulls. It is signed by the cardinal secretary of state or by the secretary of briefs.
Motu Proprio. This document came into use during the pontificate of innocent viii (1484–92). Originally it was issued in all cases concerning the Roman Curia and the temporal affairs of the Holy See. It is signed by the pope personally, without seal. From the legal point of view a motu proprio is a papal ordinance originating directly from the sovereign pontiff.
Rescript. In contrast to the motu proprio, the simple rescript is generally an answer to a petition made by someone to the Roman Curia or to the pope himself. The papal rescript has two identifying characteristics: it is signed by the cardinal prefect and the secretary of the congregation to which the case belongs, and bears the seal of that congregation. Decrees of congregations containing matters of general importance may also be issued in the form of a motu proprio.
Chirographa. Chirographa are personal letters written by the pope.
Bibliography: t. sickel, "Beiträge zur Diplomatik," Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 36 (1861) 329–402, continued in v. 39–101 (1862–82) passim. r. l. poole, Lectures on the History of the Papal Chancery down to the Time of Innocent III (Cambridge, Eng. 1915). j. ficker, Beiträge zur Urkundenlehre, 2 v. (Innsbruck 1877–78). f. philippi, Einführung in die Urkundenlehre des deutschen Mittelalters (Bonn 1920). a. g. cicognani, Canon Law, tr. j. m. o'hara and f. j. brennan (rev. ed. Westminster, Md. 1947). a. m. stickler, Historia iuris canonici latini, v. 1: Historia fontium (Turin 1950). a. de boÜard, Manuel de diplomatique française et pontificale, 2 v. (Paris 1929–54). g. tessier, "Diplomatique," in L'Histoire et ses méthodes, ed. c. samaran (Paris 1961) 633–676.
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