Papal legates are clerics sent by the pope into a particular nation, with or without ecclesiastical jurisdiction, with or without diplomatic character, to treat, on his behalf, of the Church affairs entrusted to them.
Papal Prerogative of Legation. It is the right of the Roman pontiff, independent of all civil authority, to send legates into every part of the world. Because the pope unites in himself two distinct sovereignties, the spiritual and the temporal, he enjoys the right of legation by a twofold juridical title. It is, however, in virtue of the mandate received from the divine founder of the Church that the right to send legates is eminently his. The primacy, or the pope's supreme, full, and immediate jurisdiction in the universal Church requires, as a logical consequence, that it be so. This refers primarily to the right of internal legation—the legation concerned with the jurisdictional relations of the pope with local churches and subordinate ecclesiastical authorities in the world. The pope enjoys further the right of external legation—the legation concerned with the Church's international activities and her relations with civil governments. External legation is the right of all independent states and, in general, of all subjects of international law, that is, of any international institution having an independent and autonomous personality within the international community. The Church is such a universal juridic entity or society juridically perfect. This is so although it lacks, or may at times lack (as do other atypical international entities, such as the United Nations), certain characteristics typical of states. For a great number of centuries the Church has been so considered. Thus, as a subject of international law, it was consistently permitted, even when deprived of its temporal power, the performance of acts belonging exclusively to the competence of universal juridic entities. Among these acts is the uncontested exercise of external legation, passive and active.
Early History. There were practical applications of the papal right of internal legation as early as the 4th century, when the popes began sending representatives to general and particular councils and, as vicars apostolic, to remote provinces of the Church. From the 5th century through the middle of the 8th, other legates were being sent by Rome, in what may be considered the first manifestations of the papal right of external legation. These apocrisiaries, or responsales (papal agents and observers), were to act as papal representatives at the imperial court in Constantinople. The first of these was sent by Leo I. Their function was to keep Rome posted on the happenings at the court and in the eastern regions of the Empire and to convey the pope's instructions on the Church's doctrinal and disciplinary matters, as well as on questions affecting Italy.
Diplomatic legates of a special kind, called legati missi (literally, "legates sent"), made their appearance about the 9th century. Their importance and prestige grew when, in the 11th century, their legations, both to courts of princes and to particular Church dignitaries, began to be entrusted to cardinals—who were then given greater power and the higher title of legati a latere (legates sent from the pope's side, as it were). The Middle Ages brought still another category of legates—the legati nati (native legates or born legates), so called because they were not sent from Rome but received their role, chiefly a jurisdictional one in matters strictly ecclesiastical, as incumbents of some illustrious episcopal see, such as Canterbury, York, Rheims, Cologne, Prague, or Toledo. There, and in surrounding territories, these residential archbishops represented the pope and acted in his name. The papal emissaries for final purposes were another kind of medieval legate (nuntii et collectores iurium, redituum et omnium bonorum Camerae Apostolicae ). Their chief task was to collect alms and tithes of princes and the faithful and forward them to Rome and otherwise raise funds for the support of the Holy See and its activities. Their range of duty extended beyond the financial until, not infrequently, it included negotiations and transactions of a diplomatic nature with local political authorities.
The modern nuncios and nunciatures trace their origins to one or more of these types of legates. They derive their name and pattern from the last mentioned—the nuntii and collectores.
Modern Development. The first nuncios and nunciatures in the modern sense date from the close of the 15th century. According to some, the first papal agent on a permanent basis was Francisco de Prats, Alexander VI's emissary to Spain from 1492 to 1503. Others say Angelo Leonini, sent to Venice in 1500 by the same pope, was the first nuncio. These and others who may then have been called nuncios were certainly true emissaries of the popes. Whether they were nuncios in the strict sense (papal officers sent as ambassadors to a foreign court on a permanent basis with authority to treat any question affecting the pope and the princes) is not clear, for the term "nuncio" was still used in a broad sense at the time and could indifferently describe an envoy sent on either an extraordinary or an ordinary mission. At any rate, before the Reformation there were nunciatures in Vienna, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, and Naples. More were added after the Protestant Revolt, in Cologne (1582), Brussels (1577), and other northern cities.
In 1584, Gregory XIII (1572–85) strengthened the system of papal diplomacy, giving it organic structure and a body of well-defined regulations. For the first time, the distinctive role, attributions, and economic treatment of the various kinds of papal diplomatic agents (nuncios, internuncios, legates, etc.) were clearly defined. This reorganization was instrumental in ushering in the golden era of Church diplomacy. But soon after the Treaties of Westphalia (1648) came a period of decline that lasted for more than two centuries. There was a notable amelioration in the period between World Wars I and II, as all over the world nunciatures, internunciatures, and apostolic delegations grew in number and prestige. After World War II, numerous and active representations were established in Asia and Africa. For the list of all papal missions, diplomatic and nondiplomatic, as well as of all civil diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See, see the latest edition of Annuario pontificio, the book prepared and issued annually by the Vatican Secretariate of State.
Functions. Paul VI in the motu proprio of June 24, 1969, Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum, redefined the meaning and function of papal legates. They are ecclesiastics, especially bishops, who are entrusted with the task of personally and stably representing the pope in various countries and regions. The term "legate" applies to a number of different kinds of officials. Apostolic delegates are the personal representatives of the pope to local Churches. nuncios, pronuncios, or internuncios represent the Holy See to the civil governments of the territories in which they serve as well as to the local Church there. Occasionally a papal mission is appointed to deal with a specific issue in a given country. Both lay people and clerics can be sent as delegates or observers to international conferences; these, too, are papal legates; but their office is not treated in detail in general canonical legislation.
A legate expresses the pope's concern for the good of the nation in which he serves, especially with respect to questions of peace and the development of peoples. He is charged with protecting the legitimate interests of the Church in her dealings with the civil government. Occasionally and bearing in mind the advice of local bishops, he enters into negotiations with the civil government about questions of concern to both church and state. Within the limits of his mandate and in close association with the bishops and patriarchs of the region, the legate promotes ecumenical dialogue. Being under the direction of the cardinal secretary of state and the prefect of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, the legate reports directly to them about all his activities.
Other duties of the legate are more closely allied with internal affairs. He informs the Holy See about the spiritual condition of the local Church and communicates and interprets papal documents and curial deliberations to the local Church. He is the facilitator of the process whereby candidates for the episcopacy are selected; and he forwards their names to the proper Roman dicasteries, together with an accurate indication of which candidate seems most suitable. The legate also has the duty of studying the question of the creation, division, and suppression of dioceses. He will inform the proper Roman dicastery of the episcopal conference's recommendations on the matter.
The legate is advised to give generous assistance and counsel to individual residential bishops. Although not himself a member of the national episcopal conference, he generally attends its sessions. He is to be notified in advance of its agenda and is to inform the Holy See about it. The legate exercises similar functions with respect to religious superiors and the national conferences of religious. Whenever no official delegate or observer has been appointed to an international conference within his territory, the legate is to pursue the business of the conference, informing the Holy See of its progress. Delegates or observers at an international conference are to complete the mission entrusted to them after consulting with the legate in whose territory they happen to be.
The legation (offices of the papal legate) itself has certain legal privileges. It is exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary and the legate can grant faculties for use in the oratory of the legation. The legate has the right to bless the people and to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours in all churches within his territory. He takes precedence over all patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops within his territory, but not over cardinals. All of these rights aim at making clear the dignity of the office of the legate and at enabling him to perform his duties more easily.
Bibliography: a. wynen, Die päpstliche Diplomatie geschichtlich und rechtliche dargestellt (Freiburg im Br. 1922). p. brezzi, La diplomazia pontificia (Milan 1942). g. paro, The Right of Papal Legation (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 211; Washington 1947). p. savino, Diplomazia ecclesiastica (Rome 1952). e. l. heston, "Papal Diplomacy: Its Organization and Way of Action," The Catholic Church in World Affairs, ed. w. gurian and m. a. fitzimons (Notre Dame, Ind. 1954). g. de marchi, Le nunziature apostoliche dal 1800 al 1956 (Rome 1957). d. staffa, Le delegazioni apostoliche (Rome 1959). r. a. graham, Vatican Diplomacy (Princeton 1959). i. cardinale, Le Saint-Siège et la diplomatie (Paris 1963). j. abbo and j. hannan, The Sacred Canons, 2 v. (2d ed. St. Louis 1960) 1:265–270. paul vi, Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (Rome 1969) 471–484.
[j. a. abbo/
j. g. johnson]