Papal legate

Papal legate

A Papal Legate – from the Latin, authentic 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 and head of the Catholic Church). 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 authority of the Pope to appoint and choose the legates has been contested several times in history.

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.

There are several ranks of papal legates, some of which no longer exist today:

Apostolic Nuncio

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.

Apostolic Delegate

For nations with which the Holy See has no diplomatic ties, an Apostolic Delegate is sent to serve as a liaison with the Roman Catholic Church in that nation, though not accredited to the government of the state (see Nuncio).

Legatus a Latere

This highest rank (literally "from the (Pope's) side", i.e. "intimately" trusted) – awarded to a cardinal – is exceptional and usually very brief. He is the alter ego of the Pope, as though the Pope himself were present.

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.

Legatus Missus

Literally "sent legate", refers by contrast to a specific task ("mission")

Gubernatorial legates

Some administrative (temporal) provinces of the Papal States in central Italy were governed by a papal legate.

In four cases, including Bologna, this post was awarded to Cardinals; the Velletri post was created for Bartolomeo Cardinal Pacca.

See also

  • 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.
  • Vice-legate
  • List of papal legates to England


Catholic Encyclopedia: Legate

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