THE VATICAN STATE SECRET DIPLOMATIC ARCHIVES
THE PAPAL DELEGATIONS
Detail of a partially ciphered letter
by the Nuncio in Spain, Francisco Des Prats,
to Alexander VI (Madrid, 14th July 1494)
ASV, A.A. Arm. I-XVIII, 5026, f. 105r
The first papal envoy appeared in the year 314 at the Synod of Arles and represented Pope Sylvester I (314-335) in the conflict between the Church of Rome and the Donatists. In the following years, envoys of the pope went to the ancient Ecumenical Councils called by the Roman Emperors and later by those of the East. But it was only with Pope Leo Magnus (440-461) that pontiffs had their representatives at the Imperial Court of Constantinople, competent in religious matters, but not in politics, the so-called apocrisiarii. Other figures that appeared in the first millennium were the vicar-apostolic and the missionary legate, who exercised their function only temporarily and upon direct appointment of the pope.
During the IX Century, for the first time, the legates were sometimes entrusted with the judicial power, in fact, in case of poor ecclesiastical administration, they could start judicial inquiries. With Nicholas I (858-867), the legates even go as far as playing a political role.
During the XII and XIII Centuries, decretal right goes as far as clearly distinguishing three classes of legates: a latere (or de latere) legates, missi legates and nati legates. At the beginning of the XIII Century, a new type of curial official took shape, the collector of the Apostolic Camera, in charge of collecting the tithes laid by the pope and the various taxes due to the Holy See in the single countries. Often, in the more peripheral regions, as well as their typical fiscal duties, collectors also had diplomatic duties.
Cipher book dating back to the last years of the papacy of Alexander VI
ASV, A.A. Arm. I-XVIII, 5026, f. 101r
The staff of the Nunciature includes, as well as the Nuncio, the Auditor, who is in charge of the Tribunal and the Abbreviator, who supervises the Chancery. With the creation of the De Propaganda Fide Congregation, in 1622, the pope distributed the jurisdiction over the known territories among the Nunciatures of that time.
After the Congress of Vienna (1815), the Nuncios were assigned a permanent position at an international level in the diplomatic corps, as doyens. With the independence of the Latin-American Countries in the Nineteenth Century and the end of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, of the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in the Twentieth Century the papal delegations multiplied, distinguishing themselves between Apostolic Delegations, that carry out their mission only within the scope of the Church without a diplomatic role, and the Apostolic Nunciatures as representatives of the pontiff in other Countries and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, therefore entrusted with a double legation, both external and internal.
The second upper floor of the Vatican Secret Archives