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Formularies are medieval collections of models for the execution of documents (acta), public or private; a space being left for the insertion of names, dates, and circumstances peculiar to each case. As is well known, it is practically inevitable that documents of the same nature, issued from the same office, or even from distinct offices, will bear a close resemblance to one another. Those charged with the execution and expedition of such documents come naturally to employ the same formulæ in Similar Cases; moreover, the use of such formulæ permits the drafting of important documents to be entrusted to minor officials, since all they have to do is to insert in the allotted space the particular information previously supplied them. Finally, in this way every document is Clothed with all possible efficiency, since each of its clauses, and almost every word, has a meaning clearly and definitely intended. Uncertainties and difficulties of interpretation are thus avoided, and not unfrequently lawsuits. This legal formalism is usually known as the "style" or habitual diction of chanceries and the documents that issue therefrom. It represents long efforts to bring into the document all necessary and useful elements in their most appropriate order, and to use technical expressions suited to the case, some of them more or less essential, others merely as a matter of tradition. In this way arose a true art of drafting public documents or private acta, which became the monopoly of chanceries and notaries, which the mere layman could only imperfectly imitate, and which in time developed to such a point that the mere "style" of a supposititious deed has often been sufficient to enable a skilful critic to detect the forgery. The earlier Roman notaries (tabelliones) had their own traditional formulæ, and the drafting of their acta was subject to an infinity of detail (see "Novels" of Justinian, xliv, lxvi); the imperial chanceries of Rome and Byzantium were more remarkable still for their formulæ. The chanceries of the barbarian kingdoms and that of the papacy followed in their footsteps. Nevertheless it is not directly from the chanceries that the formularies drawn up in the Middle Ages have come down to us, but rather from the monastic and ecclesiastical schools. Therein was taught, as pertaining to the study of law, the art of drafting public and private documents (see Du Cange, "Glossarium med. et infimæ Latinitatis", s.v. "Dictare"). It was called dictare as opposed to scribere, i.e. the mere material execution of such documents.

To train the dictatores, as they were known, Specimens of public and private acta were placed before them, and they had to listen to commentaries thereon. Thus arose the yet extant formularies, between the fifth and the ninth centuries. These models were sometimes of a purely academic nature, but the number of such is small; in almost every case they are taken from real documents, in the transcription of which the individualizing references were suppressed so as to make them take on the appearance of general formulæ in many instances, too, nothing was suppressed. The formulæ deal with public documents: royal decrees on civil matters, ordinances, etc.; with documents relative to legal processes and the administration of justice; or with private deeds drawn up by a notary: sales, exchanges, gifts to churches and monasteries, transference of ecclesiastical property, the manumission of slaves, the settlement of matrimonial dowries, the execution of wills, etc. Finally, there are deeds which refer solely to ecclesiastical concerns: consecrations of churches, blessings of various kinds, excommunications, etc. The study of the medieval formularies is of importance for students of the history of legislation, the rise of institutions, the development of manners and customs, of civil history, above all for the criticism of charters and diplomas, and for researches in medieval philology. In those times the ecclesiastical and civil orders were closely related. Many civil functions and some of the highest state offices were held by ecclesiastics and monks. The ars dictandi was taught in the schools connected with the monasteries and those under ecclesiastical control. For quite a long time all acta were drawn up only in Latin, and as the vernacular languages, in Romance lands, gradually fell away from classical Latin, recourse to ecclesiastics and monks became a matter of necessity. The formularies are, of course, anything but models of good Latinity; with the exception of the Letters (Variæ) of Cassiodorus, and the St. Gall collection "Sub Salomone", they are written in careless or even barbarous Latin, though it is possible that their wretched "style" is intentional, so as to render them intelligible to the multitude.

The formularies of the Middle Ages date from the sixth to the ninth or tenth century, and we still possess many once used in one or other of the barbarian kingdoms. Many were edited in the seventeenth century by Jérôme Bignon, Baluze, Mabillon, and others; and many more in the nineteenth century, especially by two savants who compiled collections of them:

  1. Eugène de Rozière, "Recueil général des formules usitées dans l'empire des Francs du cinquième au dixième siècle" (3 vols., Paris, 1859-71). He groups these early medieval formulæ under five principal heads: "Formulæ ad jus publicum, ad jus privatum, ad judiciorum ordinem, ad jus canonicum, et ad ritus ecclesiasticos spectantes". And he follows up this arrangement by a very complete set of tables of concordance.
  2. Karl Zeumer, "Formulæ Merovingici et Karolini ævi" (Hanover, 1886) in "Mon. Germ. Hist.: Leg.", V; he reproduces the formulæ in the work and gives a more complete study than de Rozière. In his pages will be found a complete bibliography of all written on the subject before that time; or Chevalier, "Topo-Bibl.", may be consulted under the word "Formules".

Some brief observations will here suffice on the formulæ used between the sixth and the ninth centuries in the various barbarian kingdoms.

The Ostrogoths

Cassiodorus, secretary and afterwards prime minister of King Theodoric, included in his "Variarum (epistolarum) libri XII", particularly in books six and seven, and, as he says, for the guidance of his successors, a great number of acta and letters drawn up by him for his royal master. It is a genuine formulary, though standing apart by itself. This collection dates from before 538 (P.L., LXIX). The Servite Canciani took ninety-two of these formulæ of Cassiodorus and included them in his "Barbarorum leges antiquæ" (Venice, 1781, I, 19-56).

The Visigoths

" Formulæ Visigothicæ", a collection of the forty-Six formulæ made under King Sisebut (612-621). The king's name occurs twice in the curious formula xx, a dowry settlement in hexameter verse. Roman and Gothic law are followed either separately or together, according to the nationality of the covenanters. This collection was published in 1854 by de Rozière from a Madrid Manuscript, which was copied in turn from an Oviedo Manuscript of the twelfth century, now lost.

The Franks

Their formularies are numerous:

The Alamanni

The most important of their formulæ are:

The Bavarians

Among their formulæ are:


The most important of all ancient formularies is certainly the "Liber diurnus romanorum pontificum", a collection of one hundred and seven formularies long used by the Apostolic chancery. If it was not drawn up for the papal chancery, it copies its documents, and is largely compiled from the "Registrum" or letter-book of St. Gregory the Great (590-604). It was certainly in official use by the Roman chancery from the ninth to the end of the eleventh century. This collection was known to the medieval canonists, and is often quoted by Cardinal Deusdedit and Yves of Chartres; four of its documents were incorporated into the "Decretum" of Gratian. The best manuscript of the "Liber diurnus", written at the beginning of the ninth century, comes from the Roman monastery of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and was discovered in the Vatican Library. About the middle of the seventeenth century, the learned Lucas Holstenius used it when preparing an edition of the work which was officially stopped and suppressed on the eve of its appearance, because it contained an ancient profession of faith in which the popes anathematized their predecessor Honorius. In 1680 the Jesuit Garnier, using another manuscript of the College of Clermont (Paris), brought out an edition of the "Liber diurnus" not approved by Rome (P.L., CV). In the nineteenth century the Vatican manuscript was utilized for two editions, one by de Rozière (Paris, 1869), the other by von Sickel (Vienna, 1889). In 1891 the Abbate Ceriani discovered at the Ambrosiana (Milan) a third manuscript as yet unused. For a full bibliography of recent researches concerning the "Liber diurnus" see the "Topo-Bibl." of Chevalier, s.v. While, in its complete form, the "Liberdiurnus" cannot date back further than 786, the earliest forms of it go back to the end of the seventh century. Von Sickel holds that its opening formulæ (1-63) are even fifty years earlier than that date. It is badly arranged as a collection, but wonderfully complete. After a series of addresses and conclusions for papal letters, that vary according to the addressees, there are formulæ concerning the installation of bishops, the consecration of churches, the administration of church property, the grant of the pallium, and various other privileges. Then follow models for the official correspondence on the occasion of a vacancy of the Holy See and the election of a pope, also directions for the consecration and the profession of faith of the pope-elect; finally a group of formulæ affecting various matters of ecclesiastical administration.

In the tenth century these formularies cease to be in universal use; in the eleventh, recourse is had to them still more rarely; other methods of training notaries are introduced. Copies of letters are no longer placed before them. In their stead, special treatises of instruction are prepared for these officials, and manuals of epistolary rhetoric appear, with examples scattered here and there throughout the text, or collected in separate books. Such treatises on composition, artes dictaminis, have hitherto been only partially studied and classified, chiefly by Rockinger in "Briefsteller und Formelbücher des XI. bis XIV. Jahrhunderts" (Munich, 1863). The most ancient of these manuals known to us is the "Breviarium de dictamine" of Alberic of Monte Cassino, about 1075; in the twelfth century treatises of this kind become more frequent, first in Italy, then in France, especially along the banks of the Loire at Orléans and at Tours. Side by side with these works of epistolary rhetoric we meet special treatises for the use of clerks in different chanceries, and formularies to guide notaries public. Such are the "Formularium tabellionum" of Irnerius of Bologna in the twelfth century, and the "Summa artis notariæ" of Ranieri of Perugia in the thirteenth; that of Salathiel of Bologna printed at Strasburg, in 1516, and the very popular one of Rolandino that went through many editions, beginning with the Turin edition of 1479.

As to the papal chancery, in general very faithful to its customs and its "style", after the reform of Innocent III many formularies and practical treatises appeared, none of them possessing an official value. The writings of Dietrich of Nieheim (an employé of the chancery in 1380), "De Stilo" and "Liber Cancellariæ", have been the subject of critical studies. At a more recent date we meet many treatises on the Roman chancery and on pontifical letters, but they are not formularies, though their text often contains many models.

Quite recently, however, there has appeared an official publication of certain formulæ of the Roman Curia, i.e. the collection of formulæ for matrimonial dispensations granted by the Dataria Apostolica (see ROMAN CONGREGATIONS), published in 1901 as "Formulæ Apostolicæ Datariæ pro matrimonialibus dispensationibus, jussu Emi. Card. Pro Datarii Cajetani Aloisi-Masella reformatæ".

Lastly, in a different order of ideas, it may be well to mention a collection of formulæ for use in episcopal courts, the "Formularium legalepracticum" of Francesco Monacelli (Venice, 1737), re-edited by the Camera Apostolica (3 vols. fol., Rome, 1834).

From the twelfth century onward the formularies of the papal Curia become more numerous but less interesting, since it is no longer necessary to have recourse to them to supplement the documents.

The formularies of the Cancellaria Apostolica are collections drawn up by its clerks, almost exclusively for their own guidance; they interest us only through their relation to the "Rules of the Chancery" (see ROMAN CURIA). The formularies of the Pœnitentiaria have a higher interest for us; they appear during the twelfth century when that department of Roman administration was not restricted, as it now is, to questions of conscience and the forum internum, but served as a sort of clearing-house for lesser favours granted by the Holy See, especially for dispensations. These interesting documents, including the formularies, have been collected and edited by Göller in "Die papstliche Poenitentiarie bis Eugen IV." (Rome, 1907).

Previously, Lea had published "A Formulary of the Papal Penitentiary in the Thirteenth Century" (Philadelphia, 1892), probably the work of Cardinal Thomasius of Capua (died 1243). We must mention the "Summa de absolutionibus et dispensationibus" of Nicholas IV; of particular value also is the formulary of Benedict XII (1336 at the latest), made by order of that pope and long in use. It contains five hundred and seventy letters of which more than two hundred are taken from the collection of Thomasius. Attention is also directed to the list of "faculties" conferred, in 1357, on Cardinal Albornoz, first edited by Lecacheux in "Mélanges d'Archéologie et d'Histoire des écoles françaises de Rome et d'Athènes", in 1898; and to later texts in Göller. It will suffice if we make a bare mention of the taxœ or "taxes" in use at the Pœnitentiaria, to which were occasionally joined those imposed by the Cancellaria; in the opinion of the writer, they are not in any way related to the formularies.


Besides the Works mentioned above see GIRY, Manuel de diplomatique (Paris, 1894), Bk. IV, ch. i, Formulaires et manuels; Bk. V, Les Chancelleries; from this Work We have largely drawn; KOBER in Kirchenlex., s. vv. Formelbücher, and Liber diurnus.

About this page

APA citation. Boudinhon, A. (1909). Formularies. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Boudinhon, Auguste. "Formularies." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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