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An ordinary and permanent representative of the pope, vested with both political and ecclesiastical powers, accredited to the court of a sovereign or assigned to a definite territory with the duty of safeguarding the interests of the Holy See. The special character of a nuncio, as distinguished from other papal envoys (such as legates, collectors), consists in this: that his office is specifically defined and limited to a defininte district (his nunciature), wherein he must reside; his mission is general, embracing all the interests of the Holy See; his office is permanent, requiring the appointment of a successor when one incumbent is recalled, and his mission includes both diplomatic and ecclesiastical powers. Nuncios, in the strict sense of the word, first appear in the sixteenth century. The office, however, was not created at any definite moment or by any one papal ordinance, but gradually developed under the influence of various historical factors into the form in which we find it in the sixteenth century. The first permanent representatives of the Holy See at secular courts were the apocrisarii (q.v.; see also LEGATE) at the Byzantine Court. In the Middle Ages the popes sent, for the settlement of important ecclesiastical or political matters, legates (legati a latere, q.v.) with definite instructions and at times with ordinary jurisdiction. The officials, sent from the fourteenth century for the purpose of collecting taxes either for the Roman Court or for the crusades, were called nuntii, nuntii apostolici. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries this title was given also to papal envoys entrusted with certain other affairs of an ecclesiastical or diplomatic nature. Frequently they were given the right of granting certain privileges, favours, and benefices. During the Great Western Schism and the period of the reform councils (fifteenth century), such embassies were more frequently resorted to by the Holy See. Then were also gradually established permanent diplomatic representation at the various courts. With previous forms of papal representation as a precedent and modelled upon the permanent diplomatic legations of temporal sovereigns, there finally arose in the sixteenth century the permanent nunciatures of the Holy See.

The exact date of the establishment of many of the nunciatures is not easy to determine, as it is impossible to fix exactly in all cases when an earlier type of papal envoy was replaced by a nuncio proper, and especially as in the beginning we find interruptions in the succession of envoys who, owing to their powers and their office, must be regarded as real nuncios. The necessity of resisting Protestantism was a special factor in the increase of the nunciatures. After the Council of Trent they became the chief agents of the popes in their efforts to check the spread of heresy and to carry out true reform. The fact that in 1537 the papal correspondence with foreign powers, previously carried on by the pope's private secretary, was handed over by Paul III to the vice-chancellor, Cardinal Alexander Farnese, was the chief element within the curia which led to the permanence of nunciatures. Thereby the political correspondence of the Holy See lost its somewhat private character, and was entrusted to the secretariate of state, with which the nuncios were henceforth to be in constant communication. The popes also employed extraordinary envoys for special purposes. Angelo Leonini, sent to Venice by Alexander VI in 1500, is commonly regarded as the first nuncio, as we understand the term today. In Spain the collector-general of the papal exchequer, Giovanni Ruffo dei Teodoli, was also given diplomatic powers; he resided in the country, and discharged these two offices from 1506 to 1518 or 1519. As his successors were appointed collectors-general with fiscal, and political representatives with diplomatic powers, so that from thenceforth the Spanish nunciature may be regarded as permanent. The beginning of a papal nunciature in Germany dates from 1511 when Julius II sent Lorenzo Campeggio to the Imperial Court. His mission was ratified in 1513 by Leo X, and from 1530 a nuncio was permanently accredited. The nuncios often accompanied Emperor Charles V, even when he resided outside the empire. Another German nunciature was established in 1524, when Lorenzo Pimpinella was sent to the court of King Ferdinand of Austria. The first real nuncio in France was Leone Ludovico di Canossa (1514-17). The French nunciature continued from the Council of Trent to the Revolution.

After the Council of Trent a number of new nunciatures were erected. In Italy diplomatic representatives were appointed for Piedmont, Milan, Tuscany (Florence), and for Naples, where the nunciature underwent the same development as in Spain. The nuntius entrusted with the duty of collecting the papal taxes received also diplomatic powers, and was recognized in this capacity by Philip II in 1569. Portugal and Poland likewise received permanent nuncios shortly after the Council of Trent. To foster Catholic revival new nunciatures were erected in the southern parts of the German Empire. Thus, in 1573, Bartolomeo Portia was made nuncio of Salzburg, Tyrol, and Bavaria, although no further successor was appointed after 1583. In 1580 Germanico Malaspina was appointed first nuncio of Styria, but this nunciature was discontinued in 1621. Bishop Bonhomini arrived in Switzerland in 1579, and up to 1581 with great zeal and success introduced ecclesiastical reforms. In 1586 Giovanni Battista Santonio succeeded him, whereupon the Swiss nunciature became permanent. In Cologne a nunciature was erected in 1584 for northwestern Germany and the Rhine, but in 1596 the Netherlands was detached from the Nunciature of Cologne and received its own nuncio, who was to reside in Brussels (Nunciature of Flanders). The jurisdiction of the Nunciature of Flanders extended also the English missions. Thus, toward the end of the sixteenth century, nunciatures were fully developed.

A dispute concerning the rights of the pope in the erecting of nunciatures and the competency of the nuncios themselves arose in 1785, when Pius VI determined to establish a new nunciature in Munich at the request of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria. The elector desired the appointment of a special nuncio, because princes subject to the emperor alone were bishops of Bavarian dioceses, but did not reside in Bavaria, thus greatly impeding the exercise of ecclesiastical administration. The three spiritual electors (the Archbishops of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier) protested on the ground that thereby their metropolitan rights would be violated. The pope, however, appointed Zoglio, titular Archbishop of Athens, as nuncio, and to him Charles Theodore ordered his clergy to have recourse in future in all ecclesiastical matters within his jurisdiction. The three electors, imbued with Febronianism, formed a coalition with the Archbishop of Salzburg, hoping to recover their pretended primitive metropolitan rights by ignoring the nuncio and by giving decisions and granting dispensations on their own authority, even in cases canonically reserved to the pope. As Rome refused to support them, they appealed to Joseph II, who, in accordance with his principles, heartily approved of their efforts, pledged them his full support, declared that he would never allow the jurisdiction of the bishops of the empire to be curtailed, and that consequently he would recognize the nuncios only in their political character. At the Congress of Ems, the three elector archbishops passed resolutions embodying their contentions. Despite this protest, Pacca and Zoglio continued to exercise their spiritual jurisdiction in Cologne and Munich respectively, received appeals from the decisions of ecclesiastical courts, and granted dispensations in cases reserved to the pope. On the other hand the four archbishops arbitrarily extended their own authority, granting dispensations from solemn religious vows as well as from matrimonial impediments, and erecting ecclesiastical tribunals of third instance. The emperor brought the controversy before the Imperial Diet of Ratisbon in 1788, but without definite results. The archbishops, opposed both by the cathedral chapters and the suffragan bishops, renewed communications with the pope, who on 14 Nov., 1789, issued an extensive document giving a detailed exposition of the rights of the Holy See and those of its envoys (Ss. D. N. Pii pp. VI. Responsio ad Metropolitanos Moguntino, Treviren., Colonien. et Salisburgen., supre Nuntiaturis apostolicis, Rome, 1789). Frederick William II, King of Prussia, also recognized the jurisdiction of the Nuncio of Cologne in the territory of Cleves, and in Mainz his ambassadors opposed the pretentions of the emperor. The French revolution ended the dispute. Owing to the political dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire the Imperial German nunciature became the Austrian nunciature, when Francis II assumed the title of Emperor of Austria. The partition of Poland ended the nunciature there. The first state outside of Europe to receive a papal representative was Brazil. At first an internuncio was assigned to that country, but of late years a nuncio has resided there.

At present there are four papal nunciatures of the first class, four of the second, two internunciatures, and several delegations. The nunciatures of the first class are: (1) Vienna; (2) Paris, where the nunciature was re-established after the Revolution, after Cardinal Caprara had first been sent thither as legatus a latere by Pius VII. Since the rupture of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See in 1904, this office has had no incumbent; (3) Madrid, which, since the Council of Trent, has been the permanent residence of the papal nuncio for Spain. It has a special tribunal, the Rota, which serves only as a court of appeals from the diocesan and metropolitan courts, but cannot handle any cases of first instance. Litigants are free to appeal from its decisions to the sovereign pontiff; (4) Lisbon, which had at first a nunciature only of the second class. It included a special court for ecclesiastical matters, but this was abolished in the beginning of the nineteenth century. From the second half of the sixteenth century Portugal always had a nuncio, although disputes arose at different times. The nunciatures of the second class are: (1) the Swiss nunciature which, in the eighteenth century, comprised the Dioceses of Constance, Basle, Ciore, Sion, and Lausanne. Since the religious troubles of 1873 there has been no incumbent; (2) since the beginning of the nineteenth century the only nunciature in Germany has been that of Munich (the last nuncio of Cologne was Annibale della Genga, later on Pope Leo XII); (3) Brussels, the residence of the Nuncio of Belgium as successor of the former Nuncio of Flanders. During the time of the French occupation this position was vacant. It was only in 1829 that Coppacini was sent to Brussels as internuncio; in 1841, it was again raised to a nunciature. Fornari, the first nuncio, was succeeded in 1843 by Gioacchino Pecci, afterwards Leo XIII. In 1880 the Liberal Ministry severed all diplomatic relations with the Holy See; the old status was restored, when in 1885 the Catholic party regained power; (4) Brazil. In 1807 Lorenzo Caleppi, the Nuncio of Portugal, followed John VI in his flight to Brazil. In 1829 a special internuncio, Felice Ostini, was appointed for Brazil; this marks the beginning of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the other states of South America. In 1902 the papal Internuncio of Brazil was raised to the dignity of nuncio.

The internunciatures are: (1) the Internunciature of Holland and Luxemburg. Since the separation of these countries, the internuncio receives distinct credential letters for the two governments. From the time of the Peace Conference at the Hague Holland has only a chargé d'affaires; (2) the Internunciature of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, which was erected in 1900. There had been accredited to these countries a papal delegate since 1847, and an internuncio, Mgr. Barili, had been sent in 1851 to what was then New Granada. The Apostolic delegates form a lower rank of papal representatives of diplomatic and ecclesiastical character. There are five Apostolic Delegations in South and Central America: (1) Chile, (2) Columbia, (3) Costa-Rica, (4) Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, (5) San Domingo, Haiti and Venezuela, all erected during the nineteenth century. Owing to repeated religious troubles these delegations have often been vacant. Costa-Rica has been without a delegate for a considerable period. It is necessary to distinguish these Apostolic delegations of a diplomatic character from those which are merely ecclesiastical.

The powers to papal nuncios correspond to the two-fold character of their mission. As the diplomatic representatives of the pope, they treat with the sovereigns or head of republics to whom they are accredited. With their mission they are given special credentials as well as special instructions, whether of a public or of a private nature. They also receive a secret code and enjoy the same privileges as ambassadors. Their appearances in public are regulated in conformity with general diplomatic customs. They also have certain distinctions, especially that of being ex-officio dean of the entire diplomatic body, within their nunciature, and therefore on public occasions take precedence of all diplomatic representatives. Internuncio and delegates enjoy a similar right of precedence over all other diplomatic representatives of equal rank. This privilege of papal envoys was expressly recognized by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and is universally observed. Nuncios enjoy the title of "Excellency" and the same special honours as ambassadors. In addition to their diplomatic position nuncios have an ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The latter point is especially stated in the "Responsio" of Pius VI to the Rhenish archbishops, and was reaffirmed by Pius IX in a letter to Archbishop Darboy of Paris in 1863, as also in a declaration of the Cardinal Secretary of State Jacobini addressed to Spain, 15 April, 1885. The ample ecclesiastical faculties, granted in the Middle Ages to the legates a latere and other papal envoys, had led to abuses; the Council of Trent, therefore, enacted that papal envoys (legati a latere, nuncii, gubernatores ecclesiastici, aut alii quarumcumque facultatum vigore) were not to impede bishops or to disturb their ordinary jurisdiction nor to proceed against ecclesiastical persons until the bishop had first been applied to and had shown himself negligent (Sess. XXIV, cap. xx de ref.).

Apart from the special faculties in conferring ecclesiastical benefices and in granting spiritual favours, the nuncios had the power of instituting proceedings and giving decisions in cases of ecclesiastical administration and discipline reserved to the pope. The nunciatures had special courts, principally for cases of appeal. Today such a court is attached only to the Nunciature of Spain. In all other points nuncios enjoy essentially the same rights in ecclesiastical matters. They are the representatives of the pope, and as such are the organs through which he exercises his ordinary and immediate supreme jurisdiction. It is their special duty to supervise ecclesiastical administration, and on this they report to the cardinal secretary of state; they grant dispensations in cases reserved to the pope, carry on the process of information for the nomination of new bishops, give permission for reading forbidden books, and enjoy the privilege of granting minor indulgences. In special cases they are delegated for the settlement of important ecclesiastical affairs. In virtue of their position certain ecclesiastical honours are due to them as laid down in the "Cæremoniale Episcoporum". Pius X introduced a change in the practice hitherto followed with regard to nuncios, so that now they hold their position longer than formerly, and a nuncio of the first class, after his recall, is not regularly raised to the cardinalate.

Nunciature reports

The official reports concerning their entire field of work sent by the papal nuncios and legates (or their representatives) to the pope or the cardinal secretary of state. The contents of these dispatches are in accordance with the commission received by the legate or nuncio. The reports of the nuncios filling permanent nunciatures, on whom rested the protection of all the interests of the papacy within their special territory, relate to all the more important ecclesiastical or political questions which had any connexion whatever with their commission. The objects of the reports are: (1) to give the most exact information possible concerning all political and ecclesiastical occurrences which might be of importance to the pope or the cardinal secretary of state; (2) to give exact information concerning the action the nuncios have taken with respect to such occurrences; (3) to send news concerning the princes to whose courts they are accredited, and concerning the persons who are in personal contact with the princes, or appear at court on account of political matters, or in any way have a share in ecclesiastical and political affairs. In doing this attention is naturally paid both to the instructions that had been given to the nuncio before he left for his post, and to the letters regularly received from the office of the papal secretary of state, from the pope, or from other officials. Taken in a wider sense, nunciature reports also include those letters of the nuncios concerning the affairs of their nunciatures, addressed to cardinals or others having high official rank in the Curia. From the first half of the sixteenth century, when the bureau of the papal secretary of state was fully developed and the permanent nunciatures received their ultimate organization, the reports of the nuncios were sent regularly (from the middle of the sixteenth century, often weekly). They were written sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Italian. If important matters were treated, especially those concerning which negotiations needed to be carried on in the most secret manner possible, the nuncio employed the cipher given him before going to this position.      

Although the individual dispatches vary greatly in worth, yet, as a whole, the nunciature reports form a very important source from the sixteenth century (especially during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) both for the history of the Church and for political history. Only a very small proportion either of the reports made by papal legates in the second half of the fiteenth century or in the early years of the sixteenth century have been preserved. From the second decade of the sixteenth century a much greater number survive, and from the middle of this century the reports of individual nuncios frequently exist in unbroken sequence. Most of the manuscript reports are in the Vatican archives, and are classified in sixteen series, according to the nunciatures. The classification does not agree, however, with the present arrangement of the nunciatures, the series given being as follows: Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, England, Germany (the imperial nunciature), Cologne, Bavaria, Switzerland, Poland, Savoy, Genoa, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Malta. Individual reports are also in other divisions of the archives. The nunciature reports brought together in the archives of the Vatican show serious gaps, especially for the sixteenth century. The reason is that the diplomatic correspondence of the Curia in that era was not systematically brought together and preserved in a papal archive, but was frequently purloined by the copyists, cardinal favourites, and their secretaries, just as the letters dispatched from Rome were retained by the nuncios and their heirs, and thus became dispersed to some extent in family archives. For example, the greater part of the nunciature reports pertaining to the reign of Paul III (1534-49) are now in the state archives of Naples, to which they came along with the archives of the Farnese family. Other collections of reports are to be found in various Italian archives. The reports preserved are either the original drafts made by the nuncios themselves, or the original letters drawn up in accordance with these, or copies of the original letters. As regards the reports written in cipher, a key can generally be found.      

On account of the great historical importance of the reports an effort has been made, since the opening of the Vatican archives for general research, to publish these together with supplementary documents (especially the instructions and letters sent to the nuncios). Heretofore more has been done, in the way of publication, for the German nunciature than for the others. H. Lämmer published a series of nunciature reports from Germany as early as 1800 in his "Monumenta Vaticana historiam ecclesiasticum sæculi XVI illustrantia"; upon the opening of the Vatican archives, the assistant archivist, Father Balan, brought out further material pertaining to the same subject in his work "Monumenta reformationis Lutheranæ" (Ratisbon, 1883-4). Father Dittrich treats the reports sent by the nuncio Giovanni Morone from the Diet of Ratisbon (1541) in the "Historisches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft", IV (1883), 395-472, 618-73, and, as a complement to this, edited the "Nuntiaturberichte Morones vom deutschen Königshofe" for the years 1539-40 in "Quellen und Forschungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte", I (Paderborn, 1892). In the mean time three historical institutes at Rome (the Prussian, the Austrian, and that of the Görresgesellschaft) divided among them the publication of all the nunciature reports sent from the German Empire for the period of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries. These societies have already published a large number of volumes: the first division, extending to 1559, is being published by the Prussian Institute; there have appeared so far vols. I-IV, VIII-X, and XII, comprising the nunciatures of Vergerio, Morone, Migganelli, Varallo, Poggio, Bertano, and Camiani, the legations of Farnese, Cervini, Campegio, Aleander, and Sfondrato (Gotha-Berlin, 1892—). The second division covering the period 1560-72, was undertaken by the Austrian Institute; up to the present vols I and III, containing the reports of the nuncios Hosius and Belfino, have appeared (Vienna, 1897-1903). A third division, covering the years 1572-85, was also assigned to the Prussian institute which has already issued this series (Berlin, 1892—); vol. I, containing the struggle over Cologne; vol. II, containing the Diets of Ratisbon (1576) and of Augsburg (1582); vols. III-V, containing the nunciature of Bartolomæus of Portia. At this point begin the publications of the Institute of the Görresgesellschaft, which has so far edited in four volumes the reports of the nuncios Bonomi (Bonhomini), Santonio, Frangipani, Malaspina, and Sega, and the nunciature correspondence of Caspar Gropper (Paderborn, 1895—). The period assigned to this institute covers 1585-1605. With 1606 begins another period (the fourth division), assigned to the Prussian Institute and covering the seventeenth century. Of this division two volumes have been published containing the reports of the nuncio Paletto (Berlin, 1895—). In this way the material concerning the German nunciatures for the period from the beginning of the sixteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century, that is for the age of the Reformation, will be available at a not far distant date.      

Professors Reinhard and Steffens of Fribourg undertook the editing of the nunciature reports for Switzerland and began with Nuncio Bonomi (Bonhomini), of whose reports one volume has been issued (Solothurn, 1907); the introductory volume completed by Steffens after Reinhard's death has since appeared (Solothurn, 1910). As regard other countries the reports of the nuncio Andrea da Burgo, who was in Hungary during the years 1524-6, have been issued in the "Monumenta Vaticana Hungariæ", second series, vol I: "Relationes oratorum pontificiorum" (Budapest, 1884). For France the publication of the nunciature reports has been begun in the "Archives de l'histoire religieusede France"; of this Fraikin undertook the nunciatures during the pontificate of Clement VII and has issued so far vol. I (Paris, 1906), covering the years 1525-7, and including the nunciatures of Capino da Capo and Roberto Acciainolo, and the legation of Cardinal Salviati. Ancel, meanwhile, began the nunciatures during the reign of Paul IV, and edited (vol. I, pt. i) the dispatches of Sebastiano Gualterio and Cesare Brancato (1554-7). The general reports of Ottavio Mirto Frangipani and Fabio della Lionessa, the nuncios in Flanders (1605 and 1634), have been published by Cauchie in the "Analectes pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique de la Belgique" (Louvain). The publication of the dispatches of the papal nunciature in Spain has been commenced by Hinojosa, "Los Despachos de la Diplomacia Pontificia en España", I (Madrid, 1896). So far no comprehensive publication of this kind has been undertaken for Italy, although individual reports have been published. Tolomei has treated the Venetian nunciature during the pontificate of Clement VII, "La nunziatura di Venezia nel pontificato di Clemente VII" (Turin, 1892), and Cursi has edited the dispatches that have been preserved of the legation of Giacomo Gherardi, "Dispacci e lettere di Giac. Gherardi, nunzio pontificio a Firenze e Milano, 11 settembre, 1487-10 ottobre, 1490", in "Studi e Testi", fasc. xxi (Rome, 1909). Besides these comprehensive publications various historians in treating the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in their works have made use of and published individual dispatches of this kind.


NUNCIO:PIEPER, Zur Entstehungsgesch. der ständigen Nuntiaturen (Freiburg, 1894); BAUDET, Les nonciatures apostoliques permanentes jusqu'en 1648 in Annales Academiæ Scientiarum Fennicæ (Helsinki, 1910); RICHARD, Origines des nonciatures permanentes in Revue d'hist. ecclés., VII (1906), 52-70, 217-238; IDEM, Origines de la nonciature de France in Revue des quest. histor., LXXVIII (1905), 103 sqq.; MEISTER, Die Nuntiatur von Neapel im 16. Jahrh. in Histor. Jahrb., XIV (1893), 70-82; IDEM, Zur spanischen Nuntiatur im 16. u. 17. Jahrh. in Röm. Quartalsch., VII (1893), 447-81; FRIEDENSBURG, Anfänge der Nuntiatur in Deutschland in Nuntiaturber. aus Deutschland I, part I, xxxviii, sqq.; PIEPER, Die päpstl. Legaten u. Nuntien in Deutschland, Frankreich u. Spanien seit der Mittel des 16. Jahrh., I (Münster, 1897); MAERE, Les origines de la nonciature de Flandre in Revue d'histoire ecclés., VII (1906) 5405-84, 805-25); DE HINOYOSA, Les despachos de la Diplomacia pontificia en España, I (Madrid, 1896); BAUMGARTEN, Der Papst, die Regierung u. Verwaltung der hl. Kirche in Rom (München, 1904), 447 sqq.

NUNCIATURE REPORTS: See the introductions to the different publications of the nunciature reports and the bibliography of the article NUNCIO.

About this page

APA citation. Kirsch, J.P. (1911). Nuncio. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Nuncio." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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