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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > H > Holy See

Holy See

(From the Latin Sancta Sedes, Holy Chair).

A term derived from the enthronement-ceremony of the bishops of Rome. The seat or chair in question must not be confounded with the ancient sedes gestatoria in the centre of the apse of St. Peter's, and immemorially venerated as the cathedra Petri, or Chair of Peter; the term means, in a general sense, the actual seat (i.e. residence) of the supreme pastor of the Church, together with the various ecclesiastical authorities who constitute the central administration.

In this canonical and diplomatic sense, the term is synonymous with "Apostolic See", "Holy Apostolic See", "Roman Church", "Roman Curia".The origin of these terms can only be approximately ascertained. The word sedes, "chair", is an old technical term applicable to all episcopal sees. It was first used to designate the Churches founded by the Apostles; later the word was applied to the principal Christian Churches. These ecclesiae dictae majores were understood to be the five great patriarchal sees of Christian antiquity: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. To these the word sedes was applied: "quod in iis episcopi sederent in thronis", and of Rome it was expressly said: "Romana quidem erat prima sedes propria dicta." Thus, Gelasius I (492-496) at a Roman council: "Est ergo prima Petri apostoli sedes." In the earliest Christian writings, also, we often find references to the see or chair of Peter: "Sedet in cathedra Petri". Throughout the early Middle Ages the term was constantly in official use. Thus, in the "Liber Pontificalis" (ed. Duchesne, II, Paris, 1892, 7), under Leo III (795-816): "Nos sedem apostolicam, quae est caput omnium Dei ecclesiarum, judicare non audemus." (We dare not judge the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the Churches of God.) We can thus readily understand how Holy See came be the technical term for the pope, the central ecclesiastical government, and the actual abode of the same.

The papal reservations of benefices, customary in the Middle Ages, made necessary a more exact knowledge of the location of the "Holy See", e.g. when the incumbent of a benefice happened to die "apud sanctam sedem". Where was the "Holy See", when the pope lived apart from the ordinary central administration? From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century we find no satisfactory solution of this question, and can only observe the decisions of the Curia in individual cases. Thus, it was not deemed necessary that the pope should reside in Rome: "Ubi Papa, ibi Curia", i.e., it was taken for granted that the Curia or machinery of administration always followed the pope. This is clearly shown by an interesting case under Nicholas III, who lived at Soriano from 8 June, 1280, till his death on 22 August of the same year. There were with him only his personal attendants, and the officials in charge of the papal seal (bullatores). The Curia, properly speaking, was at Viterbo, whither the pope frequently went to transact affairs, and where he also gave audiences: "Audientiam suam fecit." Nevertheless, he ordered Bulls to be dated from Soriano, which was done (Baumgarten, "Aus K. und Kammer", Freiburg, 1907, 279). More than a century later, as appears from the official rules drawn up under Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna; rules 148, 151, 158) and John XXIII (rule 68), this important point was still undecided. The aforesaid rules of Benedict XIII and John XXIII appeared on 28 November, 1404, and 5 June, 1413, respectively (Von Ottenthal, "Die papstlichen Kanzleiregeln von Johann XXII bis Nikolaus V", Innsbruck, 1888, pp. 148, 151, 152, and 185). During the journey of Martin V (1417-1431) from Constance to Rome it frequently occurred that the pope and ecclesiastical authorities were separated from each other; even at this late date the official location of the "Holy See", in as far as this was legally important, was not yet authoritatively fixed. This uncertainty, says Bangen, caused Clement VIII to draw up the Constitution: "Cum ob nonnullas", in which it is laid down that, if the pope and the pontifical administration should not reside in the same place, the utterances of both are authoritative, provided they are in agreement with each other. Covarruvias and Gonzalez agree that: "Curia Romana ibi censetur esse, ubi est papa cum cancellaria et tribunalibus et officialibus suis, quos ad regimen ecclesiae adhibet" (the Roman Curia is considered to be where the pope is, with the chancery, tribunals, and officials whom he employs in the Government of the Church). (Bangen, "Die römische Kurie", Münster, 1854, I, i, 5). Hinschius (System des katholischen Kirchenrechts, III, Berlin, 1883, 135, remark 6) follows the medieval opinion: "Ubi Papa, ibi Curia"; but this seems no longer tenable.

About this page

APA citation. Baumgarten, P.M. (1910). Holy See. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07424b.htm

MLA citation. Baumgarten, Paul Maria. "Holy See." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07424b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert B. Olson. Offered to Almighty God for the Holy Father and bishops of Our Blessed Lord's Holy Catholic Church.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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