Apostolic constitution

An apostolic constitution (Latin: constitutio apostolica) is the most solemn form of legislation issued by the Pope.[1][2] The use of the term constitution comes from Latin constitutio, which referred to any important law issued by the Roman emperor, and is retained in church documents because of the inheritance that the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church received from Roman law.

By their nature, apostolic constitutions are addressed to the public. Generic constitutions use the title apostolic constitution and treat on solemn matters of the church, such as the promulgation of laws or definitive teachings. The forms dogmatic constitution and pastoral constitution are titles sometimes used to be more descriptive as to the document's purpose.

Apostolic constitutions are issued as papal bulls because of their solemn, public form. Among types of papal legislation, apostolic letters issued motu proprio are next in solemnity.[1]


Generic constitutions contain the following introduction:

[Pope name], Bishop
Servant of the Servants of God
For an everlasting memorial/eternal memory/etc.

Examples of apostolic constitutions

16th century

19th century

  • Ineffabilis Deus (1854) Pius IX's Dogmatic Constitution on the Immaculate Conception of Mary
  • Ad Universalis Ecclesiae (1862) Pius IX's Papal Constitution dealing with the conditions for admission to religious orders of men in which solemn vows are prescribed
  • Romanos Pontifices (1881) by Pope Leo XIII

20th century

  • Bis Saeculari (1948), Pope Pius XII on Sodality of Our Lady
  • Munificentissimus Deus (1950) Pope Pius XII's Dogmatic Constitution on the Assumption of Mary
  • Exsul Familia (1952) Pope Pius XII's Constitution on Migration
  • Veterum sapientia (1962) Pope John XXIII's Apostolic Constitution on the promotion of the study of Latin
  • Dei verbum (1965) Pope Paul VI's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation
  • Lumen Gentium (1964) by Pope Paul VI
  • Paenitemini (1966) Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on Fasting and Abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church
  • Missale Romanum (1969) Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on the revised liturgy
  • Romano Pontifici eligendo (1975) Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on the election of the Roman pontiff
  • Scriptuarum Thesaurus (1979) Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution on the promulgation New Vulgate as "Typical" for liturgical use
  • Ut sit (1982) Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution raising Opus Dei (Latin for "The Work of God") to the rank of a Personal Prelature (similar to a diocese, but grouping people by some peculiar pastoral reason instead of by where they live)
  • Sacrae Disciplinae Leges (1983) Pope John Paul II's constitution instituting the 1983 Code of Canon Law
  • Pastor Bonus (1988) Pope John Paul II's rules on the re-organisation of the Roman Curia
  • Ex corde ecclesiae (1990) John Paul II's rules on Catholic universities
  • Fidei depositum (1992) Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution on the new Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Universi Dominici gregis (1996)Pope John Paul II's rules on electing the Roman Pontiff (the Pope)

21st century

  • Anglicanorum Coetibus (2009) - Pope Benedict XVI's rules for providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglican laypeople and clergy wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church
  • Vultum Dei quaerere (2016) - Pope Francis' rules about women's contemplative life
  • Veritatis gaudium (2017) - Pope Francis' reform of pontifical universities and faculties
  • Episcopalis communio (2018) strengthens the power and influence of the Synod of Bishops.[3][4]



  1. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, pg. 57, footnote 36.
  2. "Mann, Stephanie A., "What Is a Papal Bull?", Our Sunday Visitor, September 1, 2016". Archived from the original on January 12, 2020. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  3. "Costituzione Apostolica "Episcopalis communio" di Papa Francesco sul Sinodo dei Vescovi, 18.09.2018" (in Italian). 18 September 2018. Retrieved 21 May 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. Pantin, Edward. "18 September 2018". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 21 May 2019.


  • Huels, John M. "A theory of juridical documents based on canons 29-34", Studia Canonica, 1998, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 337–370.
  • Beal, John P., James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: Commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America (New York: Paulist Press, 2000).
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