Categories of the Church Documents


1. Papal Documents:

1.1  Decretal letter: Once a common papal document, decretals are now restricted to dogmatic definitions and (more commonly) proclamation of canonizations and beatifications.

1.2   Constitution: Constitutions can define dogmas but also alter canon law or erect new ecclesiastical structures.

                   1.2.1 Dogmatic Constitution: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) etc.

                   1.2.2 Pastoral Constitution: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).

                   1.2.3 Apostolic Constitution: Apostolic Constitution on the 1983 Code of Canon Law, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium); Apostolic Constitution on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

          1.3 Encyclical Letter: They are the second most important papal documents, exhorting the faithful on a doctrinal issue. Examples include Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, expanding on the application of the social teaching of Rerum Novarum in the post-Cold War world, Pope Francis' Laudato Si, Pope Francis' Lumen Fidei;


          1.4 Apostolic Letter: They are issued by popes to address administrative questions, such as approving religious institutes, but have also been used to exhort the faithful on doctrinal issues. Apostolic letters do not typically establish laws, but rather should be thought of an exercise of the Pope’s office as ruler and head of the Church. Examples: Pope Francis Mitix Iudex Dominus Iesus, Pope Francis' Misericordia et Misera

          1.5 Papal Decrees: They are statements involving Church law, precepts or judicial decisions on a specific matter. Examples: Decree on the Means of Social Communication (Inter mirifica); Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum); Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio); Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church(Christus Dominus), Decree on the Up-To-Date Renewal of Religious Life(Perfectae Caritatis); Decree on the Training of Priests(Optatam totius); Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam actuositatem); Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad gentes divinitus); Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum ordinis) etc.


          1.6 Declaration: A declaration is a papal document that can take one of three forms: 1) a simple statement of the law interpreted according to existing Church law; 2) an authoritative declaration that requires no additional promulgation; or 3) an extensive declaration, which modifies the law and requires additional promulgation. Declarations are less common now as papal documents, but were resorted to several times by the Vatican II Council. An example is Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Liberty; Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum educationis); Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate),

          1.7 Motu Proprio: A Motu Proprio is a decree issued by the Pope on his own initiative. A motu proprio can enact administrative decisions, or alter Church law (but not doctrine). Example: Pope Francis Mitix Iudex Dominus Iesus;

          1.8 Apostolic Exhortation: An apostolic exhortation is a formal instruction issued by a pope to a community, urging some specific activity.  Lower in import than an encyclical or apostolic letter, an exhortation does not define doctrine. Example: Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium;

          1.9 Allocutions: It is an oral pronouncement by a pope, with pastoral, not doctrine, import. Increasingly common in the modern age, allocutions are a way for popes to exhort the faithful both within and outside the context of homilies.

          1.10 Papal Bull: Example:  Pope Francis' Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy),2015.

2. Roman Curial Documents: These are documents that emanate from the Roman Curia and are approved by the Pope.

          2.1 Instructions: Instructions are statements issued by a Congregation, always with the approval of the pope. Instructions are usually intended to explain or clarify documents issued by a Council or decrees by a Pope. Example: New Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, Dignitas Connubii;

          2.2 Recognitio: A recognitio supplies the acceptance by the relevant office of the Holy See of a document submitted to it for review by a local conference of bishops. Such acceptance is required for such conference documents to modify universal law. A recognitio thus gives conference documents legislative effect.

          2.3Replies to Dubia: They areofficial responses to questions (dubia) of bishops addressed to the Holy See seeking clarification on statements of doctrine or discipline. Dubia are addressed to congregations having jurisdictions.

3. Bishops' Documents

          3.1 Bishop's Conference Documents: Particular Complementary Norms; Guidelines For Processing Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults; I Chose You; Called to Love; Manual of the Laity; Communiqués, It Depends on Us, etc.

          3.2 Plenary Council's Documents: No idea of any in Nigeria

          3.3 Provincial Council's Documents: Individual Provincial Councils deal with this kind of document

          3.4 Diocesan Bishops' Documents: Example: Synodal decrees and declarations; Pastoral Letters: Individual Diocesan Bishops deal with this. I know of the Pastoral letters of the Bishop of Nnewi: Faith Rooted and Built Up In Christ (2011); Faith Beyond Level One (2009); Faith in Action (2010) etc.


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