( Latin Commissarius Apostolicus )
A commissary is one who has received power from a Legitimate superior authority to pass judgment in a certain cause or to take informations concerning it. When such a delegate has been appointed by the pope, he is called a commissary Apostolic.
The custom of appointing such commissaries by the Holy See is a very ancient one. A noteworthy instance is the commission issued to St. Cryil of Alexandria by Pope Celestine I, in the early part of the fifth Century, by which that holy patriarch was empowered to judge Nestorius in the pope's name. English history furnishes, among other instances, that of the commission which constituted Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio papal representatives for the judicial hearing of the divorce case of Henry VIII. Sometimes Apostolic commissions are constituted permanently by the Holy See . Such are the various Roman congregations presided over by the cardinals. The full extent of the authority of commissaries Apostolic must be learnt from the diploma of their appointment. The usual powers which they possess, however, are defined in the common law of the Church. Commissaries are empowered not only for judicial but also for executive purposes. When a papal commission mentions explicitly certain persons and certain things as subject to the authority of a commissary, and then adds in general that "other persons and other things" ( quidam alii et res aliœ ) are also included, it is understood that the latter phrase refers only to persons and things of equal or lower importance than those that are expressly named, and under no circumstances can the commissary's power extend to what is higher or more dignified (Cap. xv, de rescript.). If a bishop be appointed commissary Apostolic in matters that already belong to his ordinary jurisdiction, he does not thereby receive a delegated jurisdiction superadded to that which he already possessed; such an Apostolic commission is said to excite, not to alter, the prelate's ordinary jurisdiction.
As a commissary Apostolic is a delegate of the Holy See, an appeal may be made to the pope against his judgments or administrative acts. When several commissaries have been appointed for the same case, they are to act together as one; but if, owing to death or any other cause, one or other of the commissaries should be hindered from acting, the remaining members have full power to execute their commission. In case the commissaries be two in number and they disagree in the judgment to be given, the matter must be decided by the Holy See. A commissary Apostolic has the power to subdelegate another person for the cause committed to him, unless it has been expressly stated in his diploma that, owing to the importance of the matter at issue, he is to exercise jurisdiction personally. By the plenitude of his power, the pope can constitute a layman commissary Apostolic for ecclesiastical affairs, but according to the common law only prelates or clerics of the higher orders should receive such a commission (Lib. Sext., c. II, de rescr., 1, 3). The Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, c. xvi, de Ref.) prescribes that each bishop should transmit to the Holy See the names of four persons capable of receiving such delegation for his diocese. It has consequently become customary for the pope to choose commissaries Apostolic from the locality where they are to investigate or pass judgment or execute a mandate.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online