Papal Bull - papal bull, in Roman Catholicism, an official papal letter or document. The name is derived from the lead seal (bulla) traditionally affixed to such documents

Papal Bull

The papal bull or papal edict is an official document, issued by the Roman Curia with the seal of the Pope. The term derives from the Latin “bulla” which refers to the appearance of the seal.

The seal was usually made of lead, but gold was used for special occasions. The seal depicted the founders of the Church of Rome, the apostles Peter and Paul. The name of the Pope issuing the Bull was written on the back of the seal. The seal was attached to the document with hemp or silk cords in purple and gold.

From the late 18th century, the lead seal was replaced by a red ink stamp. But some very formal letters, like the Bull of Pope John XXIII that convened the Second Vatican Council, still have the lead seal.

We only have original Papal Bulls dating back to the 11th century, when they switched from fragile papyrus to more durable parchment. We have no intact Bull prior to 819, but we have some original lead seals from the 6th century.

Their creation began slowly in the late ancient period and the Early Middle Ages. But it was in the 14th and 15th centuries that their production increased greatly. In the late 15th century, the term “Bull” became official and a “Register of Bulls” was created.

The Papal Bull can deal with any topic, such as Church laws, the appointment of bishops, special rules called “dispensations”, excommunications, fundamental rules of the Church called “apostolic constitutions”, declarations that a person is a saint, and the convocations of important meetings.

Each Bull is recognizable by its initial words. For example, Saint John Paul II proclaimed the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 with the Bull “Incarnationis mysterium” (“The Mystery of the Incarnation”), while Pope Francis proclaimed the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (2015-2016) with the Bull “Misericordiae vultus” (“The face of mercy”).

Until the 15th century, the Bull was the only type of letter used by the Holy See. Then the “apostolic brief” appeared, a less formal document that was authenticated with a wax stamp (today a red ink stamp) showing the fisherman’s ring, a symbol of the Pope. There has never been a precise distinction between the Bull and the brief, but today most letters, including papal encyclicals, are issued as briefs.

The Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee, which indicates the start and end dates of the Holy Year, is usually issued the previous year, in conjunction with the Solemnity of the Ascension.

For the Jubilee of 2025, it is expected that the publication will take place on May 9, 2024.