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Abbreviator, plural Abbreviators in English or Abbreviatores in Latin, also called Breviators, were a body of writers in the papal chancery, whose business was to sketch out and prepare in due form the pope's bulls, briefs and consistorial decrees before these are written out in extenso by the scriptores.

They are first mentioned in the papal bulls Extravagantes of Pope John XXII and of Pope Benedict XII.

After the protonotaries left the sketching of the minutes to the abbreviators, those de Parco majori, who ranked as prelates, were the most important officers of the apostolic chancery. By the time of Pope Martin V their signature was made essential to the validity of the acts of the chancery; and they obtained in course of time many important privileges.


Roman lay origin

Abbreviators are those who make an abridgment or abstract of a long writing or discourse by contracting the parts, i.e. the words and sentences; an abbreviated form of writing common among the Romans. Abbreviations were of two kinds: the use of a single letter for a single word, the use of a sign, note, or mark for a word or phrase. The Emperor Justinian forbade the use of abbreviations in the compilation of the "Digest" and afterwards extended his prohibition to all other writings. This prohibition was not universally obeyed. The abbreviators found it to their own convenience and interest to use the abbreviated form, and especially was this the case at Rome. The early Christians practised the abbreviated mode, no doubt as an easy and safe way of communicating with one another and safeguarding their secrets from enemies and false brethren.

Ecclesiastical abbreviatores

In course of time the Apostolic Chancery adopted this mode of writing as the "curial" style, still further abridging by omitting the diphthongs ae and oe, and likewise all lines and marks of punctuation. The ecclesiastical Abbreviators were officials of the Holy See, among the principal officials of the Apostolic Chancery, which is one of the oldest and most important offices in the Roman Curia.

The scope of its labour, as well as the number of its officials, has varied with the times. Up to the twelfth or thirteenth century, the duty of the Apostolic - or Roman Chancery was to prepare and expedite the pontifical letters and writs for collation of church dignities and other matters of grave importance which were discussed and decided in Consistory. About the thirteenth or fourteenth century, the popes, then residing at Avignon in France, began to reserve the collation of a great many benefices, so that all the benefices, especially the greater ones, were to be conferred through the Roman Curia (Lega, Praelectiones Jur. Can., I, ii, 287). As a consequence, the labour was immensely augmented, and the number of Abbreviators necessarily increased. To regulate the proper expedition of these reserved benefices, Pope John XXII instituted the rules of chancery to determine the competency and mode of procedure of the Chancery. Afterwards the establishment of the Dataria and the Secretariate of Briefs lightened the work of the Chancery and led to a reduction in the number of Abbreviators.

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