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An apostolic constitution (Latin constitutio apostolica) is the highest level of decree issued by the Pope. 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.
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
- 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
- Bis Saeculari (1948), Pope Pius XII on Sodality of Our Lady.
- Musahmoti (1949), Pope Pius XII on Rehovot.
- 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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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 (this was done because some conservative Anglicans were dissatisfied with the more liberal direction parts of the Anglican Communion were moving in).
- Huels, John M. "A theory of juridical documents based on canons 29-34", Studia Canonica, 1998, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 337-370.