Dominus Apostolicus

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Domnus Apostolicus, corresponding to classical Latin Dominus Apostolicus, meaning "Apostolic Lord", is a title frequently applied to the Pope from the 6th to the 11th centuries, but sometimes applied to others also.

Domnus Apostolicus[edit]

The Pope is styled "Apostolic", not merely because he occupies an apostolic see, that is, one founded by an apostle, as were those of Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth etc., to whose bishops the title of "Apostolic" is not given, but because he is bishop of what is called the Apostolic See, the see founded by Peter the Apostle.[1][2] Thus, as "the Apostolic See" is used to mean simply the Roman See, Domnus Apostolicus (the Apostolic Lord) was used to mean the Bishop of Rome.

In Gaul, as early as the 5th century the expression sedes apostolica (an apostolic see) was applied to any episcopal see, even if not founded by one of the apostles, a usage that Umberto Benigni explains as based on the bishops being successors of the apostles (see apostolic succession). By the 6th century the term was in general use, and many letters from the Merovingian kings to Gallic bishops are addressed in the ambiguous terms Domnis sanctis et apostolicâ sede dignissimis ("holy lords worthy of an/the apostolic see"). Thus the bishops of Gaul were given the title of Domnus Apostolicus (cf. Venantius Fortunatus, "Vita S. Mart.", IV; "Formulæ Marculfi", II, xxxix, xliii, xlix). Many examples are also found in wills and deeds (e.g. P.L., LXXX, 1281, 1314, etc.), and one occurs in a letter of introduction given by Charlemagne to the papal legate St. Boniface (Epp. Bonifac., xi).

However, in the Acts of Charlemagne and of the councils held during his reign, even outside the Frankish Empire, as in England, the term Domnus Apostolicus, in its exact usage, meant simply the pope. Perhaps the only example of its literal translation found in Greek authors is in the second letter of Theodore the Studite to Pope Leo III, Κυρίῳ Ἀποστολικῷ (kyrio apostoliko).


Long before this, the word Apostolicus ("the Apostolic") alone, without Dominus, had been employed to designate the pope. Probably the earliest example is in the list of popes compiled at the time of Pope Vigilius (died 555), which begins Incipiunt nomina Apostolicorum ("Here begin the names of the Apostolics").[3] The expression Apostolicus for the pope recurs frequently in documents of the Carolingian kings, as well as in Anglo-Saxon writings. Claude of Turin explains Apostoli custos ("the guardian of the Apostle").

The title of Apostolicus is also used in the acts of the Second Anglo-Saxon Council of Cloveshoo, in 747, for Pope Zachary.

At the Council of Reims held in 1049, the Bishop of Compostela was excommunicated "quia contra fas sibi vendicaret culmen apostolici nominis" (because he wrongly claimed for himself the prestige of the name of Apostolic), considering himself the successor of St. James the Greater, and it was thereupon laid down quod solus Romanus Pontifex universalis Ecclesiæ Primas esset et Apostolicus ("that only the pontiff of the Roman See was primate of the universal Church and the Apostolic").

There are also the expression apostolicatus ("apostolicate" = pontificate) and the ablative absolute apostolicante ("during the apostolicate/pontificate of").


The popes in Avignon were often referred to -in an absolute sense- as dom (e.g. their palace palais des doms), a French word again derived from he Latin dominus, confusingly also used to address priests of certain orders – see Dom (title).

In ecclesiastical usage, the abbreviated form domnus signifies a human ruler as against Dominus, the Divine Lord. Thus at meals monastic grace was asked from the superior in the phrase Jube Domne benedicere, i.e., "Be pleased, sir, to give the blessing."