Information as a Resource for Juridical Decision-Making Processes. The Roman Curia and the Government of the Ibero-American Church in the Early Modern Period

Abgeschlossenes Projekt

From the very start, claims to the universal reach of the papacy had  cast the Holy See as an important center of information acquired over the centuries from all over the world. At the advent of the Middle Ages, but particularly in the Early Modern era, papal access to information, accorded in acknowledgment of the diverse functions assumed by the pope - as worldly ruler, shepherd, judge - came to be considered an indispensable resource for church administration and governance. Most importantly, a connection linking the Holy See and the local churches could be conjured and the unity of the church preserved. This information constituted the basis for the internal decision-making processes of the papacy on political issues and diplomatic relations as well as on the pastoral activity and administration of justice. Over time, the Holy See commissioned different organs to obtain and process information (collectories, nunciatures, legations, congregations), which owing to a shifting and heterogeneous terrain replete with historical turns and reforms was constantly calibrated to adapt to the needs of the Holy See and the historical context.

Historiography has often qualified papal actions at specific historical moments as strong or weak in view of papal access to information and its use as a foundational resource for internal decision-making processes. That was especially evident in the aftermath of the large-scale transformation that the Roman Curia underwent in the early modern period. On the one hand, the reforms of the Roman Curia and the increased specialization of dicasteries – resulting in enhanced capabilities to obtain, process and apprehend information – were seen as a clear mark of papal power and entry to modernity. On the other hand, the same reformation of the Curia that had evidently led to internal competence conflicts and challenges in the governing responsibilities were also interpreted as a significant sign of weakness of the papacy. In addition, the vast distances between Rome and the new worldwide conquests challenged the sustainability and efficacy of communication and complicated relationships with secular states on the question of the governance of the local churches. These circumstances, in having strongly inhibited Rome’s capacity to intervene in local concerns, were also viewed as having introduced an element of weakness.

This project interrogates, in particular, the link between the construction of discourses on the strength and weakness of papacy on the one hand and the conception of information as a resource for the governance of the Church on the other. Against the backdrop of the indisputable sway the Holy See had held over the Catholic world at large over a long span of time as the fountainhead of the doctrine and law, the project is concerned with whether the elements of weakness mentioned here were deemed necessary to the system’s functioning, be it for the purposes of church administration or for generating special models for individual or collective subjects that appealed to the Holy See. In order to be able to study the decision-making processes in detail, the papacy will be interrogated for most part in its pastoral, juridical and spiritual dimensions, and to a lesser extent as an actor in international politics. Center stage will also be accorded to players from all parts of the world who approached the pope for one reason or another and in exchange gave the Holy See access to a sea of information.

More specifically, at the center of the investigation is the Roman Curia at the end of the 16th century under Sixtus V (1585-1590) (but not just), so as to be able to analyze shifts in the sensibilities of the early modern institutions of governance with regard to the value of information as a vital resource for the decision-making process as well as the resultant initiatives to acquire, process and commission empirical information. This project is further divided into two sub-projects, whereby both rely heavily on archival sources. The first sub-project analyzes the development and functioning of a specific curial dicastery, the so-called Congregation of the Council, with special attention to the politics of acquiring, processing, recording, and deploying information. The second sub-project concentrates on the relationship between the papacy and the New World, and investigates how the Holy See, aided by the actions of different curial dicasteries, acquired and processed information in the early years of the discovery of America. The aim is to demonstrate how, despite all the communication challenges and the regime of patronage that reigned over the American church, the Holy See remained an indispensable reference point for the dissemination of canon law on the new continent and for the administration of justice there.


Research Colloquium

Knowledge and Information Regimes, Winter Term 2016/17


Benedetta Albani and Giovanni Pizzorusso

“Regimes of knowledge and the Roman Curia”

Research Colloquium: Knowledge and Information Regimes, Winter Term 2016/17
MPIeR, 29.11.2016


Jadranka Neralić (Hrvatski institut za povijest - Croatian Institut of History, Zagreb)

“L’informazione come risorsa. I Registri delle Suppliche alla base del sistema informativo e decisionale della Curia Romana”
Rome, 06.10.201


José Luis Paz Nomey

Lenguas and translation in the Viceroyalty of Peru (16th-17th Centuries)”

Meeting of the Research Focus Area “Translation”
MPIeR, 18.10.2017

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