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For the 4th century text, see Apostolic Constitutions.
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This article is part of the series:
Legislation and Legal System of the Catholic Church
Canon Law Task Force

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.

Apostolic constitutions are issued as papal bulls because of their solemn, public form. The next highest category, after an apostolic constitution, is an encyclical letter.


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[edit]

16th Century

19th Century

20th Century

21st Century


  • Huels, John M. "A theory of juridical documents based on canons 29-34", Studia Canonica, 1998, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 337–370.

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