Skip to Main Content

Theology and Religious Studies Research Guide

How to Find Papal Documents

What Information Do I Need?

To find Papal documents, the most important piece of information is the date.  Most sources of documents are arranged chronologically.  Sources often organize documents by their publication date, which may be somewhat later than the official date of issue. If you cannot find a document under its official date, you should check the several months or year following that date.  

[Pontifical Reign]
It is also helpful to know which pope issued the document. You may be able to determine this based on the document's date.  An up-to-date list of popes (in Italian) and the dates of their pontifical reigns may be found in the Annuario Pontificio [BX 21. A61]. A list in English, through Pope John Paul II, is available in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, under the entry "Popes, List Of" (view entry online).

Many documents are commonly cited by a brief Latin name, which actually reflects the first few words of the text and may differ from the official title. Most sources will list documents by their official title, which tends to be longer and more descriptive. If you are not sure of the full title, some knowledge of the document's subject will be useful in identifying the correct document.

[Type of Document]
Finally, it may be helpful to know the type of document you are searching for (encyclical, constitution, etc.), as some sources are specific to a particular type of document. See the list below for more information about the different types of documents.

Be aware that some document sources are incomplete, especially older compilations. Even with a full citation, it may be difficult to locate a copy of a given document.  You may need to check several sources; you will also most likely need to inspect print sources in-person to determine if they contain the document(s) you need.

Where Should I Look?

If the document was issued after 1898, first consult the Papal archive on the Vatican Website.

If the document was issued after 1930 consult the Catholic Periodical Literature Index, 1981-present (online) or 1930-2004 (in print).

If the document was issued after 1740 and before 1978, check Papal Pronouncements: A Guide, 1740-1978.

For documents before 1740, it is best to consult the appropriate Papal Registers or Bullaria collection (also available online).

The Latin text represents the most authoritative version of a given document, with some exceptions; therefore, the Latin source is generally preferred for purposes of citation. In most of the above sources, only the Latin text is available.  Certain significant Papal documents may be published in English as standalone publications. Other sources may contain English translations of Latin originals. These include the periodicals  The Pope Speaks (1954-2004), L'Osservatore Romano [English Edition] (1968-present), and Origins (1971-present).

Types of Papal Documents

Papal and Curial Pronouncements