LEGATE (Lat. legalus, past part, of legare, to send as deputy), a title now generally confined to the highest class of diplomatic representatives of the pope, though still occasionally used, in its original Latin sense, of any ambassador or diplomatic agent. According to the Nova Compilatio Decretalium of Gregory IX., under the title " De offkio legati " the canon law recognizes two sorts of legate, the legatus nalus and the legalus datus or missus. The legatus datus (missus) may be either (i) delegalus, or (2) nuncius apostolicus, or (3) legatus a later e (laterally, collateralis). The rights of the legatus natus, which included concurrent jurisdiction with that of all the bishops within his province, have been much curtailed since the 16th century, they were altogether suspended in presence of the higher claims of a legatus a latere, and the title is now almost quite honorary. It was attached to the see of Canterbury till the Reformation and it still attaches to the sees of Seville, Toledo, Aries, Reims, Lyons, Gran, Prague, Gnesen-Posen, Cologne, Salzburg, among others. The commission of the legalus delegates (generally a member of the local clergy) is of a limited nature, and relates only to some definite piece of work. The nuncius apostolicus (who has the privilege of red apparel, a white horse and golden spurs) possesses ordinary jurisdiction within the province to which he has been sent, but his powers otherwise are restricted by the terms of his mandate. The legalus a latere (almost invariably a cardinal, though the power can be conferred on other prelates) is in the fullest sense the plenipotentiary representative of the pope, and possesses the high prerogative implied in the words of Gregory VII., " nostra vice quae corrigenda sunt corrigat, quae statuend constituat." He has the power of suspending all the bishops in his province, and no judicial cases are reserved from his judgment. Without special mandate, however, he cannot depose bishops or unite or separate bishoprics. At present legati a latere are not sent by the holy see, but diplomatic relations, where they exist, are maintained by means of nuncios, internuncios and other agents.
The history of the office of papal legate is closely involved with that of the papacy itself. If it were proved that papal legates exercised the prerogatives of the primacy in the early councils, it would be one of the strongest points for the Roman Catholic view of the papal history. Thus it is claimed that Hosius of Cordova presided over the council of Nicaea (325) in the name of the pope. But the claim rests on slender evidence, since the first source in which Hosius is referred to as representative of the pope is Gelasius of Cyzicus in the Propontis, who wrote toward the end of the 5th century. It is even open to dispute whether Hosius was president at Nicaea, and though he certainly presided over the council of Sardica in 343, it was probably as representative of the emperors Constans and Constantius, who had summoned the council. Pope Julius I. was represented at Sardica by two presbyters. Yet the fifth canon, which provides for appeal by a bishop to Rome, sanctions the use of embassies a latere. If the appellant wishes the pope to send priests from his own household, the pope shall be free to do so, and to furnish them with full authority from himself (" ut de latere suo presbytcros mittat . . . habentes ejus auctoritatem a quo destinati sunt "). The decrees of Sardica, an obscure council, were later confused with those of Nicaea and thus gained weight. In the synod of Ephesus in 431, Pope Celestine I. instructed his representatives to conduct themselves not as disputants but as judges, and Cyril of Alexandria presided not only in his own name but in that of the pope (and of the bishop of Jerusalem). Instances of delegation of the papal authority in various degrees become numerous in the sth century, especially during the pontificate of Leo I. Thus Leo writes in 444 (Ep. 6) to Anastasius of Thessalonica, appointing him his vicar for the province of Illyria; the same arrangement, he informs us, had been made by Pope Siricius in favour of Anysius, the predecessor of Anastasius. Similar vicarial or legatine powers had been conferred in 418 by Zosimus upon Patroclus, bishop of Aries. In 449 Leo was represented at the " Robber Synod," from which his legates hardly escaped with We; at Chalcedon, in 451, they were treated with singular honour, though the imperial commissioners presided. Again, in 453 the same pope writes to the empress Pulcheria, naming Julianus of Cos as his representative in the defence of the interests of orthodoxy and ecclesiastical discipline at Constantinople (Ep. 112); the instructions to Julianus are given in Ep. 113 (" hanc specialem curam vice mea functus assumas "). The designation of Anastasius as vicar apostolic over Illyria may be said to mark the beginning of the custom of conferring, ex officio, the title of legatus upon the holders of important sees, who ultimately came to be known as legati nati, with the rank of primate; the appointment of Julianus at Constantinople gradually developed into the long permanent office of apocrisiarius or responsalis. Another sort of delegation is exemplified in Leo's letter to the African bishops (Ep. 12), in which he sends Potentius, with instructions to inquire in his name, and to report (" vicem curae nostrae fratri et consacerdoti nostro Potentio delegantes qui de episcopis, quorum culpabilis ferebatur electio, quid veritas haberet inquireret, nobisque omnia fideliter indicaret "). Passing on to the time of Gregory the Great, we find him sending two representatives to Gaul in 599, to suppress simony, and one to Spain in 603. Augustine of Canterbury is sometimes spoken of as legate, but it does not appear that in his case this title was used in any strictly technical sense, although the archbisHop of Canterbury afterwards attained the permanent dignity of a legatus natus. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, was in like manner constituted, according to Hincmar (Ep. 30), a legate of the apostolic see by Popes Gregory II. and Gregory III. According to Hefele (Cone. iv. 239), Rodoald of Porto and Zecharias of Anagni, who were sent by Pope Nicolas to Constantinople in 860, were the first actually called legali a latere. The policy of Gregory VII. naturally led to a great development of the legatine as distinguished from the ordinary episcopal function. From the creation of the medieval papal monarchy until the close of the middle ages, the papal legate played a most important role in national as well as church history. The further definition of his powers proceeded throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. From the 16th century legates a latere give way almost entirely to nuncios (?..).
See P. Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, i. 498 ff.; G. Phillips, Kirchenrecht, vol. vi. 680 ff.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)