According to a new Motu Proprio issued by Pope Francis, the Vatican Archives has changed its name to something a bit less… mysterious:

From now on the present Vatican Secret Archive, without prejudice to its identity, its structure and its mission, should be called the Vatican Apostolic Archive.

Reaffirming its active desire to serve the Church and culture, the new name highlights the close link between the Roman See and the Archive, an indispensable instrument of the Petrine ministry, and at the same time underlines its immediate dependence on the Roman Pontiff, as is already the case in parallel for the name of the Vatican Apostolic Library.

The reason for the change in name is both due to the contemporary cultural understanding of the word “secret,” and that while the Latin term secretum (meaning separateprivate, or isolated, in addition to secret as we understand it) is an accurate description of the archive, it is easily misunderstood. Francis explains:

However, there is one aspect that I think could still be useful to update, reaffirming the ecclesial and cultural aims of the mission of the Archives. This aspect concerns the very name of the institute: Vatican Secret Archive.

Born, as mentioned, from the Bibliotheca secreta del Romano Pontefice, that is, from the part of codes and scriptures more particularly owned and under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope, the Archive was entitled first simply Archivum novum, then Archivum Apostolicum, then Archivum Secretum (the first attestations of the term date back to about 1646).

The term Secretum, which has become the institution’s proper name and which has prevailed in recent centuries, was justified because it indicated that the new Archive, created at the behest of my predecessor Paul V around 1610-1612, was none other than the Pope’s private, separate, reserved archive. This is how all the Popes always intended to define it, and this is how scholars still define it today, without any difficulty. This definition, moreover, was widespread, with similar meaning, in the courts of kings and princes, whose archives were defined indeed as secret.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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