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In the course of time the term came to be applied to the leaden seals with which papal and royal documents were authenticated in the early Middle Ages, and by a further development, the name, from designating the seal, was eventually attached to the document itself.
This did not happen before the thirteenth century and the name was only a popular term used almost promiscuously for all kinds of instruments which issued from the papal chancery.
Sometimes the document names the pope first, sometimes the addressee.
For the most part the pope bears no title except Gregory, it is said, having selected this designation as a protest against the arrogance of the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, who called himself "Ecumenical Bishop." But though several of St.
The pope still wrote the words BENE VALETE in capitals with a cross before and after, and in certain bulls of Pope Sylvester II we find some few words added in shorthand or "Tyronian notes." In other cases the BENE VALETE is followed by certain dots and by a big comma, by a S S (), or by a flourish, all of which no doubt served as a personal authentication.
To this period belong the earliest extant bulls preserved to us in their original shape.
The fact that in classical times the Romans authenticated their letters not by signing their names, but by a word of farewell, lends probability to this view. We have also some or leaden seals preserved apart from the documents to which they were once attached.For all that, it is practically certain that no uniform rules can have been followed as to superscription, formula of salutation, conclusion, or signature.It was only when some sort of registry was organized, and copies of earlier official correspondence became available, that a tradition gradually grew up of certain customary forms that ought not to be departed from.A much more precise acceptance has prevailed since the fifteenth century, and a bull has long stood in sharp contrast with certain other forms of papal documents.For practical purposes a bull may be conveniently defined to be "an Apostolic letter with a leaden seal," to which one may add that in its superscription the pope invariably takes the title of In official language papal documents have at all times been called by various names, more or less descriptive of their character.