Among the Romans, legati were either ambassadors, or officers of high rank appointed with the sanction of the senate to assist a dictator, consul. or proconsul in the performance of his duties, military or civil. In modern acceptation the term is confined to ecclesiastics representing the Holy See and armed with its authority. Legates are of three kinds legates a latere, emissaries or nuncios (legati missi, nuntii, internuntii), and legates by virtue of their office (legati nati). The dignitv of a legate a latere is, and has long been, confined to cardinals, though in former times it was not so: e.g. Pandulf, the legate sent by Innocent III to receive the submission of King John, was only a sub-deacon. Legates a latere are either ordinary or extraordinary: the first govern provinces belonging to the Ecclesiastical State such as were (before 1860) the Bomagna and the Marchie of Ancona in the Pope’s name; the second class are deputed to visit foreign Courts on extraordinary occasions, such as a negotiation for a peace, or arrangements for a general council, etc. Legati missi correspond to the ambassadors and ministers maintained by secular States at foreign capitals. Formerly they were called apocrisiarii; now, nuncios or internuncios the latter being of inferior rank. Legati nati are, or were, archbishops to whose sees by an ancient Papal concession the legatine authority was permanently attached.

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. “legate”. Catholic Pocket Dictionary, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 November 2019. Web. 26 February 2021. <>