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Brief anthology of the file documents and conclusions of the detailed studies. Imprimir E-Mail

Rafaelo: "LEON X entre los cardenales Julio di Medici  y Luis de Rossi", 1518-1519, Florencia, Galleria degli Uffici.

Taxa Camarae
seu Cancellariae Apostolicae

The present article is published in connection with the study
on the authenticity of a
price list for the forgiveness of sins ,
attributed to Pope Leo X (1513-1521).

Libros en la Biblioteca Vaticana.


* This article was translated by Manuel Perez from the original in Spanish. Many thanks, Manuel!

* The links direct the reader to articles in Spanish, unless otherwise indicated. If you would like to help translating those articles, please see the How can I help? page.


In this article we present a brief anthology of texts that 1) are associated with pontifical documents that mention price lists or a related subject and 2) texts from researchers specialized in this subject. With this we intend to present a brief overview of the thinking of the popes and the conclusions reached by scholars. It is fair to mention that this second group consists of professional historians that have for years investigated the finances of the Holy See, relying solely on documents. The reader can see the details of the pontifical documents in this file (also including complete bibliographical references) and can also see here some of the specific studies that we have translated. All boldfacing is ours. Texts originally in English were kept as they were.


I. Pontifical documents from the 13th to 16th centuries.

            Therefore, we condemn the ungodly venalities mentioned before, and it is our order that sacred traditions be preserved, so the sacraments of the Church be administered at no cost. 

Pope Innocent III, IVth Lateran Council, constitution 66, November 30, 1215


Thus, regarding the fees charged for writing our letters, as well as for writing our registry and the drafts of the abbreviators in the Roman tribunal, it is our desire that such moderation be used so the people granted these graces by this apostolic see can truly experience that such graces have been granted at no cost. On the other had, we want that the above mentioned writers of these letters, and our registry, and the draft abbreviators, whose labor in preparing these letters is well recognized, also receive just compensation for their work. Therefore, and in order to prevent abuses, conflicts and useless and complicated interpretations that may arise regarding the various fees for the apostolic letters, it is our order that in writing these letters the standard described below be followed. That is, that the letters of grace with the usual clauses for canonship, benefice and any other ecclesiastic benefit, either cum cura or sine cura, presently vacant or in the future, even if it deals with a dignitary, office or personatus, a fee of 10 grossi of Tours be charged and no more; a fee of 12 of Tours and no more be charged for the corresponding executory letter; ...  When assessing the fee for the letter, the lesser or greater magnitude of the favor granted shall be ignored, as well as the relative magnitude of its fruits and the associated revenue and income, and that only the labor spent in writing the letter be considered, such that a longer letter have a higher fee, and a shorter letter have a lower fee.

Pope John XXII, Quum ad sacrosanctae, December 10, 1316.


          132. If in those letters of grace or in their corresponding executory letters there is the need to add unusual or uncommon clauses [...] without regard for the benefit being granted but only the work in writing it, a fee of half a silver Turonese be charged for two lines of this type of unusual clause, and no other reasons be used in assessing the fee for the letter.

Pope John XXII, Pater familias, November 16, 1331.


[The Penitentiary confessors (Roman curia)] must patiently listen to the faithful that come for confession and must instruct them with helpful exhortations, such that the penitents abstain in the future of committing these sins, and not only these sins but any kind of sin or fault regardless of its kind, by presenting in a positive manner and at least in a general outline, the punishment due the evil ones and the rewards promised to the good ones. […] That none of these confessors, either directly or through third parties, demand, ask for or receive absolutely nothing for the confessions, or for the absolutions, or for any other kind of service they can provide, even if it is spontaneously offered to them, or in the form of alms, or for any other reason. […] Nor they shall impose monetary penances, be it for the confessor, be it for any given person, be it for his religious order, be it for anyone else.

Pope Benedict XII, In agro dominico, November 28, 1336.


We also direct our attention to the Penitentiary, office that deals in a special way with the regulation of mores and the salvation of souls; indeed, since in that office it is customary to pay the officers of that dicastery some fees for issuing letters, and having heard that the charged fees over there have also risen beyond what is reasonable…

Pope Leo X, Pastorales officii divina, December 13, 1513.


II. Specialized studies 

… there is abundant evidence that the articles therein specified and taxed, whether absolutions, dispensations, or license, are no other than so many written documents, and that the taxes are charged as the fees for writing them.


To suppose indeed that in any state of civilized society either "license of sinning", or absolution for having sinned, could be publicly recognized as venal, and avowedly proposed for sale by the lawfully constituted authorities, would seem to be little short of absurdity; and few persons, unless blinded by prejudice, could honestly entertain the supposition. The continued existence of such a system in operation would be subversive o civil society.

T. L. Green, Indulgences, Sacramental Absolutions…, London (1880), pp. 167 and 174.


 The premise stating that the fees to be paid were not related to the favor granted, but only to the labor required to prepare the papal bull in its various stages, has also been clearly established in this papal bull [that of John XXII, Pater familias, 1331] on Chancery fees.

Michael Tangl, Das Taxwesen der päpstlichen Kanzlei vom 13. bis zur Mitte des 15. Jahrhunderts,
Mittheilungen des Instituts für oesterreichische Geschichtsforschung XIII (1892), p. 21.


[in cases where compositions were required] … it can only be assumed that the penitents had already agreed with the Penitentiary officers the amount to be paid for this work, and that the seriousness of their guilt had no relation to the fee paid for the absolution letters. In fact, in cases where the penitent is poor, Benedict orders that the letters be issued free of charge and that such cases be processed with higher priority, “for it is better to serve God by serving the poor than serving men for profit”. [...] Obviously such fees did not represent a payment for condoning sins, and as such the fees had no relationship to the guilt. [This text is a translation from the Spanish article; soon the original English version of the fragment will replace it. N.d.r, 01/12/2002]

Henry Charles Lea,
The Taxes of the Papal Penitentiary,
En “The English Historical Review” VIII (1893) pp. 424-438.


The popes of that period [late 15th  to early 16th centuries] admitted this sad condition [monetary corruption in the curia], especially in their papal bulls on fees to be charged, lashing out against such practices with the harshest words. 

Emil Göller,
Die päpstliche Pönitentiarie von ihrem Ursprung bis zu ihrer Umgestaltung unter Pius V,
Roma (1907-1911), II,1,92-93.


If we follow the evolution of the Penitentiary during that period [15th century], we can conclude without a doubt that the popes of that period also tried time and again to get rid of the abuses, and abolish the sources of corruption.

Idem, p. 95.

In fact, the fees that appear in the list prepared by Benedict XII are nothing more that the stipend paid to the officers of this tribunal and first of all the writers, for issuing the Penitentiary letters. 

Idem, p. 136.


The size of the fee was regulated primarily with a view to the amount of labor expended in the production of the bull. It was a question of length of formulae, not of the seized of favors.

William Lunt,
Papal Revenues in the Middle Ages, vol. I,
New York (1934), p. 126.


It would be as reasonable to contend that the fee paid for the registration of a deed was the price of the property conveyed by the deed, as to contend that the fees of the papal chancery and penitentiary were the prices for sinning.

Idem, p. 129, n. 549.


It is true that Leo X published a fee schedule, and it was applicable to the Roman curia during his pontificate; but it is also true that the schedule underwent gross misinterpretations by the Protestants when they deftly distorted the texts and the amounts, such that it presents the pope’s concessions in a purely venal and simoniacal way, and one where the poor were mercilessly ignored, while the rich used their money to get what they wanted.

Nicola Storti,
La Storia e il Diritto della Dataria Apostolica dalle origini ai nostri giorni,
Nápoles (1969), pp. 268-277.



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