By a decision made on October 22 and published in the form of a “motu proprio” on October 28, 2019, Pope Francis has decided to rename the “Secret Archives” collection to the “Vatican Apostolic Archive,” to further highlight the close link of the Holy See with the archive.
This is not the first name change for the famous collection of private documents from the Bibliotheca Secreta del Romano Pontefice, that is the part of the writings reserved for the pope. First described as the New Archives (Archivum novum), then as the Apostolic Archives (Archivum Apostolicum), these texts have been grouped together since the 17th century under the name Secret Archives (Archivum Secretum).
Originally, recalls Francis, the Latin term secretum indicated that the new Archives, requested by Pope Paul V around 1610-1612, “were nothing other than the private archives, separated and reserved to the pope.” The courts of kings and princes possessed similar ones, designated by the same term.
Today, the change of name is necessary because of the connotations that the Latin term secretum has taken over time: “with the progressive semantic changes that have occurred in modern languages…the term secretum, linked to the Vatican Archive, began to be misunderstood, to be colored with ambiguous shades, even negative.” In fact, this term has “assumed the prejudicial sense of being hidden, not to be revealed and to be reserved for a few.” This is “the complete opposite of what the Vatican Secret Archive has always been and intends to be” Francis added.
From the very beginning, these archives were accessible to the learned and scholars who could publish their discoveries. From 1881, they were open to researchers around the world. The organization of the Archives has not been altered by this name change, says the motu proprio: “nothing has changed in its identity, structure or mission.”
Just as there is a Vatican Apostolic Library, henceforth it will be necessary to speak of the Vatican Apostolic Archives. They contain large and varied collections coming from different congregations, offices of the Roman Curia, but also deposits of patrician families. They still house the valuable correspondence of the Secretariat of State.
The opening of the Secret Archives from the period stretching from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance has allowed researchers to demystify the black legend of the Papal Inquisition. The opening of the Archives corresponding to the Second World War has also made it possible to restore the truth as to the slanders spread against Pope Pius XII. The next step is fixed for March 2, 2020, when all the documents covering the pontificate of the Angelic Pastor (1939-1958) will be accessible to researchers and historians.