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But frequently the pope ordered the recipient of his letter to communicate the papal answer to the ecclesiastical authorities of the district to which he belonged; and it was their duty then to act in conformity with that decree when analogous cases arose.It is generally stated that the most ancient decretal is the letter of Pope St.The first collection, the "Breviarium extravagantium", or summary of the decretals not contained in the "Decretum" of Gratian (), was the work of Bernard of Pavia and was compiled 1187-1191.It contains papal decretals to the pontificate of Clement III inclusive (1187-1191).
The first book treats of persons possessing jurisdiction ().
Of the 1971 chapters which the Decretals of Gregory IX contain, 1771 are taken from the "Quinque compilationes antiquæ", 191 are due to Gregory IX himself, 7 are taken from decretals of Innocent III not inserted in the former collections, and 2 are of unknown origin.
They are arranged, as a general rule, according to the order of the ancient collections, i.e.
Siricius (384-398) to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona in Spain, dating from 385; but it would seem that the document of the fourth century known as "Canones Romanorum ad Gallos episcopos" is nothing else than an of his predecessor, Pope Damasus (366-384), addressed to the bishops of Gaul (Babut, La plus ancienne décrétale, Paris, 1904).
The decretals ought to be carefully distinguished from the canons of the councils; from the , that is, documents issued by the pope without his being asked to do so or consulted upon a subject.