PAUL III, Pope. Bapsts Pauli des Dritten bulla und außschreiben ein heylig general Concilium auff den nechstkunfftigen monat Novembris des yetzigen 1542. jars in der statt Triend zuhalten.

Nürnberg, Johann Petreius, 1542


FIRST EDITION (?) 4to, ff. [10]. Gothic letter, large woodcut arms of Pope Paul III to t-p. T-p a bit dusty with tiny wormtrail to lower blank margin, small slight waterstain to upper blank margin of first gathering at gutter, small very light ink stains to one leaf. A good copy in C19 vellum, marbled endpapers, yapp edges, early wax seal in a decorated circular wooden box (later, added to preserve the seal) attached with a strip of old parchment. Bookplate of the Norwegian literary historian and professor Kåre Foss (1895-1967) to front paste-down.

Exceptionally rare German edition of the bull ‘Initio nostri huius pontificatus’, with which Pope Paul III summoned the council of Trent on the 1st of November 1542. The first Latin edition was published in Rome by Antonio Blado. We were able to identify only two editions of the German translation printed in 1542: one by Alexander Weißenhorn at Ingolstadt (VD16 K408), ‘cum gratia et privilegio’; the other, the present one, with no imprint, attributed by VD16 to the Nurnberg printer Johann Petreius (1497-1550). Unfortunately, bibliographies do not mention which edition came first, and VD16 does not indicate how Petreius was identified as the printer. Notably, however, Ulrich Kopp, librarian at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, attributed to Petreius another Tridentine bull in Latin (VD16 ZV 26760, 1545), which bears the same woodcut arms on the title page. Another edition of this text was published in 1543, with a different setting of the type, and is it attributed to Gregor Hoffman, at Worms.


The bull ‘Initio nostri’, known as the ‘Bull of convocation’, represents the first attempt by Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, 1468-1549) to convoke the ecumenical Council in the city of Trent. A previous bull proposing Mantua as the meeting place had been unsuccessful. ‘Initio nostri’ was addressed to all catholic bishops, Christian princes, protestant princes and theologians; messengers were appointed to carry the bull all around Europe. The bull is “a comprehensive statement of Paul’s view of the interplay of the political and religious issues during his pontificate. It is both a catalogue of his priorities and an apologia for the eight years of this reign (…) His voice is clearly evident in the Bull’s expression of the trials and frustrations of the complex state relations, conflicts and threats that he had encountered” (Cussen). Unfortunately, for the second time, the initiative of the pope was met with opposition. The war between Francis I, king of France, and the German Emperor Charles V made the organisation of an international assembly impossible: Francis strongly rejected the idea and prohibited the bull to be published in his kingdom, and Charles was hesitant in sending delegates. It was only after the Peace of Crépy that the council officially opened in 1545, with the bull ‘Laetare Jerusalem’.


This copy is provided with a very early wax seal: in the Renaissance, pendent seals were always attached to official documents as a form of authentication, but these are very rarely preserved. Worldcat records only seven copies of this edition in libraries worldwide, and none still retains its original wax seal. The impression of the seal is faded, and the lettering surrounding the central design is unfortunately illegible. However, it is possible to distinguish the outline of a ship’s wheel within a heraldic shield, which suggests the coat of arms of the Archbishopric of Mainz. Interestingly, when the council gathered in December 1545, of the 31 fathers eligible to vote, only two were German: Cristoforo Madruzzo (1512-1578), bishop of Trent, and Michael Helding (also known as Sidonius, 1506-1561), auxiliary bishop of Mainz (1537-1549).

USTC 613996; VD16 K409. Not in Adams, Brunet, BM STC Ger. C16. B. Cussen, Pope Paul III and the Cultural Politics of Reform (2020).
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