What Is a Rescript?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 31 January 2020
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A rescript is a statement made in response to a request for an action or clarification. This term comes up in the legal system and also in the Catholic Church, where the Pope has the authority to issue rescripts. Once made, a rescript enters the formal record and may compel another party to act. This concept dates back to Roman law, and examples of ancient rescripts can be seen in some historic texts.

In the legal system, judges send rescripts to the clerk of the court with directions on the disposition of the case, in response to a formal request from the clerk. The rescript indicates how the clerk should handle the case and record it in the court's archives. Higher courts can also issue rescripts to lower courts on request from an appellant. The appellate court can order the lower court to take a given action after it reviews the case and determines that the appellant's case is valid.

Each legal system uses the rescript differently. In some cases, a document that would be considered a rescript in one jurisdiction goes by a different name in another. Judges must word the document appropriately and may follow a template in the course of drafting a rescript to make sure it is accurate, complete, and enforceable. Examples of older court orders are available for the judge to refer to if she has concerns about wording or a point of law.


Canon law allows the Pope to write rescripts when asked to respond to a point of canon law or doctrine. These documents become part of the body of legal arguments used within the church. The Pope's position also provides guidance to Catholics who may want his opinion on matters of interest to them, such as how to respond to ethical issues not directly covered in the Bible. Important rescripts may be widely publicized for the benefit of the public and are accessible through official notices issued by the Vatican.

A request for a rescript must be filed formally, following the procedures used in a given legal system. An attorney can assist with the process of developing a request to the court and pursuing the matter until the judge issues a statement. For statements from the Pope, it is necessary to work with an expert in ecclesiastical law, and it can be helpful to have the sponsorship of a high church official.


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Post 3

As far as I understand, most legal systems before and around the time of the Roman Empire mostly relied on a rescript system.

So legal authorities didn't really research issues and concerns and issue decisions on their own. They waited for a request and then wrote a response for it.

I guess the only problem with relying a whole legal system on this structure is that it's not very efficient. The decrees are very specific to that situation, so it might be more difficult to use these decisions as precedents. The great part about decreeing various general laws is that they are easy to apply.

Post 2

@SarahGen-- You're right. They do sound to be the same. I didn't know that, it's interesting.

I suppose any decision or opinion that is a response by an official can be considered a rescript. That's what the word means in Latin, "written back."

Post 1

It sounds like religious rescript in the Catholic Church is similar to a fatwa. Or it might be more correct to say that a fatwa is similar to a Catholic rescript.

A fatwa is an Islamic legal decree or opinion issued in response to an application or question. So for example, let's say that Muslims are unsure of whether it is permissible to use a new technology or they may want to know the official position of a religious leader in regards to a recent incident. Then, they make a request or application for a fatwa and the religious leader (or sometimes group) issues a fatwa about it.

Just as a Catholic rescript on Canon law, a fatwa determines how best to interpret an issue using religious script.

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