The Roman empe­rors, like our prin­ces, mani­fes­ted their wills through decrees and edicts ; but as our prin­ces do not, they allo­wed jud­ges or indi­vi­duals, in their dis­pu­tes, to ques­tion them by let­ter, and their replies were cal­led res­cripts. Papal decre­tals are, pro­perly spea­king, res­cripts. Clearly it is a bad sort of legis­la­tion. Those who ask for laws in this way are poor gui­des for the legis­la­tor ; the facts are always wron­gly sta­ted. Trajan, says Julius Capitolinus, often refu­sed to issue these sorts of res­cripts, so that one deci­sion and often a pri­vate favor would not be exten­ded to all cases.1 Macrinus had resol­ved to abo­lish all these res­cripts ; he could not suf­fer the replies of Commodus, Carracala, and all those other incom­pe­tent prin­ces, to be consi­de­red as law.2 Justinian thought other­wise, and filled his com­pi­la­tion with them.

I would like for those who read the Roman laws to dis­tin­guish care­fully bet­ween these sorts of hypo­the­ses and the sena­tus consulta, the ple­bis­ci­tes, the gene­ral cons­ti­tu­tions of empe­rors, and all the laws based on the nature of things, on the fra­gi­lity of women, the weak­ness of minors, and public uti­lity.

See Juleius Capitolinus, in Macrinus.