Those who followed the events after the recent death of Pope John Paul II may have been puzzled and shocked by the accounts of the Conclave leading to the election of Pope Pius II.
However the recent events leading to the election of Pope Benedict XVI were governed by a detailed code of rules and regulations. These are set out in Universi Dominici Gregis: Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff (22 February, 1996). It can be viewed at http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_jp02ud.htm.
The present rules and regulations developed over the centuries.
The history of the cardinalate can be seen at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03333b.htm.
The history of the rules in relation to conclaves can be seen at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04192a.htm
In medieval times (before the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the two Vatican Councils), things were very different from the present time.
In Pius`s times, the papacy had a temporal as well as a spiritual jurisdiction. They ruled territory. They determined who had authority to rule other territories.They received tributes (annates and the like) from territories including territories which they did not rule directly.
Cardinals were originally assistants to the Pope. By the term cardinal (Cardinalis) was originally understood every priest permanently attached to a church, every clericus, either intitulatus or incardinatus. It became the usual designation of every priest belonging to a central or episcopal church, an ecclesiastical cardo (Latin for hinge).
Their roles developed over the centuries from the early centuries of the Church at Rome.
In the Middle Ages, the cardinals should have numbered fifty-three or fifty-four. As a rule, however, they were fewer; after the thirteenth century their number often sank considerably. Under Alexander IV (1254-61) there were but seven cardinals. During the Western Schism their number increased, inasmuch as each of the contending claimants created his own college of cardinals.
The Council of Constance demanded that their number be fixed at twenty-four. The same number was demanded by the Council of Basle in 1436.
In 1555 an agreement was reached between Paul IV and the cardinals, whereby their number was fixed at forty, but this agreement was never carried out. On the other hand, Sixtus V, by his yet valid constitutions "Postquam verus", of 3 Dec., 1586 (§ 4), and "Religiosa sanctorum", of 13 April, 1587, fixed the number of cardinals at seventy, six cardinal-bishops, fifty cardinal-priests, and fourteen cardinal-deacons, in imitation of the seventy elders of Moses. This number was adhered to until more modern times.
The cardinals were from a very early period, assistants of the pope in his liturgical functions, in the care of the poor, the administration of papal finances and possessions, and the synodal disposition of important matters.
They took on a very much greater importance, however, after the decree of Nicholas II (1059), "In nomine Domini", regulating papal elections. In accordance with this document the election of the pope and the government of the Church, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, fell more and more into their hands; they passed to them exclusively after the Decretal of Alexander III, "Licet de vitandâ", at the third Lateran Council (1179).
After the cessation of papal journeys to the different nations of Christendom and of the Roman synods under papal presidency, the cardinals remained almost the only counsellors and legates of the popes. Henceforth their functions were equivalent to those of the "permanent synod" and the syncelli at Constantinople.
The place and the occasion of this manifold activity of the cardinals was the consistory, i. e. the reunion of the cardinals and the pope.
In it were regularly treated questions of faith and important disciplinary matters, e.g. dogmatic decisions, canonizations, approbations of rules of new orders, affairs of the Inquisition and the universities, indulgences for the Universal Church, modifications of the rules for papal elections, the convocation of general councils, also the nomination and mission of Apostolic legates and vicars.
Moreover, in the consistory were treated all matters concerning dioceses and bishops, the so-called causæ majores par excellence, among them the creation, transfer, division, reunion, and suppression of dioceses, the nomination and confirmation of bishops, also their transfer, resignation, cession, suspension, deposition, and degradation.
It was in the consistory that were granted to monasteries the numerous privileges by which they were withdrawn from episcopal, and made subject to papal, jurisdiction; there also took place frequently the confirmation of the abbots and abbesses elected in such exempt monasteries. Before the consistory, moreover, were treated the important questions that arose concerning the properties of the Roman Church (bona ecclesiæ romanæ), the papal fiefs, the Crusades, and such grave political matters as the settlement of disputed royal elections, the approbation of newly-elected kings, and the deposition of princes. In the meetings of the consistory, which in the Middle Ages were frequently held weekly, the cardinals also assisted the pope in the disposition of an overwhelming mass of lawsuits.
Finally, the cardinals were put in charge of several of the great offices of the Church: in the Chancery a cardinal-chancellor or rather vice-chancellor, in the administration of the papal revenues a cardinal-camerarius, in the conduct of the penitentiaria a cardinal-penitentiary. The cardinals were also grand-inquisitors, likewise the "rectors" in the States of the Church. Others were sent abroad as cardinal legates; others again acted as cardinal protectors of nations and religious orders.
Given the position of the pope and his intimate relations both to the individual cardinals and to such a close corporation as the college itself, at papal functions, in papal elections, in synods, in the consistory, in the conduct of diplomatic negotiations, it is easy to understand how all cardinals, including cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons came to outrank bishops and archbishops, and after the fourteenth century even patriarchs, just as at Constantinople the syncelli eventually outranked bishops and archbishops.
This pre-eminence, however, was a matter of slow and uneven development.
The cardinal-bishops were the first to outrank other bishops, then archbishops, and finally patriarchs.
But as the cardinals formed a college, and the collegiate rights were equally shared by all, the cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons claimed the same rank as the cardinal-bishops, while the latter were quite willing to see their colleagues placed on their own higher plane. It was occasionally maintained in the Middle Ages that the cardinals were no less successors of the Apostles than the bishops, and that their authority was of Divine origin.
Leo X declared in the Bull "Supernæ" of 5 May, 1514, that the cardinals in a body should come immediately after the pope and should precede all others in the church (Bullar. Rom., V, 604 sqq.).
The superior rank of the cardinals was clearly indicated when, after the time of Alexander III, bishops and even archbishops became cardinal-priests, and even (though less frequently) cardinal-deacons .
The cardinals were on an equality with emperors and kings, whom they addressed as "brothers", e.g. the cardinal legate Roland at the Diet of Besançon in 1157. It was only natural, therefore, that in the end the name cardinal, which until late in the Middle Ages was borne by the principal ecclesiastics of the more important churches, should be reserved for the Roman cardinals. Pius V, it is said, issued a decree to this effect 17 Feb., 1567. There were never any "cardinals by birth" (cardinales nati), i. e., no other office necessarily implied elevation to the dignity of cardinal.
In the Middle Ages the cardinals attempted more than once to secure over the pope the same pre-eminence which they had secured in a permanent way over the episcopate, i. e., they sought to change the monarchical form of government into an aristocracy.
What tended to bring about this result was the fact that in all important matters the popes were accustomed not to act without the counsel or the consent of the cardinals (de fratrum nostrorum consilio, de fr. n. consensu), or declared that they could not act otherwise. Consequently, the conclusion was often drawn by canonists, or by the enemies of the popes, that they were obliged to givern in this manner. Moreover, this was inferred from the current concent of corporations. It was applied to both pope and cardinals as well as to the bishop and his chapter; to the Ecclesia Romana as well as to any other cathedral church.
Hence, during the papal conclaves, which often lasted a long time, the cardinals sought occasionally to bind the new pope by "election-capitulations" after the obligations imposed on new bishops by their chapters; prevented the appointment of new cardinals; allied themselves (at least individually) with the civil power against the pope; maintained that the pope could not abdicate without their consent; or even that they could depose him, at least that they could convoke a council for that purpose, as in fact they did convoke the Council of Pisa in 1409 to put an end to the Western Schism.
The Council of Basle decreed that it was the duty of the cardinals, first individually and then as a college, to reprove any pope forgetful of his duty, or acting in a way that no longer corresponded to his exalted position .
The first "election-capitulations" were drawn up in the conclave of 1352 and were often repeated, especially during the Western Schism, when the cardinal electors were wont to bind the future pope to do all that was possible for the extinction of the schism. Innocent XII finally forbade all such previous agreements by the Constitution "Ecclesiæ Catholicæ" of 22 Sept., 1695.
In face of such an attitude on the part of the cardinals, some popes were very cautious and conciliatory and might be classed as "parliamentary popes", e.g. Clement IV; others, like Boniface VIII, resisted, and rightly, with great earnestness.
In the nomination of cardinals the pope was free. In the medieval period, according to the detailed account given by Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi, in his "Ordo Romanus XIV" (c. cxvi, sq.), a work of the early part of the fourteenth century, the pope was wont to ask the cardinals for their opinions as to the new members of the college, but afterwards decided quite freely .
The above-mentioned "election-capitulations" and the Council of Basle demanded that the nomination of cardinals should be made dependent on the consent of the college (Hardouin, Acta Conc., VIII, 1207).
According to the demand of the reform-councils (Constance, Basle) and the decrees of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, De ref., c. i), there should be in the college representatives of all Christian nations.
Sixtus V decreed, in keeping with the wishes of the reform-councils, that, above all, it should contain doctors of theology (magistri theologiæ), and that there should be in the college at least four theologians from the mendicant orders.
According to an ancient concession the wishes of Austria, Spain, and Portugal were as far as possible respected, when there was a question of raising to the cardinalate a bishop of one of these nations, known thenceforth as a crown-cardinal. It was customary for the governments of the same nations to contribute at the creation of such a cardinal the incident "taxes" or expenses (2832 scudi). Similarly they provided for the support of their respective national cardinal protectors.
It was only at The Council of Trent that it was provided that the person nominated must possess the qualifications of a bishop (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIV, De ref., c. i). Again it was only after the Council of Trent was it provided that:
- He had to be at least thirty years of age.
- There was made inelgible for selection: the fathers of (living) legitimate children, nephews or cardinals, and (ibid., §§ 17, 18) those who are related to a cardinal in the first or second degree of consanguinity.
The oath taken by the cardinals is quite similar to that taken by bishops. But the cardinal must swear that he will defend conscientiously the papal Bulls concerning non-alienation of the possessions of the Roman Church, nepotism, and papal elections, likewise his own cardinalitial dignity.
A papal consistory is the assembly of the cardinals about the pope and recalls the consistorium principis of the Roman Empire. Consistories are public (publica) or extraordinary, and secret (secreta) or ordinary. Semi-public consistories are a combination of a public and a secret consistory.
The public consistories are attended not only by the cardinals, but by the bishops, prelates, princes, and ambassadors to the papal court present in Rome. They are called for the purpose of giving the red hat to new cardinals, the solemn conclusion of canonizations, and public audiences to sovereigns and their ambassadors.
Much more important are the secret consistories. As already described, it was in them that during the Middle Ages were heard and decided the numberless lawsuits and judicial matters that came before the Apostolic See. Innocent III was wont to hold such a consistory three times a week With the transfer of their judicial attributes to the great curial offices, especially the Rota and the Roman Congregations, consistories became less frequent.
Under Innocent XI (d. 1689) they were held once a month.
The cardinals were and are a corporation, a college after the manner of the cathedral chapters. When the latter ceased to lead any longer the vita canonica or common life, they became corporations recognized by the canon law, with free administration of their property, chapter-meetings, autonomy, disciplinary authority, and the right to have and use a seal. That the members of the chapter (capitulars, canons) were the only counsellors and auxiliaries of the bishop helped to round out the position of the former, and to unite them as against the other clergy of the cathedral, all the more so as this right of the capitulars to co-government of the diocese (partly by counsel, concilium, and partly by consent, consensus) was constitutional and recognized by the canon law.
The cathedral chapters reached their fullest development as corporations early in the thirteenth century, when they obtained the exclusive rights of episcopal elections.
In a similar way the cardinal-bishops, cardinal-priests, and cardinal-deacons came to form a corporation, by the fact that since Alexander III (1159-1181) they alone had the right to elect the pope, they alone were his immediate assistants at Mass, and were his only counsellors in all important matters. Since 1150 the corporation of the cardinals becomes more and more known as a collegium, though such sysonymous terms as universitas, conventus, cœtus, capitulum are occasionally used.
The dean or head of the College of Cardinals was and is the Bishop of Ostia; the sub-dean is the Bishop of Porto. The dean is the successor of the former archpriest, the first of the cardinal-priests, known since the twelfth century as prior cardinalium presbyterarum; he is also to some extent the successor of the archdeacon, known since the thirteenth century as prior diaconarum cardinalium. The archpriest was the immediate assistant of the pope at ecclesiastical functions. The archdeacon, as supervisor of the discipline of the Roman clergy and administrator of the possessions of the Roman Church, was, after the pope, the most important person in the papal court.
As a legal corporation the cardinals had their own revenues, which were administered by a camerlengo ( camerarius) chosen from their own body (not to be confounded with the cardinal camerlengo, administrator of the papal estate), and to some extent the successor of the former archdeacon or prior diaconorum cardinalium.
In the Middle Ages the revenues of the College of cardinals were considerable. They were jointly entitled, among other dues, to a share of the moneys paid into the papal treasury on such occasions as the conferring of the pallium, confirmation of bishops, also by nations and fiefs that acknowledged the sovereignty or protection of the Holy See. Therefore, since the thirteenth century, the cardinals have had their own treasury.
Nicholas IV allotted to the College of Cardinals (18 July, 1289) one half the revenues of the Apostolic See, i.e. of the pallium taxes, the dues for confirmation of bishops (servilit communio), the "census" or tribute from the countries subject to the pope, the Peter's-pence, the visitation dues (paid in on the occasion of their visits to Rome, visitatio liminum apostolorum, by all archbishops, by bishops immediately subject to the Holy See or confirmed and consecrated by the pope, and by abbots freed from episcopal jurisdiction and immediately subject to the Holy See), besides other sources of revenues
In its present form the conclave dates from the end of the thirteenth century.
The word "conclave" (Lat. cum, with, and clavis, key; a place that may be securely closed) means the closed room or hall specially set aside and prepared for the cardinals when electing a pope; also the assembly of the cardinals for the canonical execution of this purpose.
In 1271 the election that ended with the choice of Gregory X at Viterbo had lasted over two years and nine months when the local authorities, weary of the delay, shut up the cardinals within narrow limits and thus hastened the desired election . The new pope endeavoured to obviate for the future such scandalous delay by the law of the conclave, which, almost in spite of the cardinals, he promulgated at the fifth session of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274
The provisions of his Constitution "Ubi Periculum" were stringent. When a pope died, the cardinals with him were to wait ten days for their absent brethren. Then, each with a single servant, lay or cleric, they were to assemble in the palace where the pope was at his death, or, if that were impossible, the nearest city not under interdict, in the bishop's house or some other suitable place. All were to assemble in one room (conclave), without partition or hanging, and live in common. This room and another retired chamber, to which they might go freely, were to be so closed in that no one could go in or out unobserved, nor anyone from without speak secretly with any cardinal. And if anyone from without had aught to say, it must be on the business of the election and with the knowledge of all the cardinals present. No cardinal might send out any message, whether verbal or written, under pain of excommunication. There was to be a window through which food could be admitted. If after three days the cardinals did not arrive at a decision, they were to receive for the next five days only one dish at their noon and evening meals. If these five days elapsed without an election, only bread, wine, and water should be their fare. During the election they might receive nothing from the papal treasury, nor introduce any other business unless some urgent necessity arose imperilling the Church or its possessions. If any cardinal neglected to enter, or left the enclosure for any reason other than sickness, the election was to go on without him. But his health restored, he might re-enter the conclave and take up the business where he found it. The rulers of the city where the conclave was held should see to it that all the papal prescriptions concerning enclosure of the cardinals were observed. Those who disregarded the laws of the conclave or tampered with its liberty, besides incurring other punishments, were ipso facto excommunicated.
Celestine restored the conclave. His successor, Boniface VIII confirmed the action of his predecessor and ordered the "Ubi Periculum" of Gregory X to be incorporated in the canon law (c. 3, in VI°, I, 6), since which time all papal elections have taken place in conclave.
Pope Gregory XI in 1378 empowered the cardinals (for that occasion only) to proceed to an election outside of conclave, but they did not do so.
The Council of Constance (1417) modified the rules of the conclave to such an extent that the cardinals of the three "obediences" took part in it as well as six prelates from each of the five nations.
This precedent (which however resulted happily in the election of the Roman, Martin V) is perhaps the reason why Julius II (1512), Paul III (1542), Pius IV (1561), and Pius IX (1870) provided that in case of their death during an ecumenical council the election of the new pope should be in the hands of the cardinals, not in those of the council.
Clement V decreed that the conclave must take place in the diocese in which the pope dies (Ne Romani, 1310) and also that all cardinals, whether excommunicated or interdicted, provided they were not deposed, should have the right to vote.
Clement VI (1351) permitted a slight amelioration in the fare and in the strict practice of common life.
In the sixteenth century Julius II (1505) by the Bull "Cum tam divino" declared invalid any simoniacal election of a pope.
Following the example of Pope Symmachus (499), Paul IV, by the Bull "Cum Secundum" (1558), denounced and forbade all cabals and intrigues during the lifetime of a pope.
The aforesaid Constitution of Pius IV "In Eligendis" (1562) was a codification and re-enactment of all the laws pertaining to the conclave since the time of Gregory X. In it he insists forcibly on the enclosure, which had come to be rather carelessly observed.
The finally directive legislation on the conclave is that of Gregory XV. In his short reign (1621-1623) he published two Bulls, "Æterni Patris" (1621), and "Decet Romanum Pontificem" (1622), followed by a Cæremoniale for the papal election (Bullar. Luxemb., III, 444 sqq.). Every detail of the conclave is described in these documents. Subsequent legislation has either confirmed these measures, e.g. the "Romani Pontificis" of Urban VIII (1625), or regulated the expenditure of money on the papal obsequies, e.g. the Brief of Alexander VIII (1690), or determined their order, e.g. the "Chirografo" of Clement XII (1732).
Since Urban VI (1378-89) none but a cardinal has been elected pope.
There were four possible forms of election: scrutinium, compromissum, accessus, quasi-inspiratio.
The usual form is that of scrutinium, or secret ballot, and in it the successful candidate requires a two-thirds vote exclusive of his own.
When there is a close vote, and only then, the ballot of the pope-elect, which, like all the others, is distinguishable by a text of Scripture written on one of its outside folds, is opened to make sure that he did not vote for himself.
If, upon the first ballot, no candidate receives the necessary two-thirds vote, recourse was often had to the form of voting known as accessus. At the election of Pius X (Rev. des Deux Mondes, 15 March, 1904, p. 275) the cardinal dean did not allow the accessus, though it is a recognized usage of conclaves, regulated by Gregory XI, designed primarily to hasten elections, and usually considered to favour the chances of the candidate who has the most votes. It consists practically of a second ballot. All use the ordinary blanks again, with this difference, that if the elector wishes his vote to count for his first choice he writes Accedo nomini; if he changes his vote he introduces the name of his latest choice. Then the two series of ballots have to be compared and identified by the text on the reverse face of the ballot, so as to prevent a double vote for the same candidate by any elector.
Other forms of election, made almost impossible by the legislation of Gregory XV, are known as quasi-inspiration and compromise.
The former supposes that before a given session there had been no agreement among the cardinals and that then one of the cardinals, addressing the assembly, proposes the name of a candidate with the words Ego eligo (I elect, etc.), whereupon all the cardinals, as though moved by the Holy Spirit, proclaim aloud the same candidate, saying Ego eligo, etc.
An election by compromise supposes that after a long and hopeless contest the cardinals unanimously delegate a certain number of their body to make a choice. It has not been employed since the fourteenth century.
If the pope happens not to be a bishop, he must be consecrated at once and, according to immemorial tradition, by the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. If already a bishop, there takes place only the solemn benedictio or blessing. However, he enjoys full jurisdiction from the moment of his election.