Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Papal Conclave -- History

File:Folded conclave ballot.jpg
A 16th century ballot for electing the Pope.

With the Cardinals currently meeting in General Congregrations at the Vatican, and this in preparation for the coming Conclave, it seems an opportune moment to recall the history and development of this method of choosing a new Bishop of Rome.

First, for more on the Papacy and its roots in Scripture and tradition, you might note this post:
Second, on the procedures and situation of the Church during the sede vacante, the interregnum between popes, you might note:

Now to the history:

The Bishop of Rome is, by title, the Successor of St. Peter and head of the universal Church – the rock upon which Christ built His Holy Church.  “The right to elect their bishop has ever belonged to the members of the Roman Church,” expresses the Old Catholic Encyclopedia (On the Election of the Pope), and the means by which this has been done has varied through the ages, finally settling into the current system of Election by the College of Cardinals.  Here we should note both the development of the Roman Church, the system of Papal selection, and the College itself.

      Pope St. Fabian (236-250) first divided the city of Rome into seven diaconal regions, and the deacons of these neighborhoods served as the chief assistants in the management of the diocese of Rome – a sort of primitive forerunner of the College of Cardinals.  Typically, the new Pope was selected from the priests and deacons of the diocese, and Pope St. Mark (336) confirmed that the neighboring Bishop of Ostia would ordain the selected cleric as a Bishop.  Indeed, to this day it is the Cardinal-Dean, who is always Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, that installs the new Pope, and who would ordain him bishop, if necessary.  It was during the pontificate of Boniface I (418-422), who himself had been involved in a contested election where the Emperor Honorius weighed in, that a unanimous vote became a requirement.  For some time, there was input from civil authorities in approving or suggesting who might be pope.  Eventually, however, “in 684, owing to the long delays involved in the journey to Constantinople, Constantine IV (Pogonatus) acceded to [St.] Benedict II's [684-685] request that in future it should not be necessary to wait for confirmation, but that a mere notification of the election would suffice.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Election of the Popes,]

            By the 8th century, a movement was afoot to restrict participation in the election of the pope.  Pope Stephen III [IV] (768-772) “decreed that only cardinal priests and cardinal deacons could be papal electors. At this time in history the cardinals actually held the offices which today are only titular. Thus, the priests and deacons in question were the actual pastors of principal Roman churches and deacons who administered Roman districts. The role of the laity and nobility was restricted to confirming the election,” [EWTN, History of Papal Electoral Law,], and “it was decreed that only members of the sacred college were eligible for election. The part of the laity was, moreover, reduced to a mere right of acclamation.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Election of the Popes]  By the early ninth century, too, and the Pontificate of Stephen IV (V) (816-817), distinctions were made between the Cardinal-Bishops of the local diocese, Cardinal-Priests of  the Parishes of Rome, and Cardinal-Deacons of the districts. [Church Visible by Noonan, pg. 5]

            The chaos of Rome in the 9th and 10th centuries led to an increasing role on the part of the new Holy Roman Emperors in the process of selecting a Pope.  Pope John XII, in 963, agreed to the “Ottonian Privilege” with Emperor Otto I “the Great” and his successors gaining the right of affirming elections and receiving an oath of temporal loyalty from the new Pope.: “Otto I even compelled the Romans to swear that they would never elect or ordain a pope without his or his son's consent (963; cf. Liutprand, "Hist. Ott.", viii).” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Election of the Popes]  This custom would blossom to the stage of the Emperor Henry III merely nominating the Popes, and this to lift the papacy out of the local squabbles and scandals of Rome – this was the era of Benedict IX and Gregory VI, two of the popes to resign in the last 1,000 years: “In 1046 the scandals of the preceding elections, in which the supreme pontificate had become a prize for rival factions entirely regardless of what means they employed, led clergy and people to leave the nomination to Henry III. Three popes were chosen in this manner. But Leo IX insisted that the Church was free in the choice of her pastors, and, until he was duly elected at Rome, declined to assume any of the state of his office.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Election of Popes].  Pope St. Leo IX, being the leading edge of a thorough reform, insisted on being, not just nominated by Henry, but “elected” by those in Rome when he took office in 1049.

            Pope Nicholas II (1058-1061), another member of the reforming party, took a significant step in establishing what we have today when he “In 1059 he held a council in the Lateran and issued the Decree ‘In Nomine,’” [Ibid.] which provided that “only cardinal bishops will elect the pope, and then, as a usual matter, from among the Roman clergy. The cardinal priests and deacons would then be asked to give their consent. Finally, consent would be sought from the people. The emperor could confirm the Pope, but this was a privilege, not a right.” [EWTN, History of Papal Electoral Law]  St. Gregory VII would be the last to seek imperial approval.  Here is the root of our current system.  It would be modified further, of course.  It is worth noting, too, that this was an important point in the transformation of cardinal into what we know it to be today: “The cardinals were, therefore, 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.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Cardinals,]

            The 12th century, and the Third Lateran Council, under Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) made a significant contribution: “The first important modification was the Constitution "Licet de Vitanda" [c. vi, X, "De elect." (I, 6)] of Alexander III, the first of the decrees passed by the Third Oecumenical Council of the Lateran (1179). To prevent the evils of a disputed election it was established by this law that no one should be held to be elected until two thirds of the cardinals should have given their votes for him. In this decree no distinction is made between the rights of the cardinal bishops and those of the rest of the Sacred College. The imperial privilege of confirming the election had already become obsolete owing to the breach between the Church and the Empire under Henry IV and Frederick I.”  [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Election of the Popes] So established the two thirds’ requirement, and the equality of the three ranks of Cardinals in elections.  It was this same pope, Alexander III, that first gave a title of Cardinal, which formerly designated one of the pastors or local bishops of note within the Roman Metropolitan area, to a foreign Bishop – the Archbishop of Mainz would still live in Germany, but held title in Rome. [cf., EWTN History of Papal Electoral Law].

            The last major piece in the puzzle would be the formation of the Conclave:

“In 1271 the election that ended with the choice of [Blessed] 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 (Raynald, Ann. Eccl., ad ad. 1271). 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 (Hefele, Hist. des Conciles, IX, 29).…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.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Conclave,]

These regulations would be in strict force off and on as different pontiffs saw fit to modify the regulations.  It was the time of one of the other papal resignations – that of Pope St. Celestine V (1294AD) – that the conclave was made de facto permanent: “Boniface VIII [1294-1303AD] 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.” [Old Catholic Encyclopedia, Conclave]

Further developments came in fine-tuning the conclave, and widening the College of Cardinals to foreign men.  The process resulted in the Cardinals, though still members of the three orders, being merely titular holders of the titles given to them.  Pope Sixtus V decreed that the College should consist of no more than 70 members, 14 Cardinal-Deacons, 50 Cardinal-Priests, and six Cardinal-Bishops.  Pope Urban VIII, in 1630 reserved to them the title of “Eminence.” [Church Visible, pgs. 5-6.]

Interestingly, only since 1878 have all of the Papal Conclaves been held in the Sistine Chapel as we have it today.

By the 20th century, we see Pope St. Pius X eliminating the veto (in 1904), Pope Pius XI extending the start of the conclave to 15 days after the vacancy of the Papacy (1922), Pope Pius XII requiring 2/3rds +1 (1945), and Pope Paul VI adding the Eastern Patriarch-Cardinals to the order of Cardinal-Bishops with title of their own Diocese (1965),depriving those cardinals over 80 with voting rights (1970),  capping the number of Cardinals at 120 (1973). [EWTN, History of Papal Electoral Laws].

That brings us to the current law on the Papal Conclave, which we shall treat of next time.

[Use was also made of The Popes by Francesco Gioia for dates and details]

Live well!

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