The College of Cardinals, formerly styled the Sacred College of Cardinals, is the body of all cardinals of the Catholic Church.[1] Its membership is 214, as of 19 March 2018. Most cardinals exit the College only by death, although a few leave it by election to the papacy, and still fewer leave by resignation or dismissal. Changes in life expectancy partly account for the increases in the size of the College.[2]

Since the emergence of the College of Cardinals in the Early Middle Ages, the size of the body has historically been limited by popes, ecumenical councils, and even the College itself. From 1099 to 1986, the total number of cardinals was approximately 2,900 (excluding possible undocumented 12th century cardinals, cardinals appointed during the Western Schism by pontiffs now considered to be antipopes, and subject to some other sources of uncertainty), nearly half of which were created after 1655.[3]


See also: External cardinal § History

The word cardinal is derived from the Latin cardo, meaning "hinge". The office of cardinal as it is known today slowly evolved during the first millennium from the clergy of Rome. "The first time that the term cardinal appears in the Liber Pontificalis is in the biography of Pope Stephen III(IV) when in the Roman Synod of 769, it was decided that the Roman pontiff should be elected from among the deacons and cardinal priests."[4]

In 845 the Council of Meaux "required Bishops to establish Cardinal titles or parishes in their towns and outlining districts."[5] At the same time, the popes began referring to the cardinal priests of Rome to serves as legates and delegates within Rome at ceremonies, synods, councils, etc., as well as abroad on diplomatic missions and councils. Those who were assigned to the latter roles were given the titles of Legatus a latere (Cardinal Legate) and Missus Specialis (Special Missions).[6]

During the pontificate of Stephen V (816-17), the three classes of the College that are present today began to form. Stephen decreed that all cardinal-bishops were bound to sing Mass on rotation at the high altar at St. Peter's Basilica, one per Sunday. The first class to form was that of the cardinal-deacons, direct theological descendants of the original seven ordained in Acts 6, followed by the cardinal-priests, and finally, the cardinal-bishops.[6]

The College played an integral part in various reforms within the Church as well, as early as the pontificate of Pope Leo IX (1050). In the 12th century, the Third Lateran Council declared that only Cardinals could assume the papacy, a requirement that has since lapsed. In 1130, under Urban II, all the classes were permitted to take part in papal elections; up to this point, only cardinal-bishops had this role.[6]

From the 13th to 15th centuries, the size of the College of Cardinals never exceeded thirty, although there were more than thirty parishes and diaconal districts which could potentially have a titular holder; Pope John XXII (1316–1334) formalized this norm by limiting the College to twenty members.[7] In the ensuing century, increasing the size of the College became a method for the pope to raise funds for construction or war, cultivate European alliances, and dilute the strength of the College as a spiritual and political counterweight to papal supremacy.[7]

The conclave capitulation of the papal conclave, 1352 limited the size of the College to twenty, and decreed that no new cardinals could be created until the size of the College had dropped to 16; however, Pope Innocent VI declared the capitulation invalid the following year.[8][9]

By the end of the 14th century, the practice of solely Italian cardinals had ceased. Between the 14th century and 17th century, there was much struggle for the College between the cardinals of the day and the reigning popes. The most effective way for a pope to increase his power was to increase the number of cardinals, promoting those who had nominated him. Those cardinals in power saw these actions as an attempt to weaken their influence.

The Council of Basel (1431–1437, later transferred to Ferrara and then Florence) limited the size of the College to twenty-four,[10] as did the capitulation of the papal conclave, 1464.[11][12][13] The capitulations of the 1484 (Pope Innocent VIII)[14] and 1513 (Pope Leo X) conclaves contained the same restriction.[15] The capitulation of the papal conclave, 1492 also is known to have contained some restriction on the creation of new cardinals.[16]

The Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517), despite its lengthy regulation of the lives of cardinals, did not speak to the size of the College.[10]

In 1517, Pope Leo X added another thirty-one cardinals, bringing the total to sixty-five so that he could have a supportive majority in the College of Cardinals. Paul IV brought the total to seventy. His immediate successor, Pope Pius IV (1559–1565), raised the limit to seventy-six.[7] Although Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor sought a limit of 26 and complained about the size and quality of the College to his legates to the Council of Trent, and some French attendees advocated a limit of 24, that Council did not prescribe a limit to the size of the College.[10] By the papacy of Sixtus V (1585–1590), the number was set at seventy on 3 December 1587, divided among fourteen cardinal-deacons, fifty cardinal-priests, and six cardinal-bishops.[6]

His successors respected that limit until Pope John XXIII (1958–1963) increased the number of cardinals to 75 (1958), 88 (1960), and 90 (1962).[17] Pope Paul VI (1963–1978) increased the size of the college to 105 (1965), 120 (1967), and 136 (1969). He then altered the significance of the size of the College by restricting the right to vote in conclaves to those under the age of eighty. The number of those cardinals, the cardinal-electors, he limited to a maximum of 120. He removed any limitation on the overall size of the College.[a][18] The immediate impact was to eliminate the voting rights of 25 cardinals, 14 of them Italians. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, then 80, said the Pope's action was "an act committed in contempt of tradition that is centuries old" and was "throwing over board the bulk of his expert and gifted counselors".[19] Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, 86, objected that each cardinal's health should determine his fitness and suggested that 73-year-old Paul VI seemed frail.[20]

When Paul VI increased the College to 145 members in 1973, the number of cardinal electors was 116.[21] Pope John Paul II's appointments to the College resulted in more than 120 under the age of 80 on several occasions, reaching a high of 135 in February 2001.[22] When exceeding the 120 limit, he approved "temporary derogations" of the rule so that all of those under 80 could participate in a consistory as electors.[23][not in citation given] He also made titular churches of parish churches constructed on the outskirts of Rome after World War II to accommodate the increased size of the College.[18] Pope Francis has only allowed the number of cardinal electors to exceed the maximum of 120 for brief periods. In 2016 he told reporters "we have 13 slots" shortly before naming 13 new cardinals under the age of 80 to bring the number of cardinal electors to 120.[24][b]

Other changes to the College in the 20th century affected specific orders. In 1961 Pope John XXIII reserved to the pope the right to assign any member of College to one of the suburbicarian sees and the rank of cardinal bishop. Previously only the senior cardinal priest and the senior cardinal deacon had the privilege of requesting such an appointment (jus optionis) when a vacancy occurred.[27] In 1962 he established that all cardinals should be bishops, ending the identification of the order of cardinal deacon with cardinals who were not bishops.[28] He consecrated the twelve non-bishop members of the College himself.[29][c] In February 1965, Pope Paul VI decided that an Eastern Rite Patriarch who is created a cardinal would no longer be assigned a titular church in Rome, but maintain his see and join the order of cardinal bishops, the rank previously reserved to the six cardinals assigned to the suburbicarian dioceses.[32][33][d] He also required that the suburbicarian bishops elect one of themselves as the Dean and Vice-Dean of the College, instead of allowing them to select any member of the College.[34][e]

Historical data

For the Middle Ages, sources speaking to the size of the College of Cardinals are most frequently those relating to papal elections and conclaves.[2]

Italian-born cardinals as percentage of the total College of Cardinals (1903–2013)
February 2013 22.60
April 2005 17.09
October 1978 22.50
August 1978 22.80
1963 35.36
1958 35.80
1939 54.80
1922 51.60
1914 50.76
1903 56.25


Coat of arms style for cardinals.

As of 1 April 2018, the College has 214 members, 115 of whom are eligible to participate in a conclave. The group's size has historically been limited by popes, ecumenical councils, and even the College itself. From 1099 to 1986, the total number of cardinals appointed was approximately 2,900 (excluding possibly undocumented 12th-century cardinals, pseudocardinals appointed during the Western Schism by pontiffs now considered to be antipopes, and subject to some other sources of uncertainty), nearly half of whom were created after 1655.[3]


A function of the college is to advise the pope about church matters when he summons them to an ordinary consistory,[35] a term derived from the Roman Emperor's crown council. It also attends various functions as a matter of protocol, for example, during the canonization process.

It also convenes on the death or resignation of a pope as a papal conclave to elect a successor,[36] but is then restricted to eligible Cardinals under the age limit, which was set for the first time in 1970 by Pope Paul VI at 80.[37]

The college has no ruling power except during the sede vacante (papal vacancy) period, and even then its powers are extremely limited by the terms of the current law, which is laid down in the Apostolic constitution Universi Dominici gregis (1996) and the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State.

Historically, cardinals were the clergy serving parishes of the city of Rome under its bishop, the pope. The College acquired particular importance following the crowning of Henry IV as King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor at the age of six, after the unexpected death of Henry III in 1056. Until then, the Holy See was often bitterly fought for among Rome's aristocratic families and external secular authorities had significant influence over who was to be appointed pope, and the Holy Roman Emperor in particular had the special power to appoint him. This was significant as the aims and views of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Church did not always coincide. Churchmen involved in what has become known as the Gregorian Reform took advantage of the new king's lack of power and in 1059 reserved the election of the pope to the clergy of the Church in Rome. This was part of a larger power struggle, which became known as the Investiture Controversy, as the Church and the Emperor each attempted to gain more control over the appointment of bishops, and in doing so wield more influence in the lands and governments they were appointed to. Reserving to the cardinals the election of the pope represented a significant shift in the balance of power in the Early Medieval world. From the beginning of the 12th century, the College of Cardinals started to meet as such, when the cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons ceased acting as separate groups.[38]


In the Catholic church, the Dean of the College of Cardinals and the Cardinal Vice-Dean are the president and vice-president of the college. Both are elected by and from the six cardinal bishops (cardinals of the highest order, holding suburbicarian dioceses), but the election requires papal confirmation. Except for presiding and delegating administrative tasks, they have no authority over the cardinals, acting as primus inter pares (first among equals).

The Secretary of State, the prefects of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, the Vicar General of Rome, and the Patriarchs of Venice and Lisbon, are usually cardinals, with few, usually temporary, exceptions. The Fundamental Law of Vatican City State requires that appointees to the state's legislative body, the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, be cardinals.[39]

Electing the pope

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Under the terms of Pope Paul VI's motu proprio Ingravescentem aetatem, cardinals who reached the age of 80 before a conclave opened had no vote in papal elections. Pope John Paul II's Universi Dominici gregis of 22 February 1996 modified that rule slightly, so that cardinals who have reached the age of 80 before the day the see becomes vacant are not eligible to vote.[36]

Canon law sets the general qualifications required of someone to be appointed bishop quite broadly, requiring someone of faith and good reputation, at least thirty-five years old and with a certain level of education.[40] The cardinals have nevertheless elected the Bishop of Rome from among their own membership since the election of Pope Urban VI in 1378. The conclave rules specify the procedures to be followed should they elect someone residing outside Vatican City or not yet a bishop.[41]

Of the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 at the time of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, 115 participated in the conclave of March 2013 that elected his successor. The two who did not participate were Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja (for health reasons) and Keith O'Brien (following allegations of sexual misconduct).[42] Of the 115 cardinals who participated in the conclave that elected Pope Francis, 48 were appointed by Pope John Paul II and 67 by Pope Benedict XVI.

See also


  1. ^ Paul VI set the 120 limit in November 1970, effective 1 January 1971.
  2. ^ The February 2014 consistory brought the number of cardinal electors to 122,[25] but the 80th birthday of Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn and death of José da Cruz Policarpo reduced the number to 120 in less than a month. The June 2017 consistory brought the number of cardinal electors to 121,[26] and it would have declined to 120 when Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò turned 80 in February 2018 had not Cardinal Carlo Caffarra died in September 2017.
  3. ^ John codified this and other rules for the College in Cum gravissima dated 15 April 1962.[30] On occasion a cardinal designate receives a dispensation from this rule. Pope John Paul II granted the first dispensation from this requirement to Henri de Lubac in 1983.[31]
  4. ^ Paul codified this and other rules for the College in Ad pupuratorum patrem dated 11 February 1965.[34] The one Eastern Rite Patriarch already a cardinal, Ignatius Gabriel I Tappouni, Patriarch of Antioch and a cardinal since 1935, resigned his cardinal's titular church Santi XII Apostoli and joined the order of cardinal bishops.
  5. ^ Paul codified this in Sacro cardinalium consilio dated 26 February 1965.[34]



  1. ^ 1983 CIC, Bk. II, Pt. II, Sec. I, Chap. III The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church Archived 3 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b Broderick, 1987, p. 13.
  3. ^ a b Broderick, 1987, p. 11.
  4. ^ Miranda, S. (2003). The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Detroit: Gale. [page needed]
  5. ^ van Lierde, Peter C. (1964). What Is a Cardinal?. New York: Hawthorne Books Inc. p. 14. 
  6. ^ a b c d Noonan, James-Charles (2012). The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, Revised Edition. New York: Sterling Ethos. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-1-40278730-0. 
  7. ^ a b c Pham, 2004, p. 65.
  8. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, pp. 52–54.
  9. ^ Jugie, Pierre. Levillain, ed. 2002. "Cardinal." pp. 241–242.
  10. ^ a b c Miranda, Salvador. 1998. "Guide to documents and events (76–2005)."
  11. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The election of Pope Paul II (1464)."
  12. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 78-79.
  13. ^ Walsh, 2003, p. 109.
  14. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 82.
  15. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 92.
  16. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The election of Pope Alexander VI (1492)."
  17. ^ Pham, 2004, p. 65-66.
  18. ^ a b Pham, 2004, p. 66.
  19. ^ Friendly Jr., Alfred (27 November 1970). "Ottaviani Deplores Papal Action Barring Vote of Aged Cardinals". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  20. ^ "Crítica de dos Cardenales contra el Papa Paulo VI" (in Spanish). UP. 26 November 1970. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  21. ^ Hofmann, Paul (3 February 1973). "30 Cardinals Named; Three Are American". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  22. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (22 February 2001). "Shaping a Legacy, Pope Installs 44 Cardinals". New York Times. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  23. ^ Mickens, Robert (24 April 2017). "Letter from Rome The Next Stage of Francis's Mission". Commonwealth Magazine. Retrieved 9 July 2017. 
  24. ^ Gagliarducci, Andrea (13 October 2016). "What's the thought behind Pope Francis' choices for cardinals?". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  25. ^ Reese, Thomas (13 January 2014). "Cardinals: continuity and change". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  26. ^ McElwee, Joshua J. (21 May 2017). "Francis names five new cardinals, including associate of Oscar Romero". La Stampa. Retrieved 9 July 2017. After the upcoming consistory, Francis will have named 49 of 121 cardinals able to vote in a papal conclave. 
  27. ^ Pope John XXIII (10 March 1961). "Ad suburbicarias dioeceses" (in Latin). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
  28. ^ Cortesi, Arnoldo (20 March 1962). "Pope Elevates 10 to Cardinal Rank". New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2017. 
  29. ^ "Catholic Cardinals Now Are All Bishops". New York Times. 20 April 1962. Retrieved 25 October 2017. From today therefore, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, all Cardinals are Bishops. 
  30. ^ Carson, Thomas, ed. (2002). New Catholic Encyclopedia. 3 (2nd ed.). Gale. p. 106. 
  31. ^ Goulding, Gill K. (2015). A Church of Passion and Hope: The Formation of An Ecclesial Disposition from Ignatius Loyola to Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. Bloomsbury T&T Clark. Retrieved 15 December 2017. [page needed]
  32. ^ "Pope Designates 27 New Cardinals". New York Times. 26 January 1965. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  33. ^ "Pontiff Installs 27 New Cardinals". New York Times. 23 February 1965. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  34. ^ a b c Jedin, Hubert, ed. (1981). The Church in the Modern Age. X. London: Burn & Oates. p. 168. Retrieved 2 November 2017. 
  35. ^ CIC 1983, can. 349
  36. ^ a b John Paul II, Ap. Const. Universi Dominici gregis in AAS 88 (1996)
  37. ^ Walsh, Michael (2011). The Cardinals: Thirteen Centuries of the Men Behind the Papal Throne. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 17. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  38. ^ Broderick, J.F. 1987. "The Sacred College of Cardinals: Size and Geographical Composition (1099–1986)." Archivum historiae Pontificiae, 25: 8.
  39. ^ Pope John Paul II (26 November 2000). "Fundamental Law of Vatican City State" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 11 April 2008. 
  40. ^ "Code of Canon Law, Chapter II: Bishops". The Holy See. Archived from the original on 19 February 2008. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  41. ^ Universi Dominici gregis, 88–90
  42. ^ Pigott, Robert (25 February 2013). "Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns as Archbishop". BBC News. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 


  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8.
  • Broderick, J.F. 1987. "The Sacred College of Cardinals: Size and Geographical Composition (1099–1986)." Archivum historiae Pontificiae, 25: 7–71.
  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. 2002. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92228-3.
  • Pham, John-Peter. 2004. Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517834-3.
  • Walsh, Michael. 2003. The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-58051-135-X.

External links