Cardinals Are Pope´s Close Advisers

History and Characteristics of the College

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2001 ( The eighth consistory of John Paul II´s pontificate has given the Church 44 new cardinals, 39 of whom could help elect the next pope in a future conclave.

After the title of pope, the office of greatest dignity in the Catholic Church is that of cardinal. The term, some scholars say, comes from the Latin word «cardo,» or hinge — around them the workings of the Church «turn.» The creation of cardinals takes place by pontifical decree: The Holy Father chooses those who will be his principal collaborators and assistants.

In the beginning, the title cardinal was generically attributed to individuals serving a church or deaconry. In time, it was reserved to those responsible for Titular Churches («Tituli Cardinales») of Rome and the most important churches in Italy and abroad. Beginning in 1059, the time of Pope Nicholas II, and gradually up until 1438, the reign of Pope Eugene IV, this title acquired the prestige that characterizes it today.

The College of Cardinals was established in its present form in 1150. It has a dean, the bishop of Ostia, who retains the Church to which he previously had title, and a chamberlain, who administers the Church´s properties when the See of Peter is vacant.

According to canon law, the cardinals constitute a special college whose responsibility is to provide for the election of the Roman pontiff. Cardinals also assist the pontiff, collegially, when they are convoked to discuss more important issues together, and personally, through the different functions they carry out, especially helping the pope in his daily governing of the universal Church.

The cardinals have been the sole electors of popes since 1059. They will elect the next pontiff in conclave, following the latest guidelines in «Universi Dominici Gregis,» John Paul II´s apostolic constitution of Feb. 22, 1996.

In the secret consistory of Nov. 5, 1973, Paul VI fixed the maximum number of cardinals who can participate in a conclave at 120. John Paul II ratified the norm, although in today´s consistory he exceeded the maximum number by 15.

The College of Cardinals carries out an important function in the general government of the Church during a period of vacancy in the Apostolic See, and, since the 1929 Lateran Pacts, in the government of Vatican City.

The requirements to be chosen cardinal are more or less the same as those established by the Council of Trent: men who have received priestly ordination and are outstanding for their doctrine, piety and prudence. Those chosen who are not bishops must first receive episcopal consecration.

The cardinals act collegially with the pope as his advisers through consistories, which the bishop of Rome convokes and are held under his presidency. Consistories may be ordinary or extraordinary. An ordinary consistory gathers cardinals present in Rome, other bishops, priests and special guests.

The pope calls these consistories for consultation on important questions or to give special solemnity to certain celebrations. All cardinals attend extraordinary consistories. They are held when special needs of the Church require it or for very grave matters.

On Nov. 21, 1970, Paul VI decided that when cardinals celebrate their 80th birthday, they cease to be active members of organizations of the Roman Curia and all permanent Holy See and Vatican City organizations. They also lose the right to choose a pope and enter a conclave.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation