History of Cardinals Goes Back to St. Peter

ROME, SEPT. 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The history of cardinals dates back to the early organization of the Apostle Peter’s diocese.

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The institution of the cardinalate dates back to the fourth century. At first they were counselors and collaborators of the pope at the service of a church or deaconry. Later, they were at the service of titular churches of Rome and of the most important churches of the world.

The College of Cardinals was formed in 1150, with a cardinal dean, who is the bishop of Ostia and the Camerlengo, who on the death of the pontiff has the administration of the affairs of the Holy See, the Pontifical Yearbook explains.

Since 1059, the cardinals are the exclusive electors of the Pope. In the 12th century, cardinals began to be named who were prelates in residence outside of Rome.

From the 13th to the 15th centuries, the number of cardinals was usually not over 30. The number was fixed by Sixtus V at 70: six cardinal-bishops, 50 cardinal-priests, 14 cardinal-deacons (see constitution «Postquam Verus,» Dec. 3, 1586).

In the private consistory of Dec. 15, 1958 (A.A.S., 1958, Vol. XXV, page 987), John XXIII departed from the number of cardinals established by Sixtus V and confirmed by the 1917 Code of Canon Law (in Canon 231). Again, with «Cum Gravissima» of April 15, 1962, John XXIII established that henceforth all cardinals were to be bishops.

Paul VI determined the place of the Eastern patriarch within the College of Cardinals with the document «Ad Purpuratorum Patrum» of Feb. 11, 1965.

With «Ingravescentem Aetatem» of Nov. 21, 1970, the same Pope established that when cardinals reached the age of 80, they ceased to be members of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of all the permanent organizations of the Holy See and of Vatican City State. They also become ineligible to elect a pope and to enter the conclave.

In the secret consistory of Nov. 5, 1973, Paul VI established that the maximum number of cardinals with the right to elect the Pontiff be set at 120 (A.A.S., 1973, Vol. LXV, page 163). John Paul II reconfirmed this directive in the apostolic constitution «Universi Dominici Gregis» of Feb. 22, 1996.

The cardinals belong to various Roman dicasteries. Those who live in Rome, even if outside Vatican City, enjoy the same rights and privileges of citizenship («Trattato Lateranense,» Article 21).

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