1902 Encyclopedia > Cardinal


CARDINAL, the name of the highest dignity in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Very varying statements are found in the ecclesiastical historians respecting the origin of the name, the period at which it was first used, and the persons to whom it was applied in the earliest time of its use. This uncertainty is easily explained by the fact that both the thing and the name were at no time appointed and created, but grew up by successive and mainly abusive encroachments legitimatized by usance, and from time to time more formally by Papal briefs and bulls. There can be little doubt that the word was originally applied to priests in the same sense in which it was and is applied to other things, as synonymous with " principal," that on which a thing hinges (cardo, a hinge). The other ideas which have been put forward,—as that the priests so termed attended the pontiff when celebrating mass, standing at the corners (cardmes) of the altar, that cardinal priests were those refugees from persecution who were received and " incardinated " into the clerical body of churches more happily circumstanced, and some others—maybe deemed the fanciful inventions of later writers in search of originality. What priests those were, who in fact or by privilege used this title in the earliest ages of the church, is a much larger and more debatable question, on which scores of volumes have been written. If, however, a guide is to be chosen, no safer can be found than Bingham, who says, when pointing out that archpresbyters were by no means the same thing as cardinal presbyters, that the use of the term cardinal cannot be found in any genuine writer before the time of Gregory the Great (t 604). For, says he, the Roman Council, on which alone Bellarmine relies to prove the word to have had a greater antiquity, is a mere figment. For the authorities for an earlier use of the term, such as they are, the reader may consult Gaetano Moroni's Dizionario at the word Cardinal. As regards the term " genuine " in Bingham's statement, it may be mentioned that both Baronius and Bellarmine regard the council said to have been held at Rome by Sylvester I. in 324 as genuine. Van Espen, on the other hand, considers it to be apocryphal. Further, in alluding to the origin of the name, Bingham notices the opinion of Bellarmine that the word was first applied to certain principal churches, and remarks that others have supposed that those among the priests in populous cities who were chosen from among the rest to be a council for the bishop were first called cardinals. And Stillingfleet says,—"When afterwards these titles were much increased, those presbyters that were placed in the ancient titles, which were the chief among them, were called Cardinales Presbyteri, which were looked on as the chief of the clergy, and therefore were the chief members of the council of presbyters to the bishop." Stillingfleet appears, however, to have been think ing exclusively of Borne. Various other churches in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain—as Bourges, Metz, Bavenna, Fermo, Salerno, Naples, Cologne, Compostella, &c,—claimed the title of cardinal for their canons as by privilege, in most cases probably usurped and not granted. But the name appears gradually to have been understood to appertain only to those whom the pope specially created cardinals. And at last, in 1567, Pope Pius V. definitively decreed that none should assume the title of cardinal save those created such by the Roman pontiff, and the word from that time to this has been -exclusively so applied.

If the origin and early use of the term cardinal is obscure, Sacred ool-the institution of a collegiate body consisting of cardinals lege, and of none other is yet more so. There seem to be traces of such a conception in the life of Leo III. (t 816) written by Anastasius the librarian. And Moroni cites many passages from various authors and documents between the above date and 1100, with a view of showing that, at all events, by the end of that time the body of cardinals was recognized as a collegiate corporation. But his citations seem to prove rather the reverse. Nor do we reach solid ground in this respect till we come to the bull "Postquam" of Sixtus V. (3d December 1585) which finally regulates the composition of the Sagro Collegio. By this instrument seventy is fixed as the maximum number of the sacred college " after the example of the seventy elders appointed by God as counsellors of Moses." Nor has the number ever been exceeded since that time, though it is expressly laid down by the authorities on the subject, that no canonical disability exists to prevent the pope from exceeding that number should he see fit to do so. By the same bull " Postquam," it is also provided that the seventy of the Sacred College should consist of six cardinal bishops, fifty cardinal priests, and fourteen cardinal deacons. The six cardinal bishops are the bishops of the sees lying immediately around Borne. The fifty cardinal priests take their " titles " from the principal churches in Borne, but are many of them bishops or archbishops of distant sees, and four must be by regulation members (usually the " generals") of the monastic orders. The fourteen deacons take their titles from the " deaconries " established in the earliest ages of the Church for the assist-ance and protection of the widows and orphans of the faithful. It may be added here that Sixtus V., by the above-mentioned bull, decrees that if any person created a cardinal be not in deacon's orders, he must receive them within the year. But " dispensations," by virtue of which the dignity has been held for many years by men not even in deacons' orders, have been common. If any cardinal should be in such a position at the time of the Pope's death, he cannot enter conclave or participate in the election, unless by immediately qualifying himself by taking orders.

As the institution of cardinals was entirely arbitrary and Number an abuse, so, despite the shadow of an attempt to find or and ages ot make a raison d'etre for their existence in the assignment C^"J ^NI,E^N of such dignities to certain special sees and churches in and around Rome, their connection with those churches very soon became purely nominal and formal; and everything connected with the selection of them depended wholly on the will of the pontiff. Not so, as will be seen presently, their prerogatives when they had been created. And the limits, which might be supposed to have bounded the field from which the Pope could select the objects of his favour, became constantly enlarged. A few only of the many instances of creations illustrating this fact which are on record can be here mentioned. Clement VI., in 1348, created his nephew Peter Roger cardinal when he was seventeen. Sixtus IV., in 1477, created John of Aragon cardinal at the age of fourteen, and at the same time his nephew Raffaelle Riario who was seventeen. Innocent VIII. (f 1492) created Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo X., cardinal at fourteen, his eminence having been Apostolic Protonotary ever since he was seven ! Ippolite d'Este had been an archbishop for the last nine years, when Alexander VI. created him cardinal in his seventeenth year. Alfred of Portugal was made cardinal by Leo X. when he was seven years old, on condition, however, that he should not assume the outward insignia of the dignity till he should be fourteen. The same pontiff made John of Lorraine cardinal at twenty, Alexander VL having previously made him coadjutor of the bishop of Metz at four years old. Clement VII. made Odet di Coligny cardinal at twelve. Paul III. Farnese (t 1549), created his nephew Alexander Farnese cardinal at fourteen ; his grandson Guido Ascanio Sforza, the son of his daughter Costanza, at sixteen; his cousin Niccol6 Gaetani at twelve; his relative Giulio Feltre dell a Rovere, at eleven; and a second grandson, Ranuccio Farnese, at fifteen, having made him archbishop of Naples the year before. Paul also created Charles of Lorraine, brother of Mary Queen of Scots, cardinal at twenty-two, although he had a brother in the Sacred College at the time, which is contrary to the constitutions and the decree of one of the Pope's predecessors. But this is only one out of a hundred facts which demonstrate the futility of the attempt to bind the hands of one infallible autocrat by the rules enacted by his predecessors. Sixtus V. (t 1590), a great reformer of abuses, made his nephew Alexander Peretti cardinal at fourteen. Paul V. (t 1621) created Maurice of Savoy cardinal at fourteen, Carlo de' Medici at nineteen, and Ferdinand of Austria at ten. Clement XII. (t 1740) made Luigi di Borbone archbishop of Toledo and cardinal at the age of eight. And, lastly, Pius VII. (t 1823) created a second Luigi di Borbone, the son of the above-mentioned archbishop of Toledo, cardinal at twenty-three. The list of such creations might be much extended. Previously to the publication of the bull " Postquam " by Sixtus V. the number of the Sacred College was extremely variable. John XXII., requested in 1331 to make two French cardinals, replied that there were only twenty cardinals' hats, that seventeen of these were already French, and that he could, therefore, only make one more. At the death of Clement VI. (1352) the cardinals determined that their number should not exceed twenty. Urban VI. (t 1389) created a great number; and we find the college making representations to Pius II. (t 1464) to the effect that the dignity of the purple was diminished by such excess. Sixtus IV. (t 1484), how-ever, multiplied the number of his creations to an unexampled extent; and Alexander VI. (t 1503) exceeded him. Leo X. created thirty-one cardinals at one batch, leaving at his death sixty-five, a number unpre-cedented up to that time. Paul III., however, created seveuty-ono. But Paul IV. (t 1559) issued the bull called " Compactum," by which it was decreed that the number of cardinals should never exceed forty. His immediate successor, however, Pius IV. (t 1565) raised the number to forty-six. In 1590 came the final settle-ment at seventy by Sixtus V., as has been said.

Many volumes have been written on the different forms Maimer used by the popes in the creation of cardinals in different and eere-ages, and many more still larger treatises exprofesso on the "J0"'"^ strictly ecclesiastical, as well as what may be more properly " 1 called the social, portions of the accustomed ceremonial. But it must suffice here to characterize very generally the differences which have prevailed from age to age iu the first respect, and to say but a few words on the second head.

The general tendency of the changes which have taken place in the methods used for the creation of cardinals may be very shortly stated. They have been such as indicate the steadily increasing absolutism of the pontiffs. A proclamation to the congregation including an invitation to any person to state any ground of objection known to him soon gave place to a real consultation of the college by the Pope, and a real assent on the part of the cardinals to the proposed new nominations, which in its turn dwindled off at a very early period to a mere form of asking and receiving consent. In the earlier centuries the crea-tions almost always took place on the first Wednesday of the Quaitro Témpora,1 and generally in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. There, after the Introit and collect of the Mass had been said, a reader ascended the pulpit and proclaimed the intended creation of such and such persons, ending with an invitation precisely similar to that used in our churches in the publication of banns of marriage, and a real inquiry followed the statement of any objector. At a later period the Pope asked of the cardinals assembled in secret consistory whether in their opinion there should be a creation of cardinals, and of how manyl And a deputation was sent to the residence uf any cardinals who might be ill to bring back their replies to the same questions. Then, satisfactory answers having been obtained from at least the majority, the Pope said " Portetur nuda cathedra." The chair was brought, and placed at his right hand. Thereupon all the cardinals rose, and stood ranged against the wall at a distance out of earshot of the Papal throne. The dean of the Sacred College placed himself in the empty chair, and the Pope told him in a low voice whom he purposed to create, add-ing " Quid vobis videtur i " One by one all present were similarly interrogated, and then the Pope said aloud, "Deo gratias habemus de personis creandis concordiam omnium fratrum," or " quasi omnium, " or " majoris partis, " as the case might be. And then the pontiff at once pro-claimed the new dignitaries:—"Auctoritate Dei Omnipo-tentis, Sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, et nostra creamus Sanclce Romana; Dcclesia; Cardinales Presbíteros quidem ... N. N... . Diáconos vero ... N. N... . cum dispensationibus, derogalionibus, et clausulis necessariis et opportunist He then thrice made the sign of the cross, saying as he did so, " In nomine Patris, &c, Amen" and the consistory was at an end.

In later times the proclamation having been made in consistory by the simple announcement, " Habemus fratres " so and so, the act of conferring the dignity with its insignia on the new recipients was performed at the Papal palace, and was accompanied by a mass of minutely ordered cere-monial which rendered it one of the most pompous and gorgeous scenic performances of the Roman Church and court. It would need many pages to describe the form and order of the ceremony, the intricacies of which no one was ever expected to remember or understand save the professional masters of the ceremonies, whose business it is to have mastered the science. And a description of it
would serve no purpose, save that of causing amazement at the overgrown mass of frivolity which the constant tendency to extinguish significance under heaps of material forms and show, has led the old men who compose the Roman court to accumulate.

The social portion, as it may be called, of the ceremonial attendant on the creation of a cardinal, in which the city and all the inhabitants are concerned, is as pompous, and as much regulated by a whole code of traditional uses and customs, as the more purely ecclesiastical part of thebusiness. The making of presents and payment of fees to persons of all sorts of conditions, from the high and reverend officials of the Curia to the cardinal's lackeys, makes a great part of it. And the amount of all these payments is minutely regulated. Great illuminations take place in the city, and especially on the facade of the new dignitary's palace. Bands of music parade the city, and are specially stationed before the residences of the foreign ministers. The new cardinal opens his palace for a great full-dress reception, where all who have a decent coat, and specially all strangers, are welcomed. These are great and noted occasions for the display of the diamonds and toilettes of the Roman patrician ladies.

Cardinals Before quitting the subject of the method of creating In Petto, cardinals, the custom of reserving cardinals " in Pectore" must be briefly noticed. Various causes occasionally arose to lead a pontiff to deem it undesirable to declare to the world the person whom it was his purpose to create a cardinal. Martin V. (t 1431) was the first who thus secretly created cardinals. But the practice then and subsequently differed essentially from that which the ever-increasing despotism of the popes brought it to under Paul III. and thenceforward. Martin and his successors, till Paul III. took the members of the college into their con-fidence, only strictly enjoining them not to divulge the fact that such and such persons were in fact cardinals. He died leaving four cardinals thus unpublished, having taken the oaths of the other cardinals that they would in case of his death recognize them. Notwithstanding their oaths, however, they refused when the Pope died to do so. And the popes have never been able to secure the admission to the college of those whose creation has been left by their deaths in this inchoate state. Sometimes the college has recognized them, and admitted them to the conclave; sometimes the succeeding Pope has re-created them out of respect for the wishes of his predecessor. Sometimes they have altogether lost the promotion intended for them. The change which Paul III. introduced consisted in confining the secret of the unpublished nominations to his own breast, keeping it "in pectore.'" His practice was, and that of his successors has been, to add to the form of proclamation in consistory, " Alios duos (or more or less) in pectore reservamus arbitrio nostro quandocumque declarandos." Shutting Before quitting the subject of ceremonial, a word or two and open- may be said of the singular practice of closing and subse-ing of the qUently opening the mouth of a newly created cardinal, dinars"" Like almost everything else connected with the subject nouth. this form had once a real significance, but has become a mere meaningless formality. Some reasonable time was originally allowed to elapse before the pontiff in one consistory formally pronounced the mouth to be opened which he had declared to be closed in a previous con-sistory. Now the form of opening is pronounced within a few minutes of the form of closing. As may be readily understood the cardinal whose mouth was closed could not speak or vote in any assembly of the cardinals, but only hear. When it has occurred that a cardinal has been left at the death of a Pope with closed mouth, the college have usually empowered one of their number to open the mouth of the cardinal so circumstanced. But it is a great mistake to suppose, as many have imagined, that a car-dinal, whose mouth remained closed, was ineligible to the Papal throne. For not only any such cardinal, but any person whatever, clerk or lay, not being an avowed heretic, and not labouring under any canonical impediment to holy orders, is perfectly eligible as pope.

The chief of the insignia of a cardinal's dignity is the Insignia scarlet hat,—the original significance of which was, we are aud title* told, to remind the wearer that he was to be at all times ready to shed his blood in martyrdom for the faith. At an early period it became, and has since continued to be, a huge unwearable construction of silk and hanging tassels, such as may be seen suspended from the roofs of cathe-drals over the tombs of cardinals. So much is the hat the main mark of a cardinal's dignity, that " to receive the hat" is in common parlance equivalent to being made a cardinal. The canonical vestments of a cardinal are scarlet, and in the cityand in their homes the hems and such like of their coats, and also their stockings, are of the same colour,—in Italian parlance " purple." Hence, " to aspire to the purple," " to receive the purple," is also equivalent to being a candi-date for or being made a cardinal. Their Eminences also wear a scarlet " beretta," a four-cornered cap of the shape well known in pictures and engravings, and a scarlet " berettina," or skull-cap. Until the time of Urban VIII. the cardinals were styled " Illustrissimi; " but that pope decreed that they should for the future be called " Emi-nentissimi," aud addressed as "your Eminence."

It remains to add a few words on the privilege of a Cardinals cardinal as an elector of the pontiff; and though theasPaPal subject is a large one, a very few words will suffice, because elector3 the treatment of it falls more properly and conveniently under other headings. In perfect consistency with every other portion of the history of the institution, the right and privilege of the cardinals to elect the Pope is an abuse, and has been attained by a long series of encroachments which have gradually eliminated the originally democratic constitution of the Church. The popes were at first chosen by the whole body of the faithful; then by the whole body of the clergy; then by the cardinals with the consent of the clergy, and, ultimately, absolutely and exclusively by the cardinals. That the mode of election has passed through these phases is certain ; but the chro-nological details of the changes are extremely obscure. The methods pursued in the election belong to another place. And this article may be concluded by a statement of the fact, often misapprehended, that the right of a cardinal to enter conclave with his brethren and vote for the new Pope is indefeasible ; and he is not to be deprived of it by any declaration of the late Pope or deposition by him, or by any amount of unworthiness, however patent. Cases are on record in which popes have sought by every means in their power to prevent certain cardinals from taking part in the election that would follow their death, and some in which monstrous crimes have rendered such ex-clusion reasonable and right in every point of view. But in every such case the college has overruled the provisions of the deceased pontiff, and admitted theacknowledged member of their body to take part in the election. (T. A. T.)


1 The Quaitro Tempora were the fasts with which each quarter of the year commenced.

1 It is to be understood that all this applies to the state of things before the Italian Government took possession of Rome. The Church now considers herself to be under eclipse, and all exterior pomp and

2 Save in the case of members of the monastic orders, whose dress, similar in form to the others, is in colour that enjoined by their special

Pope Eugenius IV. writing in 1431, says. " As the door of a house turns upon its hinges, so the See of the Universal Apostolical Church rests and is supported on this institution." Cave, in his article on Anastasius, the Roman librarian (Scr. Eccl., vol. ii. p. 56, col. ii.) quotes the words of Pope Leo (about 848) respecting him—" Presbyter cardinis nostri quern nos in titulo B. Marcelli Mart, atque Pont, ordinavimus;" that is to say, continues Cave, that that Church was specially entrusted to him, that he might continually he busied in the care of it, tanquam janua in cardine suo.
Eccl. Antiq., bk. ii. ch. 19, sec. 18.
8 Irenicon, pt. ii. ch. 6.
I.e., those principal incumbencies which from the earliest ages of the Church of Rome had been so called,—a use of the word of which a curious survival may be traced in the common phrase "a title to holy orders."
s See, however, Cave, Script. Eccl. Hist. Bit., vol. ii. p. 124, who says that about the middle of the 11th century they were enrolled {asciti sunt), in an Apostolic College.
Pope Eugenius IV. writing in 1431, says. " As the door of a house turns upon its hinges, so the See of the Universal Apostolical Church rests and is supported on this institution." Cave, in his article on Anastasius, the Roman librarian (Scr. Eccl., vol. ii. p. 56, col. ii.) quotes the words of Pope Leo (about 848) respecting him—" Presbyter cardinis nostri quern nos in titulo B. Marcelli Mart, atque Pont, ordinavimus;" that is to say, continues Cave, that that Church was specially entrusted to him, that he might continually he busied in the care of it, tanquam janua in cardine suo.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries