1902 Encyclopedia > Conclave


CONCLAVE. The word conclave is used to signify any company of persons gathered together in consultation ; its proper meaning is any such gathering of persons locked up together (from the prefix cum, and clavis, a key); and the technical meaning, which has superseded all other uses of the word, save where some other significance is specially indicated, is the meeting of the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals for the purpose of electing a Pope.

The Pope, who is simply the bishop of Rorne, was originally chosen by the entire body of the people con-stituting the church at Rome. Gradually, aud by a process of encroachment, the several steps of which are, as might be expected, very obscure, the right of nomination was confined to the clergy, the people still retaining a right of objection, exercised very much in the same manner as the forbidding banns of marriage is now exercised. The grasping tyranny of the clergy combined with the lawless turbulence of the laity, consisting no longer, as originally, of a select body of religious men, but of the entire popula-tion, to cause this participation of the laity also to fall into disuse. The next step was to allow the privilege of the vote only to the chief among the clergy—cardinales—the cardinal clergy, so called as the principal virtues were called cardinal virtues (see CARDINAL). During some centuries the emperor was understood to have a controlling voice in the election, in such sort that his approbation was necessary for the validity of it. But the practice varied much in this respect, according as the emperor was or was not strong, near at hand, or interested in the election. The history of this part of the subject is exceedingly obscure ; but it is certain that at least one Pope provided that the consent of the emperor should be necessary for the election of his successor, and on the other hand that other elections were made about the same period without the emperor's par-ticipation.

It was not till many years after the right of election had been abusively confined to the cardinals, that the practice of shutting up those dignitaries for the purpose of exercising that right was resorted to. And in the earliest instances the " conclave" seems to have been an involuntary im-prisonment imposed on them ah extra. In 1216 the Perugians constrained the nineteen cardinals who elected Honorius III. to enter into conclave the day after the death of Innocent III., who died at Perugia, keeping them imprisoned till the election should be completed. Gregory IX. was similarly elected at Rome in 1227, the cardinals having been shut up against their will by the senators and people of Kome. In 1272 Gregory X. was elected at Viterbo by seventeen cardinals, who had not only been shut up against their will, but from over whose heads the roof of the building in which the conclave was held was removed by the citizens in order to hasten their delibera-tions.

This Gregory, in a council held at Lyons in 1274. promulgated a code of law for the conducting of the Papal election, comprised in fifteen rules. And these rules, though modified by subsequent pontiffs in some respects, and supplemented by a vast number of more minute regulations, remain to the present day the foundation and origin of all the law and practice of Papal elections. The text of this, code is too lengthy to be given here. It may be read in the original Latin in the Life of Gregory X., by Pagi, as in many other works,—the Notes to Platina by Panvinius, &c. ;—or in English, slightly abbreviated, in a volume on the Papal conclaves by T. A. Trollope (p. 64). The substance of some of the more important provisions may be given summarily, as follows. Cardinals to go into conclave on the tenth day after the Pope's death, attended by one person only, unless in a case of evident need, when two may be permitted. Cardinals to live in conclave in common without separation between bed and bed by wall, curtain, or veil (modified by subsequent rules to the present practice of a wooden cell for each cardinal). No access to conclave to be permitted. An opening to be left for food to be passed in. No vote shall be given save in conclave. Cardinals who quit the conclave by reason of sickness cannot vote. Those who arrive after the closing of it may enter and vote. Cardinals who may have been censured or excommunicated cannot be excluded from conclave. An election can only be made by a two-thirds majority of those present. Any man, lay or ecclesiastic, not a heretic and not canonically incapacitated, may be elected Pope. No entreaties or promises to be made by one cardinal to another with a view of influencing the vote. All bargains, agreements, undertakings, even though corroborated by an oath, having such an object to be of no validity ; and " let him that breaks such be deemed worthy of praise rather than of the blame of perjury."

Very many popes have sought to enforce and make yet more stringent this last all-important rule, by reiterated fulminations of excommunication ipso facto, in any and every case of its contravention. The most solemn forms of oath that language can devise have been prescribed. The Bulls condemning all simoniacal bargainings have been ordered to be invariably read with every circumstance of solemnity in every conclave before the business of the meeting is entered on. And the result of all these multiplied precautions, precepts, prohibitions, and menaces has been that a study of the history of the Papal conclaves leaves the student with the conviction that no election untainted by simony has ever yet been made, while in a great number of instances the simony practised in the con-clave has been of the grossest, most shameless, and most overt kind.

The form of oath, as practised at the present day, which the cardinal pronounces in the act of delivering his vote, is as follows: " Testor Christum Dominum, qui me judicatures est, me eligere quern secundum Deum judico eligi debere"—" I call to witness Christ our Lord, who shall be my judge, that I am electing him who before God I think ought to be elected." The words seem at first sight to have been chosen and put together with the view of rendering them as solemn and as binding on the con-science of the elector as possible. Yet a little examination of them will show that they are well adapted to afford room for a whole host of equivocations. And, in fact, volumes of subtle casuistry have been written on the exact sense of the terms of the cardinal's oath, and on the degree of literalness in which it must be assumed to be binding on the conscience; e.g., it is the opinion of conclave tacticians that an elector may often injure the final chance of success of a candidate by voting for him at those first scrutinies, which are not intended really to result in any election, but are a mere exploring of the ground and trial of strength. Is an elector, then, to injure the chance of the man he deems the fittest to be elected by voting for him at such times "i Again a man may, doubtless often does, con-scientiously believe himself to be the fittest man to be elected. Must he invalidate his own election by voting for himself 1 Or must he vote for some other, whom he does not think the fittest man t It has been asked, may a man vote for a candidate whom he does not think the fittest man, when it is clear that that candidate will be elected 1 The answer has been in the affirmative, " because it is fitting that an election be made with concord and without giving rise to evil passions." In fact, it is well-nigh certain that if every elector at every scrutiny voted for the man whom he thought fittest to be elected, there could not be any election by a two-thirds majority at all,— BO absolutely and necessarily a matter of compromise is every election !

The present practice is for such cardinals as are present in Rome to enter conclave on the tenth day after the Pope's death. Each cardinal finds a boarded cell constructed in the Quirinal or Vatican,-—recently the Quirinal, hence-forward necessarily the Vatican,—assigned to him by lot. Every morning and every evening they proceed to a scrutiny, i.e., to a solemn voting by specially prepared voting papers (which conceal the name of the voter, to be opened only in the case of an election being made at that scrutiny) in the Sistine or in the Paoline Chapel. After each scrutiny an " accessit" takes place ;—i.e., after the number of the votes for each candidate has been declared, it is open to every voter to declare by a similar secret vote that he " accedes " to such or such a candidate. If no election is thus arrived at, the same process is repeated every morning and every evening, till some cardinal is found to have the requisite majority of two-thirds of those who are present, plus one, the candidate's own vote being subtracted. Thereupon the ' adoration" immediately takes place, and the Habemus Pontificem is proclaimed "Urbi et Orbi." (T. A. T.)

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