College of Cardinals

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All cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are referred to as the College of Cardinals ( Holy College of Cardinals until 1983 ) .


The origin of the College of Cardinals and its subdivision into the three cardinal classes cardinal bishop , cardinal priest and cardinal deacon is based on the ecclesiastical conditions of the diocese of Rome in the 8th century . Pope Stephan III. determined that the seven bishops of the surrounding ( suburbicarian ) dioceses Ostia , Porto and Silva Candida , Albano , Frascati and Tusculum , Velletri , Prenestre (Palestrina) and Sabina in the Lateran basilica , the main church of the diocese of Rome at that time, had to perform the weekly liturgical service . These bishops were therefore called episcopi cardinalis .

The cardinal class of cardinal priests comes from the group of Roman presbyters who worked at the main Roman basilicas of St. Peter , St. Paul , Santa Maria Maggiore and San Lorenzo . They worked as priests at so-called "title churches", house churches that had been given a titulus , the late Roman name for a property , by a householder and given to church use. From the 5th century, the oldest priest of such a church, which emerged from a titulus , was called presbyter cardinalis .

The origin of the cardinal class of cardinal deacons lies with the deacons working in Rome . They were active in the papal administration as well as in the seven Roman diakonia , their tasks were in poor relief, nursing the sick and sheltering strangers. Up until the 11th century they did not call themselves a “cardinal”, but Diaconi Sanctae Romanae Ecclesia .


"Senate of the Pope"

The members of the College of Cardinals are available to the Pope individually or as a community, e.g. B. in the consistory , aside in the direction of the universal Church. In this way, the cardinals have an advisory role. The earlier used declaration of this body as the "Senate of the Pope" is no longer used in canon law today in order to avoid parallels with secular government institutions. However, this term still occurs occasionally in literature as well as in official papal pronouncements and documents.

Sedis vacancy

The most important task of the College of Cardinals is the election of the Pope . In addition, the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis Johannes Pauls II stipulates that the leadership of the Church is incumbent on the College of Cardinals during the Sedis vacancy . However, the powers here are limited to the execution of administrative tasks, the decision of urgent, non-postponable matters and the preparation of the election of a new Pope. It is the same in the Basic Law of the Vatican City State, which grants the College all rights of the Pope as head of state of Vatican City with these restrictions. Canon law restricts the powers of the college of cardinals insofar as it expressly forbids official acts reserved for the Pope alone or decisions by the cardinals that affect the law of the Church, the Apostolic See , changes to the papal election regulations or other papal laws. From the first day of the vacancy until the entry into the conclave, the college of cardinals meets daily in the so-called general congregations to discuss the most important matters. While only cardinals who had not yet reached the age of 80 at the beginning of the sedis vacancy are allowed to participate in the conclave itself, the over 80-year-old members of the college of cardinals are also allowed to participate actively in the general congregations.


In the College of Cardinals, all working at the Curia cardinals , all the cardinals that an archdiocese or diocese conduct, as well as all retired from active service line and other cardinals present.

Today there is no longer a fixed maximum number of members. Nevertheless, according to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis , written by Pope John Paul II, the number of those entitled to vote, i.e. H. cardinals under 80 years of age, not to exceed 120. However, John Paul II also disregarded this norm in the consistories of 1998 and 2001 and exceeded this number at times.

The college of cardinals is divided into three classes ( ordines ) (cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons).

The chairman of the college of cardinals is called the cardinal dean; The current incumbent has been Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re since January 2020 . His deputy, known as Sub- Dean, is Cardinal Leonardo Sandri .

See also


  • Markus Graulich : Cardinalate. Time-honored and functional , in: Riedel-Spangenberger, Ilona (Ed.): Management structures of the Catholic Church. Canonical foundations and need for reform , Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 2002, pp. 76–100.
  • Petrus Canisius van Lierde , André Giraud: The College of Cardinals . (= The Christian in the World, XII. Row: Building and Structure of the Church, Vol. 3). Pattloch, Aschaffenburg 1965.
  • Ulrich Schludi: The formation of the cardinal college . Function, self-image, stages of development . (= Medieval research; 45). Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2014 ( digitized version )

Web links

Wiktionary: College of Cardinals  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Martin Bräuer: Handbook of the Cardinals: 1846-2012 . Walter de Gruyter, 2014, ISBN 978-3-11-026947-5 , p. 1-2 .
  2. a b Martin Bräuer: Handbook of the Cardinals: 1846-2012 . Walter de Gruyter, 2014, ISBN 978-3-11-026947-5 , p. 2 .
  3. Article 1.2 of the Basic Law of the Vatican City