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View of the Sistine Chapel from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica

The conclave is the assembly of the electoral cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church to elect the Bishop of Rome , who as Pope is the head of the Church. An election becomes necessary after the Sedis vacancy occurs , if the previous Pope has died or has resigned from his office and the Holy See is therefore vacant .

The institution of the conclave arose in Italian urban communes from the 12th century, when they established new procedures for filling offices independently of external influences and internal party disputes. Above all, the unfortunate events during the investiture controversy led to demands for “free” elections , which, however, are not to be conceived in the sense of modern understanding. By means of different and often combined procedures (in 1292 the guilds in Florence discussed 24 different methods of board elections ) ( acclamation , appointment by predecessor or neutral third party, graduated voting, lottery procedure), electors were determined who then - sometimes the candidates, among them the electors were selected - the actual election completed, closed by outside influences. The earliest examples are from Genoa (1157), Pisa (1162/64) and Pistoia: “The electors (electores consulum) were again elected by electors (electores electorum consulum) , who are called 'preselectors' for better understanding ... Also in Venice in 1178 four selectors determined the 40 electors for the nomination of the next Doge ... Normally the electors carry out the election legally and bindingly for all; with their appointment is originally connected with the oath of the community as a whole to accept the decision. ”The electors, for their part, had to swear to choose the best and most suitable of all external influences and interests to the best of their knowledge and belief with God's help. Unanimous decision-making was also often required.


The word conclave is of Latin origin. Conclave means room, lockable chamber, which in turn is derived from cum clave "with the key". It describes both the closed room in which the election takes place and the meeting of those entitled to vote (electors) themselves.

History of the conclave for the papal election

Pope Gregory X., who established the conclave as the valid form of papal election

There was initially no procedural standard for the election of the Pope. It was originally performed by the Roman clergy and the people. Manipulation, interference by secular rulers and the election of antipopes were not uncommon in the Middle Ages. At Easter 1059, the Lateran Synod passed the papal election decree In nomine Domini , according to which the cardinal bishops should consult first, then the cardinal priests and cardinal deacons, and finally obtain the consent of the people when electing the pope . De facto and in the ensuing development, the cardinals became sole papal voters and secular rulers were formally excluded from the election. However, the emperor was granted a right of confirmation. In 1198 Innocent III was elected. used ballot for the first time. After the death of Pope Innocent III. the papal voters were included by the population of Perugia , which is why the papal election of 1216 can be seen as the "real [r] origin of the conclave".

The first conclave on the election of the Pope took place in 1241. Of the twelve cardinals eligible to vote, two were prisoners of Emperor Frederick II , and the remaining were at odds. The powerful Roman Senator Matteo Rosso Orsini had them locked up in the Septasolium on the Palatine Hill under very poor conditions. After 60 days and after one of the trapped cardinals died, Celestine IV was chosen from the nine remaining. He died 17 days after his election. Then there was a vacancy of 19 months, and the subsequent papal elections were difficult because of different disputes between different parties in Rome, within the Church and between ecclesiastical and secular rulers. After the death of Pope Clement IV , there was another vacancy that lasted almost three years. Pope Gregory X , then elected , convened the Second Council of Lyons to organize a crusade and to promote reunification with the Eastern Church . An important third topic was church reform regulations. The Constitution Ubi periculum adopted at the council stipulated that the papal elections were to be carried out as a conclave in order to prevent the chair of Peter from remaining vacant for a long time in the future . The cardinals present at the Curia were to wait no longer than ten days for the arrival of cardinals from abroad, then to vote in isolation and shielded from the outside world. The supply of the cardinals should be reduced as the duration of the conclave increased and they should lose all income during the sedis vacancy.

Innocent V was elected Pope on January 21, 1276, just one day after the beginning of the conclave, which first met according to the rules of his predecessor Gregory X. The following conclave in July 1276 could not initially agree on a candidate, so that Charles of Anjou, in his function as Senator of Rome, recalled the conclave regulation of the Second Council of Lyon and took over the leadership of the conclave. He isolated the cardinals from the outside world and reduced their meals. Only when the scorching heat of the summer claimed victims among the cardinals - many collapsed exhausted - the election fell on July 11th on Cardinal Fieschi, now Pope Hadrian V. Because he had not been ordained a priest as a cardinal deacon , Hadrian lifted Gregory's conclave order X., but in fact the essential provisions of the Second Council of Lyons on the Conclave remain in force to the present day.

General rules for the election of the Pope

The papal election procedure is based on centuries-old church laws and traditions. The right to vote since 1059 by In nomine Domini In nomine Domini limited to the Cardinals. Before that, Roman church representatives and - by acclamation - also the people of Rome took part in the election. The electoral process in the conclave was first legally established by Pope Gregory X during the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 . The voters are sealed off from the outside world until they have agreed on a candidate. The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has served as the seat of the conclave since 1878 . Only the respective Pope is entitled to change the precise rules of the conclave. By appointing new cardinals, he exerts some influence on the choice of his successor. However, he is not allowed to name it himself.

The last valid regulation was laid down by Pope John Paul II on February 22nd, 1996 in the Apostolic Constitution on the vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of the Pope of Rome ( Universi Dominici Gregis ). She was by his successor Benedict XVI. partially modified in June 2007 with the Motu proprio De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis and with the Motu proprio Normas nonnullas in February 2013.

External conditions for the conclave

Until the end of the Papal States in 1870, the conclave took place in the Roman Quirinal Palace , and since then in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Until the second papal election in 1978 , the cardinals remained locked in there for the entire duration of the conclave, so that small sleeping cells also had to be set up in the chapel and the adjacent rooms.

In his new regulation, Pope John Paul II designated the Domus Sanctae Marthae guest house, which had been newly built a few years earlier, as the place where the cardinals live during the conclave. Nevertheless, the cardinals remain excluded from any contact with the outside world during the conclave. All other guests must leave the Domus Sanctae Marthae; Internet, telephone, television, radio, post or newspapers are not permitted. This rule was first applied during the 2005 papal election after the death of Pope John Paul II.

The strict closure - originally also intended to urge the cardinals to make a decision as quickly as possible - now serves to prevent possible external influences on the conclave. Pope John Paul II extended the lockdown area to the entire Vatican.


The conclave begins at the earliest on the 15th and at the latest on the 20th day after the Sedis vacancy occurs with a Holy Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and the entry of the electoral cardinals into the Sistine Chapel. By one of Benedict XVI. However, the start of the change can be brought forward if all cardinals entitled to vote are present. After the cardinals have been sworn in, the papal master of ceremonies uses the formula "Extra omnes" ("all out") to ask those who do not belong to the conclave to leave the chapel and then lock the entrance.

Ballot for the papal election (presumably 1878)

The ballots take place according to a precisely defined ceremony: If the election begins on the first day, only one ballot is held, then usually two in the morning and two in the afternoon. There are no lists of candidates. Each cardinal is required to write the name of the candidate he or she favored on a piece of paper, using as disguised but clearly legible writing as possible. When folded twice, they are only about 2 by 2 centimeters in size. Each ballot paper bears the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem (“I am voting for Supreme Pontiff”) and a field for entering the name of the cardinal who is to receive the vote. Each cardinal steps up to the altar in the order of his or her ranking, holds up the ballot paper clearly visible for everyone, kneels briefly in prayer and swears: Testor Christum Dominum, qui me iudicaturus est, me eum eligere, quem secundum Deum iudico eligi debere ("I call on Christ the Lord who will judge me as a witness that I will choose whom I believe must be elected according to God's will.") After the ballot paper has been put into the ballot box (theirs Size of the openings almost excludes the simultaneous delivery of two slips of paper), the urn is closed and shaken by one of three election workers to mix the ballot papers. Each of the three election workers noted the name of the elected candidate separately on a piece of paper during the count. The election is only valid if the number of ballot papers corresponds to the number of cardinals participating in the election and the individual counting of the three election workers gives the same result.

Voting at the conclave in 1903 , in which Pius X was elected

A two-thirds majority is required for a valid election . For a short time it was allowed that the cardinals can decide after 30 or 33 unsuccessful ballots to elect the Pope with a simple majority; in addition, they could also decide for a runoff election between only two leading candidates until then, but this permission was granted by Benedict XVI. repealed in 2007 (as far as is known, however, there were never more than 15 ballots in the 20th century). The currently valid conclave order, which Benedict XVI. Specified with the apostolic letter Normas nonnullas in the form of a motu proprio of February 22, 2013, provides that the cardinals assembled in the conclave can, after the 34th ballot, cast a runoff between the two candidates who have been leading up to now, whereby these candidates, if they are cardinals lose their active voting rights. A two-thirds majority is still required for this runoff election.

If someone was elected who is outside the Vatican City, "[...] the guidelines contained in the [...] Ordo rituum conclavis must be observed." This is what the Decree Universi Dominici Gregis prescribes . After the election, the future Pope will be asked if he will accept the election:

“Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem?”

and, if he accepts the choice of which name to use in the future:

"Quo nomine vis vocari?"

This is done by the dean of the cardinal college or the sub-dean, if the dean himself was elected Pope as in 2005, or the oldest cardinal bishop, if the dean and sub-dean - as in 2013 - are not allowed to participate in the conclave for reasons of age. The papal insignia is put on him and he takes a seat on the cathedra in front of the altar in the Sistine Chapel . All cardinals promise obedience and pay homage to him according to their ranking. Then the Te Deum is sung or prayed.

The ballot papers of an unsuccessful ballot are burned according to old tradition with wet straw (with the addition of oil or pitch ) so that the smoke visible from the outside appears black. If the election was successful, the ballot papers are burned with dry straw and plenty of tow . The rising white smoke shows the waiting people the election of a new Pope. Since the smoke signals were not always clearly identifiable, chemicals that produce black or white smoke have recently been added to ballot papers. The chapel will then be reopened and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica will be rung. With the formula “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus Papam!” (“I announce a great joy to you, we have a Pope!”), The elected will then be publicly announced by the cardinal protodeacon. Voting numbers or the names of unsuccessful candidates will not be published after the election.

Eligible voters

Right to vote

All cardinals are entitled to vote in the conclave who have not yet reached their 80th birthday on the day before the sedis vacancy occurs (for example, the anniversary of the Pope's death). In addition, Paul VI. in the Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo of 1975 that their number may not exceed 120. Before that there was a maximum of 70 cardinals and there was no age limit.

Each of them is obliged to take part in the conclave if he is not prevented by illness or other serious reasons. If a cardinal does not appear in time, the conclave will take place without him.

Passive suffrage

In principle, any baptized man who can validly receive consecration can be elected Pope. He must belong to the Roman Catholic Church. A minimum age for the Pope is not expressly required in canon law. Since Urban VI. in 1378, however, no one was elected Pope who was not a cardinal.

Electoral process

Traditionally, there have been three procedures for electing the Pope:

  1. The election by scrutinium, the secret ballot vote that is still valid today.
  2. The election by compromissum could take place if the college of cardinals could not agree on a candidate after numerous ballots and delegated the final vote to a small group of cardinals.
  3. The choice quasi ex inspiratione / per acclamationem seu inspirationem was made when a cardinal suggested the name of a candidate and the others spontaneously agreed to it by acclamation .

The latter two were de facto abolished as early as 1179 in the Third Lateran Council , but de jure only through the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis 1996, so that the election of the Pope only takes place in secret and in writing. Even after the conclave, the cardinals are obliged to maintain absolute secrecy about the processes of the papal election.

Rule changes

In principle, the new Pope is elected by a two-thirds majority. Pope John Paul II abolished the rule that a pope had to receive two thirds plus one vote. It was introduced to eliminate the need to check whether a candidate had illegally voted for himself.

John Paul II had introduced a new regulation that after a total of 30 or 33 ballots, which extend over nine to twelve days, if no Pope has yet been elected, the cardinals decide with an absolute majority for another quorum or the electoral procedure can change. The Pope could then also be elected with an absolute majority, or the cardinals could elect a runoff between the two leading candidates. However, the requirement of at least an absolute majority of the votes could not be abandoned. This regulation was introduced in 2007 by Benedict XVI. repealed again, so that a two-thirds majority of the votes cast is required in each ballot to elect a Pope. After 30 or 33 unsuccessful ballots, however, a run-off election should take place between the two previously leading candidates, whereby they themselves no longer have the right to vote.

In February 2013 Benedict XVI issued the apostolic letter Normas nonnullas . Shortly before his resignation from office as Pope came into effect, he changed provisions relating to the sedis vacancy and the conclave. Accordingly, the cardinals assembled in the conclave can now vote for a runoff between the two leading cardinals after the 34th ballot, whereby they lose their active voting rights. A two-thirds majority is still required for this runoff election.

Acceptance of elections and proclamation

From the benediction loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, the cardinal protodeacon announces the election of the new Pope.

When the election is over, the cardinal dean will convene the secretary of the college of cardinals and the master of ceremonies. The Cardinal Dean then asks the newly elected Pope: “Do you accept your canonical election as Pope?” ( Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem? ). If the elected person affirms, he is immediately the new Pope with all rights and obligations and is asked by the Cardinal Dean: "With what name do you want to be called?" ( Quo nomine vis vocari? ), Because the Pope has been taking with him since the 10th century Choice mostly also a new name . Then a document is drawn up which records the acceptance of the election and the new name of the Pope. If this is already a bishop, he immediately takes on his new office. If he is not yet, he will receive the episcopal ordination from the cardinal dean in the conclave . The master of ceremonies noted in an official report the acceptance of the election and the name of the new Pope.

Then the new Pope goes to the "room of tears" ( camera lacrimatoria ), a small red-lined room near the Sistine Chapel. The origin of the name is unknown; it may be due to the fact that the new Pope said goodbye to his previous way of life. Another interpretation is that the person who is elected Pope can let his joyous feelings run free there. In this room there are white papal robes in three different sizes and a stole embroidered with gold brocade , which is reserved for popes only. The Pope changes his clothes and returns to the conclave, whereupon each cardinal pays homage and pledges obedience to the new Pope, who sits on a stool near the altar.

The end of the election is marked by the rising of white smoke ( fumata ) from a chimney that is attached to the roof of the Sistine Chapel before the start of the conclave. At the 1978 conclave for the election of John Paul II, the smoke caused confusion: gray smoke was interpreted as white by those waiting in St. Peter's Square. A little later the smoke darkened. This problem is to be avoided in the future by adding chemicals that are intended to clearly color the smoke. During his pontificate , Pope John Paul II arranged for the bells of St. Peter's Basilica to ring in addition to the white smoke for every successful papal election in the future, in order to avoid such ambiguities. The proclamation of the cardinal protodiac on the benediction loggia of St. Peter's Basilica finally proclaims:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
Habemus Papam:
Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum [first name],
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem [last name],
qui sibi nomen imposuit [papal name].

I proclaim great joy to you;
We have a Pope:
His Eminence the Most Revered Lord,
Lord [first name], of
the Holy Roman Church Cardinal [surname],
who has given himself the name [Pope's name].

Pope Pius XI (1922–1939) appeared on February 6, 1922 after his election on the central loggia (Benediction Loggia) of St. Peter's Basilica and gave the apostolic blessing "Urbi et Orbi"

The newly elected Pope then appears on the benediction loggia , can give a short address, and then donates the apostolic blessing Urbi et Orbi .

Instead of the inauguration (inauguration mass), which now takes place one to two weeks after the election, there used to be an elaborate ceremony in which the Pope was crowned with the triregnum , the triple tiara , the “papal coronation”. Pope Paul VI was still traditionally crowned on June 30, 1963, but took off his tiara in November 1964 during the Second Vatican Council to set an example against the hunger of the world. He sold it to a private individual in Washington, and the proceeds went to the poor. This tiara is made with the stole that Pope John XXIII. at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council , exhibited in the National Shrine in the USA. Since then, all popes have renounced the coronation with a personal decision. But there is no papal decree abolishing the papal coronation. Pope Benedict XVI has followed the decisions of his predecessors and has also refrained from having his coat of arms crowned with a tiara, as was customary up to now. It shows a miter in its place and thus indicates the function of the Pope as Bishop of Rome . Pope Francis continued this form of the coat of arms.

Historical development

The papal election procedures have evolved over a period of almost two thousand years. The procedure practiced today was essentially codified in 1274. For an overview of the elections, see the list of papal elections and conclaves .

The vote

Guarded Conclave, 1417

The first bishops of Rome were probably appointed by the founders of the Roman community; According to tradition, these were Peter and some of his colleagues. This electoral procedure was soon replaced in Rome and elsewhere by a procedure in which the church representatives and the faithful of a diocese and the bishops of the neighboring dioceses determined the respective bishop.

From around the 3rd century onwards, the bishops of Rome initially claimed priority over the other bishops and later the function of head of the whole of Christianity. This made their choice more and more important. The elections were determined by the church representatives who jointly determined their future head under the supervision of the bishops present. Your nomination was communicated to the Roman believers. The Romans signaled their approval (or possibly rejection) by tumult. This unclear procedure during the election led to the election of counter-popes several times .

A Lateran synod in 769 abolished the consent of the Roman population, but a synod in Rome in 862 gave this right to the Roman nobles again. In 1059, Nicholas II stipulated that it should be the cardinals alone who nominated a candidate who would take office after the other church representatives and the congregation agreed. This was the first decree that established fixed rules for elections. However, as early as 1073 this regulation was not adhered to. The most important Pope of the 11th century, Gregory VII , was proclaimed Pope by the Roman people. He carried out the investiture controversy with the later Emperor Henry IV , which culminated in the winter of 1077 in the passage to Canossa . A Lateran synod in 1139 stipulated that neither the other church representatives nor the congregation had to give their consent.

In 1587 Pope Sixtus limited the number of cardinals eligible to vote to 70, but the popes since John XXIII. did not comply with this policy. With Romano Pontifici eligendo , Paul VI. 1975 established that cardinals who have reached the age of eighty are excluded from the voting process, and at the same time increased the number of cardinals entitled to vote to 120. This limit was temporarily exceeded by the creation of cardinals by John Paul II.

The one to be chosen

In principle, the lay status did not constitute an obstacle to being elected Bishop of Rome. Only in the year 769 was it determined that it had to be a priest . The third Lateran Council in 1179, on the other hand, relaxed these provisions and again allowed the election of lay people. Urban VI. was the last Pope in 1378 to be Archbishop of Bari , but not already a cardinal. In principle, every unmarried baptized man who belongs to the Roman Catholic Church can be elected according to these electoral rules , unless he is a heretic , a schismatic or a Simonist . If the chosen person is not a bishop, he will be ordained bishop by the cardinal dean in the conclave .

The holder of the episcopate of Rome does not need to be Italian. Pope John Paul II was Polish, Benedict XVI. is German, Francis is from Argentina. The last of their predecessors to be elected Pope as a non-Italian was Hadrian VI, elected in 1522 . , which came from the Holy Roman Empire (area of ​​today's Netherlands). In the early days of the Church there were also Greeks, Syrians and North Africans popes, in the Middle Ages there were also French, Spaniards and Germans and once an Englishman.

Electoral majorities

Habemus Papam, 1415

Until the year 1179 a simple majority was sufficient for the election of the Pope, after that a two-thirds majority was required:

“If a majority of votes cannot be achieved among the cardinals in the papal election, then the one who has been elected by two thirds should be recognized by the entire Church. If the candidate, named by only a third, assumes the papal dignity, he and his followers should be subject to excommunication and lose all degrees of ordination. "

This decree is based on the dramatic sequence of the proclamation of Alexander III. in 1159, when the defeated Ottaviano de Monticello was elected by a clear majority, Alexander III. tore off the papal cloak that had just been put on and allowed himself to be proclaimed Pope by the people. Alexander III, whose pontificate lasted until 1181, had to rule against four antipopes during this time .

Cardinals were not allowed to vote for themselves, which should be ensured by cumbersome procedures around the ballot papers. Pius XII. abolished this in 1945, but stipulated that a majority of two thirds plus one vote was necessary. In 1996, John Paul II set this again to a two-thirds majority, but still allowed cardinals to vote for themselves. He also introduced the possibility of voting by majority vote among the cardinals after 30 or 33 unsuccessful ballots to lower the required majority to half of the votes or to hold a runoff between two candidates who had been leading up to that point. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI. , reversed this change in 2007, so that in future papal elections after more than 30 or 33 ballots, a two-thirds majority is still necessary, from the 31st or 34th ballot only runoff elections take place in which a two-thirds majority must be achieved (the both cardinals then standing for election may then no longer vote themselves).

Voting methods

The election of the new incumbent could take place by acclamation, by compromise or by a voting process. When the new Pope was chosen by acclamation, the cardinals appointed the Pope quasi afflati spiritu sancto (as if inspired by the Holy Spirit). The last Pope selected in this way was Gregory XV. in 1621. If the election was made as a compromise, the College of Cardinals determined a committee, the members of which determined the Pope among themselves. John XXII. was chosen this way in 1316. John Paul II abolished this long-abandoned practice in 1996. The new Pope is now only determined by secret ballot.

Conclave reform of 1621/22

The papal election process was given a fundamental push towards normalization by the Bull Aeterni Patris Filius of Pope Gregory XV. which brought the reform efforts of the 16th century to a conclusion and was reflected in the Caeremoniale in Electione Summi Romani Pontificis observandum . The provisions set out in these two papal documents governed the conclave until 1904 and, apart from minor modifications, are still valid today.

Central moment of this reform, which by a group of reformers known as Zelanti ("zealots") around the cardinals St. Robert Bellarmin and Federico Borromeo was vehemently pushed forward, the orientation towards the ecclesiastical common good. This motive for action led to the fact that voting in the conclave can for the first time be described as a really secret act. If the votes of the individual cardinals had previously also become apparent during the election by the Scrutinium at a certain point in time, from 1622 onwards the cardinals were able to follow their conscience when making their voting decisions. A collection of the cardinals according to clientele obligations was made more difficult and ultimately made impossible.

The individual obligation of every single voter to elect the most worthy cardinal as Pope is clearly expressed in the design of the oath immediately before voting. With the conclave reform of Gregory XV. the Sistine Chapel became the site of the papal election. In this way, each cardinal faces Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgment while voting, where Christ, addressed by the electing cardinal as the future judge ("[...] qui me iudicaturus est [...]"), is depicted as the judge at the end of time is. Before the reform under Gregory XV. The Sistine Chapel (probably since its construction under Sixtus IV. ) was only the living quarters of the cardinals in the conclave, while the actual elections took place in the smaller Cappella Paolina .

In addition to the positive fixation and definition of the three canonical modes of choice of the Middle Ages (per scrutinium, per compromissum, per inspirationem) , the conclave reform of Gregory XV ended. an early modern maladministration in the election of the Pope, which can be seen as a logical consequence of the strong clientele ties to the curia. Probably since the election of Leo X. an electoral mode had been established that was in no way legally fixed, the election by adorationem . In this procedure, the cardinal who was first honored by the usual two-thirds majority of cardinals was regarded as pope. An act from the everyday symbolic repertoire of the papal ceremony became the decisive moment here. Criticism of this approach increased particularly in the second half of the 16th century, as the circumstances surrounding such an election sometimes culminated in tumults and fights. The conviction that such turbulent accompanying circumstances were not appropriate to the subject of the conclave, but rather that an individual conscientious decision based on fixed procedural norms was the only way to a godly election of the Pope, finally prevailed with the Gregorian conclave reform.

Secular influence

Roman and Byzantine rulers

For most of church history, the choice of the Pope has not been unaffected by secular rulers or governments. Even the Roman emperors had a lasting influence on the election of some popes. In 418, Emperor Honorius settled the controversy about electing a pope by supporting Boniface I , whose rightful election was contested by Eulalius. Honorius also ordered that future controversies should lead to re-election. However, his order was never implemented. After the fall of the Roman Empire, John II formally stipulated in 532 that the Ostrogothic kings who ruled Rome would approve the election. Since the Ostrogothic kingdom only existed until the end of the 530s, this right passed to the rulers of the Byzantine Empire . Church officials informed the Exarch of Ravenna of the death of the Pope, who passed this information on to the ruler of Byzantium. Once it was clear who was to become the successor to the Pope, they had to send a delegation to Constantinople to obtain approval there before he could take up his office. The journey to Constantinople and back entailed long delays, during which the papal seat remained vacant. When Benedict II complained to Constantine IV about this delay, Constantine agreed that he would only be informed of the result. Zacharias and his followers also stopped this practice.

Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire also exerted influence on papal elections from the 9th century. While the first two rulers of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious , did not interfere in the papal election, Lothar declared that no papal election should take place without the presence of an imperial envoy.

898 had to John IX. recognize the supremacy of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire after violent disputes. The secular regional rulers in Rome also exerted a strong influence on the election of the Pope for centuries. Their influence was particularly great in the 10th century. The papal bull , which established the college of cardinals as the electoral body in 1059, also recognized the authority of Henry IV , the then emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. However, this was only a concession by the Pope, who also stipulated that the Emperor could only interfere in the election if there was a prior agreement with the Pope. Gregory VII was the last Pope to allow such interference from the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. The investiture controversy over the role of the Holy Roman Empire in the filling of higher ecclesiastical offices ended with the emperor no longer being granted a role. In 1122 the emperor agreed to the Worms Concordat , thereby accepting this papal decision.


Between 1309 and 1430 the Popes resided in Avignon under French protection . This time is also known as the “Babylonian captivity” of the popes (based on the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people). During this period the Curia was dominated by the French, and French people were preferred as popes.

In 1378 the papal election took place again in Rome. The Roman people demanded an Italian, and so Urban VI was first . elected. In September of the same year, the French and some Italian cardinals then elected Clement VII, their own pope. Both lines of the Pope continued to exist as successors were elected. The situation worsened when in 1409 the Council of Pisa declared both popes deposed and appointed a third pope. Each of the three considered himself the only true Pope and excommunicated the respective opponents. Only when all three popes were deposed again in the Council of Constance in 1417 and Martin V was elected, the split was overcome. There was an antipope until 1430 , but this was no longer important.

National right of veto

From the 16th century, some Catholic nations received a veto right in the election of the Pope, which the cardinal could exercise ( exclusive ). The convention, however, was that each nation exercised its right of veto only once during the papal election. The right could only be used against a candidate before a ballot, not after a successful election. It was therefore used at the time when it seemed likely that an unsuitable candidate could be elected. The conclave of 1758 , in which the French King Louis XV. vetoed the election of Carlo Alberto Guidobono Cavalchini . According to individual sources, he had already been elected Pope, but resigned the office through the veto. Then Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico became Pope Clement XIII. elected.

In 1903 Austria was the last country to exercise the right of veto. Cardinal Puzyna de Kosielsko informed the College of Cardinals that Austria was vetoing the election of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla . This had previously received 29 of 60 votes in the election process. The College of Cardinals then chose Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto, of the pope name Pius X accepted. During his tenure, Pius X banned the practice of the right of veto and announced that a cardinal who proclaimed a veto on his government could be excommunicated .

Duration of the conclaves

Some papal elections took a long time, especially in the early years. Secular rulers often resorted to radical means to speed up the election. In 1216 the city of Perugia and in 1241 the city of Rome simply included the electoral college. Especially in the election in 1241, the cardinals complained about the unworthy treatment that the Romans gave them.

The longest conclave in church history lasted two years, nine months and two days (1005 days). After the death of Clement IV in 1268, the elected cardinals could not come to an agreement with the necessary two-thirds majority. The city of Viterbo therefore locked the cardinals in the episcopal palace. When the cardinals were still unable to agree on a successor to the pope, the city government only had water and bread brought into the palace and the roof of the palace covered until they finally brought the archdeacon of Liège, Teobaldo Visconti, to the pope in absentia ( Gregory X . ) chose. At that time he was in the Holy Land as a pilgrim and could therefore only be crowned another 6 months and 26 days after the election on March 27, 1272, so that the Sedis vacancy lasted over three years.

The last conclave, which lasted more than half a year, ended in 1316 with the election of John XXII. In contrast, Gregory IX. elected Pope on the first day of the conclave in 1227.

Gregory X. made the holding of a conclave mandatory. Meanwhile, the cardinals were forbidden from leaving the premises where the election was taking place. They were also forbidden from drawing any income from their church offices. While leaving Hadrian V. these regulations cancel, but Celestine V , who was elected in 1294 after a new two-year Sedisvakanz, put the regulations into force again.

A papal bull issued by Pius IV in 1562 regulated the voting process using secret ballot papers. Gregory XV. issued two cops who regulated further details of the election. The first, from 1621, concerned electoral procedures. The second bull of 1622 regulated the ceremonies to be observed around the election. In 1904 Pius X issued an ordinance that summarized the previous regulations. Other minor reforms were initiated by John Paul II in 1996.

In the recent past the vacancies were relatively short. After the election of Gregory XVI. elected in 1831 after a 50-day conclave, the cardinals never needed more than four days to vote. For example, the election of Pius XII applies . 1939 as one of the shortest in church history - it only lasted 20 hours. The 2005 conclave for the election of Benedict XVI. lasted 26 hours from the entry of the College of Cardinals into the Sistine Chapel, the conclave of 2013 ended on the second day in the fifth ballot with the election of Francis .

The place of the conclave

With a few exceptions, Rome has emerged as the place of the conclave since the 14th century. But it was not until the apostolic constitution Universi dominici gregis of Pope John Paul II established the Sistine Chapel in 1996 as the location of the conclave. The Pope no longer had to face the problem caused by the previous regulation, according to which the cardinals had to vote at the place of death of the Pope. Furthermore, a conclave could not take place freely and unhindered in every country.


At the beginning of the conclave, the cardinals take an oath obliging them to maintain secrecy. Nonetheless, the course of the voting became public in many cases. The authenticity of these reports cannot be verified, but is accepted by historians in many cases, for example in the election of John Paul II.


As a result of the conquest of Rome in 1527 a. a. by German Landsknechte ( Sacco di Roma ) they held a show conclave, at which Martin Luther was elected "Pope".

Representation in film and literature

In the film In the Fisherman's Shoes by Michael Anderson , based on the novel The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris L. West , from 1968 the conclave of a fictional Pope is vividly portrayed. Here the Pope is elected by acclamation.

The film Das Konklave by Christoph Schrewe and Paul Donovan , which was shown for the first time in 2006, shows the papal election of 1458 with an attempt at historical accuracy . The story is shown from the perspective of the young Rodrigo Borgia , who experienced his first conclave here and later became Pope Alexander VI himself at the 1492 conclave . was chosen.

In the biographical film John Paul II , the two conclaves of the tri-papal year 1978 are presented in detail and vividly.

In the film Illuminati , released in 2009, a conclave of the present time is presented in detail, albeit incorrectly with regard to the processes. In the second episode of the multi-part television series Borgia ( ZDF , 2011), the conclave for the election of Alexander VI. detailed, but not historically correct. Among other things, the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was not finished in 1492. The Italian-French tragic comedy Habemus Papam - A Pope Büxt aus (2011) by Italian director Nanni Moretti is about a conclave that cannot be ended because doubts about the elected Pope are cast and his election is not announced.

In the novel Conclave by the British writer Robert Harris , the entire plot revolves around a few days of a fictional contemporary papal election from the perspective of the cardinal dean, with electoral procedures, locations and ceremonies being described in great detail



  • John Paul II PP: Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis. 1996
  • John Paul II PP: Codex iuris canonici. 1983
  • Paul VI PP: Romano Pontifici eligendo. 1975

Secondary literature

  • Frederick J. Baumgartner: Behind Locked Doors. A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2003, ISBN 0-312-29463-8 .
  • Heiner Boberski : The next Pope. The mysterious world of the conclave. 2nd Edition. Otto Müller Verlag, Salzburg 2001, ISBN 3-7013-1041-6 . Paperback 2001, ISBN 3-7013-1006-8 .
  • Hans-Joachim Fischer: The successor. From the time between the popes. Herder, 1997, ISBN 3-451-26190-1 .
  • Markus Graulich : The Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Bishop of Rome: Two Legal Institutes in Development. In: Archives for Catholic Church Law (AfkKR). 174 (2005), issue 1.
  • Detlef Jasper: The papal election decree of 1059. Tradition and text form (= contributions to the history and source studies of the Middle Ages. Volume 12). Thorbecke, Sigmaringen 1986, ISBN 3-7995-5712-1 .
  • Hans-Georg Krause: The papal election decree of 1059 and its role in the investiture dispute (= Studi Gregoriani. Volume 7). Rome 1960.)
  • Alberto Melloni: The Conclave. The election of the Pope, past and present. 2nd Edition. Herder, 2005, ISBN 3-451-27850-2 .
  • Günther Wassilowsky : The Conclave Reform of Gregory XV. (1621/22). Conflicts of values, symbolic staging and procedural change in the post-Tridentine papacy. Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-7772-1003-2 .
  • Hubert Wolf : Conclave: The secrets of the papal election. CH Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-70717-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Conclave  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Conclave  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ See Kassius Hallinger: Regula Benedicti 64 and the electoral habits of the 6th to 12th centuries. In: Latinity and the old church. Festschrift for Rudolf Hanslik . Vienna 1977 pp. 109-130; Paul Schmid: The concept of canonical choice in the beginning of the investiture dispute. W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1926 (review: doi: 10.7767 / zrgka.1927.16.1.443 ); Hans-Georg Krause : The papal election decree of 1059 and its role in the investiture dispute. Rome 1960; Detlev Jasper: The papal election decree of 1059 Sigmaringen 1986.
  2. ^ Daniel Waley: The Italian city-states. Munich 1969, p. 63
  3. Hagen Keller : “Commune”: Urban self-government and medieval “people's rule” as reflected in the Italian electoral process of the 12th-14th centuries. Century. In: Gerd Althoff , Dieter Geuenich , Otto Gerhard Oexle , Joachim Wollasch (eds.): Person and community in the Middle Ages. Sigmaringen 1988, p. 589 f.
  4. Pons. Dictionary for school and university. Latin - German. 3rd edition, Ernst Klett sprachen, Stuttgart 2003, p. 171; Conclave. In: Digital dictionary of the German language . Retrieved July 30, 2019 .
  5. ^ Biographical data: Pope Honorius III. In:, accessed on March 14, 2013.
  6. ^ Karl Wenck: The first conclave in papal history. In: Sources and research from Italian archives and libraries. 18/1926, pp. 102-107.
  7. Pope election: This is how the secret conclave works - Spiegel Online - Panorama. In: Spiegel Online . February 11, 2013, accessed February 12, 2013.
  8. Universi Dominici Gregis , No. 63.
  9. ^ De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis, the XI m. Iunii, op. MMVII - Benedictus XVI | Benedictus XVI. In:, accessed July 30, 2019.
  10. Apostolic Exhortation in the form of a Motu Proprio on some changes in the norms regarding the election of the Roman Pope (February 22, 2013) | BENEDICT XVI. In:, accessed July 30, 2019.
  11. a b UNIVERSI DOMINICI GREGIS. Point 90. In: Retrieved March 26, 2014 .
  12. Cindy Wooden: Cardinals receive book of rites, prayers, hymns to guide their work. CNS story. In: Catholic News Service May 3, 2013, archived from the original March 6, 2013 ; accessed on July 30, 2019 (English).
  13. Motu Proprio of November 21, 1970. In:, accessed on January 6, 2012 (Italian).
  14. Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis 33: "The maximum number of cardinals entitled to vote must not exceed 120."
  15. c. 1024 CIC .
  16. ^ Heinrich de Wall , Stefan Muckel : Church law . 4th edition. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-66168-6 , p. 134 (Section 18 marginal number 11) .
  17. How the Conclave elects the new Pope - What requirements must a future Pope meet? In: Tagesschau . Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  18. Father Lombardi: Pope is considering Motu Proprio for the conclave. ( Memento of February 24, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Radio Vatican website (German edition). Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  19. Motu Proprio: Pope enables the conclave to be brought forward. ( Memento from March 31, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Radio Vatican website (German edition). Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  20. Sedis vacancy and election. (Title derived from URL). (No longer available online.) In: German Bishops' Conference, formerly in the original ; accessed on July 30, 2019 (no mementos ).  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  21. ↑ Election of the Pope | BENEDICT XVI. In:, accessed July 30, 2019.
  22. Reuters / kna / wal: Benedict XVI. changes the rules for electing the Pope. In: The world . June 26, 2007, accessed February 13, 2013.
  23. ^ De aliquibus mutationibus (amendment of the UDG). Website Vaticanhistory - Conclave Order. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  24. All information is based on the research results of Günther Wassilowsky; see. in addition his habilitation thesis The Conclave Reform of Gregory XV. (1621/22) - Conflicts of values, symbolic staging and procedural change in the post-Tridentine papacy (= popes and papacy. Volume 38). Stuttgart 2010, and the essay Values ​​and Procedures Change in the Papal Elections in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times. In: Christoph Dartmann , Günther Wassilowsky, Thomas Weller (eds.): Technology and symbolism of premodern voting procedures (= historical journal . Supplements 52), pp. 139–182.
  25. ^ Carlo Alberto Cavalchini. In: Salvador Miranda : The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. ( Florida International University website ), accessed January 4, 2019, footnote (1).
  26. Katharina von Ruschkowski: Des Pope's loyal troop , PM History # 1/2020 , Hamburg 2019, pp. 36–41, ISSN  2510-0661 .
  27. ^ Conclave. Heyne, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-453-27072-5 .
  28. Frederic J. Baumgartner ( Memento from January 29, 2017 in the Internet Archive ). Homepage. In:, accessed on July 20, 2019.
  29. ^ Franz-Josef Schmale : Review. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages . 1963, p. 259 f .; Hans Erich Feine : Review . In: Hans-Jürgen Becker, Andreas Thier, Heinrich de Wall (ed.): Journal of the Savigny Foundation for legal history . Canonical department. tape 48 , no. 1 . de Gruyter, 1962, ISSN  0323-4142 , p. 391-397 , doi : 10.7767 / zrgka.1962.48.1.391 ( [accessed on July 30, 2019]).
  30. ^ Rudolf Neumaier: Church history. Conclave in the Vatican: The world's most secret election. Book review. In: . January 29, 2017, accessed July 30, 2019.
  31. Reading sample up to p. 27 with table of contents ( Memento from February 2, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 2.4 MB). In:, accessed on July 30, 2019.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on June 19, 2005 in this version .