The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

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5th Century

First imperial intervention in papal elections, 419, St. Boniface I (418-422) and Emperor Honorius (393-423).

In the dispute for the see of St. Peter between Pope Boniface I and Antipope Eulalius, the prefect of Rome, the pagan Symmachus, favored the latter in his report to Honorius imperial court in Ravenna. Boniface friends, including the emperor's sister, Galla Placidia, pleaded in his favor. The emperor summoned both rivals to a synod in Ravenna and when no conclusion was reached, he referred a decision to a council to be held in Spoleto on June 13, 419. The emperor ordered both bishops to leave Rome in the meantime. Boniface complied but Eulalius did not. This enfuriated the government which banned him from Rome and recognized Boniface as pope on April 3, 419. A little over a year later, in July 420, when the pope was seriously ill and feared that a new schism could occurr, he asked the emperor to ensure peace when a new election needed to take place. Honorius banned election intrigues and decreed that if two candidates were elected, both should be disqualified and the government would only recognized the one elected unanimously.

Source: Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 40.

This first attempt did not materialize but it is clear that the official intervention of the imperial authority in the papal elections will present dangerous situations in the future. It was on Honorius' example that, later on, the kings of Italy or the German emperors, based their claim to have a voice in the election of the Roman pontiff. From this also, was born the pretension to have the right of veto, or "exclusive", of the Catholic powers even after the institution of the conclave and that St. Pius X abolished on January 20, 1904 by the constitution Commisum nobis.

The precedent created by Honorius brought disastrous consequences for the independence of the papacy. To avoid the disorders that were reborn towards the end of his pontificate, Boniface thought that it was his duty to ask the emperor's assistance against the factions that he saw were begining to agitate. He wrote on July 1, 419 the letter Ecclasiae meae, begging the emperor to assure that, when the vacancy of the holy see occurred, the election of his successor would be done with freedom and in conformity with the traditions and the canons of the church. This letter is reported by Cesar Baronius in Annales ecclesiastici, an. 419, no. 39, t. V, p. 440.

Encouraged by this reuqest from the old pontiff, the emperor believed that he could legislate on this matter that was absolutely outside the limits of his competence. He published a decree stating that if two papal elections were done at the same time, by two opposing factions, none of the two popes could ascend the chair of St. Peter; but that a new election should be done and that thecandidate that obtained the unanimity of the votes would become pope. Si duo forte contra fas, temeritate concertantium, fuerint ordinati, nullum ex his futurum penitus sacerdotem; sed illum in sede apostolica permansurum, quem, ex numero clericorum, nova ordinatione, divinum judicium et universitatis consensus elegeri t. This decree, in spite of its irregularity, was inserted in the Corpus juris canonici. Decret. Gratiani, part. I, dist. LXXXIX, c. 8, Si duo, t. I, p. 242. Cf. Labbe, Sacrosanta concil., t. II, col. 1582; Pagi, Critica historico-theologica in universos Annales ecclesiasticos Em. Et Rev. Caesaris Card. Baronii, 4 in-fol., Anvers (prés Genéve), 1705, an. 419, t. II, p. 162.

Source: Ortolan, T. "Election des papes". Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, contenant l'exposé des doctrines de la théologie catholique, leurs preuves et leur histoire. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1903-1950 [i.e. 1899-1950], column 2291.

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First Roman presbyters "incardinated", St Simplicius (468-483).

This pope who reigned from March 3, 468 to March 10, 483, is reported to have arranged for priests from certain of the Roman titular churches to assist with the services at the major basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul, and S. Lorenzo.

Source: Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 46.

Text: The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). The ancient biographies of the first ninety Roman bishops to AD 715. Translated with an introduction by Raymond Davis. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989. (Translated texts for historians, Latin Series V), p. 41.

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Law on papal elections of 483, Pope Simplicius (468-483) and Odoacer (or Odovacar), Herulian king of Italy (476-493).

Like Pope St. Boniface I, Simplicius I asked Odoacer, to avoid, with his intervention, if it became necessary, the disorders that might occur during the next vacancy of the Holy See. Odoacer did not waste the occasion to reaffirm his power: he issued a law prohibiting the election of the pope without his authorization or that of the prefect of the pretorium exercised in his name.

Source: Ortolan, T. "Election des papes".

Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, contenant l'exposi des doctrines de la théologie catholique, leurs preuves et leur histoire

. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1903-1950 [i.e. 1899-1950], column 2292. Cfr. Labbe, t. IV, col. 1334; Thomassin, Ancienne et nouvelle discipline de l'Eglise, part II, l. II. c. XVII, t. II, pp. 195 sq.; Muratori, Annali d'Italia, 40 in-8:, Florence, 1827, an. 483, t. VII, p. 313 sq.; Amort, Elementa juris canonici veteris et moderni, 3 in-4:, Ferrare, 1763, t. I, p. 295.

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Papal election decision of 498, Pope St. Symmachus (498-514) and Theodoric, Ostrogothic king of Italy (493-526).

In the disputed election of November 22, 498, between Pope Symmachus and Antipope Lawrence, both factions for the chair of St. Peter asked Theodoric, Ostrogothic king of Italy, Arian though he was, to settle the matter. Ruling that the man ordained first, or with the largest backing, should occupy the apostolic see, the king assigned it to Symmachus.

Source: Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 50.

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Ut si quis papa superstite, constitution, Roman synod of March 1, 499, St. Symmachus (498-514).

This is the oldest text concerning the regulation of papal election that has reached our times. Held in St. Peter's basilica and attended by seventy two bishops, the synod agreed on a decree banning all discussion of a pope's successor during his lifetime while allowing him to designate, if practicable, the man he wished to succeed him; the clergy was to choose if the pope died before doing so, and participation by the laity was forbidden. At the end of this most important document appears the complete list of the bishops who participated in the synod, that of the titular priests of Rome and their assistants, as well as the regional deacons who subscribed it.

Source: Armellini, Mariano. Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX. Nuova edizione con aggiunte inedite dell'autore, appendici critiche e documentarie e numerose illustrazioni a cura di Carlo Cecchelli della R. Università di Roma, e una nota biografica scrita da Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S.J. 2 vols. Roma: Edizioni R.O.R.E. di Nicola Ruffolo, 1942, pp. 30-31 and 105-106; Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 50.

Text: Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio. Edited by Giovanni Domenico Mansi. 53 vols. Paris: H. Welter, 1901-1927, VIII, pp. 229-238.

St. Symmachus, who ends the series of saintly pontiffs of the fifth century, issued the most ancient pontifical decree concerning papal elections that has been preserved until our times.

Once his authority was accepted as unchallengeable, St. Symmachus gathered at St. Peter's basilica a council of seventy-two bishops, with the purpose of searching for a way to avoid in the future the return to similar scandals. With the unanimous consent of the assembly, he promulgated an important decree on the papal elections that can be summarized in the following three articles: 1. Prohibits for all the clergy, deacons or priests, under pain of deposition and excommunication, to promise his vote or to seek votes for the election of the future pontiff during the life and behind the back of the reigning pontiff. Prohibits, under the same pains, to attend meetings held for that same purpose. 2. For the purpose of impeding hidden frauds and clandestine conspiracies, it is established that those who reveal to the Church these low maneuvers inspired by a detestable ambition, not only will be protected from all prosecution but will be greatly rewarded. 3. Finally, if the pope dies suddenly, without having had any time to deal with the subject of his successor, will be elected the one who has received the votes of all the clergy, or, in case of a tie, of the majority of the voters. (Decret. Gratiani, part. I, dist. LXXIX, c. 10, Si transitus, t. I, p. 243). When these decrees were presented to the assembly, the acclamations resounded, and all the fathers, standing up, wrote: "That it be done like this in the future! That the pontifical elections be done from now on in this manner and not in any other!" These prescriptions were signed by all the bishops present, numbering seventy-three, plus the sixty-six priests that attended the meeting.

Such was the first attempt to regulate papal elections. It was a first step towards restricting the voting. The people, if not definitively eliminated, had, at least, its role considerably diminished. It was the clergy above all who was called to pronounce itself, and its influence becomes even more preponderant that it was in the past.

The results of this first electoral legislation did not completely respond to the expectations that these decrees, solemnly promulgated, had created in the spirits of the fathers of the council. It is true that during the 6th century many saints ascended the chair of St. Peter. This were, after St. Symmachus, popes St. Hormisdas (514-523), St. John I (523-526), St. Felix IV (526-530), St. Agapitus (535-536), St. Silverius (536-538). But that glorious group of productive pontificates that ended with the even more glorious one of St. Gregory the Great (590-606), were nevertheless troubled by two antipopes and two schisms.

Source: Duchesne, Louis. "La succession du pape Félix IV", Mélanges de archéologie et d'histoire , III (1883), pp. 250-252; Ortolan, T. "Election des papes". Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, contenant l'exposé des doctrines de la théologie catholique, leurs preuves et leur histoire. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1903-1950 [i.e. 1899-1950], column 2293-2294.

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