The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church


The news of the death of Cardinal Massimo Massimi, on March 6, 1954, published in the newspaper Información of Havana, Cuba, first sparked my interest in the cardinals and their eminent role in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. For sixty four years with a few interruptions, I have been collecting material concerning the prelates who have been elevated to the cardinalate. In 1998, when this web site was started, the scope of the research was widened to cover the cardinals, pre-cardinals, pseudo-cardinals and quasi-cardinals who have existed since the fifth century. Together with these biographies, the documents and events concerning the origin and evolution of the Roman cardinalate have constituted the central topic of my research interests.

The origin of the cardinalate cannot be traced back to a single event. Instead, it is a slow and laborious process that started in the very early centuries of the Roman Church. Its origin blurs with that of the Roman presbyterium. The presbyterium evolved through the centuries and within it the most important members of the group, those who head the titular churches (the oldest ones in the city of Rome), acquired gradually a more prominent role. Those were the pre-cardinals. After many centuries, the office of cardinal continues to be modified and redefined as it is after the papacy the most important component of a living community that exists in our midst: the Roman Catholic Church. The peseudo-cardinals are those who were named by an anti-pope; and the quasi-cardinals are the ones that a pope intended to promote to the cardinalate and for different reasons the elevation did not take place.

The term "cardinal" was initially used as an adjective--"cardinati" or "incardinati"--that qualified the priests of the titular churches that were assigned to help in the liturgical functions of one of the four major basilicas (St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary and St. Lawrence). The service in St. John Lateran was reserved for the bishop cardinals of the suburbicarian sees. The term "cardo" meant a beam used to fortify a structure. Thus, these priests were referred to as presbyter cardinals. In the course of the centuries, the liturgical functions gave way to administrative and gubernatorial ones. Another meaning given to the term "cardo" is hinge. The pope is the hinge of the door of the church, which opens or closes them. In this respect, because of the close colaboration between the titular priests of the city of Rome and its bishop, they were called cardinals.

At the same time that this change in the functions of the presbyterium was occurring, the church was struggling to free itself from the intervention of external forces that meddled in the election of its head, the bishop of Rome, the Roman Pontiff. Whether it was against the Roman emperor, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, the Byzantine emperor, the Carolingian monarch, or the Holy Roman German emperor, the Roman church sustained a multi-secular struggle for the establishment of an electoral process for the selection of the pope that would be controlled only by its clergy.

The fact that the bishop-cardinals, the priest-cardinals and the deacon-cardinals eventually became the exclusive electors gave this group of ecclesiastics a highly relevant position in the hierarchy of the Roman Church.

The development of the Roman presbyterium and the attempts of the Church to free the electoral process of its ruler from lay hands are like two lines whose courses approach closer with time until they intersect for the first time in 769 with the electoral decree of Stephen IV. This document established that the pope was to be elected by and from among the deacons and priests of the Roman Church. Within a short period of time, the two lines separate again for 290 years until 1059 when Nicholas II issues the decree In Nomine Domini by which the cardinal bishops became the sole electors of the Roman Pontiff. Later, in 1179, the rest of the cardinals (priests and deacons) joined the bishops in the electoral process as established by the decree Licet de vitanda of Pope Alexander III in the III Lateran Council. These two documents recognized and confirmed the leading role of the cardinals in the Church. Their role had been evolving and consolidating through the centuries. From 1179 on, the cardinals became second only to the pope in the church hierarchy, and received many new responsibilities, honors and privileges.

This site is based on my master thesis submitted at Villanova University in 1974 and directed by Dr. Raymond L. Cummings, without whose scholarly guidance, valuable directions and corrections, and limitless patience, it would never have been completed. The knowledge and perspective that he shared in his course on historical methodology are still valid and useful more than thirty years later. He is a reasonable perfectionist to whom I will be forever indebted. First and foremost, I want the express my gratitude to Florida International University for allowing me to house the cardinals' site in its server without any charges or space limitations. I would also like recognize and thank Mrs. Mayra Nemeth, former head of the Sound and Image Department at Florida International University, for her generosity in sharing her vast knowledge and technical expertise concerning all matters related to the Internet. Without her guidance and assistance the production of this site would have been virtually impossible. Moreover, I also want to thank the entire staff of the Interlibrary Loan Department of FIU for their invaluable and untiring assistance in obtaining for me access to indispensable research resources. Department of FIU for their invaluable and untiring assistance in obtaining for me access to indispensable research resources. Finally, I want to express my gratitude to the numerous visitors to the site who have offered me their comments, information and corrections throughout these years.

The decision to publish this work in electronic format rests on several reasons. Firstly, it allows me to present the result of my research in the way that I believe is most suitable, without having to submit it to the rigid guidelines of a traditional publisher. Secondly, the arrangement and content of the work lend themselves better to be presented in the electronic format with the possibility of linkages to the different sections of the site as well as to other related sites. And finally, since the College of Cardinals is a living entity in which changes are constantly occurring, this format allows for a timely update of the information contained in the site thus ensuring its value because of its currency. The possibility of sharing my research and life-time passionate interest in the cardinalate with so many people around the world, offering unlimited, free and easy access day and night, is a source of profound satisfaction.

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©1998-2018 Salvador Miranda.