Collation of Texts on Papal Matters

Lucio Mascarenhas.

Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913: Infallibility

Hence, also, the Gallican contention is excluded, that an ecumenical council is superior, either in jurisdiction or in doctrinal authority, to a certainly legitimate pope, and that one may appeal from the latter to the former. Nor is this conclusion contradicted by the fact that, for the purpose of putting an end to the Great Western Schism and securing a certainly legitimate pope, the Council of Constance deposed John XXIII, whose election was considered doubtful, the other probably legitimate claimant, Gregory XII, having resigned. This was what might be described as an extra-constitutional crisis; and, as the Church has a right in such circumstances to remove reasonable doubt and provide a pope whose claims would be indisputable, even an acephalous council, supported by the body of bishops throughout the world, was competent to meet this altogether exceptional emergency without thereby setting up a precedent that could be erected into a regular constitutional rule, as the Gallicans wrongly imagined.

A similar exceptional situation might arise were a pope to become a public heretic, i.e., were he publicly and officially to teach some doctrine clearly opposed to what has been defined as de fide catholica. But in this case many theologians hoId that no formal sentence of deposition would be required, as, by becoming a public heretic, the pope would ipso facto cease to be pope. This, however, is a hypothetical case which has never actually occurred; even the case of Honorius, were it proved that he taught the Monothelite heresy, would not be a case in point.

The right to summon an ecumenical council belongs properly to the pope alone, though by his express or presumed consent given ante or post factum, the summons may be issued, as in the case of most of the early councils, in the name of the civil authority. For ecumenicity in the adequate sense all the bishops of the world in communion with the Holy See should be summoned, but it is not required that all or even a majority should be present.

As regards the conduct of the deliberations, the right of presidency, of course, belongs to the pope or his representative; while as regards the decisions arrived at unanimity is not required.

Finally, papal approbation is required to give ecumenical value and authority to conciliar decrees, and this must be subsequent to conciliar action, unless the pope, by his personal presence and conscience, has already given his official ratification (for details see GENERAL COUNCILS).

See also Council of Constance:- "The French, Spanish, and Italian nations desired an immediate papal election; a Church without a head was a monstrosity, said the Cardinal d'Ailly." Note that the Council of Constance was dominated by laymen and lower clergy.
Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913: The Election of the Popes

The supreme headship of the Church is, we have seen, annexed to the office of Roman bishop. The pope becomes chief pastor because he is Bishop of Rome: he does not become Bishop of Rome because he has been chosen to be head of the universal Church. Thus, an election to the papacy is, properly speaking, primarily an election to the local bishopric.

The right to elect their bishop has ever belonged to the members of the Roman Church. They possess the prerogative of giving to the universal Church her chief pastor; they do not receive their bishop in virtue of his election by the universal Church. This is not to say that the election should be by popular vote of the Romans. In ecclesiastical affairs it is always for the hierarchy to guide the decisions of the flock. The choice of a bishop belongs to the clergy: it may be confined to the leading members of the clergy. It is so in the Roman Church at present. The electoral college of cardinals exercise their office because they are the chief of the Roman clergy.

It is thus plain that a pope cannot nominate his successor1. History tells us of one pope — Benedict II (530) — who meditated adopting this course. But he recognized that it would be a false step, and burnt the document which he had drawn up for the purpose. On the other hand the Church's canon law (10 D. 79) supposes that the pope may make provision for the needs of the Church by suggesting to the cardinals some one whom he regards as fitted for the office: and we know that Gregory VII secured in this way the election of Victor III. Such a step, however, does not in any way fetter the action of the cardinals. The pope can, further, legislate regarding the mode in which the subsequent election shall be carried out, determining the composition of the electoral college, and the conditions requisite for a definitive choice. The method at present followed is the result of a series of enactments on this subject.

A brief historical review will show how the principle of election by the Roman Church has been maintained through all the vicissitudes of papal elections. St. Cyprian tells us in regard to the election of Pope St. Cornelius (251) that the comprovincial bishops, the clergy, and the people all took part in it: "He was made bishop by the decree of God and of His Church, by the testimony of nearly all the clergy, by the college of aged bishops [sacerdotum], and of good men"(Ep. IV ad Anton., n. 8). And a precisely similar ground is alleged by the Roman priests in their letter to Emperor Honorius regarding the validity of the election of Boniface I (A. D. 418; P. L., XX, 750).

Previous to the fall of the Western Empire interference by the civil power seems to have been inconsiderable. Constantius, it is true, endeavoured to set up an antipope, Felix II (355), but the act was universally regarded as heretical.

Honorius on the occasion of the contested election of 418 decreed that, when the election was dubious, neither party should hold the papacy, but that a new election should take place. This method was applied at the elections of Conon (686) and Sergius I (687). The law is found in the Church's code (c. 8, d. LXXIX), though Gratian declares it void of force as having emanated from civil and not ecclesiastical authority (d. XCVI, proem.; d. XCVII, proem.).

After the barbarian conquest of Italy, the Church's rights were less carefully observed. Basilius, the prefect of Odoacer, claimed the right of supervising the election of 483 in the name of his master, alleging that Pope Simplicius had himself requested him to do so (Hard., II, 977). The disturbances which occurred at the disputed election of Symmachus (498) led that pope to hold a council and to decree the severest penalties on all who should be guilty of canvassing or bribery in order to attain the pontificate. It was moreover decided that the majority of votes should decide the election.

Theodoric the Ostrogoth, who at this period ruled Italy, became in his later years a persecutor of the Church. He even went so far as to appoint Felix III (IV) in 526 as the successor of Pope John I, whose death was due to the incarceration to which the king had condemned him. Felix, however, was personally worthy of the office, and the appointment was confirmed by a subsequent election. The precedent of interference set by Theodoric was fruitful of evil to the Church.

After the destruction of the Gothic monarchy (537), the Byzantine emperors went even farther than the heretical Ostrogoth in encroaching on ecclesiastical rights. Vigilius (540) and Pelagius I (553) were forced on the Church at imperial dictation. In the case of the latter there seems to have been no election: his title was validated solely through his recognition as bishop by clergy and people.

The formalities of election at this time were as follows (Lib. Diurnus Rom. Pont., 2, in P. L., CV, 27). After the pope's death, the archpriest, the archdeacon and the primicerius of the notaries sent an official notification to the exarch at Ravenna. On the third day after the decease the new pope was elected, being invariably chosen from among the presbyters or deacons of the Roman Church (cf. op. cit., 2, titt. 2, 3 5), and an embassy was despatched to Constantinople to request the official confirmation of the election. Not until this had been received did the consecration take Place.

The Church acquired greater freedom after the Lombard invasion of 568 had destroyed the prestige of Byzantine power in Italy. Pelagius II (578) and Gregory I (590) were the spontaneous choice of the electors. And in 684, owing to the long delays involved in the journey to Constantinople, Constantine IV (Pogonatus) acceded to Benedict II's request that in future it should not be necessary to wait for confirmation, but that a mere notification of the election would suffice. The fall of the exarchate and the iconoclastic heresy of the Byzantine court completed the severance between Rome and the Eastern Empire, and Pope Zacharias (741) dispensed altogether with the customary notice to Constantinople.

In 769 a council was held under Stephen III to rectify the confusion caused by the intrusion of the antipope Constantine. This usurper was a layman hurriedly raised to priest's orders to render his nomination to the pontificate possible. To make a repetition of the scandal impossible it was decreed that only members of the sacred college were eligible for election. The part of the laity was, moreover, reduced to a mere right of acclamation.

Under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious the Church retained her freedom. Lothair, however, claimed more ample rights for the civil power. In 824 he exacted an oath from the Romans that none should be consecrated pope without the permission and the presence of his ambassadors. This was, in fact, done at most of the elections during the ninth century, and in 898 the riots which ensued upon the death of Pope Stephen V led John IX to give ecclesiastical sanction to this system of imperial control. In a council held at Rome in that year he decreed that the election should be made by bishops (cardinal) and clergy, regard being had to the wishes of the people, but that no consecration should take place except in the presence of the imperial legate (Mansi XVIII, 225).

The due formalities at least of election appear to have been observed through the wild disorders which followed the collapse of the Carlovingian Empire: and the same is true as regards the times of Otto the Great and his son. Under the restored empire, however, the electors enjoyed no freedom of choice. Otto I even compelled the Romans to swear that they would never elect or ordain a pope without his or his son's consent (963; cf. Liutprand, Hist. Ott., viii).

In 1046 the scandals of the preceding elections, in which the supreme pontificate had become a prize for rival factions entirely regardless of what means they employed, led clergy and people to leave the nomination to Henry III. Three popes were chosen in this manner. But Leo IX insisted that the Church was free in the choice of her pastors, and, until he was duly elected at Rome, declined to assume any of the state of his office.

The party of reform, of which Hildebrand was the moving spirit, were eager for some measure which should restore an independent choice to the Church. This was carried out by Nicholas II. In 1059 he held a council in the Lateran and issued the Decree In Nomine. This document is found in two recensions, a papal and an imperial, both of early date. There is however little doubt that the papal recension embodied in the Decretum Gratiani (c. 1. d. XXIII) is genuine, and that the other was altered in the interest of the antipope Guibert.

The right of election is confined to the cardinals, the effective choice being placed in the hands of the cardinal bishops: clergy and people have a right of acclamation only. The right of confirmation is granted to the Emperor Henry IV and to such of his successors as should personally request and receive the privilege. The pope need not necessarily be taken from the number of cardinals, though this should be the case if possible.

This decree formed the basis of the present legislation on the papal election, though the system underwent considerable development. The first important modification was the Constitution Licet de Vitanda [c. vi, X, De elect. (I, 6)] of Alexander III, the first of the decrees passed by the Third Oecumenical Council of the Lateran (1179). To prevent the evils of a disputed election it was established by this law that no one should be held to be elected until two thirds of the cardinals should have given their votes for him. In this decree no distinction is made between the rights of the cardinal bishops and those of the rest of the Sacred College.

The imperial privilege of confirming the election had already become obsolete owing to the breach between the Church and the Empire under Henry IV and Frederick I. Between the death of Clement IV (1268) and the coronation of Gregory X (1272) an interregnum of nearly three years intervened. To prevent a repetition of so great a misfortune the pope in the Council of Lyons (1179) issued the Decree Ubi periculum [c. iii, De elect., in 60 (I, 6)], by which it was ordained that during the election of a pontiff the cardinals should be secluded from the world under exceedingly stringent regulations, and that the seclusion should continue till they had fulfilled their duty of providing the Church with a supreme pastor. To this electoral session was given the name of the Conclave (q.v.). This system prevails at the present day.

G. H. JOYCE

Transcribed by Gerard Haffnerm
Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913: Papal Elections

The method of electing the pope has varied considerably at different periods of the history of the Church.

As to the earliest ages, Ferraris (op. cit. infra) says that St. Peter himself constituted a senate for the Roman Church, consisting of twenty-four priests and deacons. These were the councillors of the Bishop of Rome and the electors of his successors. This statement is drawn from a canon in the Corpus Iuris Canonici (can. Si Petrus, caus. 8, Q. 1). Historians and canonists, however, generally hold that the Roman bishopric was filled on its vacancy in the same manner as other bishoprics, that is, the election of the new pope was made by the neighbouring bishops and the clergy and faithful of Rome.

Nevertheless, some maintain that the naming of the successor of St. Peter was restricted to the Roman clergy, and that the people were admitted to a part in the elections only after the time of Sylvester I (fourth century).

After Constantine had given peace to the Church, the Christian Roman emperors often took part in the institution of a new pope and at times their influence was very marked. From the fourth century onwards, therefore, a new force had to be reckoned with. The occasion for the interference of the Roman emperors and later of the kings of Italy was afforded by disputed elections to the papal chair. The most noted of the earlier instance was at the election of Boniface I (418). This gave occasion to the decree (c. 8, dist. 79) that when an election was disputed a new candidate should be chosen.

The interference of the secular power was always distasteful to the Roman clergy, as shown by their unwillingness to observe decrees on the subject made even by popes, as in the case of Simplicius and others. The example of the Roman emperors was followed by the barbarian kings of Italy, of whom the first to interfere was Theodoric the Ostrogoth, at the election of Symmachus in 498.

On the recovery of their influence in the Italian peninsula, the Eastern emperors required that the choice of the electors for a new pope must be made known to the Exarch of Ravenna, who in turn forwarded it to Constantinople, and until the emperor's confirmation was received, the candidate was not to be acknowledged as Bishop of Rome. This resulted in long vacancies of the Holy See. The custom lasted until the pontificate of Benedict II (684-85).

A similar claim was put forward by the Western emperors in the Middle Ages, and some demanded it owing to a concession made by Adrian I to Charlemagne. This pretended concession is now recognized as spurious. As to the so-called confirmation of papal elections by the secular power, Ferraris (loc. cit. infra) notes that it must not be so understood as to imply that the new pope received the papal power from the emperor. This would be heretical, for the elected candidate receives his power from Christ.

The confirmation of the emperor, then, was only to ensure that the canons of the Church should be carried out without hindrance from factious and seditious dissenters. It must be admitted that the Holy Roman emperors sometimes made use of their overwhelming power unscrupulously, and more than once candidates were elected to the papacy by direct imperial nomination. Otto III is credited with the nomination of Gregory V and Sylvester II, and Henry III with the effectual naming of Clement II, Damasus II, Leo IX, and Victor II. But it is obvious that such nomination is not real election, for the acceptance of the legal electors was necessary to ratify the choice, though undoubtedly they would naturally be swayed by circumstances to give effect to the imperial preference.

It has sometimes been said that in the earlier ages popes have appointed their successors in the pontificate. Thus, St. Peter is said to have so chosen Clement I. The authority on which the statement rests is now generally acknowledged to be apocryphal. Boniface II chose Vigilius for his successor in 531, but later repented and publicly withdrew the nomination.

Baronius (H.E., ann. 1085, 1087) states that Gregory VII in 1085 elected Victor III as his successor; that Victor in like manner chose Urban II in 1086, and Urban elected Paschal II in 1099.

It is to be noted that the canon Si Transitus in the Corpus Juris (can. Si Tranc., 10, dist. 70) seems to imply the right of the pope to nominate his successor, since its opening words are: "If the death of the pope take place so unexpectedly that he cannot make a decree concerning the election of his successor, etc.". However, these so-called elections were never more than nominations, for none of the persons thus named ever presumed to declare themselves popes before the ratification of the legal electors had been obtained.

It is certain at present, that, according to ecclesiastical law (c. Episcopo, 3; c. Plerique, 5; can. Moyses, 6, caus. 8, Q. 1), the pope cannot elect his successor. It is commonly held also that he is prohibited from doing so by Divine law, though the contrary has also been held by canonists. As to the gradual restrictions and determinations governing the mode of election of the pontiffs, we note that in 606 Boniface III decreed that the electors should not meet until the third day after the pope's burial. In 769 a decree was framed in a synod of the Lateran, that the Roman clergy were to choose as pope only a priest or deacon, and forbade the laity to take any part in the election. The newly-elected was, however, to receive the homage of the laity before he was conducted to the Lateran basilica. This decree caused widespread discontent among the influential laymen, and Nicholas I in a Roman Synod held in 862 restored the right of suffrage to the Roman nobles. John IX in 898 confirmed the custom of having the consecration of the new pontiff take place in the presence of the imperial ambassadors. In 963, the Emperor Otto I endeavoured to bind the Romans by oath not to elect anyone as pope until he had been nominated by the emperor.

An epoch-making decree in the matter of papal elections is that of Nicholas II in 1059. According to this constitution, the cardinal bishops are first to meet and discuss the candidates for the papacy, and select the names of the most worthy. They are then to summon the other cardinals and, together with them, proceed to an election. Finally, the assent of the rest of the clergy and the laity to the result of the suffrage is to be sought. The choice is to be made from the Roman Clergy, unless a fit candidate cannot be found among them. In the election regard is to be had for the rights of the Holy Roman emperor, who in turn is to be requested to show similar respect for the Apostolic See. In case the election cannot be held in Rome, it can validly be held elsewhere. What the imperial rights are is not explicitly stated in the decree, but it seems plain from contemporary evidence that they require the results of the election to be forwarded to the emperor by letter or messenger, in order that he may assure himself of the validity of the election. Gregory VII (1073), however, was the last pope who asked for imperial confirmation. It will be seen that the decree of Pope Nicholas reserves the actual election to the cardinals, but requires the assent (laudatio) of the lower clergy and laity.

The Tenth Ecumenical Synod (Lateran) in 1139 restricted, however, the entire choice to the cardinals, and in 1179, another Lateran Council under Alexander III made the rule that the pope is to be chosen by a two-thirds majority of the electors who are present. This last decree did not state what was to be done in case such a majority could not be obtained. When the cardinals found themselves face to face with this contingency on the death of Clement IV in 1268, they commissioned six cardinals as plenipotentiaries to decide on a candidate. The vacancy of the Holy See had lasted for two years and nine months. To prevent a recurrence of this evil, the Second Council of Lyons under Gregory X (1274) decreed that ten days after the pope's decease, the cardinals should assemble in the palace in the city in which the pope died, and there hold their electoral meetings, entirely shut out from all outside influences. If they did not come to an agreement on a candidate in three days, their victuals were to lessened, and after a further delay of five days, the food supply was to be still further restricted. This is the origin of conclaves.

The decretal of Gregory X on this subject is called Ubi periculum majus. For the later regulations governing papal elections see CONCLAVE. According to certain ancient canons (can. Oportet, 3; can. Nullus, 4, dist. 79), only cardinals should be chosen pope. However, Alexander III decreed (cap. Licet, 6, De elect.) that "he, without any exception, is to be acknowledged as pontiff of the Universal Church who has been elected by two-thirds of the cardinals." As late as 1378, Urban VI was chosen, though not a cardinal (consult, however, Constitut. 50 of Sixtus V Postquam, § 2). A layman may also be elected pope, as was Celestine V (1294). Even the election of a married man would not be invalid (c. Qui uxorem, 19, caus. 33, Q. 5). Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void. Immediately on the canonical election of a candidate and his acceptance, he is true pope and can exercise full and absolute jurisdiction over the whole Church. A papal election, therefore, needs no confirmation, as the pontiff has no superior on earth.

William H.W. Fanning
Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913: General Councils

Can A Council Depose The Pope?

This question is a legitimate one, for in the history of the Church circumstances have arisen in which several pretenders contended for papal authority and councils were called upon to remove certain claimants. The Councils of Constance and Basle, and Gallican theologians, hold that a council may depose a pope on two main grounds:
  1. ob mores (for his conduct or behaviour, e.g. his resistance to the synod)

  2. ob fidem (on account of his faith or rather want of faith, i.e. heresy).
In point of fact, however, heresy is the only legitimate ground. For a heretical pope has ceased to be a member of the Church, and cannot, therefore, be its head. A sinful pope, on the other hand, remains a member of the (visible) Church and is to be treated as a sinful, unjust ruler for whom we must pray, but from whom we may not withdraw our obedience.

But the question assumes another aspect when a number of claimants pretend to be the rightful occupants of the Apostolic See, and the right of each is doubtful. In such a case the council, according to Bellarmine (Disputationes, II xix, de Conciliis) has a right to examine the several claims and to depose the pretenders whose claims are unfounded. This was done at the Synod of Constance. But during this process of examination the synod is not yet Ecumenical; it only becomes so the moment the rightful pope assents to its proceedings. It is evident that this is no instance of a legitimate pope being deposed by a legitimate council, but simply the removal of a pretender by those on whom he wishes to impose his will.

Not even John XXIII could have been deposed at Constance, had his election not been doubtful and himself suspected of heresy. John XXIII, moreover, abdicated and by his abdication made his removal from the Apostolic See lawful. In all controversies and complaints regarding Rome the rule laid down by the Eighth General Synod should never be lost sight of: "If a universal synod be assembled and any ambiguity or controversy arise concerning the Holy Church of the Romans, the question should be examined and solved with due reverence and veneration, in a spirit of mutual helpfulness; no sentence should be audaciously pronounced against the supreme pontiff of the elder Rome" (can. xxi. Hefele, IV, 421-22).

Gary Giuffré: Election Vs. Nomination

See also: Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913: Pope Felix III & Pope Boniface II.

Check the commentaries of three expert canonists dealing with the historical reality of the popes who appointed their successors, Fathers John Abbo, Jerome Hannan, and C. Paul Augustine, and you will see that such did take place, however rarely &151; the last confirmed example having occurred in 530 A.D.

In his annotations regarding Canon 160, Fr. Augustine cites the case of Felix III (IV) who appointed Boniface II in that year, when he became convinced that the orderly election of a true pope after his own death would be highly problematic. This historical detail is also noted by Abbo and Hannan in their commentaries on Canon 219, and like Fr. Augustine, they point out that since the mode of passing on the papacy has been established by human and not divine edict, the pope certainly has the power to determine the method of papal succession that best suits the needs of the Church in his time. Moreover, the pope would not be bound by the legislation of a previous pontiff, since neither the style nor system of papal selection is rooted in any direct command of Christ.

Despite these considerations, the Roman clergy did not accept Boniface and, after Felix's death, promptly elected Dioscorus, only to see their choice taken away three weeks later by the angel of death. Following this development, the churchmen had a change of heart, and saw the death of Dioscorus as a sign of Heaven's acceptance of Boniface, whose pontificate was thereafter universally accepted. The material point here is that, since Dioscorus has ever been regarded as an antipope by the historians of the Church, therefore, the defining moment in the succession of Boniface was not the eventual acceptance of his claim to office by the electors, but his original appointment by Felix, since the latter had the power to pass on the papacy by whatever reasonable means he deemed necessary.

The irony of the story was that Boniface nearly continued the practice of direct papal appointment that had been started by his predecessor, when he announced that Vigilius would succeed him. Such might have become the standard mode of papal succession, had Boniface not made public his change of mind about the appointment sometime before his death. Vigilius would later become pope in his own right after a brief stint at an antipope, almost exactly like Eugene I, a hundred years later.


Gary Giuffré
Lucio Mascarenhas.
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