Friday, August 26, 2011

The Reform of Papal Elections, Part 2

A medieval manuscript from Krakow shows
a pope surrounded by members of his court, or
in Latin, his Curia
In our last posting we looked at the evolution of the papal election process from the second century up through the tenth.  Rome, like other local Churches, elected their bishops—the clergy (priests and deacons) voting, first presenting the candidate to the faithful for their approval and then presenting the bishop-elect to the surrounding bishops for consecration.  Those neighboring bishops could refuse consecration to the bishop-elect if they had serious question about his orthodoxy, his morals, or other suitability issues.  As we have seen in a number of postings, the system ceased working well in Rome by the ninth century when the “faithful” turned into mobs controlled by Rome’s leading families who were vying to place their candidates on the papal throne in order to control the wealth and the power of the Church for their own family benefit.  This led to a succession of notably bad Roman bishops in the ninth and tenth centuries.  There were exceptions—Nicholas I (858-867), Adrian III (884-885), Theodore II (897), John IX (898-900) and Benedict IV (900-903), but by and large this was a time of tremendous scandals in the papacy.  (check out entries for January 15th, June 5th, 6th, 9th, August 5th among others) with stories of papal adultery, gay popes, murders to become pope, conspiracies and even the exhumation and  posthumous trial of a dead pope.   The Ottonian Emperors cleaned it up, but only by usurping the traditional privilege of papal election and appointing their candidates.  At first this was done with the façade of election, but then—as we saw in the reign of Henry III—it became mere appointment (see entry of August 13th).  Imperial appointment actually gave the Church a number of excellent popes but it also created a dangerous precedent.  In the first place it clearly subordinated the Church to the political power.  Had this not been corrected the Catholic Church would have found itself in the same position that first the Greek Church and then the Russian Church found itself in with regard to the Byzantine Emperors and Russian Tsars respectively.  The popes would have ended up meaning no more than mere chaplains to the Emperors and the Emperors would have been the heads of the Church.  Indeed, as we shall see in a future post, Henry VIII would make the claim that since “the Crown of England is and ought by right to be a Crown Imperial” that he, the wearer of that crown, was by right head of the Church in his “imperial” realm.  But that is for later.  No sooner had the Emperors cleaned up the papacy than that very reformed papacy knew it had to break the imperial power over the Church.  That would lead to the investiture conflict, but before we go there let’s stay focused to the matter of papal elections.  Nicholas II in the papal bull, In Nomine Domini, moved to establish a definite protocol of election.  In the first place the Emperor was given no right of nomination.  The process began with the Cardinal Bishops as Nicholas empowered the seven Cardinal Bishops to select a candidate to be presented to the Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons for their “election.”  This candidate would then be presented to the Roman people for their acclamation.  Only then did the Emperor have voice, having a right of confirmation; but the process was so structured that power remained with the Cardinals and their choice; there was no practical way for the Emperor to overturn the fait accompli.  By the end of the eleventh century, the separate roles of the Cardinal Bishops on the one hand and the Cardinal Deacons and Priests on the other melded so that all Cardinals participated equally in the election.  This was almost inevitable given the relatively small size of the Sacred College—rarely as many as thirty and often only a dozen or so. Remember too that at this stage of history, the Cardinal Bishops, Priests, and Deacons were all actual bishops, pastors and deacons of the Diocese of Rome who (normally) lived there and were key in administering the local Church.  They were not the international assortment they are now. 
     The Emperors were not happy with losing their right of nomination and, in fact, it was only in 1122 at the Council of Worms that they conceded the loss of that right.  As late as 1903 in the election that produced Pope Saint Pius X the Emperor (by then of Austria—the Holy Roman Empire having been terminated in 1806 when Francis I of Austria abdicated the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (where he had been Francis II) following defeat by Napoleon and loss of territories to France) Franz-Josef vetoed the impending election of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla.  Pius abolished the imperial right of veto as one of the first acts of his pontificate.  We will look more at this problem of Imperial interference in papal elections in our next posting.  For now, let’s go back to the election process.
     The right of the Roman people to “acclaim” the election persisted well into the Middle Ages but it gradually ceased to have any determinative role in determining the legitimacy of the papal selection.  The fact that in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries any number of papal elections were held outside Rome whether at Perugia, Viterbo, Naples, or Avignon and that automatically excluded the Roman crowd from participation.   Nevertheless, remember that when the papacy returned to Rome after the Avignon “Babylonian Captivity” in 1378 it was still deemed necessary to present a candidate acceptable to the Roman Populace.  By a century later that would no longer be any concern and the Roman populace was openly hostile to various popes in the sixteenth century. 
     The custom of the conclave began in the thirteenth century when, on occasion, prolonged meetings of the Cardinals failed to produce a candidate due to internal divisions among the electors.  Sometimes the papal office was left empty for over a year!  Upon the death of Innocent III in 1216 the city of Perugia—where the election was being held—blockaded the cardinals into the bishop’s palace until they came up with a pope.  After the death of Celestine IV in 1241, civil officials in Rome did the same to the cardinal electors when after 19 months they had not made a choice.  Clement IV died in 1268 and two years and ten months passed before the Cardinals came up with a pope.  The citizens of Viterbo not only barricaded the cardinals inside but first tore the roof from the building and then permitted only bread and water to be passed to the electors within.  The pope elected at that conclave, Gregory X, established the norm that the Cardinals would be secluded under relatively austere conditions until an election was forthcoming.  It didn’t always work but that is for future postings. 
    The key point we want to observe is that the Church broke the imperial hold on the selection of popes.  This was an important step in freeing the papacy from political power.  At times, it would find itself again beneath the thumb of some emperor or king but for the most part, the pope has played at least as an equal to the political forces in the world around him.  the next task would be to free the bishops from imperial and royal control.     

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