Size of the College of Cardinals

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The membership of the College of Cardinals was 199 as of 31 January 2014.[1] The size of the body has historically been limited by popes, ecumenical councils, and even the College itself. From 1099 to 1986, the total number of cardinals was approximately 2,900 (excluding possible undocumented 12th century cardinals, cardinals appointed during the Western Schism by pontiffs now considered to be antipopes, and subject to some other sources of uncertainty), nearly half of which were created after 1655.[2]


Before 1555[edit]

From the 13th to 15th centuries, the size of the College of Cardinals never exceeded thirty, although there were more than thirty parishes and diaconal districts which could potentially have a titular holder; Pope John XXII (1316–1334) formalized this norm by limiting the College to twenty members.[3] In the ensuing century, increasing the size of the College became a method for the pope to raise funds for construction or war, cultivate European alliances, and dilute the strength of the College as a spiritual and political counterweight to papal supremacy.[3]

The conclave capitulation of the papal conclave, 1352 limited the size of the College to twenty, and decreed that no new cardinals could be created until the size of the College had dropped to 16; however, Pope Innocent VI declared the capitulation invalid the following year.[4][5]

The Council of Basel (1431–1437, later transferred to Ferrara and then Florence) limited the size of the College to twenty-four,[6] as did the capitulation of the papal conclave, 1464.[7][8][9] The capitulations of the 1484 (Pope Innocent VIII)[10] and 1513 (Pope Leo X) conclaves contained the same restriction.[11] The capitulation of the papal conclave, 1492 also is known to have contained some restriction on the creation of new cardinals.[12]

The Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517), despite its lengthy regulation of the lives of cardinals, did not speak to the size of the College.[6]

After 1555[edit]

Pope Paul IV (1555–1559) capped the College at forty members. His immediate successor, Pope Pius IV (1559–1565), raised the limit to seventy-six.[3] Although Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor sought a limit of 26 and complained about the size and quality of the College to his legates to the Council of Trent, and some French attendees advocated a limit of 24, that Council did not prescribe a limit to the size of the College.[6]

Pope Sixtus V (1585–1590) limited the College to 70 members on 3 December 1587. His successors respected that limit until Pope John XXIII (1958–1963) increased the number of cardinals in successive consistories to 75 (1958), 88 (1960), and 90 (1962).[13] Pope Paul VI (1963–1978) increased the size of the college to 105 (1965), 120 (1967), and 136 (1969). He then altered the significance of the size of the College by restricting the right to vote in conclaves to those under the age of eighty. The number of those cardinals, the cardinal-electors, he limited to a maximum of 120. He removed any limitation on the size of the College.[a][14] The immediate impact was to eliminate the voting rights of 25 cardinals, 14 of them Italians. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, then 80, said the Pope's action was "an act committed in contempt of tradition that is centuries old" and was "throwing over board the bulk of his expert and gifted counselors".[15] Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, 86, objected that each cardinal's health should determine his fitness and suggested that 73-year-old Paul VI seemed frail.[16]

When Paul VI increased the College to 145 members in 1973, the number of cardinal electors was 116.[17] Pope John Paul II exceeded the 120 limit on several occasions by approving "temporary derogations" of the rule. He made titular churches of parish churches constructed on the outskirts of Rome after World War II to accommodate the increased size of the College overall.[14] Pope Francis has respected the limitation on cardinal electors. In 2016 he told reporters "we have 13 slots" shortly before naming 13 new cardinals under the age of 80 to bring the number of cardinal electors to 120.[18]


Most cardinals exit the College only by death, although a few leave it by election to the papacy, and still fewer leave by resignation or dismissal. Changes in life expectancy partly account for the increases in the size of the College.[19]


For the Middle Ages, sources speaking to the size of the College of Cardinals are most frequently those relating to papal elections and conclaves.[19]


  1. ^ Paul VI set the 120 limit in November 1970, effective 1 January 1971


  1. ^ ""Holy See Press Office: The College of Cardinals Statistics". 
  2. ^ Broderick, 1987, p. 11.
  3. ^ a b c Pham, 2004, p. 65.
  4. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, pp. 52–54.
  5. ^ Jugie, Pierre. Levillain, ed. 2002. "Cardinal." pp. 241–242.
  6. ^ a b c Miranda, Salvador. 1998. "Guide to documents and events (76–2005)."
  7. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The election of Pope Paul II (1464)."
  8. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 78-79.
  9. ^ Walsh, 2003, p. 109.
  10. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 82.
  11. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 92.
  12. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The election of Pope Alexander VI (1492)."
  13. ^ Pham, 2004, p. 65-66.
  14. ^ a b Pham, 2004, p. 66.
  15. ^ Friendly Jr., Alfred (27 November 1970). "Ottaviani Deplores Papal Action Barring Vote of Aged Cardinals". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  16. ^ "Crítica de dos Cardenales contra el Papa Paulo VI" (in Spanish). UP. 26 November 1970. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  17. ^ Hofmann, Paul (3 February 1973). "30 Cardinals Named; Three Are American". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  18. ^ Gagliarducci, Andrea (13 October 2016). "What's the thought behind Pope Francis' choices for cardinals?". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  19. ^ a b Broderick, 1987, p. 13.
  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8.
  • Broderick, J.F. 1987. "The Sacred College of Cardinals: Size and Geographical Composition (1099–1986)." Archivum historiae Pontificiae, 25: 7–71.
  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. 2002. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92228-3.
  • Pham, John-Peter. 2004. Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517834-3
  • Walsh, Michael. 2003. The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-58051-135-X.

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