Choosing popes

In the early church, like the first 10 popes for example; were they chosen by Cardinals?
If the ecclessiastics are the bishops and Archbishops? What are the “princes of the church called”? Other than what I just stated? When did they start choosing Cardinals?


See ACTS 1: 15 - 26 and ACTS 6: 1 -7.

The term Cardinal has a long history. Read about Cardinal in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

As I recall the first 65 Popes were martyred. If I am wrong, someone please correct.

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome (the term “Pope” was not restricted to Rome until the Sixteenth Century). In the early days, there wasn’t a separate process for installing a Bishop in Rome - it was the same as every other city (he would most likely already be a Bishop, and would be invited to Rome by the local clergy). They didn’t make a big deal out of it.

The College of Cardinals did not begin to take form until the Third Century.

Are Cardinals simply part of the episcopy. ? And the only difference is they choose the next pope during conclave? Is that there only real job as Cardinals?


All Cardinals are Bishops, so they are part of the episcopacy (which includes all Bishops). Cardinals play a leadership role in the Church. Most Cardinals are assigned to lead large Archdioceses (such as Boston, Chicago, or LA). Cardinals run the more significant Vatican Offices, such as CCD and the Office of Liturgy.

(Historical note: The Church did not always require all Cardinals to be Bishops, but It has been this way for a very long time.)

The Office of Cardinal is not an ordained office - it is merely part of the Church hierarchy of leadership (and there is a hierarchy of Cardinals as well - three tiers). Spiritually speaking, Cardinals are no different than any other Bishop.

S then they are the ones that choose the Pope right? And that’s there only function aside from the Bishops and Archbishops?

They are the ones who choose the next Pope, yes. But that’s not the main thing they do (which would be a really dull job). They all have a lot of responsibilities running Dioceses and Vatican Offices.

What about Donald Wuerl ? He’s a Cardinal and is in control of the Cathedral in Washington DC. Or was anyway. Timothy Dolan until not too long ago was the head of USCCB. They don’t stay at the vatican all the time do they? How could they?

Most Cardinals do not live in Vatican City. Only those who lead Vatican Offices (such as CCD) reside there.

Timothy Dolan led USCCB for a time, while he was (and he still is) the Archbishop of New York (where he lives). FWIW, Cardinal Dolan webcasts a daily sixty-second Lenten reflection that is really worth one minute.

Cardinals do not choose a Pope. God chooses a Pope and it’s through the Holy Spirit that Cardinals discern who the Vicar of Christ is. Most of the time they get it right, other times they have failed.

The last lay cardinal (Teodolfo Mertel) died in 1899. Considering that the college of cardinals goes back to 1059, I’m not sure that “a very long time” is an accurate description.

Also, in 1968 Pope Paul VI seriously considered appointing the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain a lay cardinal.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit