College of Cardinales

Does any one know the year that the first college of Cardinals elected the Pope and who that Pope was?


According to the Catholic Encyclopedia ( (The “they” referred to is the college of cardinals.)

since Alexander III (1159-1181) they alone had the right to elect the pope, they alone were his immediate assistants at Mass, and were his only counsellors in all important matters.

You’ll find the page at:

The entry on the college of cardinals is the last one on the page.

So, 1159 and Pope Alexander III is the answer.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your effort.

God Bless

A lot depends on what you understand as the college of cardinals. The Pope was orginally elected by the clergy and the laity of Rome. Which is why to this day, the cardinals are all technically the clergy of Rome - each cardinal is given the title of a diocese (for the seven cardinal-bishops), a parish (for cardinal priests & cardinal-deacons), which they are expected to preach at when they are in Rome. You can read more here.

In that sense, the first Pope to be elected by the cardinals would have been Pope St Linus, after the martyrdom of St Peter. There is little documentation of St Linus but he would have been most liklely been elected by the deacons of Rome and laity (maybe some of the nearby bishops dependent on Rome would have been involved).

The colege of cardinals evolved in the following centuries, with the Roman nobility and the later, the Holy Roman Emperors & Catholic kings having a say in papal election. As far as we are aware, the last veto by a Catholic king was cast in the 19th century by the Austrian Emperor.

The increasing political independence of the Pope led to the first written rule in 1059, which reserved the right to the cardinals to elect the Pope. The procedures have been amended continually since then but it broadly the same as what we have today. In 1139, the right of the laity and lower clergy to veto the election was revoked. And the 1903 conclave was the first in without the right of Catholic monarchs to veto the election.

As with any human insitution, its structure and procedures have gone through very interesting evolution and one should not think of a single set process that is unchanged through the ages.

Thank You
My sister gave me a book called “The Church Visible” by James-Charles Noonan, JR.

The ceremonial life and protocol of the Roman Catholic Church.

I have only read a very small part but it has gone in great depth on the college or cardinals.

I think it will be an interesting read for any Catholic to get an inside view of the workings of the Vatican and the meanings of the rituals and vestments of the Mass.

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