Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 2, 2001
A quick history of Church and state
In May the cardinals met in Rome to discuss some important matters. Not on the agenda was the question "Who will succeed Pope John Paul?"
Tradition tells us that these are matters decided by the Holy Spirit in due time. Nevertheless the gathering was a good opportunity for these eminent men to get acquainted with each other, especially since there are a number of newcomers in this venerable and exclusive club.
Although elected by the College of Cardinals, the pope's authority is not derived from them but comes from God. The title pope was conferred on the bishop of Rome since the 10th century, around the same time that the College of Cardinals was instituted.
Like all bishops, the bishops of Rome used to be elected by the local clergy and laity. In the course of time the electors were restricted to a select group of local clergy and nobility.
By the 11th century the nobility were excluded and bishops of the sees around Rome and certain priests in charge of Tituli and Diaconiae constituted the College of Cardinals. The college functioned more or less as the senate of the Roman pontiff and acquired great authority as officials in charge of various Curia offices.
In the 15th century, for instance, it was customary for the cardinals to impose a list of demands on the candidate and refuse to elect him unless he capitulated in advance. Monarchs exercised their influence through a veto or a negative vote through a loyal cardinal.
Although the pope has full and supreme jurisdiction over the Church, weaker popes have often been beholden to the Curia or secular rulers who would not hesitate to imprison or banish a pope if the protection of special interests demanded it.
During the caesaropapist regime of the Byzantine emperors, it was the emperor who determined Church policy and not the pope. Constantine even intervened in doctrinal matters and summoned and presided over the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325 to settle the Aryan controversy.
After Emperor Justinian died in 525 and the Byzantine influence in Italy waned, popes were railroaded into mediating for the Lombards or dragged off to Constantinople, like Pope Martin, for alleged misdeeds.
The political break with Constantinople came in the eighth century, when Pope Gregory II appealed to the Frankish rulers for protection and on Christmas Day 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as ruler of the Western Roman Empire.
The more serious spiritual split between East and West occurred when Pope Leo IX
excommunicated Patriarch Michael Caerularius in the 11th century.
The Byzantines charged the Latin Church with changing the Nicene Creed without consultation. They also objected to the extravagant claims of the papacy to universal dominion as the father of kings, ruler of the world and vicar of Christ. Innocent III described himself as "below God but above man."
The lust for power, moral degradation and worldliness of the papacy reached its height during the Renaissance until Charles V captured Rome in 1527 and forced Pope Clement VII to flee the Vatican.
Most of the schisms in the Church, among Christians in the West and East and between the Orthodox and Roman churches, centre on this question of papal authority.
Pope John Paul has invited input as to how this authority should be exercised. The cardinals may keep this in mind as they prepare for the next conclave and consider the Vatican II call for collegiality, a concept also historically favoured by the Orthodox churches.
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