edited by Mary Hollingsworth, Miles Pattenden and Arnold Witte
The College of Cardinals
«Far more has been written about individual early modern cardinals than about the cardinals of that period as a group. But, in point of fact, the cardinals’ collective identity as a College, and the jurisdiction each of its members derived from it, was always what ultimately empowered them as individuals. A historian of the early modern cardinal, or any individual cardinal who contributed to that prototype, is therefore obliged to address the question of how the College itself developed as a central institution within the Roman Curia. Barbara Bombi has explained in the previous chapter how the concept of the Cardinal evolved from the late Middle Ages into the 16th century, and the discussion here to some extent runs in parallel with, and complementary to, that. But it also seeks to demonstrate how the cardinals’ corporate identity (or, rather, identities) and their collective relationship with the pope changed in the centuries after 1500 as a result of various factors: the growth of the pope’s temporal government, the input of foreign powers, the religious imperatives of the Counter-Reformation. A large number of scholars have contributed to what we know about the cardinals’ place within the papacy’s constitution at a general level and the following pages therefore engage their work to chart the changes in the College’s corporate power and influence both de facto and de jure.
One crucial, but often implicit, debate within the historiography on the College is how far its authority co-existed in harmony with that of the pope, with the one complementing and bolstering the other, and how far the two authorities were entangled in a zero-sum game in which one scored points at the other’s expense. Paolo Prodi in his Sovrano pontefice (1982) emphasized the at times competitive nature of the relationship between medieval popes and cardinals (a view he held in common with the doyen of earlier papal history Walter Ullmann). Indeed, Prodi characterized the College’s jurisdiction as essentially oligarchic, forged in opposition to – and incompatible with – the “monarchic” view of their own office which most early modern popes advanced with increasing vim. For Prodi, the interplay between competing papal and collegiate imperatives typically lay at the heart of developments in the history of the papacy’s central institutions and explains both the College’s marginalisation as a political body and the rise, and subsequent evolution, of the so-called congregations from the late 16th century onwards. That narrative arc forms the centrepiece of his work and, implicitly or explicitly, continues to shape how we read the papacy’s contribution to the formation of “the modern state.”
Simon Ditchfield has recently mused on how we might move “beyond the Prodi paradigm,” although he takes aim more at Prodi’s narrative of papal decline rather than at his astute theorized observation of the nature of power dynamics.1 By contrast, other recent scholarship, notably by Antonio Menniti Ippolito, has proposed that congregations, insofar as they furnished cardinals with a new form of corporate identity separate to – and therefore independent of – their collective identity as a College, can be seen as having marked a key development within the papacy’s institutional evolution overall. Because they occurred in parallel to, and perhaps even in conjunction with, rapid changes to cardinals’ social profiles after 1500 (the subject of Maria Antonietta Visceglia’s chapter) congregations also simultaneously turned the papal Curia itself into a structure with more complex and more formalized processes than had ever been the case before. Menniti Ippolito’s arguments are set out in greater detail below. Yet it is worth caveating them at the outset with a warning against overstating discontinuities between the medieval and early modern Colleges: for instance, the College’s jurisdictional claims and its members’ ability to enforce them politically may both have declined, but that decline was not necessarily matched by a commensurate loss in the cardinals’ aggregate agency as individuals. The College, moreover, continued to serve as the guarantor of the papacy’s institutional continuity in the Vacant See, as John M. Hunt shows in his chapter here. The problem of how to interpret the cardinals’ constitutional history is thus an acute one. And yet, it matters a great deal, because it provides the fundamental base on which we must graft all the other histories we write about the activities with which cardinals were engaged.»