History of the College The College of Cardinals is composed of
the men whom the Pope has elevated to the dignity of Cardinal,
entrusting them with the duty to be his close advisors and
collaborators, and to elect his successor.
Close advisors to the Pope have been called
Cardinals, from the Latin carde for hinge, since probably the
4th century. Since 1059 Cardinals have served as the exclusive
electors of the Popes, and the College itself was given its current
form in 1150. Over the centuries the number of Cardinals was held
below 70, a biblically significant number, since there were seventy
elders assisting Moses in leading Israel and 70 men, besides the
Apostles, assisting Jesus in His ministry (Luke 10:1). However, both
Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II went beyond this number in order
to internationalize the College with bishops from around the world.
Today there are 117 Electors out of a total of 183 Cardinals, a number which
includes those who have reached the age of ineligibility to vote, 80
The College is internally divided into three orders
or ranks, Cardinal Bishops, Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons.
This division reflects its early history when the advisors and
electors of the Pope were taken from the clergy of Rome. Today each
Cardinal holds a title, or titular office (i.e. without actual
authority), in the Diocese and Province of Rome, such as Cardinal
Bishop of Ostia, Cardinal Priest of the Church of Saint John,
or Cardinal Deacon of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
The College is presided over by the Dean, who is
assisted by a Vice-Dean. Both are elected from the rank of Cardinal
Bishops, by their fellow Cardinal Bishops, and confirmed in office
by the Pope.