CONCLAVE (Lat. conclave, from cum, together, and clavis, a key), strictly a room, or set of rooms, locked with a key; in this sense the word is now obsolete in English, though the New English Dictionary gives an example of its use so late as 1753. Its present loose application to any private or close assembly, especially ecclesiastical, is derived from its technical application to the assembly of cardinals met for the election of the pope, with which this article is concerned.
Conclave is the name applied to that system of strict seclusion to which the electors of the pope have been and are submitted, formerly as a matter of necessity, and subsequently as the result of a legislative enactment; hence the word has come to be used of the electoral assembly of the cardinals. This system goes back only as far as the 12th century.
Election of the Popes in Antiquity. - The very earliest episcopal nominations, at Rome as elsewhere, seem without doubt to have been made by the direct choice of the founders of the apostolic Christian communities. But this exceptional method was replaced at an early date by that of election. At Rome the method of election was the same as in other towns: the Roman clergy and people and the neighbouring bishops each took part in it in their several capacities. The people would signify their approbation or disapprobation of the candidates more or less tumultuously, while the clergy were, strictly speaking, the electoral body, met to elect for themselves a new head, and the bishops acted as presidents of the assembly and judges of the election. The choice had to meet with general consent; but we can well imagine that in an assembly of such size, in which the candidates were acclaimed rather than elected by counting votes, the various functions were not very distinct, and that persons of importance, whether clerical or lay, were bound to influence the elections, and sometimes decisively. Moreover, this form of election lent itself to cabals; and these frequently gave rise to quarrels, sometimes involving bloodshed and schisms, i.e. the election of antipopes, as they were later called. Such was the case at the elections of Cornelius (251), Damasus (366), Boniface (418), Symmachus (498), Boniface II. (530) and others. The remedy for this abuse was found in having recourse, more or less freely, to the support of the civil power. The emperor Honorius upheld Boniface against his competitor Eulalius, at the same time laying down that cases of contested election should henceforth be decided by a fresh election; but this would have been a dangerous method and was consequently never applied. Theodoric upheld Symmachus against Laurentius because he had been elected first and by a greater majority. The accepted fact soon became law, and John II. recognized (532) the right of the Ostrogothic court of Ravenna to ratify the pontifical elections. Justinian succeeded to this right together with the kingdom which he had destroyed; he demanded, together with the payment of a tribute of 3000 golden solidi, that the candidate elected should not receive the episcopal consecration till he had obtained the confirmation of the emperor. Hence arose long vacancies of the See, indiscreet interference in the elections by the imperial officials, and sometimes cases of simony and venality. This bondage became lighter in the 7th century, owing rather to the weakening of the imperial power than to any resistance on the part of the popes.
9th to 12th Centuries. - From the emperors of the East the power naturally passed to those of the West, and it was exercised after 824 by the descendants of Charlemagne, who claimed that the election should not proceed until the arrival of their envoys. But this did not last long; at the end of the 9th century, Rome, torn by factions, witnessed the scandal of the posthumous condemnation of Formosus. This deplorable state of affairs lasted almost without interruption till the middle of the 11th century. When the emperors were at Rome, they presided over the elections; when they were away, the rival factions of the barons, the Crescentii and the Alberici especially, struggled for the spiritual power as they did for the temporal. During this period were seen cases of popes imposed by a faction rather than elected, and then, at the mercy of sedition, deposed, poisoned and thrown into prison, sometimes to be restored by force of arms.
The influence of the Ottos (962-1002) was a lesser evil; that of the emperor Otto III. was even beneficial, in that it led to the election of Gerbert (Silvester II., in 999). But this was only a temporary check in the process of decadence, and in 1146 Clement II., the successor of the worthless Benedict IX., admitted that henceforth not only the consecration but even the election of the Roman pontiffs could only take place in presence of the emperor. In fact, after the death of Clement II. the delegates of the Roman clergy did actually go to Polden to ask Henry III. to give them a pope, and similar steps were taken after the death of Damasus II., who reigned only twenty days. Fortunately on this occasion Henry III. appointed, just before his death, a man of high character, his cousin Bruno, bishop of Toul, who presented himself in Rome in company with Hildebrand. From this time began the reform. Hildebrand had the elections of Victor II. (1055), Stephen IX. (1057), and Nicholas II. (1058) carried out according to the canonical form, including the imperial ratification. The celebrated bull In nomine Domini of the 13th of April 1059 determined the electoral procedure; it is curious to observe how, out of respect for tradition, it preserves all the former factors in the election though their scope is modified: "In the first place, the cardinal bishops shall carefully consider the election together, then they shall consult with the cardinal clergy, and afterwards the rest of the clergy and the people shall by giving their assent confirm the new election." The election, then, is reserved to the members of the higher clergy, to the cardinals, among whom the cardinal bishops have the preponderating position. The consent of the rest of the clergy and the people is now only a formality. The same was the case of the imperial intervention, in consequence of the phrase: "Saving the honour and respect due to our dear son Henry (Henry IV.), according to the concession we have made to him, and equally to his successors, who shall receive this right personally from the Apostolic See." Thus the emperor has no rights save those he has received as a concession from the Holy See. Gregory VII., it is true, notified his election to the emperor; but as he set up a series of five antipopes, none of Gregory's successors asked any more for the imperial sanction. Further, by this bull, the emperors would have to deal with the fait accompli; for it provided that, in the event of disturbances aroused by mischievous persons at Rome preventing the election from being carried out there freely and without bias, the cardinal bishops, together with a small number of the clergy and of the laity, should be empowered to go and hold the election where they should think fit; that should difficulties of any sort prevent the enthronement of the new pope, the pope elect would be empowered immediately to act as if he were actually pope. This legislation was definitely accepted by the emperor by the concordat of Worms (1119).
A limited electoral body lends itself to more minute legislation than a larger body; the college for electing the pope, thus reduced so as to consist in practice of the cardinals only, was subjected as time went on to laws of increasing severity. Two points of great importance were established by Alexander III. at the Lateran Council of 1179. The constitution Licet de vitanda discordia makes all the cardinals equally electors, and no longer mentions the lower clergy or the people; it also requires a majority of two-thirds of the votes to decide an election. This latter provision, which still holds good, made imperial antipopes henceforth impossible.
Abuses nevertheless arose. An electoral college too small in numbers, which no higher power has the right of forcing to haste, can prolong disagreements and draw out the course of the election for a long time. It is this period during which we actually find the Holy See left vacant most frequently for long spaces of time. The longest of these, however, gave an opportunity for reform and the remedy was found in the conclave, i.e. in the forced and rigid seclusion of the electors. As a matter of fact, this method had previously been used, but in a mitigated form: in 1216, on the death of Innocent III., the people of Perugia had shut up the cardinals; and in 1241 the Roman magistrates had confined them within the "Septizonium"; they took two months, however, to perform the election. Celestine IV. died after eighteen days, and this time, in spite of the seclusion of the cardinals, there was an interregnum of twenty months. After the death of Clement IV. in 1268, the cardinals, of whom seventeen were gathered together at Viterbo, allowed two years to pass without coming to an agreement; the magistrates of Viterbo again had recourse to the method of seclusion: they shut up the electors in the episcopal palace, blocking up all outlets; and since the election still delayed, the people removed the roof of the palace and allowed nothing but bread and water to be sent in. Under the pressure of famine and of this strict confinement, the cardinals finally agreed, on the 1st of September 1271, to elect Gregory X., after an interregnum of two years, nine months and two days.
Taught by experience, the new pope considered what steps could be taken to prevent the recurrence of such abuses; in 1274, at the council of Lyons, he promulgated the constitution Ubi periculum, the substance of which was as follows: At the death of the pope, the cardinals who were present are to await their absent colleagues for ten days; they are then to meet in one of the papal palaces in a closed conclave; none of them is to have to wait on him more than one servant, or two at most if he were ill; in the conclave they are to lead a life in common, not even having separate cells; they are to have no communication with the outer world, under pain of excommunication for any who should attempt to communicate with them; food is to be supplied to the cardinals through a window which would be under watch; after three days, their meals are to consist of a single dish only; and after five days, of bread and water, with a little wine. During the conclave the cardinals are to receive no ecclesiastical revenue. No account is to be taken of those who are absent or have left the conclave. Finally, the election is to be the sole business of the conclave, and the magistrates of the town where it was held are called upon to see that these provisions be observed. Adrian V. and John XX. were weak enough to suspend the constitution Ubi periculum; but the abuses at once reappeared; the Holy See was again vacant for long periods; this further proof was therefore decisive, and Celestine V., who was elected after a vacancy of more than two years, took care, before abdicating the pontificate, to revive the constitution of Gregory X., which was inserted in the Decretals (lib. i. tit. vi., de election. cap. 3).
Since then the laws relating to the conclave have been observed, even during the great schism; the only exception was the election of Martin V., which was performed by the cardinals of the three obediences, to which the council of Constance added five prelates of each of the six nations represented in that assembly. The same was the case up to the 16th century. At this period the Italian republics, later Spain, and finally the other powers, took an intimate interest in the choice of the holder of what was a considerable political power; and each brought more or less honest means to bear, sometimes that of simony. It was against simony that Julius II. directed the bull Cum tam divino (1503), which directed that simoniacal election of the pope should be declared null; that any one could attack it; that men should withdraw themselves from the obedience of a pope thus elected; that simoniacal agreements should be invalid; that the guilty cardinals should be excommunicate till their death, and that the rest should proceed immediately to a new election. The purpose of this measure was good, but the proposed remedy extremely dangerous; it was fortunately never applied. Similarly, Paul IV. endeavoured by severe punishments to check the intriguing and plotting for the election of a new pope while his predecessor was still living; but the bull Cum secundum (1558) was of no effect.
Pius IV. undertook the task of reforming and completing the legislation of the conclave. The bull In eligendis (of October 1st, 1562), signed by all the cardinals, is a model of precision and wisdom. In addition to the points already stated, we may add the following: that every day there was to be a scrutiny, i.e. a solemn voting by specially prepared voting papers (concealing the name of the voter, and to be opened only in case of an election being made at that scrutiny), and that this was to be followed by the "accessit," i.e. a second voting, in which the cardinals might transfer their suffrages to those who had obtained the greatest number of votes in the first. Except in case of urgent matters, the election was to form the whole business of the conclave. The cells were to be assigned by lot. The functionaries of the conclave were to be elected by the secret vote of the Sacred College. The most stringent measures were to be taken to ensure seclusion. The bull Aeterni Patris of Gregory XV. (15th of November 1621) is a collection of minute regulations. In it is the rule compelling each cardinal, before giving his vote, to take the oath that he will elect him whom he shall judge to be the most worthy; it also makes rules for the forms of voting and of the voting papers, for the counting, the scrutiny, and in fact all the processes of the election. A second bull, Decet Romanum Pontificem, of the 12th of March 1622, fixed the ceremonial of the conclave with such minuteness that it has not been changed since.
All previous legislation concerning the conclave was codified and renewed by Pius X.'s bull, Vacante Sede Apostolico (Dec. 25, 1904), which abrogates the earlier texts, except Leo XIII.'s constitution Praedecessores Nostri (May 24, 1882), authorizing occasional derogations in circumstances of difficulty, e.g. the death of a pope away from Rome or an attempt to interfere with the liberty of the Sacred College. The bull of Pius X. is rather a codification than a reform, the principal change being the abolition of the scrutiny of accession and the substitution of a second ordinary scrutiny during the same session.
On some occasions exceptional circumstances have given rise to transitory measures. In 1797 and 1798 Pius VI. authorized the cardinals to act contrary to such of the laws concerning the conclave as a majority of them should decide not to observe, as being impossible in practice. Similarly Pius IX., by means of various acts which remained secret up till 1892, had taken the most minute precautions in order to secure a free and rapid election, and to avoid all interference on the part of the secular powers. We know that the conclaves in which Leo XIII. and Pius X. were elected enjoyed the most complete liberty, and the hypothetical measures foreseen by Pius IX. were not applied.
The conclave at Rome
Until after the Great Schism the conclaves were held in various towns outside of Rome; but since then they have all been held in Rome, with the single exception of the conclave of Venice (1800), and in most cases in the Vatican.
There was no place permanently established for the purpose, but removable wooden cells were installed in the various apartments of the palace, grouped around the Sistine chapel, in which the scrutinies took place. The arrangements prepared in the Quirinal in 1823 did duty only three times, and for the most recent conclaves it was necessary to arrange an inner enclosure within the vast but irregular palace of the Vatican. Each cardinal is accompanied by a clerk or secretary, known for this reason as a conclavist, and by one servant only. With the officials of the conclave, this makes about two hundred and fifty persons who enter the conclave and have no further communication with the outer world save by means of turning-boxes. Since 1870 the solemn ceremonies of earlier times have naturally not been seen; for instance the procession which used to celebrate the entry into conclave; or the daily arrival in procession of the clergy and the brotherhoods to enquire at the "rota" (turning-box) of the auditors of the Rota: "Habemusne Pontificem?" and their return accompanied by the chanting of the "Veni Creator"; or the "Marshal of the Holy Roman Church and perpetual guardian of the conclave" visiting the churches in state. But a crowd still collects morning and evening in the great square of St Peter's, towards the time of the completion of the vote, to look for the smoke which rises from the burning of the voting-papers after each session; when the election has not been effected, a little straw is burnt with the papers, and the column of smoke then apprises the spectators that they have still no pope. Within the conclave, the cardinals, alone in the common hall, usually the Sistine chapel, proceed morning and evening to their double vote, the direct vote and the "accessit." Sometimes these sessions have been very numerous; for example, in 1740, Benedict XIV. was only elected after 255 scrutinies; on other occasions, however, and notably in the case of the last few popes, a well-defined majority has soon been evident, and there have been but few scrutinies. Each vote is immediately counted by three scrutators, appointed in rotation, the most minute precautions being taken to ensure that the voting shall be secret and sincere. When one cardinal has at last obtained two-thirds of the votes, the dean of the cardinals formally asks him whether he accepts his election, and what name he wishes to assume. As soon as he has accepted, the first "obedience" or "adoration" takes place, and immediately after the first cardinal deacon goes to the Loggia of St Peter's and announces the great news to the assembled people. The conclave is dissolved; on the following day take place the two other "obediences," and the election is officially announced to the various governments. If the pope be not a bishop (Gregory XVI. was not), he is then consecrated; and finally, a few days after his election, takes place the coronation, from which the pontificate is officially dated. The pope then receives the tiara with the triple crown, the sign of his supreme spiritual authority. The ceremony of the coronation goes back to the 9th century, and the tiara, in the form of a high conical cap, is equally ancient (see Tiara).
In conclusion, a few words should be said with regard to the right of veto. In the 16th and 17th centuries the character of the conclaves was determined by the influence of what were then known as the "factions," i.e. the formation of the cardinals into groups according to their nationality or their relations with one of the Catholic courts of Spain, France or the Empire, or again according as they favoured the political policy of the late pope or his predecessor. These groups upheld or opposed certain candidates. The Catholic courts naturally entrusted the cardinals "of the crown," i.e. those of their nation, with the mission of removing, as far as lay in their power, candidates who were distasteful to their party; the various governments could even make public their desire to exclude certain candidates. But they soon claimed an actual right of formal and direct exclusion, which should be notified in the conclave in their name by a cardinal charged with this mission, and should have a decisive effect; this is what has been called the right of veto. We cannot say precisely at what time during the 16th century this transformation of the practice into a right, tacitly accepted by the Sacred College, took place; it was doubtless felt to be less dangerous formally to recognize the right of the three sovereigns each to object to one candidate, than to face the inconvenience of objections, such as were formulated on several occasions by Philip II., which, though less legal in form, might apply to an indefinite number of candidates. The fact remains, however, that it was a right based on custom, and was not supported by any text or written concession; but the diplomatic right was straightforward and definite, and was better than the intrigues of former days. During the 19th century Austria exercised, or tried to exercise, the right of veto at all the conclaves, except that which elected Leo XIII. (1878); it did so again at the conclave of 1903. On the 2nd of August Cardinal Rampolla had received twenty-nine votes, when Cardinal Kolzielsko Puzina, bishop of Cracow, declared that the Austrian government opposed the election of Cardinal Rampolla; the Sacred College considered that it ought to yield, and on the 4th of August elected Cardinal Sarto, who took the name of Pius X. By the bull Commissum Nobis (January 20, 1904), Pius X. suppressed all right of "veto" or "exclusion" on the part of the secular governments, and forbade, under pain of excommunication reserved to the future pope, any cardinal or conclavist to accept from his government the charge of proposing a "veto," or to exhibit it to the conclave under any form.
Bibliography. - The best and most complete work is Lucius Lector, Le Conclave, origine, histoire, organisation, législation ancienne et moderne (Paris, 1894). See also Ferraris, Prompta Bibliotheca, s. v. Papa, art. i.; Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, s. v. Conclave, Conclavisti, Cella, Elezione, Esclusiva; Bouix, De Curia Romana, part i. c. x.; De Papa, part vii. (Paris, 1859, 1870); Barbier de Montault, Le Conclave (Paris, 1878). On the conclave of Leo XIII., R. de Cesare, Conclave di Leone XIII. (Rome, 1888). On the conclave of Pius X.: an eye-witness (Card. Mathieu), Les Derniers Jours de Léon XIII et le conclave (Paris, 1904). See further, for the right of veto: Phillips, Kirchenrecht, t. v. p. 138; Sägmüller, Die Papstwahlen und die Staate (Tübingen, 1890); Die Papstwahlbullen und das staatliche Recht des Exclusive (Tübingen, 1892); Wahrmund, Ausschliessungsrecht der katholischen Staaten (Vienna, 1888).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)