Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Cardinal Vicar

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The vicar-general of the pope, as Bishop of Rome, for the spiritual administration of the city, and its surrounding district, properly known as Vicarius Urbis.


A complete but uncritical list of the vicarii in spiritualibus in urbe generales, was published by Ponzetti (Rome, 1797); it was added to and improved by Moroni (Dizionario, XCIX). From the manuscripts of Cancellieri in the Vatican Library new names were added by Crostarosa (Dei titoli della Chiesa romana, Rome, 1893). Eubel, by his own studies for the first volume of his "Hierarchia Catholica Medii Ævi", and with the aid of the manuscript notes of Garampi in the Vatican Archives, was enabled to present a new list substantially enlarged and improved (1200-1552). Many new discoveries of the undersigned have enabled him to draw up a critical list of the vicars and their representatives from 1100 to 1600. For the period before 1100 a fresh examination of all the original sources is necessary; for the present all names previous to that date must be held as uncertain. The first vicarius in spiritualibus clearly vouched for is Bovo (Bobo) episcopus Tusculanus (Lavicanus) about 1106 (Duchesne, Lib. Pont., II, 299 and 307, note 20; cf. also Jaffé, RR. PP. 12, 6069, 6106). Until 1260 the vicars were chosen from among the cardinals; the first vicar taken from among the bishops in the vicinity of Rome was the Dominican Thomas Fusconi de Berta, episcopus Senensis (Moroni, Eubel). This custom continued until the secret consistory of 29 Nov., 1558, when Paul IV decreed that in the future the vicars should be chosen from among the cardinals of episcopal dignity; it was then that arose the popular title of "cardinal-vicar", never used officially; the formal title is, and has always been, Vicarius Urbis.


It seems certain that in the twelfth century vicars were named only when the pope absented himself for a long time from Rome or its neighbourhood. When he returned, the vicar's duties ceased. This may have lasted to the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243-54); on the other hand it is certain that in the latter half of this century the vicar continued to exercise the duties of his office even during the presence of the pope at Rome. Thus the nomination of a vicar on 28 April, 1299, is dated from the Lateran. The office owes its full development to the removal of the Curia to Southern France and its final settlement at Avignon. Since then the list of vicars is continuous. The oldest commissions do not specify any period of duration; in the Bull of 16 June, 1307, it is said for the first time that the office is held "at our good will". It is only in the sixteenth century that we meet with life-tenures; the exact year of this important modification remains yet to be fixed. Formerly the nomination was by Bull; when began the custom of nominating by Brief is difficult to determine. The oldest Bull of nomination know bears the date of 13 Feb., 1264 [Reg. Vat., tom. 28, fol. XC r, cap. XXXVIII (356); Guiraud, Les régistres d'Urbain IV, II, 359]. An immemorial custom of the Curia demands that all its officials shall be duly sworn in, and this was the case with the vicars. In all probability during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries such oaths were taken at the hands of the pope himself. Later the duty fell to the Apostolic Camera. The oath, whose text (though very much older) first appears in a document of 21 May, 1427 (Armar., 29, tom. 3, fol. 194 v, Vatican Archives), greatly resembles, in its first part, the usual episcopal oath (Corp. Jur. Can., ed. Friedbe, II, 360; Tangl, Die päpstlichen Kanzleiordnungen von 1200-1500, p. 51); while the latter part applies to the office in question. The oath is conceived in very general terms and lays but slight stress on the special duties of the vicar. The official named on 18 Oct., 1412, as representative of the vicar was also sworn in, and before entering on his office was admonished to take, in presence of a specified cardinal, the usual oath of fidelity to the pope and of a faithful exercise of the office.


According to the oldest known decree of nomination, 13 Feb., 1264, both Romans and foreigners were subject to the jurisdiction of the vicar. In this document, however, neither the special rights of the vicar nor the local extent of his authority are made known, but it is understood that the territory in question is the city of Rome. On 27 June, 1288, the vicar received the rights of "visitation, correction and reformation in spiritual matters .…. of dedicating churches and reconciling cemeteries, consecrating altars, blessing, confirming, and ordaining suitable persons from the city" [Reg. Vat., tom. 44, fol. XCIIv, cap. XXVIIII (389); Langlois, Les régistres de Nicolas V, 595]. On 21 July, 1296 [Reg. Vat., tom. 48, fol. CLXXVIIr, cap. 85 (750); Theiner, Monumenta Slavoniæ Meridionalis, I, 112; Potthast, Regesta, 24367; Faucon-Thomas, Les régistres de Boniface VIII, 1640)] Boniface VIII added the authority to hear confessions and impose salutary penances. On 6 July, 1202 [Reg. Vat., tom. 50, fol. CCCLXXXVIr, cap. XLVII (250)] the following variant is met with: "to reform the churches, clergy, and people of Rome itself", and the additional right to do other things pertaining to the office of vicar. His jurisdiction over all monasteries is first vouched for 16 June, 1207 (Reg. Clementis papæ V, ed. Bened. cap. 1645). The inclusion among these of monasteries, exempt and non-exempt and their inmates, without the walls of Rome, was the first step in the local extension of the vicar's jurisdiction. He was also empowered to confer vacant benefices in the city. For a considerable length of time the above-mentioned rights exhibit the fulness of the vicar's authority. Special commissions, however, multiply in this period, bearing with them in each case a special extension or new application of authority. Under Clement VI (1342-52) the territory of the vicar-general's jurisdiction was notably increased by the inclusion of the suburbs and the rural district about Rome (Reg. Vat., tom. 142, fol. 152r, cap. VII, XXXI). Until the time of Benedict XIV (1740-58) this was the extent of the vicar's jurisdiction. By the "district of the city of Rome" was understood a distance of forty Italian miles from the city walls. Since, however, the territory of the suburbicarian sees lay partially within these limits, the vicar came to exercise a jurisdiction concurrent with that of the local bishop and cumulatively. This was a source of frequent conflicts, until 21 Dec., 1744, when the local jurisdiction of the suburbicarian bishops was abolished by Benedict XIV, in so far as their territory fell within the above-mentioned limits (Bangen, Die römische Curie, Münster, 1854, 287).

In the course of time the vicar acquired not only the position and authority of a vicar-general, but also that of a real ordinary, including all the authority of the latter office. This is quite evident from his acquired right of subdelegation whereby he was allowed to name a vicegerens, his representative not alone in pontifical ceremonies (as many maintain), but also in jurisdiction. For the rest, being already delegatus a principe he can canonically subdelegate (Bangen, op. cit., 288, note 2). By a Constitution of Clement VIII, 8 June, 1592, the vicar's right to hold a visitation ordinary and extraordinary of churches, monasteries, clergy, and the people (dating from 16 June, 1307) was withdrawn in favour of the Congregatio Visitationis Apostolicæ, newly founded, for the current affairs of the ordinary visitation. Henceforth this duty pertains to the vicarius urbis only in so far as he may be named president or member of this congregation, the prefect of which is the pope himself. The great "extraordinary" visitations, held generally at the beginning of each pontificate, are executed by a specially-appointed commission of cardinals and prelates, the presidency of which falls by custom to the vicar. The Congregation of the Visitation is quite independent of the vicar, being constituted by Apostolic authority. The authority of the vicar does not cease with the pope who appointed him. But should he die during a vacancy of the Holy See, his successor cannot be appointed by the College of Cardinals; all current affairs are transacted by the vicegerens who thus becomes a quasi vicar-capitular. Theoretically at least, the vicar may hold diocesan synods; he could also formerly grant a number of choir-benefices. Leo XIII reserved this right in perpetuity to the pope.


The first episcopal assistant of the vicar known is Angelus de Tineosis, Episcopus Viterbiensis, named 2 Oct., 1321, as assistant to the Vicar Andreas, Episcopus Terracinensis. His position is not so well outlined in the documents that we can form a clear idea of his duties. It is significant that Angelus officiated as assistant even when the Vicar Andreas was in the city. On the other hand, the Vicar Franciscus Scaccani, Episcopus Nolanus, was allowed to choose an assistant for the business of the vicariate only in the case of his own absence from Rome (Reg. Lateranense, tom. 68, fol. 83v, 19 Aug., 1399). According to this document it was not for the pope but the vicar himself, though authorized thereto by the pope, who chose his own assistant and gave over to him all his authority or faculties, in so far as they were based on law or custom. This shows that the vicarius urbis was firmly established in the fulness of his office and externally recognized as such; certain consuetudinary rights had even at this date grown up and become accepted. We see from the Bullarium Magnum (II, 75) that on 18 Oct., 1412, John XXII nominated Petrus Saccus, a canon of St. Peter's, as locum tenens of the Vicar Franciscus, abbas monasterii S. Martini in Monte Cimino O. S. B., and himself conferred on this official all the faculties of the vicar. The new locum tenens was bidden to take the usual oath before the Apostolic Camera (see above). A similar case is that (1430) of Lucas de Ilpernis, another canon of St. Peter's. When Petrus Accolti, Bishop-elect of Ancona, was named vicarius urbis (1505) he took over the jurisdiction, but the pontificalia or ceremonial rights were given to Franciscus Berthleay, Bishop of Mylopotamos, until the consecration of Accolti. A similar case is that of Andreas Jacobazzi, a canon of St. Peter's, named vicar in 1519, but not consecrated as Bishop of Lucera until 1520; the pontificalia were committed to Vincentius, Bishop of Ottochaz-Zengg.

The series of assistants to the vicar, now known as vices-gerentes, begins with 1560. Until the time of Clement XI (1700) they were named by the vicar; since then the pope has appointed them by a special Brief. The vicesgerens is therefore not a representative (locum tenens) of the vicar, but a subordinate auxiliary bishop appointed for life, though removable at any time. His authority (faculties) relative to jurisdiction and orders is identical with that of the vicar; for its exercise, however, he depends on the latter, as is expressly stated in the Brief of his nomination. In particular, the vicar has committed to him the administration of the treasury of relics known as the Lisanotheca or relic-treasury of the vicariate, the censorship of books, and the permission to print. The censorship of books was entrusted to the vicar by a Bull of 4 May, 1515 (in the Magnum Bullarium); this right, however, is now exercised by the vices-gerens subject to the Magister sacri palati, to whose imprimatur he adds his own name without further examination of the book in question. The really responsible censor is therefore the Magister sacri palati, not the vicesgerens. Occasionally there have been two assistants of the vicar, to one of whom were committed all matters of jurisdiction, to the other the pontificalia and ordinations; the latter was known as suffragan of the vicar.

Paul Maria Baumgarten.