Saturday 24 February 2018

Salvador Ryan: Riots, rations, death – all in a good conclave

Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins walks through St Peter’s Square
Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins walks through St Peter’s Square

AS we await the papal conclave, which will elect the 266th Bishop of Rome, it may come as a surprise to learn that the conclave itself is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating only from the late 13th century.

The history of the papacy in the first millennium is complex. While the importance of the office of the successor to St Peter was recognised by most churches before the 4th century, it is really only after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity that the prestige of the popes grew inexorably.

This was copper-fastened by the absence of an emperor in the western half of the Roman Empire from 476.

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