Brief overview of the organisation and function of the catholic church

Lecture Notes, 2007

22 Pages









Roles and Functions:
There are 3 Orders of Cardinals:
Qualifications for Appointment as Cardinal:
Composition of College of Cardinals:
7 Suburbicarian Sees of Rome:
Consistories - where the collegial assistance given by the College of Cardinals to the Pope is ordinarily done.
4 prerogatives of Cardinals
Age of Retirement:




The opening session of the Council took place on the 20th May 325 in the imperial summer palace at Nicea.


A little over 300 bishops were at the Council, most of who came from Greek speaking cities and towns-Palestine, Egypt, Asia Minor and Syria. Some bishops from the Caucatus, Persia and Greece were also present. One bishop each came from the following places: Spain, Gaul and Italy. The bishop of Rome at the time could not attend due to old age but was represented by two of his priests. Some of the bishops who were present at the council were lame and blind from the ordeal and tortures they had undergone in the persecutions. Emperor Constantine was present and he gave a welcome address to the bishops of the Council and wished them a peaceful conference.


-To determine whether Arius contradicted the teaching of the church or not and if so be excluded from the communion of the faithful together with his followers.

-To condemn the theology of Arius (Arianism)- Arius, catholic priest was preaching his new theology through writings, sermons, hymns and songs that our Lord Jesus Christ was a pure creature, made out of nothing, liable to fall (sinful) and that Jesus Christ was son of God by adoption, not by nature, and called God in scripture, but he is not really such, but only in name.

Arianism was condemned unanimously and Arius with few of his (priests) supporters was sent into exile by the command of the Emperor.

The council passed a statement that was against Arian theology:

“We believe….in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the father, the Sole-begotten; that is to say, of the substance of the father, God from God, Light from Light, true God; born, not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things were made, which are in heaven and on earth…..” (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 54; Readings in Church History, p. 85. (translation).


-Meletian schism was dealt with and Meletius was restored to his See of Lycopolis, but was not to confer holy orders; and all who were ordained unlawfully by him to be re-ordained before officiating.

- The Eastern Churches were to cease to keep Easter at the Jewish Passover and were instructed to celebrate Easter at the same time as the Romans.
-The bishops of the Council promulgated 20 canons for general observation:-
-5 canons deal with those who fell away from the faith in recent persecution:
- If any of them admitted to ordination should be deposed.
-Those who apostatized without compulsion of fear are to do penance for 12 years before being admitted to Holy Communion; but before the end of the 12 years period, if they fall ill and in danger of death may receive viaticum.
- If they recover they are to take place with the highest class of penitents i.e. those who are allowed to hear mass but do not receive Holy Communion.
-The catechumens who fell away are to do penance for 3 years
-Christians who left the army and had re-enlisted in the army of the persecutor, lately destroyed emperor Licinus, are to do penance for 13 years or less if the Bishop is satisfied with the reality of their repentance, but not less than 3 years of penance.

2 canons deal with re-admission of heretical schismatics: (For example the Council offered generous term to Novatians who wished to be reconciled).

About ten canons deal with various aspects of clerical life. They are summarized below:

-No person is to be ordained if he had himself castrated or he only recently converted to the faith.
-No clerics-bishops, priest s or deacons are to move from one diocese to another.
-Clerics are forbidden to take interest for money loans, and for this offence they must be deposed.

2 canons regarding three famous Sees-Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem:

The ancient tradition that accords the bishop of Alexandria jurisdiction over the bishops of the civil provinces of Egypt, Pentapolis and Libya was confirmed.

The ancient privileges of the See of Antioch and of other provinces were confirmed.

Even though the bishop of Jerusalem remains the subject of the metropolitan bishop of Caesarea, he is allowed a “precedence of honour”


The Council ended on 19th June, 325 AD and this date of the end of the Council coincided with the 20th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Constantine and thus the emperor entertained the bishops of the Council at a banquet.


It is wrong to trace the origin of beautification and canonization in the Catholic Church to ancient pagan apothesis that is the deitification of human beings. Pope Benedict XIV expressed his refutation of such an origin in Dei Beautificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. [1] According to Pope Benedict XIV, it is incorrect to confound the two institutions or derive one from the other.

Canonization in the Catholic Church is reserved to those who died on account of their faith and those who lived courageously the heroic virtues before their death and their fama sanctitatis has been proved by common repute and conclusive arguments. The church sees in the saints nothing more than friends and servants of God whose holy lives qualified them to experience God’s special love. The church does not pretend to make gods out of those she proclaims saints.[2]

The true origin of beautification and canonization can be traced to the catholic doctrine of veneration, invocation, and intercession of the saints. In one of his works, St. Augustine writes that Catholics give God adoration in its strict sense (latria). They honor (dulia) the saints because of the divine supernatural gifts which earned them eternal life; and through which they reign with God in the heavenly fatherland as His chosen friends and faithful servants.[3] The church erects altars to God alone, though in honor and memory of the saints and martyrs. In the scriptures there are warrants for such worship to venerate angels, who were not unlike the holy men, as sharers of the friendship of God. If St. Paul should beseech his friends to help him with prayers how much more we can be helped by the prayers of the saints who are in heaven.[4]

The church committed to the writings of the early saints of which there are many evidences in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches. In some official church documents there is mention of some saints; for example, in the eleventh session of the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Fathers exclaimed “Flavianus lives after death! May the martyr pray for us!” The circular letter of the church of Smyrna[5] the religious celebration of the day on which St. Polycarp suffered martyrdom[6] was mentioned and the words of the passage express exactly the main purpose of the church in the celebration of such anniversaries:

We have at last gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to assemble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memory of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen by his example, those who shall come after us.[7]

A private moral certitude was required for private veneration of the Servants of God but that did not suffice for public veneration. For public veneration of the saints the ecclesiastical authority of the church was constantly required. St. Optatus of Milene, writing at the end of the 4th century, mentioned a certain Lucilla ( a noble lady), who was reprehended by Caecillanus, Archdeacon of Carthage , for kissing the bones of one who was not a martyr or whose right to the title was not proved.[8]

Verification and approval of the death of a martyr and the consequent permission to venerate him depended originally on the decision of the bishop of the place of martyrdom. The bishop made inquiries concerning his martyrdom and sent his name with the account of his martyrdom to other churches, especially the neighboring ones so that with the approval of other bishops the cultus of the martyr might extend to their churches also so that the faithful might hold communion with the generous martyr of Christ as written by St. Ignatius in the “Acts” of his martyrdom.[9] Those martyrs whose causes were discussed and their martyrdom had been confirmed were referred to as approved martyrs. It was not before the 4th century when this practice was introduced in the church of Carthage, but it was probably practiced in other places before 4th century.

Veneration of confessors (non-martyred saints), who were regarded as saints due to their life of heroic virtue, was not ancient as that of the martyrs. The term “confessors” attracted a different meaning after early Christian periods. Initially, it was used to refer to those who confessed Christ when examined in the presence of enemies of the faith.[10]

In the 4th century, the confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honor, though occasionally praised by earlier Fathers.[11] Their tombs were honored with the same title of martyr as those of the martyrs. It was regarded unlawful to venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority just as to venerate the martyrs.[12]

For several centuries, the bishops (and in some places only the primates and patriarchs) could grant public ecclesiastical honor to martyrs and confessors. However, such veneration was always decreed only for local territory over which the bishop held jurisdiction. It was only by the acceptance and approval of bishop of Rome that could make a cultus of a saint universal.[13]

It is interesting to note that, abuses crept into veneration of saints such that some individuals who should not qualify to be saints were being venerated. This was due to the carelessness of some bishops in inquiring into the lives of those whom they permitted to be venerated as saints. Towards the end of the 11th century the popes restricted Episcopal authority from declaring saints; the Popes decreed that the fama sanctitatis and miracles of designated persons for sainthood and public veneration should be examined in councils, more particularly, in general councils. Pope Urban III, Calixtus II, and Eugenius III towed the same line. Even after these decrees “some, following the ways of the pagans and deceived by the fraud of the evil one, venerated as a saint a man who had been killed while intoxicated”[14] Alexander III (1159-1181) prohibited the veneration of this man in these words “For the future you will not presume to pay for him reverence, as even, though miracles were worked through him, it would not allow you to revere him as a saint unless with the authority of the Roman Church.”

On the one hand the right of canonization of bishops gradually reduced and on the other hand recourse to the more solemn and authoritative judgment of the Popes gradually became the rule. It can be said that the decision of Pope Alexander III, taken in 1173, regarding authoritative judgment of the Pope in causes of saints was not an innovation, but rather as the natural development and culmination of the practice existing during the previous two centuries.

From 13th century onwards the inquiries become more elaborate and complicated, and lengthier examinations are required to unearth a better guarantee of truth. There is presence of original minutes of various investigations held during the twelfth, thirteenth, and following centuries preserved in the Roman curial archives.

Pope Urban VIII, in 1625 and 1634, issued decrees which put an end to all deliberations by reserving exclusively to the Holy See not only its immemorial right of canonization but also that of beautification. By these decrees, it was decided that, without the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, no religious cultus could be paid to any person recently deceased, however eminent for virtue or celebrated for miracles. The Constitutions of Urban VIII lay down the entire form of procedure in causes of canonization as it exists at the present day. Since the date of these decrees, canonization cannot take place unless beatification has been previously obtained, and the right of beatification as well as canonization has been reserved exclusively to the Pope.

Sixtus V, by the Constitution "Immensa Aeterni Dei," instituted the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The objects of the Congregation are to ensure general uniformity in divine worship, and to be responsible for all the processes of beatification and canonization. Already, the Council of Trent had directed bishops and metropolitans to watch carefully all that was done regarding the invocation of saints, and the use of images and relics, and to guard against novelty and innovation.

Since not any substantial changes were made in the procedure of causes of saints, it is unnecessary to trace the history of canonization any further. Only some additional rules and slight modifications of existing regulations were introduced by Alexander VII, Innocent XI, and especially by Benedict XIV (1675-1758). The history of canonization from the days of Urban VIII, who stressed the rule of non-cultus, would be mainly a history of the individual causes examined.

The existing procedure of causes of saint was given a place in the 1917 code of canon law. However, the 1983 code excluded this procedure. The law regarding the causes of saints- beautification and canonization was then provided in Apostolic Constitution, Divinus Perfectionis Magister, which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II on the same day of the promulgation of the 1983 code of canon law, i.e. 25 January, 1983; and it is the only existing law concerning causes of saints today, despite the presence of certain norms issued by the Congregation for the causes of saints in recent times.[15]


The following statements are to prove that Catholics do not worship statues and images:

1. The members of the Catholic Church know that God forbade worship of idols, statues and images and they do not transgress and disobey God’s command “ You shall not make for yourself a graven image” (Ex 20:3; Dt. 4:15; Dt. 5:6-10).

2. Catholics believe that there is only one God whom they worship.

3. Furthermore, Catholics know the definition of idolatry, i.e. worship of idols or statues.

4. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2114 states that “Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God”.

5.The Catechism of Trent (1566 AD) taught that a person commits idolatry by worshipping idols and images as God or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, reposing confidence in them. (378).


[1] BENEDICT XIV, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, in Opera omnia, III (Prato, 1840)

[2] Cfr. Eusebius Emisenus, Serm. De S. Rom, M; Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XXII, x; Cyril Alexander, Contra Jul., lib. VI; Cyprain, De Exhortat. Martyr; Conc. Nic.,II, act. 3.

[3] Cfr. Quaest. In Heptateuch, lib. II, n. 94; Contra Faustrum, lib. XX, xxi.

[4] Ex, xxiii; 20 sqq.; Jos, v, 13 sqq; Dan, viii, 15 sqq; x, 4 sqq; Luke, ii, 9 sqq; Acts, xii, 7 sqq; Apoc, v, 11 sqq; vii, 1 sqq; Matt., xviii, 10; etc.

[5] Eus, Hist. Eccl, IV, xxiii.

[6] 23 February, 155.

[7] Loc. cit

[8] De Schism, Donat., I, xvi, in P.L., XI, 916-917.

[9] Ruinart, Acta Sincera martyrum, 19.

[10] Baronius, in his note to Ro. Mar., 1 Jan, D

[11] Cfr. Innocent III, De Myst. Miss., III, x; Bellarmine, De Missa, III, xx, no. 5.

[12] Martigny, Dictionaire des Antiquites chretienes, s.v. Confesseurs, p. 284

[13] Gonzalez, Tellez, Comm. Peret. In singulos textus libr. Decr. III, xlv, in cap. 1, De reliquis et vener. Sanct.

[14] Gonzalez, Tellez, c. 1, tit., X. III, xlv.

[15] Cngregation for the Causes of Saints, Normae servandae in Inquisitionibus ab Episcopis faciendis in causis Sanctorum , Feb. 7, 1983; Communique by the congregation for the causes of saints, Vatican city, 29 September 200 5; Instruction for conducting diocesan or eparchial Inquiries in the causes of Saints ( Sanctorum mater), May 17, 2007.

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Brief overview of the organisation and function of the catholic church
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Ignatius Ayivor (Author), 2007, Brief overview of the organisation and function of the catholic church, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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