The term cardinal was formerly applied to important clergymen of all sorts and countries, but in the Middle Ages it was restricted to the Roman province. The college of cardinals is the modern derivative of the clergy of the ancient diocese of Rome, used by the pope for advice and transaction of business. Pope Sixtus V set the maximum number of cardinals at 70, a tradition maintained for centuries until the pontificate of Pope John XXIII. Since then it has increased to well over 100, approaching twice that at times. The number number of cardinals eligible to vote in papal elections (those under 80 years old) was limited to 120 by Paul VI and John Paul II, but John Paul appointed more than that number several times. Following the lead of Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI promoted the international character of the college. John Paul continued to expand international representation in the college, and Europeans now account for only about half of the cardinals eligible to vote in papal elections.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.