The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

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3rd Century

Rome divided into seven deaconal regions, St. Fabian (236-250).

In the third century this pope divided Rome into seven regions and provided for each a deacon and a subdeacon. From Fabian's time or a little later each region also had a notary and by the fifth century each region had a defensor too.

Source: Noble, Thomas F.X. The Republic of St. Peter. The birth of the Papal State, 680-825. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984, p. 217.

He divided the regions among the deacons and created 7 subdeacons who were to watch over the 7 notaries so they would faithfully collect the complete acts of the martyrs.

Source: The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). The ancient biographies of the first ninety Roman bishops to AD 715. Translated with an introduction by Raymond Davis. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989. (Translated texts for historians, Latin Series V), p. 8.

D'une part, les cardinaux-diacres sont les héritiers des sept diacres rêgionnaires institués, au milieu du IIIe siècle, par le pape Fabien (236-250) (1) pour présider à l'administration des sept régions ecclésiastiques entre lesquelles Rome fut alors divisée. Antérieurs de plus de quatre siècles aux diaconies (2), ils n'ont, jusqu'au XIIe siècle, rien de commun avec elles. Longtemps ils ne sont désignés que par le titre de diaconus regionis primae, secundae, etc. Leur nombre, jusqu'au XIIe siècle, reste fixé à sept, alors que les diaconies sont déjà seize à l'avénement du pape Hadrien (772-795) qui porte leur nombre à dix-huit.

La repartition topographique de ces diaconies n'est, nullement en rapport avec la division de la ville en régions, ni, par suite, avec les diacres régionnaires: c'est au Latran, et non dans telle ou telle diaconie, que ceux-ci ont le siège de leur administration.

(1) Catalogue Libérien (ap. Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis, t. I). (2) Elles sont mentionnées pour la première fois dans la notice du Liber Pontificalis (éd. Duchesne, I, p. 363) consacrée a Benoit II (684-685).

Source: Marrou, H.-I. "L'origine orientale des diaconies romaines." Mélanges d'Archéologie et d'Histoire, LVII (1940), pp. 95-142.

On one hand, the cardinal deacons are the heirs of the seven regional deacons instituted, in mid-third century, by Pope Fabian (236-250) to preside over the administration of the seven ecclesiastical regions in which Rome was then divided. Predating the deaconries for more than four centuries, the ecclesiastical regions had nothing in common with the deaconries until the 12th century. For a long time they were designated only by the title of "deacon of the first region", "second region", etc. Their number, until the 12th century, remained fixed at seven while the deaconries were already sixteen at the adveniment of Pope Hadrian (772-795) who increased their number to eighteen.

The topographical distribution of the deaconries was not related to the division of the city in regions nor, therefore, with the regional deacons. The see of their administration was at the Lateran, not at this or that deconry.

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The Roman church reorganized, St. Dionysius (260-268).

At his accession this pope was faced with the disarray of the Roman church caused by Valerian's persecution, and then by the problems created by Emperor Gallienus (260-268) by the reversal of his father's policies and the restoration of the church's confiscated property and cemeteries. Dionysius seems to have carried through, or any rate inaugurated, a thorough reorganization of the church, a glimpse of which may be obtained from the report of the Liber Pontificalis that he alocated the parishes and cemeteries to the several priests, and delimited new episcopal units in his metropolitan area.

Source: Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 22; Vielliard, René. Recherches sur les origines de la Rome chrétienne. Les églises romaines et leur rôle dans l'histoire et la topographie de la ville depuis la fin du monde antique jusqu'a la formation de l'état pontifical. Essai d'urbanisme chrétien. Preface per Emile Male, de l'Académie Française. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1959, pp. 23 and 32.

Text: The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). The ancient biographies of the first ninety Roman bishops to AD 715. Translated with an introduction by Raymond Davis. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989. (Translated texts for historians, Latin Text: Series V), p. 11.

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