The explosive growth of the College of Cardinals as of 1958 when Bl. John XXIII (#262) opted to brush aside the 70-limit established by Sixtus V (#228) in 1586 has been talked about often on these pages. Here is the latest pertinent post, from January 2,2012 — with the accompanying graph of the near vertical climb in the size of the College.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been working off-an-on, a few minutes at a time, documenting which popes were created which popes. In order to do this, I scour all of the consistories in order. So, as I am doing this I get a chance to collect a bunch of other consistory and cardinal creating data, including in pectore statistics. So far, I have gone back as far as 1700. Some of the cardinal creating numbers were striking.
There really has been a cardinal creating frenzy as of John XXIII. The key metric, of my creation, that I now use to accurately and impartially measure the rate at which a pope creates cardinals is the: ‘number of cardinals per months as pope’; i.e., number of cardinal created divided by the length of the pope’s reign. This metric has been published in my consistory data going back to St. Pius X (#258).
I have noted that Benedict XVI (#266) leads the pack per this metric. Right now it is very easy to work out this metric for the current pope. On April 19, 2012 he would have been pope for 7 years. That is 84 months. He, to date, has created 84 cardinals. So, in April, his ‘cardinals/month of office’ is 1.00. Yes, that will go down each month … In August 2012, if he hasn’t created any new cardinals, his metric will be down to 0.95 — the same as that for John XXIII, who really was in a hurry to create as many of ‘his’ cardinals as possible, given that he knew, soon after becoming pope, that he didn’t have that long to live.
So here is the first chart. Number of cardinals created per months as pope:
Here is the number of cardinals created per consistory. The Pius XII (#261) is an anomaly in that, insecure as ever, he only held two consistories during his 19.6 years as pope. Plus, he had waited 6.9 years since becoming pope to hold his first. So, he was forced to replenish large numbers. But, Pius XII aside, the number of cardinals/consistory used to be small. Nothing like it is of late.
Since they only created a few cardinals per consistory (in part to stay below the then sacrosanct 70 limit), (small) consistories used to be held on a much more frequent basis, sometimes even two or more a year. Consistories were not the big gala media extravaganzas that they are now. Maybe there is a message here, one that I have advocated for long.