The pope (Latin: papa from Greek: πάππας pappas, “father”), also known as the supreme pontiff (Pontifex Maximus), or the Roman pontiff (Romanus Pontifex), is the bishop of Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state or sovereign of the Vatican City State. Since 1929, the pope has official residence in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City, a city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy. he current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013, succeeding Benedict XVI.
While his office is called the papacy, the jurisdiction of the episcopal see is called the Holy See. It is the Holy See that is the sovereign entity by international law headquartered in the distinctively independent Vatican City State, established by the Lateran Treaty in 1929 between Italy and the Holy See to ensure its temporal, diplomatic, and spiritual independence. The Holy See is recognized by its adherence at various levels to international organization and by means of its diplomatic relations and political accords with many independent states. The primacy of the bishop of Rome is largely derived from his role as the apostolic successor to Saint Peter, to whom primacy was conferred by Jesus, giving him the Keys of Heaven and the powers of “binding and loosing”, naming him as the “rock” upon which the church would be built.
According to Catholic tradition, the apostolic see of Rome was founded by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century. The papacy is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has had a prominent part in world history. In ancient times the popes helped spread Christianity, and intervened to find resolutions in various doctrinal disputes. In the Middle Ages, they played a role of secular importance in Western Europe, often acting as arbitrators between Christian monarchs. Currently, in addition to the expansion of the Christian faith and doctrine, the popes are involved in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, charitable work, and the defense of human rights.
In some periods of history, the papacy, which originally had no temporal powers, accrued wide secular powers rivaling those of temporal rulers. However, in recent centuries the temporal authority of the papacy has declined and the office is now almost exclusively focused on religious matters. By contrast, papal claims of spiritual authority have been increasingly firmly expressed over time, culminating in 1870 with the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra—literally “from the chair (of Saint Peter)”—to issue a formal definition of faith or morals. Still, the pope is considered one of the world’s most powerful people because of his extensive diplomatic, cultural, and spiritual influence on 1.3 billion Catholics and beyond, and because he heads the world’s largest non-government provider of education and health care, with a vast network of charities.
Title and etymology
The word pope derives from Greek πάππας (páppas), meaning ‘father’. In the early centuries of Christianity, this title was applied, especially in the east, to all bishops and other senior clergy, and later became reserved in the west to the bishop of Rome, a reservation made official only in the 11th century. The earliest record of the use of this title was in regard to the by then deceased Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Heraclas of Alexandria (232–248). The earliest recorded use of the title “pope” in English dates to the mid-10th century, when it was used in reference to the 7th century Roman Pope Vitalian in an Old English translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.
Position within the Church
The Catholic Church teaches that the pastoral office, the office of shepherding the Church, that was held by the apostles, as a group or “college” with Saint Peter as their head, is now held by their successors, the bishops, with the bishop of Rome (the pope) as their head. Thus, is derived another title by which the pope is known, that of “supreme pontiff”.
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus personally appointed Peter as the visible head of the Church, and the Catholic Church’s dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium makes a clear distinction between apostles and bishops, presenting the latter as the successors of the former, with the pope as successor of Peter, in that he is head of the bishops as Peter was head of the apostles. Some historians argue against the notion that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, noting that the episcopal see in Rome can be traced back no earlier than the 3rd century. The writings of the Church Father Irenaeus who wrote around AD 180 reflect a belief that Peter “founded and organized” the Church at Rome. Moreover, Irenaeus was not the first to write of Peter’s presence in the early Roman Church. Clement of Rome wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, c. 96, about the persecution of Christians in Rome as the “struggles in our time” and presented to the Corinthians its heroes, “first, the greatest and most just columns”, the “good apostles” Peter and Paul. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote shortly after Clement and in his letter from the city of Smyrna to the Romans he said he would not command them as Peter and Paul did. Given this and other evidence, such as Emperor Constantine’s erection of the “Old St. Peter’s Basilica” on the location of St. Peter’s tomb, as held and given to him by Rome’s Christian community, many scholars agree that Peter was martyred in Rome under Nero, although some scholars argue that he may have been martyred in Palestine.
First-century Christian communities would have had a group of presbyter-bishops functioning as leaders of their local churches. Gradually, episcopacies were established in metropolitan areas. Antioch may have developed such a structure before Rome. In Rome, there were many who claimed to be the rightful bishop, though again Irenaeus stressed the validity of one line of bishops from the time of St. Peter up to his contemporary Pope Victor I and listed them. Some writers claim that the emergence of a single bishop in Rome probably did not occur until the middle of the 2nd century. In their view, Linus, Cletus and Clement were possibly prominent presbyter-bishops, but not necessarily monarchical bishops.
Documents of the 1st century and early 2nd century indicate that the bishop of Rome had some kind of pre-eminence and prominence in the Church as a whole, as even a letter from the bishop, or patriarch, of Antioch acknowledged the Bishop of Rome as “a first among equals”, though the detail of what this meant is unclear.
Early Christianity (c. 30–325)
It seems that at first the terms “episcopos” and “presbyter” were used interchangeably. The consensus among scholars has been that, at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries, local congregations were led by bishops and presbyters whose offices were overlapping or indistinguishable. Some say that there was probably “no single ‘monarchical’ bishop in Rome before the middle of the 2nd century…and likely later.” Other scholars and historians disagree, citing the historical records of St. Ignatius of Antioch (d 107) and St. Irenaeus who recorded the linear succession of bishops of Rome (the popes) up until their own times. However, ‘historical’ records written by those wanting to show an unbroken line of popes would naturally do so, and there are no objective substantiating documents. They also cite the importance accorded to the Bishops of Rome in the ecumenical councils, including the early ones.
In the early Christian era, Rome and a few other cities had claims on the leadership of worldwide Church. James the Just, known as “the brother of the Lord”, served as head of the Jerusalem church, which is still honored as the “Mother Church” in Orthodox tradition. Alexandria had been a center of Jewish learning and became a center of Christian learning. Rome had a large congregation early in the apostolic period whom Paul the Apostle addressed in his Epistle to the Romans, and according to tradition Paul was martyred there.
During the 1st century of the Church (c. 30–130), the Roman capital became recognized as a Christian center of exceptional importance. Clement I, at the end of the 1st century, wrote an epistle to the Church in Corinth intervening in a major dispute, and apologizing for not having taken action earlier. However, there are only a few other references of that time to recognition of the authoritative primacy of the Roman See outside of Rome. In the Ravenna Document of 13 October 2007, theologians chosen by the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches stated: “41. Both sides agree … that Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. Translated into English, the statement means “first among equals”. What form that should take is still a matter of disagreement, just as it was when the Catholic and Orthodox Churches split in the Great East-West Schism. They also disagree on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the Bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.”
In the late 2nd century AD, there were more manifestations of Roman authority over other churches. In 189, assertion of the primacy of the Church of Rome may be indicated in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (3:3:2): “With [the Church of Rome], because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree … and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” In AD 195, Pope Victor I, in what is seen as an exercise of Roman authority over other churches, excommunicated the Quartodecimans for observing Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the date of the Jewish Passover, a tradition handed down by John the Evangelist (see Easter controversy). Celebration of Easter on a Sunday, as insisted on by the pope, is the system that has prevailed (see computus).
Nicaea to East-West Schism (325–1054)
The Edict of Milan in 313 granted freedom to all religions in the Roman Empire, beginning the Peace of the Church. In 325, the First Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism, declaring trinitarianism dogmatic, and in its sixth canon recognized the special role of the Sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Great defenders of Trinitarian faith included the popes, especially Pope Liberius, who was exiled to Berea by Constantius II for his Trinitarian faith, Damasus I, and several other bishops.
In 380, the Edict of Thessalonica declared Nicene Christianity to be the state religion of the empire, with the name “Catholic Christians” reserved for those who accepted that faith. While the civil power in the Eastern Roman Empire controlled the church, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the capital, wielded much power, in the Western Roman Empire, the Bishops of Rome were able to consolidate the influence and power they already possessed. After the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, barbarian tribes were converted to Arian Christianity or Catholicism; Clovis I, king of the Franks, was the first important barbarian ruler to convert to Catholicism rather than Arianism, allying himself with the papacy. Other tribes, such as the Visigoths, later abandoned Arianism in favour of Catholicism.
Gregory’s successors were largely dominated by the Exarch of Ravenna, the Byzantine emperor’s representative in the Italian Peninsula. These humiliations, the weakening of the Byzantine Empire in the face of the Muslim conquests, and the inability of the emperor to protect the papal estates against the Lombards, made Pope Stephen II turn from Emperor Constantine V. He appealed to the Franks to protect his lands. Pepin the Short subdued the Lombards and donated Italian land to the papacy. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne (800) as Roman Emperor, he established the precedent that, in Western Europe, no man would be emperor without being crowned by a Pope.
The low point of the papacy was 867–1049. This period includes the Saeculum obscurum, the Crescentii era, and the Tusculan Papacy. The papacy came under the control of vying political factions. Popes were variously imprisoned, starved, killed, and deposed by force. The family of a certain papal official made and unmade popes for fifty years. The official’s great-grandson, Pope John XII, held orgies of debauchery in the Lateran Palace. Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor had John accused in an ecclesiastical court, which deposed him and elected a layman as Pope Leo VIII. John mutilated the Imperial representatives in Rome and had himself reinstated as pope. Conflict between the Emperor and the papacy continued, and eventually dukes in league with the emperor were buying bishops and popes almost openly.
In 1049, Leo IX became pope, at last a pope with the character to face the papacy’s problems. He traveled to the major cities of Europe to deal with the church’s moral problems firsthand, notably simony and clerical marriage and concubinage. With his long journey, he restored the prestige of the papacy in Northern Europe.
From the 7th century it became common for European monarchies and nobility to found churches and perform investiture or deposition of clergy in their states and fiefdoms, their personal interests causing corruption among the clergy. This practice had become common because often the prelates and secular rulers were also participants in public life. To combat this and other practices that had corrupted the Church between the years 900 and 1050, centres emerged promoting ecclesiastical reform, the most important being the Abbey of Cluny, which spread its ideals throughout Europe. This reform movement gained strength with the election of Pope Gregory VII in 1073, who adopted a series of measures in the movement known as the Gregorian Reform, in order to fight strongly against simony and the abuse of civil power and try to restore ecclesiastical discipline, including clerical celibacy. The conflict between popes and secular autocratic rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and Henry I of England, known as the Investiture controversy, was only resolved in 1122, by the Concordat of Worms, in which Pope Callixtus II decreed that clerics were to be invested by clerical leaders, and temporal rulers by lay investiture. Soon after, Pope Alexander III began reforms that would lead to the establishment of canon law.
Since the beginning of the 7th century, the Caliphate had conquered much of the southern Mediterranean, and represented a threat to Christianity. In 1095, the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, asked for military aid from Pope Urban II in the ongoing Byzantine–Seljuq wars. Urban, at the council of Clermont, called the First Crusade to assist the Byzantine Empire to regain the old Christian territories, especially Jerusalem.
East–West Schism to Reformation (1054–1517)
With the East–West Schism, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church split definitively in 1054. This fracture was caused more by political events than by slight divergences of creed. Popes had galled the Byzantine emperors by siding with the king of the Franks, crowning a rival Roman emperor, appropriating the Exarchate of Ravenna, and driving into Greek Italy.
In the Middle Ages, popes struggled with monarchs over power.
From 1309 to 1377, the pope resided not in Rome but in Avignon. The Avignon Papacy was notorious for greed and corruption. During this period, the pope was effectively an ally of the Kingdom of France, alienating France’s enemies, such as the Kingdom of England.
The pope was understood to have the power to draw on the Treasury of Merit built up by the saints and by Christ, so that he could grant indulgences, reducing one’s time in purgatory. The concept that a monetary fine or donation accompanied contrition, confession, and prayer eventually gave way to the common assumption that indulgences depended on a simple monetary contribution. The popes condemned misunderstandings and abuses, but were too pressed for income to exercise effective control over indulgences.
Popes also contended with the cardinals, who sometimes attempted to assert the authority of Catholic Ecumenical Councils over the pope’s. Conciliarism holds that the supreme authority of the church lies with a General Council, not with the pope. Its foundations were laid early in the 13th century, and it culminated in the 15th century. The failure of Conciliarism to gain broad acceptance after the 15th century is taken as a factor in the Protestant Reformation.
Various Antipopes challenged papal authority, especially during the Western Schism (1378–1417). In this schism, the papacy had returned to Rome from Avignon, but an antipope was installed in Avignon, as if to extend the papacy there.
The Eastern Church continued to decline with the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, undercutting Constantinople’s claim to equality with Rome. Twice an Eastern Emperor tried to force the Eastern Church to reunify with the West. First in the Second Council of Lyon (1272–1274) and secondly in the Council of Florence (1431–1449). Papal claims of superiority were a sticking point in reunification, which failed in any event. In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople.
Reformation to present (1517 to today)
Protestant Reformers criticized the papacy as corrupt and characterized the pope as the antichrist.
Popes instituted a Catholic Reformation (1560–1648), which addressed the challenges of the Protestant Reformation and instituted internal reforms. Pope Paul III initiated the Council of Trent (1545–1563), whose definitions of doctrine and whose reforms sealed the triumph of the papacy over elements in the church that sought conciliation with Protestants and opposed papal claims.
Gradually forced to give up secular power, the popes focused on spiritual issues.
In 1870, the First Vatican Council proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility for those rare occasions the pope speaks ex cathedra when issuing a solemn definition of faith or morals.
Later the same year, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy seized Rome from the pope’s control and substantially completed the Italian unification.
In 1929, the Lateran Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See established Vatican City as an independent city-state, guaranteeing papal independence from secular rule.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as dogma, the only time that a pope has spoken ex cathedra since papal infallibility was explicitly declared.
The Petrine Doctrine is still controversial as an issue of doctrine that continues to divide the eastern and western churches and separate Protestants from Rome.
Saint Peter and the origin of the papal office
The Catholic Church teaches that, within the Christian community, the bishops as a body have succeeded to the body of the apostles (apostolic succession) and the Bishop of Rome has succeeded to Saint Peter.
Scriptural texts proposed in support of Peter’s special position in relation to the church include:
- Matthew 16:
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
- Luke 22:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
- John 21:
Feed my sheep.
The symbolic keys in the Papal coats of arms are a reference to the phrase “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” in the first of these texts. Some Protestant writers have maintained that the “rock” that Jesus speaks of in this text is Jesus himself or the faith expressed by Peter. This idea is undermined by the Biblical usage of “Cephas,” which is the masculine form of “rock” in Aramaic, to describe Peter. The Encyclopædia Britannica comments that “the consensus of the great majority of scholars today is that the most obvious and traditional understanding should be construed, namely, that rock refers to the person of Peter”.
Election, death and resignation
The Second Council of Lyon was convened on 7 May 1274, to regulate the election of the pope. This Council decreed that the cardinal electors must meet within ten days of the pope’s death, and that they must remain in seclusion until a pope has been elected; this was prompted by the three-year sede vacante following the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268. By the mid-16th century, the electoral process had evolved into its present form, allowing for variation in the time between the death of the pope and the meeting of the cardinal electors. Traditionally, the vote was conducted by Acclamation, by selection (by committee), or by plenary vote. Acclamation was the simplest procedure, consisting entirely of a voice vote.
The dean of the College of Cardinals then asks two solemn questions of the man who has been elected. First he asks, “Do you freely accept your election as supreme pontiff?” If he replies with the word “Accepto”, his reign begins at that instant. If he replies not, his reign begins at the inauguration ceremony several days afterward. The dean asks next, “By what name shall you be called?” The new pope announces the regnal name he has chosen. If the dean himself is elected pope, the vice dean performs this task.
The new pope is led through the “Door of Tears” to a dressing room where three sets of white papal vestments (immantatio) await: small, medium, and large. Donning the appropriate vestments and reemerging into the Sistine Chapel, the new pope is given the “Fisherman’s Ring” by the camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, whom he first either reconfirms or reappoints. The pope assumes a place of honor as the rest of the cardinals wait in turn to offer their first “obedience” (adoratio) and to receive his blessing.
The senior cardinal deacon announces from a balcony over St. Peter’s Square the following proclamation: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Papam! (“I announce to you a great joy! We have a pope!”). He announces the new pope’s Christian name along with his newly chosen regnal name.
Until 1978 the pope’s election was followed in a few days by the papal coronation, which started with a procession with great pomp and circumstance from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica, with the newly elected pope borne in the sedia gestatoria. After a solemn Papal Mass, the new pope was crowned with the triregnum (papal tiara) and he gave for the first time as pope the famous blessing Urbi et Orbi (“to the City [Rome] and to the World”). Another renowned part of the coronation was the lighting of a bundle of flax at the top of a gilded pole, which would flare brightly for a moment and then promptly extinguish, as he said, Sic transit gloria mundi (“Thus passes worldly glory”). A similar warning against papal hubris made on this occasion was the traditional exclamation, “Annos Petri non-videbis”, reminding the newly crowned pope that he would not live to see his rule lasting as long as that of St. Peter. According to tradition, he headed the church for 35 years and has thus far been the longest-reigning pope in the history of the Catholic Church.
A traditionalist Catholic belief that lacks reliable authority claims that a Papal Oath was sworn, at their coronation, by all popes from Agatho to Paul VI and that it was omitted with the abolition of the coronation ceremony.
The Latin term, sede vacante (“while the see is vacant”), refers to a papal interregnum, the period between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor. From this term is derived the term sedevacantism, which designates a category of dissident Catholics who maintain that there is no canonically and legitimately elected pope, and that there is therefore a sede vacante. One of the most common reasons for holding this belief is the idea that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and especially the reform of the Tridentine Mass with the Mass of Paul VI, are heretical and that those responsible for initiating and maintaining these changes are heretics and not true popes.
For centuries, from 1378 on, those elected to the papacy were predominantly Italians. Prior to the election of the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978, the last non-Italian was Pope Adrian VI of the Netherlands, elected in 1522. John Paul II was followed by election of the German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who was in turn followed by Argentine-born Pope Francis, who is the first non-European after 1272 years and the first Latin American, despite having an Italian ancestry.
In recent centuries, when a pope was judged to have died, it was reportedly traditional for the cardinal camerlengo to confirm the death ceremonially by gently tapping the pope’s head thrice with a silver hammer, calling his birth name each time. This was not done on the deaths of popes John Paul I and John Paul II. The cardinal camerlengo retrieves the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it in two in the presence of the cardinals. The pope’s seals are defaced, to keep them from ever being used again, and his personal apartment is sealed.
The body lies in state for several days before being interred in the crypt of a leading church or cathedral; all popes who have died in the 20th and 21st centuries have been interred in St. Peter’s Basilica. A nine-day period of mourning (novendialis) follows the interment.
It is highly unusual for a pope to resign. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states, “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” Benedict XVI, who vacated the Holy See on 28 February 2013, was the most recent to do so since Gregory XII’s resignation in 1415.
Popes adopt a new name on their accession, known as papal name, in Italian and Latin. Currently, after a new pope is elected and accepts the election, he is asked “By what name shall you be called?”. The new pope chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior cardinal deacon, or cardinal protodeacon, then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter’s to proclaim the new pope by his birth name, and announce his papal name in Latin. It’s customary when referring to popes to translate the regnal name into all local languages. Thus, for example, Papa Franciscus is Papa Francesco in Italian, but he is also known as Papa Francisco in his native Spanish, Pope Francis in English, etc.
Official list of titles
The official list of titles of the pope, in the order in which they are given in the Annuario Pontificio, is:
Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God.
The best-known title, that of “pope”, does not appear in the official list, but is commonly used in the titles of documents, and appears, in abbreviated form, in their signatures. Thus Paul VI signed as “Paulus PP. VI”, the “PP.” standing for “papa pontifex” (“pope and pontiff”).
The title “pope” was from the early 3rd century an honorific designation used for any bishop in the West. In the East, it was used only for the bishop of Alexandria. Marcellinus (d. 304) is the first bishop of Rome shown in sources to have had the title “pope” used of him. From the 6th century, the imperial chancery of Constantinople normally reserved this designation for the bishop of Rome. From the early 6th century, it began to be confined in the West to the bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the 11th century, when Gregory VII declared it reserved for the bishop of Rome.
In Eastern Christianity, where the title “pope” is used also of the bishop of Alexandria, the bishop of Rome is often referred to as the “pope of Rome”, regardless of whether the speaker or writer is in communion with Rome or not.
Vicar of Jesus Christ
“Vicar of Jesus Christ” (Vicarius Iesu Christi) is one of the official titles of the pope given in the Annuario Pontificio. It is commonly used in the slightly abbreviated form “vicar of Christ” (vicarius Christi). While it is only one of the terms with which the pope is referred to as “vicar”, it is “more expressive of his supreme headship of the Church on Earth, which he bears in virtue of the commission of Christ and with vicarial power derived from him”, a vicarial power believed to have been conferred on Saint Peter when Christ said to him: “Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep” (John 21:16–17).
The first record of the application of this title to a bishop of Rome appears in a synod of 495 with reference to Gelasius I. But at that time, and down to the 9th century, other bishops too referred to themselves as vicars of Christ, and for another four centuries this description was sometimes used of kings and even judges, as it had been used in the 5th and 6th centuries to refer to the Byzantine emperor. Earlier still, in the 3rd century, Tertullian used “vicar of Christ” to refer to the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus. Its use specifically for the pope appears in the 13th century in connection with the reforms of Pope Innocent III, as can be observed already in his 1199 letter to Leo I, King of Armenia. Other historians suggest that this title was already used in this way in association with the pontificate of Eugene III (1145–1153).
This title “vicar of Christ” is thus not used of the pope alone and has been used of all bishops since the early centuries. The Second Vatican Council referred to all bishops as “vicars and ambassadors of Christ”, and this description of the bishops was repeated by John Paul II in his encyclical Ut unum sint, 95. The difference is that the other bishops are vicars of Christ for their own local churches, the pope is vicar of Christ for the whole Church.
On at least one occasion the title “vicar of God” (a reference to Christ as God) was used of the pope.
The title “vicar of Peter” (vicarius Petri) is used only of the pope, not of other bishops. Variations of it include: “Vicar of the Prince of the Apostles” (Vicarius Principis Apostolorum) and “Vicar of the Apostolic See” (Vicarius Sedis Apostolicae). Saint Boniface described Pope Gregory II as vicar of Peter in the oath of fealty that he took in 722. In today’s Roman Missal, the description “vicar of Peter” is found also in the collect of the Mass for a saint who was a pope.
In Christian use, pontifex appears in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament to indicate the High Priest of Israel (in the original Koine Greek, ἀρχιερεύς). The term came to be applied to any Christian bishop, but since the 11th century commonly refers specifically to the Bishop of Rome, who is more strictly called the “Roman Pontiff”. The use of the term to refer to bishops in general is reflected in the terms “Roman Pontifical” (a book containing rites reserved for bishops, such as confirmation and ordination), and “pontificals” (the insignia of bishops).
The Annuario Pontificio lists as one of the official titles of the pope that of “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church” (Latin: Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis). He is also commonly called the Supreme Pontiff or the Sovereign Pontiff (Latin: Summus Pontifex).
Pontifex Maximus, similar in meaning to Summus Pontifex, is a title commonly found in inscriptions on papal buildings, paintings, statues and coins, usually abbreviated as “Pont. Max” or “P.M.” The office of Pontifex Maximus, or head of the College of Pontiffs, was held by Julius Caesar and thereafter, by the Roman emperors, until Gratian (375–383) relinquished it. Tertullian, when he had become a Montanist, used the title derisively of either the pope or the Bishop of Carthage. The popes began to use this title regularly only in the 15th century.
Servant of the servants of God
Although the description “servant of the servants of God” (Latin: servus servorum Dei) was also used by other Church leaders, including Augustine of Hippo and Benedict of Nursia, it was first used extensively as a papal title by Gregory the Great, reportedly as a lesson in humility for the patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, who had assumed the title “ecumenical patriarch”. It became reserved for the pope in the 12th century and is used in papal bulls and similar important papal documents.
Patriarch of the West
From 1863 until 2005, the Annuario Pontificio also included the title “patriarch of the West”. This title was first used by Pope Theodore I in 642, and was only used occasionally. Indeed, it did not begin to appear in the pontifical yearbook until 1863. On 22 March 2006, the Vatican released a statement explaining this omission on the grounds of expressing a “historical and theological reality” and of “being useful to ecumenical dialogue”. The title patriarch of the West symbolized the pope’s special relationship with, and jurisdiction over, the Latin Church—and the omission of the title neither symbolizes in any way a change in this relationship, nor distorts the relationship between the Holy See and the Eastern Churches, as solemnly proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.
Other titles commonly used are “His Holiness” (either used alone or as an honorific prefix “His Holiness Pope Francis”; and as “Your Holiness” as a form of address), “Holy Father”. In Spanish and Italian, “Beatísimo/Beatissimo Padre” (Most Blessed Father) is often used in preference to “Santísimo/Santissimo Padre” (Most Holy Father). In the medieval period, “Dominus Apostolicus” (“the Apostolic Lord”) was also used.
Pope Francis signs some documents with his name alone, either in Latin (“Franciscus”, as in an encyclical dated 29 June 2013) or in another language. Other documents he signs in accordance with the tradition of using Latin only and including, in the abbreviated form “PP.”, for the Latin Papa Pontifex (“Pope and Pontiff”). Popes who have an ordinal numeral in their name traditionally place the abbreviation “PP.” before the ordinal numeral, as in “Benedictus PP. XVI” (Pope Benedict XVI), except in bulls of canonization and decrees of ecumenical councils, which a pope signs with the formula, “Ego N. Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae”, without the numeral, as in “Ego Benedictus Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae” (I, Benedict, Bishop of the Catholic Church). The pope’s signature is followed, in bulls of canonization, by those of all the cardinals resident in Rome, and in decrees of ecumenical councils, by the signatures of the other bishops participating in the council, each signing as Bishop of a particular see.
Papal bulls are headed N. Episcopus Servus Servorum Dei (“Name, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God”). In general, they are not signed by the pope, but John Paul II introduced in the mid-1980s the custom by which the pope signs not only bulls of canonization but also, using his normal signature, such as “Benedictus PP. XVI”, bulls of nomination of bishops.
Regalia and insignia
Main article: Papal regalia and insignia
- Triregnum, also called the “tiara” or “triple crown”, represents the pope’s three functions as “supreme pastor”, “supreme teacher” and “supreme priest”. Recent popes have not, however, worn the triregnum, though it remains the symbol of the papacy and has not been abolished. In liturgical ceremonies the pope wears an episcopal mitre (an erect cloth hat).
- Crosier topped by a crucifix, a custom established before the 13th century (see Papal ferula).
- Pallium, or pall, a circular band of fabric worn around the neck over the chasuble. It forms a yoke about the neck, breast and shoulders and has two pendants hanging down in front and behind, and is ornamented with six crosses. Previously, the pallium worn by the pope was identical to those he granted to the primates, but in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI began to use a distinct papal pallium that is larger than the primatial, and was adorned with red crosses instead of black.
- “Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven“, the image of two keys, one gold and one silver. The silver key symbolizes the power to bind and loose on Earth, and the gold key the power to bind and loose in Heaven.
- Ring of the Fisherman, a gold or gilt ring decorated with a depiction of St. Peter in a boat casting his net, with the pope’s name around it.
- Umbraculum (better known in the Italian form ombrellino) is a canopy or umbrella consisting of alternating red and gold stripes, which used to be carried above the pope in processions.
- Sedia gestatoria, a mobile throne carried by twelve footmen (palafrenieri) in red uniforms, accompanied by two attendants bearing flabella (fans made of white ostrich feathers), and sometimes a large canopy, carried by eight attendants. The use of the flabella was discontinued by Pope John Paul I. The use of the sedia gestatoria was discontinued by Pope John Paul II.
In heraldry, each pope has his own personal coat of arms. Though unique for each pope, the arms have for several centuries been traditionally accompanied by two keys in saltire (i.e., crossed over one another so as to form an X) behind the escutcheon (shield) (one silver key and one gold key, tied with a red cord), and above them a silver triregnum with three gold crowns and red infulae (lappets—two strips of fabric hanging from the back of the triregnum which fall over the neck and shoulders when worn). This is blazoned: “two keys in saltire or and argent, interlacing in the rings or, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or”. The 21st century has seen departures from this tradition. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, while maintaining the crossed keys behind the shield, omitted the papal tiara from his personal coat of arms, replacing it with a mitre with three horizontal lines. Beneath the shield he added the pallium, a papal symbol of authority more ancient than the tiara, the use of which is also granted to metropolitan archbishops as a sign of communion with the See of Rome. Although the tiara was omitted in the pope’s personal coat of arms, the coat of arms of the Holy See, which includes the tiara, remained unaltered. In 2013, Pope Francis maintained the mitre that replaced the tiara, but omitted the pallium. He also departed from papal tradition by adding beneath the shield his personal pastoral motto: Miserando atque eligendo.
The flag most frequently associated with the pope is the yellow and white flag of Vatican City, with the arms of the Holy See (blazoned: “Gules, two keys in saltire or and argent, interlacing in the rings or, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or”) on the right-hand side (the “fly”) in the white half of the flag (the left-hand side—the “hoist”—is yellow). The pope’s escucheon does not appear on the flag. This flag was first adopted in 1808, whereas the previous flag had been red and gold. Although Pope Benedict XVI replaced the triregnum with a mitre on his personal coat of arms, it has been retained on the flag.
Pope Pius V (reigned 1566–1572), is often credited with having originated the custom whereby the pope wears white, by continuing after his election to wear the white habit of the Dominican order. In reality, the basic papal attire was white long before. The earliest document that describes it as such is the Ordo XIII, a book of ceremonies compiled in about 1274. Later books of ceremonies describe the pope as wearing a red mantle, mozzetta, camauro and shoes, and a white cassock and stockings. Many contemporary portraits of 15th and 16th-century predecessors of Pius V show them wearing a white cassock similar to his.
First Vatican Council
The status and authority of the pope in the Catholic Church was dogmatically defined by the First Vatican Council on 18 July 1870. In its Dogmatic Constitution of the Church of Christ, the Council established the following canons:
If anyone says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all the apostles, and the visible head of the whole militant Church, or, that the same received great honour but did not receive from the same our Lord Jesus Christ directly and immediately the primacy in true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.
If anyone says that it is not from the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by divine right that the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema.
If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.
We, adhering faithfully to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God, our Saviour, the elevation of the Catholic religion and the salvation of Christian peoples, with the approbation of the sacred Council, teach and explain that the dogma has been divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when carrying out the duty of the pastor and teacher of all Christians by his supreme apostolic authority he defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, through the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, operates with that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished that His church be instructed in defining doctrine on faith and morals; and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff from himself, but not from the consensus of the Church, are unalterable. But if anyone presumes to contradict this definition of Ours, which may God forbid: let him be anathema.
Second Vatican Council
Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown so that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. … this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the College of Bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.
On 11 October 2012, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council 60 prominent theologians, (including Hans Küng), put out a Declaration, stating that the intention of Vatican II to balance authority in the Church has not been realised. “Many of the key insights of Vatican II have not at all, or only partially, been implemented… A principal source of present-day stagnation lies in misunderstanding and abuse affecting the exercise of authority in our Church.”
Politics of the Holy See
Residence and jurisdiction
The pope’s official seat is in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, considered the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, and his official residence is the Apostolic Palace. He also possesses a summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, situated on the site of the ancient city of Alba Longa. Until the time of the Avignon Papacy, the residence of the pope was the Lateran Palace, donated by Roman emperor Constantine the Great.
The pope’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction (the Holy See) is distinct from his secular jurisdiction (Vatican City). It is the Holy See that conducts international relations; for hundreds of years, the papal court (the Roman Curia) has functioned as the government of the Catholic Church.
The names “Holy See” and “Apostolic See” are ecclesiastical terminology for the ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome (including the Roman Curia); the pope’s various honors, powers, and privileges within the Catholic Church and the international community derive from his Episcopate of Rome in lineal succession from the Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles (see Apostolic succession). Consequently, Rome has traditionally occupied a central position in the Catholic Church, although this is not necessarily so. The pope derives his pontificate from being bishop of Rome but is not required to live there; according to the Latin formula ubi Papa, ibi Curia, wherever the pope resides is the central government of the Church, provided that the pope is Bishop of Rome. As such, between 1309 and 1378, the popes lived in Avignon, France (see Avignon Papacy), a period often called the “Babylonian captivity” in allusion to the Biblical narrative of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah living as captives in Babylonia.
Though the pope is the diocesan bishop of Rome, he delegates most of the day-to-day work of leading the diocese to the cardinal vicar, who assures direct episcopal oversight of the diocese’s pastoral needs, not in his own name but in that of the pope. The current cardinal vicar is Angelo De Donatis, who was appointed to the office in June 2017.
Main article: Politics of Vatican City
Though the progressive Christianisation of the Roman Empire in the 4th century did not confer upon bishops civil authority within the state, the gradual withdrawal of imperial authority during the 5th century left the pope the senior imperial civilian official in Rome, as bishops were increasingly directing civil affairs in other cities of the Western Empire. This status as a secular and civil ruler was vividly displayed by Pope Leo I’s confrontation with Attila in 452. The first expansion of papal rule outside of Rome came in 728 with the Donation of Sutri, which in turn was substantially increased in 754, when the Frankish ruler Pippin the Younger gave to the pope the land from his conquest of the Lombards. The pope may have utilized the forged Donation of Constantine to gain this land, which formed the core of the Papal States. This document, accepted as genuine until the 15th century, states that Constantine the Great placed the entire Western Empire of Rome under papal rule. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish ruler Charlemagne as Roman emperor, a major step toward establishing what later became known as the Holy Roman Empire; from that date onward the popes claimed the prerogative to crown the emperor, though the right fell into disuse after the coronation of Charles V in 1530. Pius VII was present at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804 but did not actually perform the crowning. As mentioned above, the pope’s sovereignty over the Papal States ended in 1870 with their annexation by Italy.
Popes like Alexander VI, an ambitious if spectacularly corrupt politician, and Julius II, a formidable general and statesman, were not afraid to use power to achieve their own ends, which included increasing the power of the papacy. This political and temporal authority was demonstrated through the papal role in the Holy Roman Empire (especially prominent during periods of contention with the emperors, such as during the pontificates of Gregory VII and Alexander III). Papal bulls, interdict, and excommunication (or the threat thereof) have been used many times to increase papal power. The bull Laudabiliter in 1155 authorized King Henry II of England to invade Ireland. In 1207, Innocent III placed England under interdict until King John made his kingdom a fiefdom to the Pope, complete with yearly tribute, saying, “we offer and freely yield…to our lord Pope Innocent III and his catholic successors, the whole kingdom of England and the whole kingdom of Ireland with all their rights and appurtenences for the remission of our sins”. The Bull Inter caetera in 1493 led to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which divided the world into areas of Spanish and Portuguese rule. The bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570 excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England and declared that all her subjects were released from all allegiance to her. The bull Inter gravissimas in 1582 established the Gregorian calendar.
Under international law, a serving head of state has sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts of other countries, though not from that of international tribunals. This immunity is sometimes loosely referred to as “diplomatic immunity”, which is, strictly speaking, the immunity enjoyed by the diplomatic representatives of a head of state.
International law treats the Holy See, essentially the central government of the Catholic Church, as the juridical equal of a state. It is distinct from the state of Vatican City, existing for many centuries before the foundation of the latter. (It is common for publications and news media to use “the Vatican”, “Vatican City”, and even “Rome” as metonyms for the Holy See.) Most countries of the world maintain the same form of diplomatic relations with the Holy See that they entertain with other states. Even countries without those diplomatic relations participate in international organizations of which the Holy See is a full member.
It is as head of the state-equivalent worldwide religious jurisdiction of the Holy See (not of the territory of Vatican City) that the U.S. Justice Department ruled that the pope enjoys head-of-state immunity. This head-of-state immunity, recognized by the United States, must be distinguished from that envisaged under the United States’ Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which, while recognizing the basic immunity of foreign governments from being sued in American courts, lays down nine exceptions, including commercial activity and actions in the United States by agents or employees of the foreign governments. It was in relation to the latter that, in November 2008, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati decided that a case over sexual abuse by Catholic priests could proceed, provided the plaintiffs could prove that the bishops accused of negligent supervision were acting as employees or agents of the Holy See and were following official Holy See policy.
In April 2010, there was press coverage in Britain concerning a proposed plan by atheist campaigners and a prominent barrister to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested and prosecuted in the UK for alleged offences, dating from several decades before, in failing to take appropriate action regarding Catholic sex abuse cases and concerning their disputing his immunity from prosecution in that country. This was generally dismissed as “unrealistic and spurious”. Another barrister said that it was a “matter of embarrassment that a senior British lawyer would want to allow himself to be associated with such a silly idea”.
Objections to the papacy
The pope’s claim to authority is either disputed or not recognised at all by other churches. The reasons for these objections differ from denomination to denomination.
Orthodox, Anglican and Old Catholic churches
Other traditional Christian churches (Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Independent Catholic churches, etc.) accept the doctrine of Apostolic succession and, to varying extents, papal claims to a primacy of honour, while generally rejecting the pope as the successor to Peter in any other sense than that of other bishops. Primacy is regarded as a consequence of the pope’s position as bishop of the original capital city of the Roman Empire, a definition explicitly spelled out in the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon. These churches see no foundation to papal claims of universal immediate jurisdiction, or to claims of papal infallibility. Several of these churches refer to such claims as ultramontanism.
Main article: Historicism (Christianity)
In 1973, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the USA National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation in the official Catholic–Lutheran dialogue included this passage in a larger statement on papal primacy:
In calling the pope the “Antichrist”, the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the “Antichrist” when they wished to castigate his abuse of power. What Lutherans understood as a papal claim to unlimited authority over everything and everyone reminded them of the apocalyptic imagery of Daniel 11, a passage that even prior to the Reformation had been applied to the pope as the Antichrist of the last days.
Protestant denominations of Christianity reject the claims of Petrine primacy of honor, Petrine primacy of jurisdiction, and papal infallibility. These denominations vary from simply not accepting the pope’s claim to authority as legitimate and valid, to believing that the pope is the Antichrist from 1 John 2:18, the Man of Sin from 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12, and the Beast out of the Earth from Revelation 13:11–18.
This sweeping rejection is held by, among others, some denominations of Lutherans: Confessional Lutherans hold that the pope is the Antichrist, stating that this article of faith is part of a quia (“because”) rather than quatenus (“insofar as”) subscription to the Book of Concord. In 1932, one of these Confessional churches, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), adopted A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, which a small number of Lutheran church bodies now hold. The Lutheran Churches of the Reformation, the Concordia Lutheran Conference, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and the Illinois Lutheran Conference all hold to the Brief Statement, which the LCMS places on its website. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), another Confessional Lutheran church that declares the Papacy to be the Antichrist, released its own statement, the “Statement on the Antichrist”, in 1959. The WELS still holds to this statement.
Historically, Protestants objected to the papacy’s claim of temporal power over all secular governments, including territorial claims in Italy, the papacy’s complex relationship with secular states such as the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and the autocratic character of the papal office. In Western Christianity these objections both contributed to and are products of the Protestant Reformation.
Groups sometimes form around antipopes, who claim the Pontificate without being canonically and properly elected to it.
Traditionally, this term was reserved for claimants with a significant following of cardinals or other clergy. The existence of an antipope is usually due either to doctrinal controversy within the Church (heresy) or to confusion as to who is the legitimate pope at the time (schism). Briefly in the 15th century, three separate lines of popes claimed authenticity (see Papal Schism). Even Catholics do not all agree whether certain historical figures were popes or antipopes. Though antipope movements were significant at one time, they are now overwhelmingly minor fringe causes.
Other uses of the title “Pope”
In the earlier centuries of Christianity, the title “Pope”, meaning “father”, had been used by all bishops. Some popes used the term and others did not. Eventually, the title became associated especially with the Bishop of Rome. In a few cases, the term is used for other Christian clerical authorities.
In English, Catholic priests are still addressed as “father”, but the term “pope” is reserved for the head of the church hierarchy.
In the Catholic Church
“Black Pope” is a name that was popularly, but unofficially, given to the superior general of the Society of Jesus due to the Jesuits’ importance within the Church. This name, based on the black colour of his cassock, was used to suggest a parallel between him and the “White Pope” (since the time of Pius V the popes dress in white) and the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly called the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith), whose red cardinal’s cassock gave him the name of the “Red Pope” in view of the authority over all territories that were not considered in some way Catholic. In the present time this cardinal has power over mission territories for Catholicism, essentially the Churches of Africa and Asia, but in the past his competence extended also to all lands where Protestants or Eastern Christianity was dominant. Some remnants of this situation remain, with the result that, for instance, New Zealand is still in the care of this Congregation.
In the Eastern Churches
Since the papacy of Heraclas in the 3rd century, the bishop of Alexandria in both the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria continues to be called “pope”, the former being called “Coptic pope” or, more properly, “Pope and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle” and the latter called “Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa”.
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church and Serbian Orthodox Church, it is not unusual for a village priest to be called a “pope” (“поп” pop). However, this should be differentiated from the words used for the head of the Catholic Church (Bulgarian “папа” papa, Russian “папа римский” papa rimskiy).
Some new religious movements within Christianity, especially those that have disassociated themselves from the Catholic Church yet retain a Catholic hierarchical framework, have used the designation “pope” for a founder or current leader. Examples include the African Legio Maria Church and the European Palmarian Catholic Church in Spain. The Cao Dai, a Vietnamese faith that duplicates the Catholic hierarchy, is similarly headed by a pope.
Lengths of papal reign
Although the average reign of the pope from the Middle Ages was a decade, a number of those whose reign lengths can be determined from contemporary historical data are the following:
- St. Peter (c. 30–64/68): c. 34 – c. 38 years (12,410–13,870 days)
- Bl. Pius IX (1846–1878): 31 years, 7 months and 23 days (11,560 days)
- St. John Paul II (1978–2005): 26 years, 5 months and 18 days (9,665 days)
- Leo XIII (1878–1903): 25 years, 5 months and 1 day (9,281 days)
- Pius VI (1775–1799): 24 years, 6 months and 15 days (8,962 days)
- Adrian I (772–795): 23 years, 10 months and 25 days (8,729 days)
- Pius VII (1800–1823): 23 years, 5 months and 7 days (8,560 days)
- Alexander III (1159–1181): 21 years, 11 months and 24 days (8,029 days)
- St. Sylvester I (314–335): 21 years, 11 months and 1 day (8,005 days)
- St. Leo I (440–461): 21 years, 1 month, and 13 days (7,713 days)
- Urban VIII (1623–1644): 20 years, 11 months and 24 days (7,664 days)
During the Western Schism, Avignon Pope Benedict XIII (1394–1423) ruled for 28 years, seven months and 12 days, which would place him third in the above list. However, since he is regarded as an anti-pope, he is not mentioned in the list above.
There have been a number of popes whose reign lasted about a month or less. In the following list the number of calendar days includes partial days. Thus, for example, if a pope’s reign commenced on 1 August and he died on 2 August, this would count as having reigned for two calendar days.
- Urban VII (15–27 September 1590): reigned for 13 calendar days, died before coronation.
- Boniface VI (April 896): reigned for 16 calendar days
- Celestine IV (25 October – 10 November 1241): reigned for 17 calendar days, died before coronation.
- Theodore II (December 897): reigned for 20 calendar days
- Sisinnius (15 January – 4 February 708): reigned for 21 calendar days
- Marcellus II (9 April – 1 May 1555): reigned for 23 calendar days
- Damasus II (17 July – 9 August 1048): reigned for 24 calendar days
- Pius III (22 September – 18 October 1503): reigned for 27 calendar days
- Leo XI (1–27 April 1605): reigned for 27 calendar days
- Benedict V (22 May – 23 June 964): reigned for 33 calendar days
- John Paul I (26 August – 28 September 1978): reigned for 34 calendar days
Stephen (23–26 March 752) died of stroke three days after his election, and before his consecration as a bishop. He is not recognized as a valid pope, but was added to the lists of popes in the 15th century as Stephen II, causing difficulties in enumerating later popes named Stephen. The Holy See’s Annuario Pontificio, in its list of popes and antipopes, attaches a footnote to its mention of Stephen II (III):
On the death of Zachary the Roman priest Stephen was elected; but, since four days later he died, before his consecratio, which according to the canon law of the time was the true commencement of his pontificate, his name is not registered in the Liber Pontificalis nor in other lists of the popes.
Published every year by the Roman Curia, the Annuario Pontificio attaches no consecutive numbers to the popes, stating that it is impossible to decide which side represented at various times the legitimate succession, in particular regarding Pope Leo VIII, Pope Benedict V and some mid-11th-century popes.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia