The Pope, also known as the Supreme Pontiff, or the Roman pontiff, 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. The 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 "—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 etymologyThe word pope derives from Greek πάππας, 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. 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 ChurchThe 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 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 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 ChristianityIt 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 and St. Irenaeus who recorded the linear succession of Bishops of Rome 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, 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 : "With , 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. Celebration of Easter on a Sunday, as insisted on by the pope, is the system that has prevailed.