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Bishop of Rome
Coat of arms of the Holy See.svg
Pope Francis 006.jpg
Pope Francis

Province: Rome
Diocese: Rome
Cathedral: St. John Lateran
First Bishop: Saint Peter
Formation: c. 42 AD
Website: Holy Father

The Bishop of Rome is the bishop of the Holy See, more often referred to in the Catholic tradition as the Pope. The first Bishop of Rome to bear the title of "Pope" or "Pappas" (LGk.,"father") was Boniface III in 607, the first to assume the title of "Universal Bishop" by decree of Emperor Phocas. Earlier Bishops of Rome are customarily extended the title Pope as a courtesy, except in strict historical discourse. However, in popular culture and in most history books, almanacs ( that list popes), etc., "Pope" is the designated name for the Bishop of Rome. The title "Bishop of Rome" is also used in preference to Pope by some members of Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant denominations, to reflect their rejection of papal authority over the whole Christian Church, though most, in keeping with protocol and diplomatic form, use the term "Pope" or "Your Holiness."

The Catholic Church holds that the Bishop of Rome is the sole successor to the "supremacy" or primacy of Simon Peter and is thus the "Vicar of Christ" for the world as a whole; however, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox have no such tradition, but rather view the primacy as a primacy of honor, but not of universal jurisdiction. Protestant Christians likewise reject papal claims of universal jurisdiction.

Early Bishops of Rome were designated Vicar (representative) of Peter; the more authoritative Vicar of Christ was substituted for the first time by the Roman Synod of 495 to refer to Pope Gelasius I, an originator of the doctrine of papal supremacyPetrine supremacy among Catholics— among the patriarchs. The exclusivity of Rome's claim to Petrine authority has often been questioned and nuanced.[1] Saint Cyril of Alexandria refers to the See of Antioch as the "See of Peter," thus suggesting the Antiochene Patriarch had a claim to Petrine authority.

Christ Giving the Keys to Peter, fresco by Pietro Perugino, 1481–82, commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, Sistine Chapel, Rome: the act upon which papal authority depends

The Roman Catholic view is founded on the verses in Matthew 16:18 and John 21:15-19. Roman Catholic dogma says that a special authority was given by Christ to Saint Peter in these verses and that this special authority was bequeathed to the Bishop of Rome.

In opposition to these claims, many non-Roman Catholic Christians point to other verses of Scripture such as Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 22:31-33; and Galatians 2:7-14. They say Peter was not always protected from fallibility in matters of faith and that the keys given to Peter were likewise granted to all the apostles in Matthew 18:18.

They point to the Acts of the Apostles chapters 1-2, 10-11, and 15 which confirms that St. Peter was a church leader, but places him in Jerusalem and says nothing about Rome. The Catholic Church agrees but says that tradition placed him in Rome later than the Acts references.

The Bishop of Rome's cathedra at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome

With the title "Vicar of Christ," the Pope claims jurisdiction over the entire Christian Church and supreme authority over all matters of faith and morals. Modern Catholic doctrine concerning the Pope was authoritatively declared in the First Vatican Council (1870) in the Constitution "Pastor Aeternus". The doctrine of papal infallibility espoused at the First Vatican Council was rejected by such noteworthy Roman Catholics as Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger. Later he was excommunicated.

Day-to-day administration of the Diocese of Rome is actually delegated by the Pope to the Cardinal Vicar.

By definition, all Christians not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church reject the Papal title of "Supreme Pontiff of the whole Church" or any title that gives him universal ecclesiastical authority. This holds true especially for the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and all Protestants. The Orthodox, however, believe that among the five Patriarchs and ancient Patriarchates (i.e., Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) a special place belongs to the Pope.[2] Some Assyrian, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches have also accepted governance by the Roman Pontiff in recent centuries. More than half the globe's Christians (1.129 billion Christian Catholics, including 13 Patriarchates and 23 different Rites) accept governance by the pope.[3]


  1. Richard Mc Brien Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1981), 829-30. Mc Brien says this: "Separated Christians already embrace and accept realities which serve the unity of the Church as a whole: Baptism, the Sacred Scriptures, liturgies, creeds, confessions of faith, ecumenical councils. The Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue relates these various means of unifying the Church to the 'Petrine function,' i.e., a particular form of Ministry exercised by a person, officeholder, or local church with reference to the Church as a whole. This Petrine function 'serves to promote or preserve the oneness of the church by symbolizing unity, and by facilitating communicaiton, mutual assistance or correction, and collaboration in the church's mission' (Papal Primacy, n. 4, p.12). The function is called Petrine because that is the kind of role the apostle Peter fulfilled among Jesus' original disciples. He is spoken of in relation to the founding of he Church (Matthew 16:18), strengthening the brethren (Luke 22:23), and feeding the sheep of Christ (John 21:15-17). He is a prominent figure in some of the Pauline letters, in the Acts, of the Apostles, and in two of the so-called Catholic Epistles (1 and 2 Peter) -- all of which suggest that he was associated with a wide-ranging ministry. The subsequent history of the Church portrayed him as a pastor of the universal Church. Indeed, '...the single most notable representative of this [Petrine] Ministry toward the church universal...has been the bishop of Rome (n.5, p. 12).'"
  2. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 27. Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia) says this: "The Orthodox Church does not accept the doctrine of Papal authority set forth in the decrees of the Vatican Council of 1870, and taught today in the Roman Catholic Church; but at the same time Orthodoxy does not deny to the Holy and Apostolic See of Rome 'primacy of honour,' together with the right (under certain conditions) to hear appeals from all parts of Christendom. Note that we have used the word 'primacy,' not 'supremacy.' Orthodox regard the Pope as the bishop 'who presides in love,' to adapt a phrase of St. Ignatius: Rome's mistake -- so Orthodox believe -- has been to turn this primacy or 'presidency of love' into a supremacy of external power and jurisdiction."
  3. David Barrett, "Christian World Communions: Five Overviews of Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025" in International Bulletin of Missionary Research January 2009, Vol. 33, No. 1, 31.

See also

External links

The Pentarchy
Rome (42-present) | Constantinople (330-1453) | Alexandria (43-692) |
Antioch (37-546) | Jerusalem (33-70)