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For the history of the Catholic Church in general, see timeline and history. See also, Catholic Ecumenical Councils.

Statue of Saint Peter. St. Peter was the first Pope. This statue was placed in Saint Peter's Basilica by Pope Pius IX.

The History of the Papacy is the history of both the spiritual and temporal roles of the popes over a timespan of over 2,000 years from the arrival of Peter in Rome to the present day. The Papacy is the office occupied by the pope. In addition to his role as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, the pope is also the Head of State of the Vatican, an independent and sovereign city-state, entirely enclaved by the city of Rome.

There is no official list of popes, but the Annuario Pontificio, published every year by the Vatican, contains a list that is generally considered to be the most authoritative. It is provided here. The Annuario Pontificio lists Benedict XVI, the current pope as of this writing, as the 265th pope of Rome. In 2001 a rigorous study was made by the Catholic Church into the history of the papacy.[1] Based on that research, in 2008 there have been 265 Popes and 267 pontificates. The difference can be accounted for by the fact that Benedict IX reigned three different times between 1032 and 1048.

The history of the Papacy's temporal role can be divided into three major time periods: the early church, the Middle Ages, and the modern era. During the Early Church, the Pope had no temporal power and served only as the bishop of the Christian church in Rome. Even in that spiritual role, it was contested whether the patriarchs of the other churches were subordinate to the bishop of Rome.

The second major time period runs roughly from the 4th Century until the Kingdom of Italy seized Church lands in 1870. The Middle Ages saw the papacy reach its height of power, consolidating and unifying the churches of Western Europe, and expanding its territories, known as the Papal States. However, it also witnessed the Great Schism, which permanently divided the Church, East and West, Byzantine and Catholic, and then again, the Protestant Reformation, which directly challenged the authority of the papacy. At the end of this time period, the Papal states were taken away from the Vatican.

The Modern Era begins with the decline of the Pope's temporal power in the 19th century to the present day. During this period, the Papacy has focused on its role as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church.

Catholics recognize the Pope as a successor to Saint Peter, whom, according to the Bible, Jesus named as the "shepherd" and "rock" of the Church.[2][3] Although Peter never bore the title of "Pope", which came into use much later, Catholics recognize him as the first Pope,[4] while official declarations of the Church speak of the Popes as holding within the college of the Bishops a position analogous to that held by Peter within the college of the Apostles, of which the college of the Bishops, a distinct entity, is the successor.[5][6][7]

The study of the New Testament offers "no proof that Peter was regarded as the first bishop of Rome", but it does "offer some foundation for both papacy and infallibility" as well as "some divine foundation for the Petrine function". [8] Some historians argue that the notion that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and founded the Christian church there can be traced back no earlier than the third century.[9] However the writings of the Church Father Irenaeus who wrote around 180 AD clearly indicate a belief that Peter "founded and organised" the Church at Rome.[10]

Since the Reformation, the question of the origins of the papacy has been vital to all Christian churches. Some Protestant theologians stated that Peter was never in Rome, a view taken most prominently by Ferdinand Christian Baur and the Tübingen School. According to Baur, the Roman life and death of Peter was a politically motivated invention. Others, like Dressel in 1872, stated that Peter was in fact buried in Alexandria, Egypt or in Antioch.[11] Today, those views are not expressed anymore. The traditional Catholic view is now generally accepted, that Peter actually lived and died in Rome. As Lutheran Adolf Harnack stated, "Tendentious-Protestant and tendentious-critical prejudice questioned the martyrdom of Peter in Rome. Both errors led to the truth."[12]

Early Christianity

Peter and the origins of the papacy

The circumstances of his life and death, and the exact location of his remains, continue to be largely a mystery. In light of continued persecution, early Christians did not leave much of a paper trail. Despite the special status of the church of Rome, there are only a few 1st century references to the life and circumstances of the Roman community and the activities of Peter.[13]

Clement of Rome's letter to the Corinthians, written c. 96[14] described the awesome 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.[15]

St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote shortly afterwards his letters from the city of Smyrna to the Romans. He was condemned to die because of his Christian beliefs and wrote a last time to the Romans, that he would not command them as Peter and Paul did.[16] These are seen by the Catholic Church as a clear indication of the existence of a certain early Papal primacy.[15][17] Most Protestants argue that these documents refer only to a primacy of honour. Between the years 166 and 176, the Bishop of Corinth, Dionysius, stated with clear words, that both Paul and Peter were in Corinth and Rome, where they preached the Gospel.[18] Around the year 190-200, the Roman priest Gaius writes in defense of his faith:[19][20] Irenaeus (died 202) confirms as well the foundation of the Catholic Church through Peter and Paul.[21]

Biblical foundations

While the historical origins of the papacy and circumstances of Peter's life in Rome are not fully documented, the biblical basis in the New Testament provides a clearer picture. In all New Testament gospels, Peter is the leader or spokesman of the Apostles. (However, in the book of Acts, and evidenced in Paul's epistle to the Galatians, James the brother of Jesus appeared to take the lead, with Peter possibly submitting to his authority.) When the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the apostles, they mention Peter first. “In each Gospel, he is the first disciple, to be called by Jesus.[22]

The dogma and tradition of the Catholic Church teach that the institution of the papacy was mandated by Jesus in the Biblical passages in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."[23]

In Matthew, the centrality of Peter is not only manifested in this quote. After the resurrection, Jesus Christ repeats his mandate to Peter (John, 21:15) Luke cites a mandate from Jesus to Peter to “strengthen his brothers” (Luke, 22:31). Historical opposition to the Catholic interpretation of these biblical quotes saw them as “cheap falsification” and late additions to the original scriptures.[24] Another source of disagreement was the Catholic interpretation of "ecclesia" (church) in the scriptures. Some non-Catholic scholars maintained that Christ did not intend to create a formal Church at all.[25]

Leadership of the early church

Saint Paul, who disagreed on several issues with Saint Peter, shares with him the same Feast Day, June 29.

The Catholic Church that Jesus appointed Peter as the first of the apostles and head of his Church, and that he was martyred in Rome.[26] Peter himself acted accordingly: He spoke in the name of the others (Math16,16); he talked to the large gathering of people on the first Pentecost, he defended the case of the Apostles before the High Council, he chastised Simon Magnus, he accepted the first Gentiles into the Church, and presided the first Apostolic Council.[27] The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1-2, 10-11, and 15 show that Saint Peter had a leadership role among the early Christian church in Jerusalem. Yet there were also conflicts with Saint Paul (Gal 2,9 2,11), who disagreed at times with Peter. These conflicts indicate, that "the primacy as guarantor for unity and truth was not as necessary", in the much smaller Early Church, as it was later the case.[28]

Some historians suggest that various Christian communities had a group of presbyter-bishops functioning as leaders of the local church, and that eventually this evolved into a monarchical episcopacy in certain cities.[29] The monarchical episcopacy probably developed in other churches in Christianity before it took shape in Rome. For example, it has been conjectured that Antioch may have been one of the first Christian communities to have adopted such a structure.[29] The emergence of a single bishop in Rome probably did not arise until the middle of the second century. Linus, Cletus and Clement were probably prominent presbyter-bishops but not necessarily monarchical bishops.[30] But this suggestion is challenged, for example, Ignatius of Antioch in 107 states that the faithful of each local church were controlled by a bishop.[31] Eventually, Rome followed the example of other Christian communities and structured itself after the model of the empire with one presbyter bishop in charge ..."[32] The organizational structure Catholic Church subsequently evolved into the present form of one bishop supported by a college of presbyters.[29]

Eastern Orthodox view

Eastern Orthodox theologians agree that in Matthew 16:18, "rock" is a likely reference to Peter personally.[33] Moreover, Eastern Orthodox theologians follow such Fathers as St. John Chrysostom by clarifying that "rock" simultaneously refers to Peter (instrumentally) as well as Peter's confession of faith which has ultimate significance in establishing the Church.[34]

Some Orthodox scholars do not see Peter has being in any way above the other apostles, arguing that Peter did not have power and authority over them during Christ's public ministry. According to this view, Peter has a weak symbolic primacy or primacy of honor (in the sense of a purely honorary primacy). Other Orthodox scholars follow St. John Chrysostom and the Byzantine[35] tradition in seeing Peter as the icon of the episcopate[36] with his title of protos (first) implying a certain level of authority over the other apostles. In this traditional Orthodox and Patristic view, the Church is the local Eucharistic assembly ("the diocese" in today's terminology) and the one who holds the "Chair of Peter" (St. Cyprian's expression) is the bishop. As a result, the primary of Peter is relevant to the relationship between the bishop and the presbyters, not between the bishop of Rome and the other bishops who are all equally holding Peter's chair.[37]

Orthodox historians also maintain that Rome's authority in the early Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) empire was recognized only partially because of Rome's Petrine character, and that this factor was not the decisive issue. Moreover, the Orthodox view is that Rome's privileges were not understood as an absolute power (i.e., the difference between primacy and supremacy). In the East, there were numerous "apostolic sees", Jerusalem being considered the "mother of all churches," and the bishop of Antioch could also claim the title of successor to Peter, being that Peter was the first bishop of Antioch. "Canon 28 of Chalcedon was for [the Byzantines] one of the essential texts for the organization of the Church: 'It is for right reasons that the accorded privileges to old Rome, for this city was the seat of the Emperor and the Senate.' ... The reason why the Roman Church had been accorded an incontestable precedence over all other apostolic churches was that its Petrine and Pauline 'apostolicity' was in fact added to the city's position as the capital city, and only the conjunction of both of these elements gave the Bishop of Rome the right to occupy the place of a primate in the Christian world with the consensus of all the churches."[38]

Protestant scholars view the role of Peter differently. According to James L. Barker, a scholar and missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the position of the bishop of Rome was not regarded as significantly different from the bishops of Antioch or Jerusalem.[39] He contends that, insofar as the bishop of Rome was accorded any special status, it was more as a mediator than as a ruler; and that people appealed to the bishop of Rome to help mediate disputes arising over issues like Gnosticism, not to deliver a definitive statement of Christian orthodoxy. In the Catholic view, it is this settling of disputes, which Peter and his successors engaged in, which established Christian orthodoxy.[27]

The ongoing persecutions against Christians required flexibility, hiding and decentralization. The early Church developed not only views on the bishop of Rome but also on bishops and priests in general. Some evidence points to committees of priests (presbyteroi / πρεσβυτεροι) or Bishops (episkopoi / επίσκoποι). This was standard in Christian communities all over the Roman empire.[40] In the second century "The letters of Ignatius of, Antioch, generally dated to about 115, are the first Christian documents that witness to the presence of an episkopoi who is clearly distinct from the presbyterate and is pastor of the whole church of a city."[41] Letters from Ignatius of Antioch describe churches led by a single bishop, who was merely assisted by the presbyters and deacons.

Primacy of Rome

In the early history of Christianity, five cities emerged as important centers of Christianity: Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople.

The power of the Bishop of Rome increased as the imperial power of the Emperor declined. Edicts of the Emperor Theodosius II and of Valentinian III proclaimed the Roman bishop "as Rector of the whole Church." The Emperor Justinian, who was living in the East in Constantinople, in the sixth century published a similar decree. These proclamations did not create the office of the Pope but from the sixth century onward the Bishop of Rome's power and prestige increased so dramatically that the title of "Pope" began to fit the Bishop of Rome best.[42]

Imperial era: 42-395

Early popes

Many popes in the first three centuries of the Christian era are obscure figures. Several suffered martyrdom along with members of their flock in periods of persecution. Most of them engaged in intense theological arguments with other bishops.

Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire

Christianity managed not only to survive Diocletian's attempts to crush it by persecution but to continue to grow in spite of his efforts. Christianity was legalized by Galerius, who was the first emperor to issue an edict of toleration for all religious creeds including Christianity in April of 311.[43]

Constantine the Great was the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity, although he may have continued in his pre-Christian beliefs. He and the co-Emperor Licinius in the East were the first to bestow imperial favor on Christianity through the Edict of Milan promulgated in 313.

Changes in the structure of the church

After the Edict of Milan, the church adopted the same governmental structure as the Empire: geographical provinces ruled by bishops. These bishops of important cities therefore rose in power over the bishops of lesser cities.

Rome was not the only city that could claim a special role in the Church. Jerusalem had the prestige of being the city of Christ's death and resurrection, and an important church council was held there in the first century, the Council of Jerusalem. Antioch was the place where Jesus' followers were first called "Christians" and, with Alexandria, was an important early center of Christian thought. Constantinople became highly important after Constantine moved his capital there in 330 AD.

The Latin Church Father and Doctor of the Church, Saint Ambrose of Milan was a vocal defender of orthodoxy against the heresy of arianism

Pope Miltiades and his successors

The brief pontificate of Pope Miltiades (311-314) marked a transition to a very different role for the papacy. The Lateran Basilica (Basilica of Our Savior) became the episcopal seat of the Bishop of Rome. In 313, Miltiades held the Lateran synod openly in Rome, at the behest of the emperor. This event inaugurated a link between the papacy and temporal power which would last for over a millennium. In Africa the Donatist developed the theory, - for about one hundred years - that the Church must be a Church of saints and not sinners.

Pope Silvester I (313-335) benefited from Constantine's generosity, who built major Cathedrals in Rome such as the Lateran and Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The first Ecumenical Council took place during his pontificate in Nicaea, (325) which formulated the teaching authority of the papacy. Arianism, a heresy from his perspective, became a major problem during his pontificate, as the emperor Constantine himself converted to it.[44]

Under Pope Liberius (352-366) the Arian conflict between the emperor and the Pope culminated in the Synod of Arles (353), convened by Constantius II. The legates of the Pope signed a declaration, condemning the Council of Nicaea. Liberius refused to recognize the Council and its signatures and was exiled.[45] However, from then on, no Roman bishop participated in a Synod, which he had not convened himself, and which did not take place under his leadership in Rome.[46] No Pope personally participated in an ecumenical council, convened by an Emperor from then on.[46] Under Pope Damasus, (366-384) the conflict with Arianism was decided in favour of the papal position, with the help of Emperor Theodosius, Gregory of Nazianzus Gregory of Nyssa and Ambrose of Milan. The Pope opened the catacombs in Rome, which had been shut by emperor Diocletian. Pope Siricius (384-399) is credited with the first written papal decree regarding Church discipline. Under Celestine I, the Church disputes in Africa with the Donatists were put on the front burner, a fight largely undertaken by Augustine of Hippo.[47] By the fifth century, the bishop of Rome began to claim his supremacy over all other bishops, and all church doctors and most church fathers also made this claim for him.

Byzantine Papacy

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the papacy from 534 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii (liaisons from the pope to the emperor) or the inhabitants of Byzantine Greece, Syria, or Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

With the exception of Pope Martin I, no pope during this period questioned the authority of the Byzantine monarch to confirm the election of the bishop of Rome before consecration could occur; however, theological conflicts were common between pope and emperor in the areas such as monotheletism and iconoclasm.

Greek speakers from Greece, Syria, and Byzantine Sicily replaced members of the powerful Roman nobles in the papal chair during this period. Rome under the Greek popes constituted a "melting pot" of Western and Eastern Christian traditions, reflected in art as well as liturgy.

Middle Ages

Key dates

  • 496: Clovis I pagan King of the Franks, converts to the Catholic faith.
  • 502: Pope Symmachus ruled that laymen should no longer vote for the popes and that only higher clergy should be considered eligible.
  • 590: Pope Gregory the Great. Reforms Church structure and administration. Establishes Gregorian Chant.
  • 596: Saint Augustine of Canterbury sent by Pope Gregory to evangelise the pagan English.
  • 638: Christian Jerusalem and Syria conquered by Muslim armies.
  • 642: Egypt falls to the Muslims, followed by the rest of North Africa.


In 502, Pope Symmachus ruled that laymen should no longer vote for the popes and that only higher clergy should be considered eligible.

Gregory the Great

Pope Gregory the Great from an early manuscript

Pope Gregory I, called the great, was a monk who became pope in 590, ruling until his death in 604. His was a major reforming papacy. He asserted the primacy of Rome and laid down regulations for clerical celibacy. He introduced liturgical reforms and is traditionally credited with the popularization of Gregorian chant. He is more widely famed for the impetus he gave to missionary activity among the pagan peoples of northern Europe, especially the initiation of the mission of Saint Augustine of Canterbury to England.


The Lombard kingdom reached its height in the 7th and 8th century. Paganism and Arianism were at first prevalent among the Lombards but were gradually supplanted by Catholicism. Roman culture and Latin speech were gradually adopted and the Catholic bishops emerged as chief magistrates in the cities. Lombard law combined Germanic and Roman traditions.

Donation of Constantine

In the middle of the eighth century, a fraudulent attempt was made to claim a large transfer of power and authority from the Emperor Constantine to the Bishop of Rome. The Donation of Constantine was purported to be the legal document in which the Emperor Constantine donated to Sylvester, the Bishop of Rome (314-335), much of his property and invested him with great spiritual power and authority.

The vastness and splendor of the inheritance allegedly given by Constantine to Sylvester in this document is seen in the following quotation from the manuscript,

"We attribute to the See of Peter all the dignity, all the glory, all the authority of the imperial power. Furthermore, we give to Sylvester and to his successors our palace of the Lateran, which is incontestably the finest palace on the earth; we give him our crown, our miter, our diadem, and all our imperial vestments; we transfer to him the imperial dignity. We bestow on the holy Pontiff in free gift the city of Rome, and all the western cities of Italy. To cede precedence to him, we divest ourselves of our authority over all those provinces, and we withdraw from Rome, transferring the seat of our empire to Byzantium; inasmuch as it is not proper that an earthly emperor should preserve the least authority, where God hath established the head of his religion."[48]

This document was used by some medieval popes to bolster their claims for territorial and secular power in Italy. It was widely accepted, though the Emperor Otto III denounced the document as a forgery. By the mid 15th century, however, the Church had begun to realize that the document could not possibly be genuine. The Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla proved in 1440 that the Donation must be a fake by analyzing its language, and showing that while certain imperial-era formulas are used in the text, some of the Latin in the document could not have been written in the 4th century.

Donation of Pepin

In 751, Aistulf, took Ravenna and threatened Rome. To respond to this threat, Pope Stephen II made an unusual journey north of the Alps to visit the Frankish king, Pepin III, to seek his help against the Lombards who have recently taken the city of Ravenna and who now pose a similar threat to Rome.

The pope anointed Pepin at the abbey of St Denis, near Paris, together with Pepin's two young sons Charles and Carloman. Pepin duly invaded northern Italy in 754, and again in 756. Pepin was able to drive the Lombards from the territory belonging to Ravenna but he does not restore it to its rightful owner, the Byzantine emperor. Instead, perhaps believing the fiction revealed in the forged Donation of Constantine, he handed over large areas of central Italy to the pope and his successors.

The land given to pope Stephen in 756, in the so-called Donation of Pepin, made the papacy a temporal power. This territory would become the basis for the Papal States, over which the popes ruled until the Papal States were incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870. For the next eleven centuries, the story of Rome will be almost synonymous with the story of the papacy.

Final defeat of the Lombards

After Aistulf's death King Desiderius renewed the attack on Rome. In 772, Pope Adrian I enlisted the support of Charlemagne, Pepin's successor, who intervened, and, after defeating the Lombards, added their kingdom to his own.

Ninth century

After being physically attacked by his enemies in the streets of Rome, Pope Leo III made his way in 799 through the Alps to visit Charlemagne at Paderborn.

It is not known what was agreed between the two, but Charlemagne traveled to Rome in 800 to support the pope. In a ceremony in St Peter's Basilica, on Christmas Day, Leo was supposed to anoint Charlemagne's son as his heir. But unexpectedly (it is maintained), as Charlemagne rose from prayer, the pope placed a crown on his head and acclaimed him emperor. It is reported that Charlemagne expressed displeasure but nevertheless accepted the honour. The displeasure was probably diplomatic, for the legal emperor was supposed to be seated in Constantinople. Nevertheless, this public alliance between the pope and the ruler of a confederation of Germanic tribes was a reflection of the reality of political power in the west. This coronation launched the concept of the new Holy Roman Empire which would play an important role throughout the Middle Ages. The Holy Roman Empire only became formally established in the next century. But the concept is implicit in the title adopted by Charlemagne in 800: 'Charles, most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman empire.'

Leo's action in crowning Charlemagne would serve as precedent for later popes who claimed the right and power to make (and unmake) emperors.

Tenth century

The period beginning with the installation of Pope Sergius III in 904 and lasting for sixty years until the death of Pope John XII in 964 is sometimes referred to as Saeculum obscurum or the "dark age". Historian Will Durant refers to the period from 867 to 1049 as the "nadir of the papacy".[49]

During this period, the Popes were controlled by a powerful and corrupt aristocratic family, the Theophylacti, and their relatives.[50]

Eleventh century

The eleventh century is often called the century of Saxon Popes: Pope Gregory VI (1045 - 1046), Pope Clement II (1046 - 1047), Pope Damasus II (1048), Pope Leo IX (1049 - 1054), Pope Victor II (1055 - 1057) and Pope Stephen IX (1057 - 1058).

Three popes Benedict IX, Sylvester III and Gregory VI all claimed to be the rightful pope. Henry III deposed all three and held a synod where he declared no Roman priest fit for the title of pope. He subsequently appointed Suidger of Bamberg who, after being duly acclaimed by the people and clergy, took the name Clement II.

Days later, Clement II then crowned Henry emperor. Over the next ten years, Henry personally selected four of the next five pontiffs. The ascendancy of these to the Papacy reflected the strength and power of the Holy Roman Emperor. However, Henry was the last emperor to dominate the papacy in this way because, after his death, the Pope quickly moved to change the system to prevent such secular involvement in the election of future popes.

A central feature of this period was the Investiture Controversy, a mortal struggle between the popes (notably Pope Gregory VII) and the emperors (notably Henry IV) for control of the church. The struggle between the temporal power of the emperors and the spiritual influence of the popes came to a head in the reigns of Pope Nicholas II (1059 - 1061) and Pope Gregory VII (1073 - 1085). The popes fought to free the appointment of bishops, abbots and other prelates from the power of secular lords and monarchs into which it had fallen. This would prevent venial men being appointed to vital church positions because it benefited political rulers. Henry IV was ultimately driven by a revolt among the German nobles to make peace with the Pope and appeared before Gregory in January 1077 at Canossa. Dressed as a penitent, the emperor is said to have stood barefoot in the snow for three days and begged forgiveness until, in Gregory's words: "We loosed the chain of the anathema and at length received him into the favor of communion and into the lap of the Holy Mother Church".[51]

These tensions between emperors and pontiffs were to continue into the twelfth century and ultimately gave rise to the "distinctive separation of Church and State when the emperor signed the Concordat of Worms (1122) forfeiting any right to invest bishops with the ring and the staff symbolic of spiritual authority".[52] Papal victory was short-lived, and this attempted separation of the secular from the ecclesiastical did not end aspirations on the part of the emperors to influence the papacy, nor the aspirations of the popes to exercise political power.

These power struggles had already led to a clericalization of the Western Church under Gregory VII (1073-1085). The authority of Gregory VII and those that followed him demonstrated the secular and imperial nature of the pontifical office. With Gregory VII, we find the creation of a Christian commonwealth under papal control. In the Dictatus Papae, Gregory claimed:

  • That the Roman pontiff alone is rightly called universal.
  • That he alone has the power to depose and reinstate bishops.
  • That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  • That all princes shall kiss the foot of the pope alone.
  • That he has the power to depose emperors.
  • That he can be judged by no one.
  • That no one can be regarded as Catholic who does not agree with the Roman church.
  • That he has the power to absolve subjects from their oath of fealty to wicked rulers[53]

Gregory VII

During the reign of Pope Gregory VII, the title “pope” was officially restricted to the bishop of Rome. Gregory VII was also responsible for greatly expanding the power of the papacy in worldly matters. One of the great reforming popes, Gregory is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, which pitted him against Emperor Henry IV.

Investiture Controversy

The Investiture Controversy also known as the Lay investiture controversy, was the most significant conflict between secular and religious powers in medieval Europe. It began as a dispute in the 11th century between the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and the Gregorian Papacy concerning who would control appointments of church officials (investiture). The controversy, undercutting the Imperial power established by the Salian Emperors, would eventually lead to nearly fifty years of civil war in Germany, the triumph of the great dukes and abbots, and the disintegration of the German empire, a condition from which it would not recover until the unification of Germany in the 19th century.

In 1046, Henry III deposed three rival popes. Over the next ten years he personally selected four of the next five pontiffs. But after the death of Henry III, the Pope quickly moved to change the system to prevent such secular involvement in the election of future popes.

Pope Nicholas II, elected in 1058, initiated a process of reform which exposed the underlying tension between empire and papacy. In 1059, at a synod in Rome, Nicholas condemned various abuses within the church. These included simony (the selling of clerical posts), the marriage of clergy and, more controversially, corrupt practices in papal elections. Nicholas then restricted the choice of a new pope to a conclave of cardinals, thus ruling out any direct influence by secular powers. The primary objective of these actions was to restrict the influence of the Holy Roman Emperor on papal elections. In 1061, the assembled bishops of Germany, the emperor's own faction, declared all the decrees of this pope null and void.

In 1059, Nicholas II took two steps of a kind which, while unusual at this period, would later become commonplace for the medieval papacy. He granted land, which was already occupied, to recipients of his own choice, engaging those recipients in a feudal relationship with the papacy, or the Holy See, as the feudal lord. The beneficiaries of Nicholas' land grants were the Normans, who were granted territorial rights in southern Italy and Sicily in return for feudal obligations to Rome.

East-West Schism

The East-West Schism was the event that divided Chalcedonian Christianity into Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Though normally dated to 1054, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between the two Churches. The primary causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority—the Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern Greek-speaking patriarchs, and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Western Church. Eastern Orthodox today claim that the primacy of the Patriarch of Rome was only honorary, and that he has authority only over his own diocese and does not have the authority to change the decisions of Ecumenical Councils. There were other, less significant catalysts for the Schism, including variance over liturgical practices and conflicting claims of jurisdiction.

The Church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines, and the fundamental breach has never been healed. Attempts were made to reunite the two churches in 1274 (by the Second Council of Lyon) and in 1439 (by the Council of Basel), but in each case the councils were repudiated by the Orthodox as a whole, charging that the hierarchs had overstepped their authority in consenting to these so-called "unions". Further attempts to reconcile the two bodies have failed.

Urban II

The origins of the Crusades lie in Western developments earlier in the Middle Ages, as well as the deteriorating situation of the Byzantine Empire. The breakdown of the Carolingian empire in the later 9th century, combined with the relative stabilization of local European borders after the Christianization of the Vikings, Slavs and Magyars, meant that there was an entire class of warriors who now had very little to do but fight among themselves and terrorize the peasant population. The Church tried to stem this violence with the Peace and Truce of God movements, forbidding violence against certain people at certain times of the year. This was somewhat successful, but trained warriors always needed an outlet for their violence.

For these reasons, a plea for help from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I in opposing Muslim attacks thus fell on ready ears. Although the eastern Mediterranean area had been conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century, Christians had been permitted to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land until 1071 when the Seljuk Turks swept in from Asia and defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. Seizing all of Asia Minor as well as the Holy Land the Seljuk Turks soon impeded Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, forcing the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus, to ask Pope Urban II (1088-1099) for help against the Turks in the early 1090s.

Urban II viewed this request as a great opportunity. Not only could it restore Christian control over the Holy Land, but it also provided a means of domestic pacification that focused the aggression of the European nobility towards the Moslems instead of each other. In addition, coming to the aid of Byzantium held the possibility of a reunion between the eastern and western Churches after almost four decades of schism, thereby strengthening the western Church in general and the papacy in particular.

On November 27, 1095, Urban II made one of the most influential speeches in the Middle Ages at the Council of Clermont combining the ideas of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with that of waging a holy war against infidels. The pope called for a “War of the Cross,” or Crusade, to retake the holy lands from the unbelievers. France, the Pope said, was already overcrowded and the Holy Lands of Canaan were overflowing with milk and honey. Pope Urban II asked the Frenchmen to turn their swords in favour of God's service, and the assembly replied "Dieu le veult!" -- "God wills it!"

Twelfth century

Innocent III

On January 8, 1198, Lotario de' Conti di Segni was elected Pope Innocent III. The pontificate of Innocent III is considered the height of temporal power of the papacy.

Episcopal inquisition

The first medieval inquisition, the episcopal inquisition, was established in the year 1184 by a papal bull entitled Ad abolendam, "For the purpose of doing away with." The inquisition was in response to the growing Catharist heresy in southern France. It is called "episcopal" because it was administered by local bishops, which in Latin is episcopus. The episcopal inquisition was not very effective for many reasons. The bishops often did not reside in their dioceses, living in far-off cities such as Rome and rarely, if ever, visiting. When they did visit, bishops were busy and had many other responsibilities. Also, the procedures used in this inquisition were not effective. For example, according to the Ad abolendam, it was required to reveal the name of the accuser to the accused, and this would often lead to the revenge killing of the accuser before the trial.

Thirteenth century

Papal inquisition

In the 1230s the Church responded to the failures of the episcopal inquisition with a series of papal bulls which became the papal inquisition. The papal inquisition was staffed by professionals, trained specifically for the job. Individuals were chosen from different orders and secular clergy, but primarily they came from the Dominican Order. The Dominicans were favored for their history of anti-heresy, education, and skill in debate. As mendicants, they were accustomed to travel and not interested in personal gain. Unlike the haphazard episcopal methods, the papal inquisition was thorough and systematic, keeping detailed records.

Council of Lyons

At the second ecumenical Council of Lyons in 1274, the bishops declared that the Roman church possessed “the supreme and full primacy and authority over the universal Catholic Church,” which of course gave the bishop of Rome quite a lot of power.

Avignon era ("Babylonian Captivity"): 1309-1377

The Catholic Church endured a prolonged period of crisis that lasted from 1305 until 1416. During these years, the Church found its authority undermined, openly challenged, and divided among rivals. Although it emerged at the end of the period with its authority seemingly intact, the struggle brought significant changes to the structure of the Church and sowed seeds that would later sprout in the Protestant Reformation.

This century of crisis can be divided into two periods of unequal length.

Avignon Papacy

In the first phase, the popes were resident not in Rome but in Avignon, in southern France. Because a bishop is supposed to reside in his see, this circumstance, which lasted from 1305 to 1378, undermined the authority and prestige of the papacy. During this period, seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon:

  • Pope Clement V: 1305–1314 (moved Papal residency in 1309, his 4th year of office, having consented to, if not colluded with, King Phillip IV in the mass imprisonments & property seizures in 1307 in southern France of the Knights Templar, a wealthy organization Papally-ordained in 1128 as subject to no Kingly authority, only to the Pope)
  • Pope John XXII: 1316–1334
  • Pope Benedict XII: 1334–1342
  • Pope Clement VI: 1342–1352
  • Pope Innocent VI: 1352–1362
  • Pope Urban V: 1362–1370
  • Pope Gregory XI: 1370–1378

In 1378, Gregory XI moved the papal residence back to Rome and died there.

Western Schism and the Antipopes

After seventy years in France the papal curia was naturally French in its ways and, to a large extent, in its staff. Back in Rome some degree of tension between French and Italian factions was inevitable. This tension was brought to a head by the death of the French pope Gregory XI within a year of his return to Rome. The Roman crowd, said to be in threatening mood, demanded a Roman pope or at least an Italian one. In 1378 the conclave elected an Italian from Naples, Pope Urban VI. His intransigence in office soon alienated the French cardinals. And the behaviour of the Roman crowd enabled them to declare, in retrospect, that his election was invalid, voted under duress.

The French cardinals withdrew to a conclave of their own, where they elected one of their number, Robert of Geneva. He took the name Clement VII. By 1379 he was back in the palace of popes in Avignon, while Urban VI remained in Rome.

This was the beginning of the period of difficulty from 1378 to 1417 which Catholic scholars refer to as the "Western schism" or, "the great controversy of the antipopes" (also called "the second great schism" by some secular and Protestant historians), when parties within the Catholic Church were divided in their allegiances among the various claimants to the office of pope. The Council of Constance in 1417 finally resolved the controversy.

Resolution of the Western Schism

For nearly forty years the Church had two papal curias and two sets of cardinals, each electing a new pope for Rome or Avignon when death created a vacancy. Each pope lobbied for support among kings and princes who played them off against each other, changing allegiance when according to political advantage.

In 1409 a council was convened at Pisa to resolve the issue. The council declared both existing popes to be schismatic (Gregory XII from Rome, Benedict XIII from Avignon) and appointed a new one, Alexander V. But the existing popes had not been persuaded to resign so the church had three popes.

Another council was convened in 1414 at Constance. In March 1415 the Pisan pope, John XXIII, fled from Constance in disguise; he was brought back a prisoner and deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned voluntarily in July.

The Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, refused to come to Constance. In spite of a personal visit from the emperor Sigismund, he would not consider resignation. The council finally deposed him in July 1417. Denying their right to do so, he withdrew to an impregnable castle on the coast of Spain. Here he continued to act as pope, creating new cardinals and issuing decrees, until his death in 1423.

The council in Constance, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V as pope in November.

Impact of the Western Schism on the papacy

Political theorists in the mid 14th century began to express the view that the papacy was not even the supreme power source in the church, but that a duly-convened council of the higher clergy could override popes in circumstances that warranted intervention. The Schism was the supreme example of such circumstances, and the actions of the Council of Constance, which deposed three rival popes and elected a single pope to take up residence in Rome, represented the high point of conciliarist influence. Soon after, however, Pope Martin V, the very pope whom the council had put in place began the work at setting aside conciliarist attempts to make regular meetings of councils a permanent feature of church governance.

Early Modern Europe


The Renaissance, also known as the Age of Humanism, was a period of secularization of Western civilization. The Renaissance Church became a secular institution in this period, shedding its spiritual roots, with insatiable greed for material wealth and temporal power. The Italian Renaissance produced little of what could be considered great ideas or institutions by which men living in society could be held together in harmony. Indeed, the greatest of all European institutions, the Roman Church, fell into neglect under the Renaissance popes, whose fall from spiritual grace sparked the Reformation.

The papacy that emerged from the Western Schism no longer put its energy into playing a dominant role in a united Christendom, but instead focused on building and expanding its political base in Italy. During the Renaissance, the popes expanded the papal territories dramatically, most notably under Pope Alexander VI and Pope Julius II. In addition to being the head of the Church, the Pope became one of Italy's most important secular rulers, signing treaties with other sovereigns and fighting wars. In practice, though, most of the territory of the Papal States was still only nominally controlled by the Pope with much of the territory being ruled by minor princes. Control was often contested; indeed it took until the 16th century for the Pope to have any genuine control over all his territories.

Reconstruction of Rome

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Rome had experienced a long decline from the glory of the Roman Empire. The skyline of the city was littered with the ruins of once spectacular structures. Wild animals ran free through the overgrowth dominating the center of the city. The city that had dominated the entire world centuries earlier was just a shadow of its former self. In the first century, Rome had a population of about one million. At the start of the fifteenth century the population of the city numbered about 25,000. Rome was no longer a great center of commerce, and the papacy, which had long sustained the city through its riches and international influence, had moved from Rome to Avignon during the fourteenth century.

In 1420, the papacy returned to Rome under Pope Martin V. During the subsequent centuries the papacy would rebuild the city, and the Papal States, centered in Rome, would assume a position of great importance in Italian affairs. The papacy closely supervised the Renaissance revival of Rome, maintaining its economic power, and thus control of the city, through the sale of church offices and taxation of the Papal States. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there were periodic spurts of support for political independence from church control. However, the Papacy kept a tight grip on its territorial holdings and the destinies of city and church remained inextricably intertwined.

After the return of the papacy, the first step in resurrecting Rome was the ascension of Pope Nicholas V in 1447. When he was a monk in Tuscany, Nicholas V had been helped financially by the Florentine banker Cosimo de Medici, who had lent him money without demanding any collateral. In repayment for this favor, Nicholas later appointed Cosimo the Papal banker. Financed by the Medici family, Nicholas founded the Vatican Library. In his eight short years as pope, Nicholas V initiated changes that would transform Rome into a Renaissance city.

After the death of Nicholas V, the Papacy continued to be a force for change in Rome. However, as Rome became wealthier and more powerful, corruption in the Papacy grew. The pattern continued throughout the fifteenth century. With the election of Pope Sixtus IV in 1471, the Papacy began a plunge toward moral degradation while Rome itself ascended to the greatest splendor it had achieved since Roman times. Under Sixtus IV, nepotism reached new and corrupt heights. Sixtus' 'nephews' (the papal nephew was a long-standing way of referring to the pope's illegitimate children) were granted influential posts and huge salaries. Pope Sixtus IV even entered into a conspiracy to have the powerful Medici family assassinated when he thought they were getting in the way of one of his nephews. This pattern of behavior became the model for papal rule throughout the Renaissance, undermining papal moral authority, but allowing the Papacy to grow strong politically and economically.

At the same time, Pope Sixtus IV initiated a major drive to redesign and rebuild Rome, widening the streets and destroying the crumbling ruins. He commissioned the construction of the famed Sistine Chapel and summoned many great Renaissance artists from other Italian states to work on rebuilding and redecorating Rome.

The already corrupt Papacy reached its nadir during the reign of Rodrigo Borgia, who was elected to the papacy in 1492 after the death of the generally unnoteworthy Pope Innocent VIII, and who assumed the name Pope Alexander VI. Borgia, a Spaniard, had been at the center of Vatican affairs for 30 years as a Cardinal. When he became pope, myth and legend quickly rose up around his family. Alexander VI had four acknowledged children, three males and one female. Alexander VI was himself known as a corrupt pope bent on his family's political and material success, to an even greater extent than Sixtus IV had been. It was no secret that Alexander VI's oldest son Cesare, was a murderer, and had killed many of his political opponents. Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander VI's daughter, was married three times to aid the pope's efforts to create advantageous alliances with other families. Under Alexander VI, the Papacy continued to grow strong politically and economically, but the means by which it grew were much vilified throughout Italy.

Alexander VI died in 1503, and was succeeded by Pope Julius II. Under Julius II, both the city of Rome and the Papacy entered a Golden Age. Julius II continued the consolidation of power in the Papal States, encouraged the devotion to learning and writing in Rome begun by Pope Nicholas V, and, foremost, continued the process of rebuilding Rome physically. The most prominent project among many was the rebuilding of the Basilica of St. Peter, one of the most sacred buildings in Christianity. The creation of a new St. Peter's, and indeed a new Rome, taxed the city. Ancient structures were demolished to make room and building materials for the new buildings of the city.

Rome received its final push to Renaissance glory from Pope Leo X, second son of Lorenzo de Medici who ascended to the papal throne in 1513, following Julius II. Leo X was at ease in social situations, a skilled diplomat, demonstrated great skill as an administrator, and was an intelligent and beneficent patron of the arts. He encouraged scholarly learning, and supported the theatre, an art form considered to be of ambiguous morality until that time. Most prominently, he supported the visual arts of painting and sculpture. He is well known for his patronage of Raphael, whose paintings played a large role in the redecoration of the Vatican. The death of Leo X in 1521 signalled the effective end of Rome's Golden Age, and the Renaissance as a whole began to lose its energy.

Inter caetera

Columbus' discovery in 1492 of supposedly Asiatic lands in the western seas threatened the unstable relations between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile, which had been jockeying for position and possession of colonial territories along the African coast for many years. The king of Portugal asserted that the discovery was within the bounds set forth in Papal bulls of 1455, 1456, and 1479. The king and queen of Castile disputed this and sought a new Papal Bull on the subject. Pope Alexander VI, a native of Valencia and a friend of the Castilian king, responded with three bulls, dated May 3 and 4, which were highly favorable to Castile. The third of these bulls was titled Inter caetera, awarded Spain the sole right to colonize most of the New World.


Passional Christi und Antichristi, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from Luther's 1521 Passionary of the Christ and Antichrist. The Pope is depicted as the Antichrist, signing and selling indulgences.

Passional Christi und Antichristi, by the Lutheran Lucas Cranach the Elder. This woodcut of the traditional practice of kissing the Pope's toe is from Passionary of the Christ and Antichrist. The two fingers the Pope is holding up symbolizes his claim to be the Church's substitute for Christ's earthly presence.

Many Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther (Pope Leo X was the pope who planned the initial church reaction against Luther until his death in 1521), John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, Cotton Mather, and John Wesley, identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist. The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist. The fifth round of talks in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue notes,

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.[54]

The four most important traditions to emerge directly from the reformation were the Lutheran tradition, the Reformed/Calvinist/Presbyterian tradition, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Anglican tradition. Subsequent Protestant traditions generally trace their roots back to these initial four schools of the Reformation. It also led to the Catholic or Counter Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church. Lutherans, Reformed, Anabaptists, and Methodists all included references to the Papacy as the Antichrist in their confessions of faith:

Smalcald Articles, Article four (1537)

...the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 2, 4. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this, but they allow whoever wishes to believe in Christ, and take bodily tribute and obedience from Christians... Therefore, just as little as we can worship the devil himself as Lord and God, we can endure his apostle, the Pope, or Antichrist, in his rule as head or lord. For to lie and to kill, and to destroy body and soul eternally, that is wherein his papal government really consists... The Pope, however, prohibits this faith, saying that to be saved a person must obey him. This we are unwilling to do, even though on this account we must die in God's name. This all proceeds from the fact that the Pope has wished to be called the supreme head of the Christian Church by divine right. Accordingly he had to make himself equal and superior to Christ, and had to cause himself to be proclaimed the head and then the lord of the Church, and finally of the whole world, and simply God on earth, until he has dared to issue commands even to the angels in heaven...[55]

Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537)

...Now, it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs, with their adherents, defend [and practice] godless doctrines and godless services. And the marks [all the vices] of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the Pope and his adherents. For Paul, in describing Antichrist to the Thessalonians, calls him 2 Thess. 2, 3: an adversary of Christ, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God. He speaks therefore of one ruling in the Church, not of heathen kings, and he calls this one the adversary of Christ, because he will devise doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, and will assume to himself divine authority...[56]

Westminster Confession (1646)

25.6. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.[57]

1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

26.4. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ.

In 1754, John Wesley published his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, which is currently an official Doctrinal Standard of the United Methodist Church.[58] In his notes on Revelation chapter 13, he commented,

"The whole succession of Popes from Gregory VII. are undoubtedly antichrist. Yet this hinders not, but that the last Pope in this succession will be more eminently the antichrist, the man of sin, adding to that of his predecessors a peculiar degree of wickedness from the bottomless pit. This individual person, as Pope, is the seventh head of the beast; as the man of sin, he is the eighth, or the beast himself."[59]


The Catholic Church did not mount an organized and deliberate response to the Protestant Reformation until the election (1534) of Pope Paul III, who placed the papacy itself at the head of a movement for churchwide reform. Pope Paul III established a reform commission, appointed several leading reformers to the College of Cardinals, initiated reform of the central administrative apparatus at Rome, authorized the founding of the Jesuits, the order that was later to prove so loyal to the papacy, and convoked the Council of Trent, which met intermittently from 1545 to 1563. The council succeeded in initiating a number of far-ranging moral and administrative reforms, including reform of the papacy itself, that was destined to define the shape and set the tone of Roman Catholicism into the mid-20th century.

The Catholic Reformation was comprehensive and comprised five major elements:

  1. Doctrine
  2. Ecclesiastical or Structural Reconfiguration
  3. Religious Orders
  4. Spiritual Movements
  5. Political Dimensions

Such reforms included the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests in the spiritual life and the theological traditions of the Church, the reform of religious life to returning orders to their spiritual foundations, and new spiritual movements focus on the devotional life and a personal relationship with Christ, including the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.

Council of Trent

A session of the Council of Trent, from an engraving.

Pope Paul III (1534-1549) initiated the Council of Trent (1545-1563), a commission of cardinals tasked with institutional reform, to address contentious issues such as corrupt bishops and priests, indulgences, and other financial abuses. The Council clearly rejected specific Protestant positions and upheld the basic structure of the Medieval Church, its sacramental system, religious orders, and doctrine. It rejected all compromise with the Protestants, restating basic tenets of the Catholic faith. The Council clearly upheld the dogma of salvation appropriated by Christ lived out by faith and works. Transubstantiation, during which the consecrated bread and wine were held to become (substantially) the body and blood of Christ, was upheld, along with the Seven Sacraments. Other practices that drew the ire of Protestant reformers, such as indulgences, pilgrimages, the veneration of saints and relics, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary were strongly reaffirmed as spiritually vital as well.

But while the basic structure of the Church was reaffirmed, there were noticeable changes to answer complaints that the Counter Reformers tacitly were willing to admit were legitimate. Among the conditions to be corrected by Catholic reformers was the growing divide between the priests and the flock; many members of the clergy in the rural parishes, after all, had been poorly educated. Often, these rural priests did not know Latin and lacked opportunities for proper theological training. (Addressing the education of priests had been a fundamental focus of the humanist reformers in the past.) Parish priests now became better educated, while Papal authorities sought to eliminate the distractions of the monastic churches. Notebooks and handbooks thus became common, describing how to be good priests and confessors.

Milan's Archbishop Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584), later canonized as a saint, set an example by visiting the remotest parishes and instilling high standards.

Thus, the Council of Trent was dedicated to improving the discipline and administration of the Church. The worldly excesses of the secular Renaissance church, epitomized by the era of Alexander VI (1492-1503), exploded in the Reformation under Pope Leo X (1513-1521), whose campaign to raise funds in the German states to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica by supporting sale of indulgences was a key impetus for Martin Luther's 95 Theses. But the Catholic Church would respond to these problems by a vigorous campaign of reform, inspired by earlier Catholic reform movements that predated the Council of Constance (1414-1417): humanism, devotionalism, legalist and the observatine tradition.

The Council, by virtue of its actions, repudiated the pluralism of the Secular Renaissance Church: the organization of religious institutions was tightened, discipline was improved, and the parish was emphasized. The appointment of Bishops for political reasons was no longer tolerated. In the past, the large landholdings forced many bishops to be "absent bishops" who at times were property managers trained in administration. Thus, the Council of Trent combated "absenteeism," which was the practice of bishops living in Rome or on landed estates rather than in their dioceses. The Council of Trent also gave bishops greater power to supervise all aspects of religious life. Zealous prelates such as Milan's Archbishop Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584), later canonized as a saint, set an example by visiting the remotest parishes and instilling high standards. At the parish level, the seminary-trained clergy who took over in most places during the course of the seventeenth century were overwhelmingly faithful to the church's rule of celibacy.

Further efforts at reform

The reign of Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) is associated with efforts of Catholic renewal. Paul IV is sometimes deemed the first of the Counter-Reformation popes for his resolute determination to eliminate all "heresies" - and the institutional practices of the Church that contributed to its appeal. Two of his key strategies were the Inquisition and censorship of prohibited books. The Inquisition, reorganized under Paul III, developed under Paul IV into an awesome instrument, even accused for Catholic cardinals Jacopo Sadoleto, Reginald Pole and Giovanni Morone, who spent several years in inquisition jail. In Calabria a bloody persecution of Waldensians was carried out. In Rome, Ignatius of Loyola was openly afraid of Paul IV.[60] The Inquisition was most severe, in Spanish controlled areas. There existed a huge difference between the Spanish inquisition and the Papal inquisition,[60] the latter being milder and even sought after, to avoid the Spanish alternative. In this sense, his aggressive and autocratic efforts of renewal greatly reflected the strategies of earlier reform movements, especially the legalist and observantine sides: burning heretics and strict emphasis on Canon law. It also reflected the rapid pace toward absolutism that characterized the sixteenth century.

While the aggressive authoritarian approach was arguably destructive of personal religious experience, a new wave of reforms and orders conveyed a strong devotional side. Devotionalism, not subversive mysticism would provide a strong individual outlet for religious experience, especially through meditation such as the reciting of the Rosary. The devotional side of the Counter-Reformation combined two strategies of Catholic Renewal. For one, the emphasis of God as an unknowable absolute ruler - a God to be feared - coincided well with the aggressive absolutism of the papacy under Paul IV. But it also opened up new paths toward popular piety and individual religious experience.

Pope Saint Pius V

The Papacy of St. Pius V (1566-1572) represented a strong effort not only to crack down against heretics and worldly abuses within the Church, but also to improve popular piety in a determined effort to stem the appeal of Protestantism. Pius V was trained in a solid and austere piety by the Dominicans. It is thus no surprise that he began his pontificate by giving large alms to the poor, charity, and hospitals rather than focusing on patronage. As pontiff, he practiced the virtues of a monk. Known for consoling the poor and sick, St. Pius V sought to improve the public morality of the Church, promote the Jesuits, support the Inquisition. He enforced the observance of the discipline of the Council of Trent, and supported the missions of the New World. The Spanish Inquisition, brought under the direction of the absolutist Spanish state since Ferdinand and Isabella, stemmed the growth of Protestantism in Spain before it could spread.

The pontificate of Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) opened up the final stage of the Catholic Reformation characteristic of the Baroque age of the early seventeenth century, shifting away from compelling to attracting. His reign focused on rebuilding Rome as a great European capital and Baroque city, a visual symbol for the Catholic Church.


In 1793, a French diplomat in Rome, Nicolas de Basseville, indulged in a provocative display of the tricolour, symbol of French anti-clerical republicanism. A Roman crowd attacked him and he died the next day. Four years later, when Napoleon reached as far south as Ancona in an advance on Rome, this incident remained a specific grievance for which France held the pope responsible - demanding and receiving 300,000 livres as compensation for Basseville's family.

In 1796 French Republican troops under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy, defeated the papal troops and occupied Ancona and Loreto. Pius VI sued for peace. The price of persuading the French intruder to head north again, agreed in the Treaty of Tolentino, was a massive indemnity, the removal of many works of art from the Vatican collections and the surrender to France of Bologna, Ferrara and the Romagna.

However, on December 28 of that year, a popular French general was killed in a riot outside the French embassy in Rome, thus providing a new pretext furnished for invasion by the French. French army units marched to Rome, entered it unopposed on and, proclaiming a Roman Republic, demanded of the Pope the renunciation of his temporal authority. Upon his refusal to do so, Pius VI was taken prisoner, and on February 20 was ultimately brought to the citadel of Valence in France where he died.

French Concordat of 1801

Pope Pius VII

The new pope, Pope Pius VII, was at first conciliatory towards Napoleon. He negotiated the French Concordat of 1801 which reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church as the major religion of France and restored some of its civil status. , removing it from the authority of the Pope. While the Concordat restored some ties between France and the papacy, the agreement was slanted largely in favor of the state; the balance of church-state relations had tilted firmly in Napoleon Bonaparte's favor.

Coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French

In 1804, Pius VII traveled to Paris to officiate at Napoleon's imperial coronation. On December 2, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, in the presence of Pope Pius VII. Claims that he seized the crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII during the ceremony in order to avoid subjecting himself to the authority of the pontiff are apocryphal; in fact, the coronation procedure had been agreed upon in advance.

Deterioration of relations with the French

But by 1808 relations had deteriorated. The pope annoyed Napoleon by refusing to sanction the annulment of his brother Jerome's marriage and, perhaps more significantly, by not bringing the ports of the papal states into the Continental System.

The result was that a French army occupied Rome in February 1808. In the following month another section of the papal states (the Marches) was annexed to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy. Napoleon followed up these affronts by annexing in 1809 all that remains of the papal states, including the city of Rome, and by announcing that the pope no longer has any form of temporal authority. Pius VII responded by an immediate use of his spiritual authority, excommunicating Napoleon himself and everyone else connected with this outrage. Pius VII was immediately arrested and removed to imprisonment in France.

These are the events which brought the entire Italian peninsula under French control by 1809. The situation remained unchanged until after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in 1813 - an event followed by Austrian recovery of much of Italy and a subsequent seal of approval at the congress of Vienna.

Revolutions of 1848

During the reigns of Pope Leo XII (1823-9) and Pope Gregory XVI (1831-46), Rome became strongly identified with the anti-liberal sentiments of most of the ruling European houses of the day. The election of Pope Pius IX in 1846 seemed to promise a less reactionary papacy. However, in 1848, nationalist and liberal revolutions began to break out across Europe; in 1849, a Roman Republic was declared and the Pope fled the city. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, recently elected president of the newly declared French Second Republic, saw an opportunity to assuage conservative Catholic opinion in France, and in cooperation with Austria sent troops to restore Papal rule in Rome. After some hard fighting, Pius was returned to Rome by a victorious French army, and repenting of his previous liberal tendencies pursued a harsh, conservative policy even more repressive than that of his predecessors.

Prisoner in the Vatican 1870–1929

The provisional capital of Italy had been Florence since 1865. After defeating the papal forces in 1870, the Italian government moved to the banks of the Tiber a year later. Victor Emmanuel installed himself in the Quirinale Palace. Rome became once again, for the first time in thirteen centuries, the capital city of a united Italy. Rome was unusual among capital cities only in that it contained the power of the Pope and a small parcel of land (Vatican City) beyond national control. This anomaly was not formally resolved until the Lateran pacts of 1929.

Last years of Pius IX

The last eight years of his long pontificate - the longest in Church history - Pope Pius spent as prisoner of the Vatican. Catholics were forbidden to vote or being voted in national elections. However, they were permitted to participate in local elections, where they achieved successes.[61] Pius himself was active, during those years, by creating new diocesan seats and appointing bishops to numerous dioceses, which had been unoccupied for years. Asked if he wanted his successor to follow his Italian policies, the old pontiff replied:

  • My successor may be inspired by my love to the Church and my wish, to do the right thing. Everything changed around me. My system and my policies had their time, I am too old to change direction. This will be the task of my successor[62]

Pope Leo XIII

In 1882 Pope Leo XIII wrote to the Austrian emperor Franz Josef I to move the papacy to Salzburg or Trieste

Part of a series of articles on
Social Teachings
of the Popes
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg

Pope Leo XIII
Rerum Novarum

Pope Pius XI
Quadragesimo Anno

Pope Pius XII
Social teachings

Pope John XXIII
Mater et Magistra
Pacem in Terris

Vatican II
Dignitatis Humanae
Gaudium et Spes

Pope Paul VI
Populorum progressio

Pope John Paul II
Centesimus Annus
Laborem Exercens
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

Pope Benedict XVI
Caritas in Veritate

Social Teachings of the Popes
Catholic social teaching

Pope Leo XIII, considered a great diplomat, managed to improve relations with Russia, Prussia, German France, England and other countries. However, in light of a hostile anti-Catholic climate in Italy, he continued the policies of Pius IX towards Italy, without major modifications.[63] He had to defend the freedom of the Church against Italian persecutions and attacks in the area of education, expropriation and violation of Catholic Churches, legal measures against the Church and brutal attacks, culminating in anticlerical groups attempting to throw the body of the deceased Pope Pius IX into the Tiber river on July 13, 1881.[64] The Pope even considered moving the papacy to Trieste or Salzburg, two cities under Austrian control, an idea which the Austrian monarch Franz Josef I gently rejected.[65]

His encyclicals changed Church positions on relations with temporal authorities, and, in the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum addressed for the first time social inequality and social justice issues with Papal authority. He was greatly influenced by Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, a German bishop who openly propagated siding with the suffering working classes[66] Since Leo XIII, Papal teachings expand on the right and obligation of workers and the limitations of private property: Pope Pius XI Quadragesimo Anno, the Social teachings of Pope Pius XII on a huge range of social issues, John XXIII Mater et Magistra in 1961, Pope Paul VI, the encyclical Populorum Progressio on World development issues, and Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII.

Recovery of papal prestige

Paradoxically, the eclipse of papal temporal power during the 19th century was accompanied by a recovery of papal prestige. The monarchist reaction in the wake of the French Revolution and the later emergence of constitutional governments served alike, though in different ways, to sponsor that development. The reinstated monarchs of Catholic Europe saw in the papacy a conservative ally rather than a jurisdictional rival. Later, when the institution of constitutional governments broke the ties binding the clergy to the policies of royal regimes, Catholics were freed to respond to the renewed spiritual authority of the pope.

The popes of the 19th and 20th centuries exercised their spiritual authority with increasing vigor and in every aspect of religious life. By the crucial pontificate of Pope Pius IX (1846 - 1878), for example, papal control over worldwide Catholic missionary activity was firmly established for the first time in history.

First Vatican Council

Even before the Franco-Prussian War, Pius IX had foreseen the temporal power of the Church draining away and had begun redefining the Catholic Church as a spiritual power that would serve as a firm bulwark against the liberal and scientific trends of the period.

The First Vatican Council established clear theoretical underpinnings to Pius IX's commitment to an intensified centralization of ecclesiastical government in Rome. The council's companion definition of papal infallibility strengthened the energetic exercise of the papal magisterial power that was so marked a feature of the years between the first and second Vatican Councils.

The pope's primary purpose was to obtain confirmation of the position he had taken in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), condemning a wide range of positions associated with rationalism, liberalism, and materialism.

The purpose of the council was, besides the condemnation, to define the doctrine concerning the church. In the three sessions, there was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: Dei Filius, the Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith and Pastor Aeternus, the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the bishop of Rome when solemnly defining dogma.

Seven months later, on 18 July 1870, the prelates assembled in St Peter's accepted an uncompromising dogma - that the pope, when speaking from his throne on a matter of faith or morals, is inspired by God and is therefore infallible. Papal infallibility was merely the most striking example of the authoritarian stance now being established. It must be said that most of the dissenting bishops had left Rome before the final vote. The direction in which Pius IX was taking the church was made very plain in a document of 1864 known simply as the Syllabus. It is a list of eighty modern errors. They include such broad topics as socialism, civil marriage and secular education.

The final error is the most sweeping of all. It is the concept that 'the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to and agree with progress, liberalism and modern civilization'.

Vatican era: 1929-present

Relations with Fascists

The pontificate of Pope Pius XI was marked by great diplomatic activity and the issuance of many important papers, often in the form of encyclicals. In diplomatic affairs, Pius was aided at first by Pietro Gasparri and after 1930 by Eugenio Pacelli (who succeeded him as Pope Pius XII). Cardinal Gasparri's masterpiece was the Lateran Treaty (1929), negotiated for the Vatican by Francesco Pacelli. Nevertheless, the Fascist government and the pope were in open disagreement over the restriction of youth activities; this culminated in a strong papal letter (Non abbiamo bisogno, 1931), arguing the impossibility of being at once a Fascist and a Catholic. Relations between Mussolini and the Holy See were cool ever after.

Lateran pacts of 1929

Negotiations for the settlement of the Roman Question began in 1926 between the government of Italy and the Holy See, and in 1929 they culminated in the agreements of the three Lateran Pacts, signed for King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and for Pope Pius XI by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri in the Lateran Palace (hence the name by which they are known).

The Lateran treaty included a political treaty, which created the state of the Vatican City and guaranteed full and independent sovereignty to the Holy See. The Pope was pledged to perpetual neutrality in international relations and to abstention from mediation in a controversy unless specifically requested by all parties. The concordat established Catholicism as the religion of Italy. And the financial agreement was accepted as settlement of all the claims of the Holy See against Italy arising from the loss of temporal power in 1870.

The sum thereby given to the Holy See was actually less than Italy declared it would pay under the terms of the Law of Guarantees of 1871, by which the Italian government guaranteed to Pope Pius IX and his successors the use of, but not sovereignty over, the Vatican and Lateran Palaces and a yearly income of 3,250,000 lire as indemnity for the loss of sovereignty and territory. The Holy See, on the grounds of the need for clearly manifested independence from any political power in its exercise of spiritual jurisdiction, refused to accept this settlement, and the Popes thereafter considered themselves prisoners in the Vatican, a small, limited area inside Rome.


The Reichskonkordat, signed on July 20, 1933, between Germany and the Holy See remains the most important and controversial of Pacelli's concordats. A national concordat with Germany was one of Pacelli's main objectives as secretary of state. As nuncio during the 1920s, he had made unsuccessful attempts to obtain German agreement for such a treaty, and between 1930 and 1933 he attempted to initiate negotiations with representatives of successive German governments, but the opposition of Protestant and Socialist parties, the instability of national governments and the care of the individual states to guard their autonomy thwarted this aim. In particular, the questions of denominational schools and pastoral work in the armed forces prevented any agreement on the national level, despite talks in the winter of 1932.[67][68]

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30 January 1933 and sought to gain international respectability and to remove internal opposition by representatives of the Church and the Catholic Centre Party. He sent his vice chancellor Franz von Papen, a Catholic nobleman and former member of the Centre Party, to Rome to offer negotiations about a Reichskonkordat.[69] On behalf of Cardinal Pacelli, his long-time associate Prelate Ludwig Kaas, the out-going chairman of the Centre Party, negotiated first drafts of the terms with Papen.[70] The concordat was finally signed, by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany, on 20 July and ratified on September 10, 1933.[71]

Between 1933 and 1939, Pacelli issued 55 protests of violations of the Reichskonkordat. Most notably, early in 1937, Pacelli asked several German cardinals, including Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber to help him write a protest of Nazi violations of the Reichskonkordat; this was to become Pius XI's encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge. The encyclical, condemning the view that "exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State ... above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level", was written in German instead of Latin and read in German churches on Palm Sunday 1937.[72]

World War II

When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Vatican declared neutrality to avoid being drawn into the conflict and also to avoid occupation by the Italian military. In 1944, the German Army occupied Rome. Adolf Hitler proclaimed that he would respect Vatican neutrality. However several incidents, such as giving aid to downed Allied airmen, nearly caused Nazi Germany to invade the Vatican. Rome was liberated by the Allies after several months of occupation.

Persecutions after the war

Pope Pius XII (1939 - 1958) internationalized the Catholic Church after World War II. He also witnessed one of the largest persecution of Christians in Church history

The Church policies after World War II of Pope Pius XII focused on material aid to war-torn Europe with its 15 million displaced persons and refugees, an internal internationalization of the Roman Catholic Church, and the development of its worldwide diplomatic relations. His encyclicals, Evangelii Praecones[73] increased the local decision-making of Catholic missions, many of which became independent dioceses. Pius XII demanded recognition of local cultures as fully equal to European culture.[74][75] He internationalized the College of Cardinals by eliminating the 1000 year old Italian majority and appointed cardinals from Asia, South America and Australia. In Western Africa [76] Southern Africa [77] British Eastern Africa, Finland, Burma and French Africa Pope Pius establishd independent dioceses in 1955.

Persecutions in Eastern Europe and China

While after years of rebuilding the Church thrived in the West and most of the developing world, it faced most serious persecutions in the East. Sixty million Catholics came under Soviet dominated regimes in 1945, with tens of thousands of priests and religious killed, and millions deported into Soviet and Chinese Gulags. The communist regimes in Albania, Bulgaria, and Rumania and China practically eradicated the Roman Catholic Church in their countries [78]

Second Vatican Council

The continuing strength of the forces within the church favoring theological innovation and energetic reform became unmistakably evident at the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII (1958 - 1963), and found expression especially in its decrees on ecumenism, religious liberty, the liturgy, and the nature of the church. The ambivalence of some of those decrees, however, and the disciplinary turmoil and doctrinal dissension following the ending of the council, brought about new challenges to papal authority.

On October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council. The 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church emphasized the universal call to holiness and brought many changes in practices, including an increased emphasis on ecumenism; fewer rules on penances, fasting and other devotional practices; and initiating a revision of the services, which were to be slightly simplified and made supposedly more accessible by allowing the use of native languages instead of Latin. Opposition to changes inspired by the Council gave rise to the movement of Traditionalist Catholics who disagree with changing the old forms of worship.

On December 7, 1965, a Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of His Holiness Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I lifted the mutual excommunication against Catholic and Orthodox which had been in force since the Great Schism of 1054.

The bishops agreed that the pope exercises supreme authority over the church, but defined "collegiality", meaning that all bishops share in this authority. Local bishops have equal authority as successors of the Apostles and as members of a larger organization, the Church founded by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the apostles. The pope serves as a symbol of unity and has additional authority to ensure the continuation of that unity.

During the Second Vatican Council, Catholic bishops drew back a bit from statements which might anger Christians of other faiths.[79] Cardinal Augustin Bea, the President of the Christian Unity Secretariat had always the full support of Pope Paul VI in his attempts to ensure that the Council language is friendly and open to the sensitivities of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, whom he had invited to all sessions at the request of Pope John XXIII. Bea also was strongly involved in the passage of Nostra Aetate, which regulates relation of the Church with the Jewish faith and members of other religions [80]

Pope Paul VI

The establishment of national conferences of bishops tended to erode papal authority to some degree, and Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), reaffirming the prohibition of artificial birth control, was met with both evasion and defiance in the US and Western Europe but warmly welcomed in South America, Eastern and Southern Europe.[81]


Pope Paul VI fully supported Cardinal Augustin Bea, credited with ecumenical breakthroughs during the Second Vatican Council

Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), however, continued the ecumenical efforts of Pope John XXIII in his contacts with Protestant and Orthodox churches. He also continued John XXIII's attempts to make discreet moves in the direction of pragmatic accommodation with the Communist regimes of eastern Europe, a policy that were possible in the eras of Krushchev and Brezhnev. Paul VI also reorganized the curia and spoke strongly for peace and social justice.

Pope Paul VI faced criticism throughout his papacy from both traditionalists and liberals for steering a middle course during Vatican Two and in the course of the implementation of its reforms thereafter.[82] His passion for peace during the Vietnam War was not understood by all. The urgent task of overcoming World poverty and start real development resulted partly in benign neglect of papal teachings by the influential and the rich. On basic Church teachings, this pope was unwavering. On the tenth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, he strongly reconfirmed his teachings.[83] In his style and methodology, he was a disciple of Pius XII, whom he deeply revered.[84] He suffered under the attacks of his predecessor for his allegded silences, knowing from personal association with the late Pope the real concerns and compassion of Pius XII.[84] Pope Paul is not credited to have had the encyclopaedic culture of Pius XII, nor his phenomenal memory, his amazing gift for languages, his brilliant style in writing,[85] nor did he have the Charisma and outpouring love, sense of humor and human warmth of John XXIII. He took on himself the unfinished reform work of these two popes, bringing them diligently with great humility and common sense and without much fanfare to conclusion. [83] In doing so, Paul VI saw himself following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, torn to several directions as Saint Paul , who always said, I am attracted to two sides at once, because the Cross always divides. [86]


The Statue of Pope Paul VI in Milano, Italy

He became the first Pope to visit all five continents .[87] Paul VI systematically continued and completed the efforts of his predecessors, to turn the Euro-centric Church into a Church for the whole world, by integrating the bishops from all continents in its government and in the Synods which he convened. His August 6, 1967 Motu Proprio Pro Comperto Sane opened the Roman Curia to the bishops of the world. Until then, only Cardinals could be leading members of the Curia.[87]

An inner joy seems to have been a characteristic of Paul VI. His confessor, the Jesuit Paolo Dezza arrived at the Vatican every Friday evening at seven P.M to hear confession of Paul VI. The only words he ever spoke about his long service to Paul VI during his pontificate were, that this pope is a man of great joy. [88] After the death of Pope Paul VI, Dezza was more outspoken, saying that "if Paul VI was not a saint, when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate. I was able to witness not only with what energy and dedication he toiled for Christ and the Church but also and above all, how much he suffered for Christ and the Church. I always admired not only his deep inner resignation but also his constant abandonment to divine providence.".[89] It is this character trait, which led to the opening of the process of beatification and canonization for Paul VI.

John Paul II

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) is credited with aiding the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe and with re-creating a sense of stability to the Catholic Church

With the accession of Pope John Paul II after the mysterious death of John Paul 1 (who only survived as Pope for 33 days), the church had, for the first time since Pope Adrian VI in the 16th century, a non-Italian pope. John Paul II has been credited with helping to bring down communism in eastern Europe by sparking what amounted to a peaceful revolution in his Polish homeland. Lech Wałęsa, one of the several founders of the Solidarity worker movement that ultimately toppled communism, credited John Paul with giving Poles the courage to rise up.[90]Gorbachev himself acknowledged publicly the role of John Paul II in the fall of Communism.[91] The pope himself stated after the fall of Communism that "the claim to build a world without God has been shown to be an illusion" (Prague, April 21, 1990).

But this world without God exists in Capitalism too. Therefore, as did his predecessors, John Paul repeated the content of Christianity, its religious and moral message, its defense of the human person, and warned against the dangers of capitalism. "Unfortunately, not everything the West proposes as a theoretical vision or as a concrete lifestyle reflects Gospel values."

The long pontificate of John Paul is credited with re-creating a sense of stability and even identity to the Catholic Church after years of questioning and searching.[92] His teaching was firm and unwavering on issues which seemed to be in doubt under his predecessor including the ordination of women, liberation theology and priestly celibacy.[93] He virtually stopped the liberal laicisation of problem priests policy of Pope Paul VI,[94] which inadvertently may have contributed to problems in the USA.[95] His authoritative style was reminiscent of Pope Pius XII, whose teaching he repeated in his own words, such as the identity of the Catholic Church with the Body of Christ and his condemnations of capitalism "viruses": secularism, indifferentism, hedonistic consumerism, practical materialism, and also formal atheism.[96]

Pope Benedict XVI

As always after a long pontificate, a new page was opened in the history of the Church with the election of a new pope. Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. In his inaugural homily, the new Pontiff explained his view of a relation with Christ:

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?... No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation....When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.[97]



  1. "Corrections Made to Official List of Popes". ZENIT. 2001-06-05. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  2. "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Vatican Library. Retrieved 2008-08-02. , 880-884
  3. "St. Peter, The Catholic Encyclopedia
  4. Wilken, p. 281, quote: "Some (Christian communities) had been founded by Peter, the disciple Jesus designated as the founder of his church. ... Once the position was institutionalized, historians looked back and recognized Peter as the first pope of the Christian church in Rome"
  5. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 22
  6. [ Pope John Paul II, Talk on 7 October 1992
  7. Avery Dulles, The Catholicity of the Church, Oxford University Press, 1987, ISBN 0198266952, page 140
  8. O'Grady, John. The Roman Catholic church: its origins and nature. p. 141–143. 
  9. O'Grady, John. The Roman Catholic church: its origins and nature. p. 146. 
  10. Stevenson, J.. A New Eusebius. p. 114. 
  11. Josef Burg Kontrover-Lexikon Fredebeul&Coenen, Essen, 1903 595
  12. Burg 604
  13. Burg 605
  14. "Letter of Clement to the Corinthians". 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Gröber, 510
  16. "Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans". 
  17. Burg 606
  18. Gröber 511
  19. Roman priest, Caius, refers to the tombs of SS. Peter and Paul : "I can show you the trophies tombs of the apostles. If you go to the Vatican or on the road to Ostia you will see the trophies of those who founded this church
  20. Gröber 511-512
  21. Gröber, 512
  22. Duffy,3
  23. Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 16, Verse 18.
  24. Johannes Haller, Das Papsttum, 1934, p 442
  25. K Weiss Exegetisches zur Irrtumslosigkeit in Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen, 1916, 4,5
  26. "duffy-chap1"/
  27. 27.0 27.1 Gröber 507
  28. Gröber 508
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 O'Grady, John. The Roman Catholic church: its origins and nature. p. 140. 
  30. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named O'Grady 146
  31. "Ignatius" in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald Brauer (Philadelphia:Westminster, 1971) and also David Hugh Farmer, "Ignatius of Antioch" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
  32. O'Grady, John. The Roman Catholic church: its origins and nature. pp. 17–18. 
  33. Veselin Kesich (1992). "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. pp. 47–48. 
  34. Veselin Kesich (1992). "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. pp. 61–66. 
  35. Veselin Kesich (1992). "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. pp. 67–90. 
  36. Cleenewerck Laurent (2008). His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. EUC Press. pp. 257–263. 
  37. As John Meyendorff explained:
    A very clear patristic tradition sees the succession of Peter in the episcopal ministry. The doctrine of St Cyprian of Carthage on the “See of Peter” being present in every local Church, and not only in Rome, is well-known. It is also found in the East, among people who certainly never read the De unitate ecclesia of Cyprian, but who share its main idea, thus witnessing to it as part of the catholic tradition of the Church. St Gregory of Nyssa, for example, affirms that Christ “through Peter gave to the bishops the keys of the heavenly honors,” and the author of the Areopagitica, when speaking of the “hierarchs” of the Church, refers immediately to the image of St Peter. A careful analysis of ecclesiastical literature both Eastern and Western, of the first millennium, including such documents as the lives of the saint, would certainly show that this tradition was a persistent one; and indeed it belongs to the essence of Christian ecclesiology to consider any local bishop to be the teacher of his flock and therefore to fulfill sacramentally, through apostolic succession, the office of the first true believer, Peter... There exists, however, another succession, equally recognized by Byzantine theologians, but only on the level of the analogy existing between the apostolic college and the episcopal college, this second succession being determined by the need for ecclesiastical order. Its limits are determined by the Councils, and - in the Byzantine practice – by the “very pious emperors.”
    The Primacy of Peter, p. 89
  38. Veselin Kesich (1992). "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 68. 
  39. Barker, James L.. Apostasy from the Divine Church. ISBN 0 8849454 4 8. 
  40. Sullivan Francis A. From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church SBN=0-8091-0534-9 p. 15
  41. Sullivan, p.15
  42. D'Aubigne, Book I, p. 81.
  43. De Mortibus Persecutorum ("On the Deaths of the Persecutors", chapters 34, 35)
  44. Silvester I, Hans Kühner Enyclopedia of the Papacy, New York London 1958
  45. Kühner, Liberius
  46. 46.0 46.1 Franzen, 47
  47. Kühner Coelestin, Siricius
  48. Quoted from copy of the document in Pope Leo IX's letter in Hardouin's Collection, Epistola I., Leonis Papoe IX; Acta Conciliorumet Epistoloe Decretales, tom. 6, pp. 934; Parisiis, 1714.
  49. Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972. p. 537
  50. Brook, Lindsay (2003). "Popes and Pornocrats: Rome in the early middle ages". Foundations 1 (1): 5–21. 
  51. Robinson 1904: 283
  52. Ozment, 1980: 4
  53. Pope Gregory VII, quoted in: Baldwin, 1970: 182-183
  54. See Building Unity, edited by Burgess and Gross
  55. Smalcald Articles, Article 4 in the Triglot translation of the Book of Concord
  56. Treatise on the Power and in the Triglot translation of the Book of Concord
  57. Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 2:2-9
  58. See Section 3 - Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules
  59. See section of the book commentating on the Book of Revelation on the United Methodist Church website, or Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, p.715 from Google Books
  60. 60.0 60.1 Franzen 317
  61. Schmidlin 119
  62. Schmidlin109
  63. Schmidlin 409
  64. Schmidlin 413
  65. Schmidlin 414
  66. in his book Die Arbeiterfrage und das Chistentum
  67. Ludwig Volk Das Reichskonkordat vom 20. Juli 1933, p. 34f., 45-58.
  68. Klaus Scholder "The Churches and the Third Reich" volume 1: especially Part 1, chapter 10; Part 2, chapter 2
  69. Volk, p. 98-101. Feldkamp, 88-93.
  70. Volk, p. 101,105.
  71. Volk, p. 254.
  72. Phayer 2000, p. 16; Sanchez 2002, p. 16-17.
  73. issued on June 2, 1951
  74. Audience for the directors of mission activities in 1944 A.A.S., 1944, p. 208.
  75. Evangelii Praecones. p. 56.
  76. in 1951,
  77. 1953
  78. see Persecutions against the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII
  79. Peter Heblethwaite, Paul VI
  80. October 28, 1965
  81. see Humanae Vitae
  82. Graham, Paul VI, A Great Pontificate, Brescia, November 7, 1983, 75
  83. 83.0 83.1 Graham, 76
  84. 84.0 84.1 Graham 76.
  85. Pallenberg, Inside the Vatican, 107,
  86. Guitton, 159
  87. 87.0 87.1 Josef Schmitz van Vorst, 68
  88. Hebblethwaite,339
  89. Hebblethwaite, 600
  90. "The pope started this chain of events that led to the end of communism," Wałęsa said. "Before his pontificate, the world was divided into blocs. Nobody knew how to get rid of communism. "He simply said: Don't be afraid, change the image of this land."
  91. "What has happened in Eastern Europe in recent years would not have been possible without the presence of this Pope, without the great role even political that he has played on the world scene" (quoted in La Stampa, March 3, 1992).
  92. George Weigel, Witness to Hope, biography of Pope John Paul II
  93. Redemptor Hominis Orinatio ´Sacercotalis
  94. Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI New York, 1993
  95. According to some critics like Hans Küng in his 2008 autobiography
  96. see Anni Sacri
  97. - Homily on Christ


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  • Rendina, Claudio (2002). The Popes: Histories and Secrets. Washington: Seven Locks Press. ISBN 193164313X. 
  • Barraclough, Geoffrey (1979). The Medieval Papacy. New York: Norton. ISBN 0393951006. 
  • Buttler, Scott; Norman Dahlgren; David Hess (1997). Jesus, Peter & the Keys: A Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy. Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing Company. ISBN 1882972546. 
  • Toropov, Brandon (2002). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Popes and the Papacy. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. ISBN 0028642902. 
  • Sullivan, Francis (2001). From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church. New York: Newman Press. ISBN 0809105349. 
  • Sullivan, Francis (2001). From Apostles to Bishops. New York: Newman Press. ISBN 0809105349. 
  • McCabe, Joseph (1939). A History Of The Popes. London.: Watts & Co.. 
  • Barker, James L. (1984). Apostasy from the divine church (2 ed.). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft. ISBN 0884945448. 

See also