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The pope (from Latin: "papa" or "father" from Greek , ''pápas'', "papa", ''Papa'' in Italian) is the Bishop of Rome and, as such, is leader of the worldwide Catholic Church (that is, both the Latin Rite and the Eastern Catholic Churches, all of which are in full communion with the Roman Pontiff). The current (conventionally considered the 265th) office-holder is Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected in papal conclave on 19 April 2005.

The office of the pope is called the ''Papacy'', and his ecclesiastical jurisdiction the "Holy See" (''Sancta Sedes'' in Latin) or "Apostolic See" (the latter on the basis that both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred at Rome). The pope is also head of state of the Vatican City, a sovereign city-state entirely enclaved by Rome.

Early popes helped to spread Christianity and resolve doctrinal disputes. After the conversion of the rulers of the Roman Empire (the conversion of the populace was already advanced even before the Edict of Milan, 313), the Roman emperors became the popes' secular allies until, with the loss of the emperors' power in the west, Pope Stephen II was forced in the 8th century to appeal to the Franks for help,Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972. Chapter XXI: Christianity in Conflict 529-1085. p. 517–551 beginning a period of close interaction with the rulers of the west. For centuries, the forged Donation of Constantine also provided the basis for the papacy's claim of political supremacy over the entire former Western Roman Empire. In medieval times, popes played powerful roles in Western Europe, often struggling with monarchs for power over wide-ranging affairs of church and state, crowning emperors (Charlemagne was the first emperor crowned by a pope) and regulating disputes among secular rulers.

Gradually forced to give up secular power, popes now focus almost exclusively on spiritual matters. Over the centuries, popes' claims of spiritual authority have been ever more clearly expressed, culminating in the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ''ex cathedra'' (literally "from the chair (of Peter)") to issue a solemn definition of faith or morals. The first (after the proclamation) and so far the last such occasion was in 1950, with the definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.


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. Although Peter never bore the title of "Pope", which came into use much later, Catholics recognize him as the first Pope, while official declarations of the Church only 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.

The study of the New Testament offers no proof that Jesus established the papacy nor even that he established Peter as the first bishop of Rome. 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.

Various Christian communities would have had a group of presbyter-bishops functioning as leaders of the local church. Eventually this evolved into a monarchical episcopacy in certain cities.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. 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. Eventually, Rome followed the example of other Christian communities and structured itself after the model of the empire with one presbyter bishop in charge ..." The organizational structure Catholic Church subsequently evolved into the present form of one bishop supported by a college of presbyters.

Whether headed by a monarchical bishop or not, the see of Rome was very early accorded a pre-eminence that developed into an acknowledgement of its primacy and consequently of its bishop. An Eastern Orthodox writer, citing other Greek Orthodox historians, has declared: "From an historical perspective, there is no conclusive documentary evidence from the first century or the early decades of the second of the exercise of, or even the claim to, a primacy of the Roman bishop or to a connection with Peter, although documents from this period accord the church at Rome some kind of pre‑eminence"; and "the see of Rome, whose prominence was associated with the deaths of Peter and Paul, became the principle centre in matters concerning the universal Church."

Early Christianity (''c.'' 30 – 325)

It seems that at first the terms 'episcopos' and 'presbyter' were used interchangeably. The general consensus among scholars has been that, at the turn of the first and second centuries, local congregations were led by bishops and presbyters whose offices were overlapping or indistinguishable. Probably there was no single 'monarchical' bishop in Rome before the middle of the second century ... and likely later."

In the early Christian era, Rome and a few other cities had claims on the leadership of worldwide ("Catholic") church. James the Just, known as "the brother of the Lord", served as head of the Jerusalem church, which is still honored as the "Mother Church" in Orthodox tradition. Alexandria had been a center of Jewish learning and became a center of Christian learning. Rome had a large congregation early in the apostolic period whom Paul the Apostle addressed in his Epistle to the Romans, and Paul himself was martyred there.

During the first century of the Christian Church (''ca.'' 30–130), the Roman capital became recognized as a Christian center of exceptional importance; but there are only a few references of that time to recognition of the authoritative primacy of the Roman See outside of Rome. In the [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20071013_documento-ravenna_en.html Ravenna Document] of 13 October 2007, theologians chosen by the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches stated: "41. Both sides agree ... that Rome, as the Church that 'presides in love' according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch ([http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/244/Letter_of_Ignatius_of_Antioch_to_the_Romans.html ''To the Romans'',] Prologue), occupied the first place in the ''taxis'', and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the ''protos'' among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the Bishop of Rome as ''protos'', a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium." In addition, in the last years of the first century AD the Church in Rome intervened in the affairs of the Christian Church in Corinth to help solve their internal disputes.

Later in the second century AD, there were further manifestations of Roman authority over other churches. In 189 AD, assertion of the primacy of the Church of Rome may be indicated in Irenaeus of Lyons's ''Against Heresies'' (3:3:2): "With [the Church of Rome], because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree... and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition." And in 195 AD, Pope Victor I, in what is seen as an exercise of Roman authority over other churches, excommunicated the Quartodecimans for observing Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the date of the Jewish Passover, a tradition handed down by St. John the Evangelist (see Easter controversy). Celebration of Easter on a Sunday, as insisted on by the Pope, is the system that has prevailed (see computus).

Early popes helped spread Christianity and resolve doctrinal disputes.

Nicea to East-West Schism (325–1054)

During these seven centuries, the church unified by Emperor Constantine effectively split into a Greek East and a Latin West. The pope became independent of the Emperor in the East, and became a major force in politics in the West.

Imperial capitals: Rome and Constantinople

With the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity and the Council of Nicea, the Christian religion received imperial backing.

At the time of the Council (325), Rome was still seen as the capital of the empire, although the emperor rarely lived there. With the establishment of a new fixed capital in Constantinople (330), there arose a new centre, which soon grew in prominence, rivalling those in Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, which previously had been the most important centres of Christianity.

Of these, Rome claimed the chief place, as illustrated by Pope Leo the Great's statement, in about 446, that "the care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter's one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head", clearly articulating the extension of papal authority as doctrine, and promulgating his right to exercise "the full range of apostolic powers that Jesus had first bestowed on the apostle Peter".

The early ecumenical councils, particularly the First Council of Constantinople (381), affirmed the importance of the Bishop of Rome's position, though all the councils in the Church's early history took place in cities in the East, and the Pope did not personally attend the council in 381. It was at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 that Leo I (through his emissaries) stated that he was "speaking with the voice of Peter". At this same council, the Bishop of Constantinople was given "equal privileges" to those of the Bishop of Rome, because "Constantinople is the New Rome". Pope Leo rejected this decree on the ground that it contravened the sixth canon of Nicaea and infringed the rights of Alexandria and Antioch.

Medieval development

Gregory the Great (''c'' 540–604) who established medieval themes in the Church, in a painting by Carlo Saraceni, circa 1610, Rome.
After the fall of Rome, the pope served as a source of authority and continuity. Gregory the Great (''c'' 540–604) administered the church with stern reform. From an ancient senatorial family, Gregory worked with the stern judgment and discipline typical of ancient Roman rule. Theologically, he represents the shift from the classical to the medieval outlook, his popular writings full of dramatic miracles, potent relics, demons, angels, ghosts, and the approaching end of the world.

Gregory's successors were mostly dominated by the exarch or the Eastern emperor. These humiliations, the weakening of the Empire in the face of Muslim expansion, and the inability of the Emperor to protect the papal estates made Pope Stephen II turn from the Emperor. Seeking protection against the Lombards and getting no help from Emperor Constantine V, the pope appealed to the Franks to protect his lands. Pepin the Short subdued the Lombards and donated Italian land to the Papacy. When Leo III crowned Charlemagne (800), he established the precedent that no man would be emperor without anointment by a pope.

Around 850, a forger, probably from among the French opposers of Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims"False Decretals." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005 made a collection of church legislation that contained forgeries as well as genuine documents.[http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/200996/False-Decretals Encyclopaedia Britannica: ''False Decretals''] At first some attacked it as false, but it was taken as genuine throughout the rest of the Middle Ages It is now known as the False Decretals. It was part of a series of falsifications of past legislation by a party in the Carolingian Empire whose principal aim was to free the church and the bishops from interference by the state and the metropolitans respectively, and who were concerned for papal supremacy as guaranteeing those rights. The author, a French cleric calling himself Isidore Mercator, created false documents purportedly by early church popes, demonstrating that supremacy of the papacy dated back to the church's oldest traditions. The decretals include the ''Donation of Constantine'', in which Constantine grants Pope Sylvester I secular authority over all Western Europe.Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972. p. 525–526 Thanks to this forgery in the collection, the decretals became one of the most persuasive forgeries in the history of the West. It supported Papal policies for centuries.

Pope Nicholas I (858–867) asserted that the pope should have suzerain authority over all Christians, even royalty, in matters of faith and morals. Only Photius, bishop of Constantinople, dared gainsay him. He sternly defended morality and justice in a decadent age. After his death, the authority of the papacy was acknowledged more widely than ever before.

The low point of the Papacy was 867–1049. The Papacy came under the control of vying political factions. Popes were variously imprisoned, starved, killed, and deposed by force. The family of a certain papal official made and unmade popes for fifty years. The official's great-grandson, Pope John XII, held orgies of debauchery in the Lateran palace. Emperor Otto I of Germany had John accused in an ecclesiastical court, which deposed him and elected a layman as Pope Leo VIII. John mutilated the Imperial representatives in Rome and had himself reinstated as Pope. Conflict between the Emperor and the papacy continued, and eventually dukes in league with the emperor were buying bishops and popes almost openly.

In 1049, Leo IX became pope, at last a pope with the character to face the papacy's problems. He traveled to the major cities of Europe to deal with the church's moral problems firsthand, notably the sale of church offices or services (simony) and clerical marriage and concubinage. With his long journey, he restored the prestige of the Papacy in the north.

East–West Schism to Reformation (1054–1517)

Historical map of the Western Schism: red is support for Avignon, blue for Rome
The East and West churches split definitively in 1054. This split was caused more by political events than by slight diversities of creed. Popes had galled the emperors by siding with the king of the Franks, crowning a rival Roman emperor, appropriating the exarchate of Ravenna, and driving into Greek Italy.Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972

In the Middle Ages, popes struggled with monarchs over power.

From 1309 to 1377, the pope resided not in Rome but in Avignon (see Avignon Papacy). The Avignon Papacy was notorious for greed and corruption.Durant, Will. The Reformation. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1957. "Chapter I. The Roman Catholic Church." 1300-1517. p. 3–25 During this period, the pope was effectively an ally of France, alienating France's enemies, such as England.Durant, Will. The Reformation. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1957. "Chapter II. England: Wyclif, Chaucer, and the Great Revolt." 1308-1400. p. 26–57

The pope was understood to have the power to draw on the "treasury" of merit built up by the saints and by Christ, so that he could grant indulgences, reducing one's time in purgatory. The concept that a monetary fine or donation accompanied contrition, confession, and prayer eventually gave way to the common understanding that indulgences depended on a simple monetary contribution. Popes condemned misunderstandings and abuses but were too pressed for income to exercise effective control over indulgences.

Popes also contended with the cardinals, who sometimes attempted to assert the authority of councils over the pope's. Conciliar theory holds that the supreme authority of the church lies with a General Council, not with the pope."Conciliar theory." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005 Its foundations were laid early in the 13th century, and it culminated in the 15th century. The failure of the conciliar theory to win general acceptance after the 15th century is taken as a factor in the Protestant Reformation.

Various antipopes challenged papal authority, especially during the Western Schism (1378–1417). In this schism, the papacy had returned to Rome from Avignon, but an antipope was installed in Avignon, as if to extend the papacy there.

The Eastern Church continued to decline with the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, undercutting Constantinople's claim to equality with Rome. Twice an Eastern Emperor tried to force the Eastern Church to reunify with the West. Papal claims of superiority were a sticking point in reunification, which failed in any event. In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

Reformation to present (1517 to today)

As part of the Catholic Reformation, Pope Paul III (1534–1549) initiated the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which established the triumph of the Papacy over those who sought to reconcile with Protestants or oppose Papal claims.
Protestant Reformers criticized the Papacy as corrupt and characterized the pope as the antichrist.

Popes instituted the Catholic Reformation (1560–1648), which addressed challenges of the Protestant Reformation and instituted internal reforms. Pope Paul III (1534–1549) initiated the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which established the triumph of the Papacy over rulers who sought to reconcile with Protestants and against French and Spanish bishops opposed to Papal claims.

Gradually forced to give up secular power, popes focused on spiritual issues.

The pope's claims of spiritual authority have been ever more clearly expressed since the first centuries. In 1870, the First Vatican Council proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility for those rare occasions the pope speaks ''ex cathedra'' (literally "from the chair (of Peter)") when issuing a solemn definition of faith or morals.Wetterau, Bruce. World history. New York: Henry Holt and company. 1994.

Later in 1870, Victor Emmanuel II seized Rome from the pope's control and substantially completed the unification of Italy. The Papal States that the pope lost had been used to support papal independence.

In 1929, the Lateran Treaty between Italy and Pope Pius XI established the Vatican guaranteed papal independence from secular rule.

In 1950, the pope defined the Assumption of Mary as dogma, the only time that a pope has spoken ex cathedra since papal infallibility was explicitly declared.

The Petrine Doctrine is still controversial as an issue of doctrine that continues to divide the eastern and western churches as well as separating Protestants from Rome.

Origin of the office

The dogmas and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church teach that the institution of the papacy was first mandated by interpretations of several Biblical passages, mainly Matthew 16:13–19:See also Isaiah 22:20–22, John 21:15–17, Luke 12:41, and Luke 22:31–32.

Catholics believe that this passage shows Jesus establishing his church on the shoulders of Simon son of John (Peter). However, this interpretation is challenged by non-Catholics. Some explain that the Savior meant that the rock upon which the Church would be built was revelation. This belief is based on the fact that the Greek word used for Peter in the passage is ''petros'', a masculine noun meaning a small rock or stone. The Greek word for rock ("upon this rock") is ''petra'', a feminine noun meaning bedrock. Thus, the Greek text reads, "Thou art Peter [petros, small rock], and upon this rock [petra, bedrock] I will build my church." But Catholic scholars counter that the difference between "petros" and "petras" can only be found in Attic Greek, but the New Testament was written in Koine Greek—an entirely different dialect. In Koine Greek, both "petros" and "petra" simply meant "rock." If Jesus had wanted to call Simon a small stone, the translation of Christ's Aramaic into Greek would have been "lithos," which means "small stone" in Koine Greek. Ancient Greek and Koine Greek were different languages, separated by 7 centuries time (like latin and old spanish).

The reference to the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" here is the basis for the symbolic keys often found in Catholic papal symbolism, such as in the Vatican Coat of Arms (see below).

Election, death and abdication


''The Giving of the Keys to Saint Peter'' painted by Pietro Perugino (1492)
The pope was originally chosen by those senior clergymen resident in and near Rome. In 1059 the electorate was restricted to the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and the individual votes of all Cardinal Electors were made equal in 1179. Pope Urban VI, elected 1378, was the last pope who was not already a cardinal at the time of his election. Canon law requires that if a layman or non-bishop is elected, he receives episcopal consecration from the Dean of the College of Cardinals before assuming the Pontificate. Under present canon law, the pope is elected by the cardinal electors, comprising those cardinals who are under the age of 80.

The Second Council of Lyons was convened on 7 May 1274, to regulate the election of the pope. This Council decreed that the cardinal electors must meet within ten days of the pope's death, and that they must remain in seclusion until a pope has been elected; this was prompted by the three-year ''Sede Vacante'' following the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268. By the mid-sixteenth century, the electoral process had more or less evolved into its present form, allowing for alteration in the time between the death of the pope and the meeting of the cardinal electors.

Traditionally, the vote was conducted by acclamation, by selection (by committee), or by plenary vote. Acclamation was the simplest procedure, consisting entirely of a voice vote, and was last used in 1621. Pope John Paul II abolished vote by acclamation and by selection by committee, and henceforth all Popes will be elected by full vote of the Sacred College of Cardinals by ballot.

The conclave in Konstanz where Pope Martin V was elected
The formal declaration of "Habemus Papam" after the election of Pope Martin V
The election of the pope almost always takes place in the Sistine Chapel, in a sequestered meeting called a "conclave" (so called because the cardinal electors are theoretically locked in, ''cum clave'', until they elect a new pope). Three cardinals are chosen by lot to collect the votes of absent cardinal electors (by reason of illness), three are chosen by lot to count the votes, and three are chosen by lot to review the count of the votes. The ballots are distributed and each cardinal elector writes the name of his choice on it and pledges aloud that he is voting for "one whom under God I think ought to be elected" before folding and depositing his vote on a plate atop a large chalice placed on the altar (in the 2005 conclave, a special urn was used for this purpose instead of a chalice and plate). The plate is then used to drop the ballot into the chalice, making it difficult for any elector to insert multiple ballots. Before being read, the number of ballots are counted while still folded; if the total number of ballots does not match the number of electors, the ballots are burned unopened and a new vote is held. Otherwise, each ballot is read aloud by the presiding Cardinal, who pierces the ballot with a needle and thread, stringing all the ballots together and tying the ends of the thread to ensure accuracy and honesty. Balloting continues until a Pope is elected by a two-thirds majority.

One of the most famous aspects of the papal election process is the means by which the results of a ballot are announced to the world. Once the ballots are counted and bound together, they are burned in a special stove erected in the Sistine Chapel, with the smoke escaping through a small chimney visible from St. Peter's Square. The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound in order to produce black smoke, or ''fumata nera''. (Traditionally, wet straw was used to produce the black smoke, but this was not completely reliable. The chemical compound is more reliable.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned alone, sending white smoke (''fumata bianca'') through the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a new pope. At the end of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, church bells were also rung to signal that a new pope had been chosen.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals then asks the cardinal who has been successfully-elected two solemn questions. First he asks, "Do you freely accept your election?" If he replies with the word ''"Accepto"'', his reign as Pope begins at that instant, ''not'' at the inauguration ceremony several days afterward. The Dean then asks, "By what name shall you be called?" The new pope then announces the regnal name he has chosen for himself. (If the Dean himself is elected pope, the Vice Dean performs this duty).

The new pope is led through the "Door of Tears" to a dressing room in which three sets of white papal vestments (''immantatio'') await: small, medium, and large. Donning the appropriate vestments and reemerging into the Sistine Chapel, the new pope is given the "Fisherman's Ring" by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, whom he first either reconfirms or reappoints. The pope then assumes a place of honor as the rest of the cardinals wait in turn to offer their first "obedience" (''adoratio'') and to receive his blessing.

The senior Cardinal Deacon then announces from a balcony over St. Peter's Square the following proclamation: ''Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Papam!'' ("I announce to you a great joy! We have a pope!"). He then announces the new pope's Christian name along with the new name he has adopted as his regnal name.

Until 1978 the pope's election was followed in a few days by the Papal Coronation. A procession with great pomp and circumstance formed from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's Basilica, with the newly elected pope borne in the ''sedia gestatoria''. There, after a solemn Papal Mass, the new pope was crowned with the ''triregnum'' (papal tiara) and he gave for the first time as pope the famous blessing ''Urbi et Orbi'' ("to the City [Rome] and to the World"). Another renowned part of the coronation was the lighting of a bundle of flax at the top of a gilded pole, which would flare brightly for a moment and then promptly extinguish, with the admonition ''Sic transit gloria mundi'' ("Thus passes worldly glory"). A similar sombre warning against papal hubris made on this occasion was the ritual exclamation ''"Annos Petri non videbis"'', reminding the newly crowned Pope that he would not live to see his rule lasting as long as that of St. Peter, who according to tradition headed the church for 35 years and has thus far been the longest reigning Pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

A traditionalist Catholic belief claims the existence of a Papal Oath sworn, at their coronation, by all popes from Pope Agatho to Pope Paul VI, but which since the abolition of the coronation ceremony is no longer used. There is no reliable authority for this claim.

The Latin term ''sede vacante'' ("vacant seat") refers to a papal interregnum, the period between the death of a pope and the election of his successor. From this term is derived the term sedevacantism, which designates a category of dissident Catholics who maintain that there is no canonically and legitimately elected Pope, and that there is therefore a ''Sede Vacante''. One of the most common reasons for holding this belief is the idea that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and especially the replacement of the Tridentine Mass with the ''Mass of Paul VI'' are heretical, and that, per the dogma of papal infallibility, it is impossible for a valid Pope to have done these things. Secevacantists are considered to be schismatics by the mainstream Roman Catholic Church.

For centuries, the papacy was an institution dominated by Italians. Prior to the election of the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978, the last non-Italian was Pope Adrian VI of the Netherlands, elected in 1522. John Paul II was followed by the German-born Benedict XVI, leading some to believe the Italian domination of the papacy to be over.


The current regulations regarding a papal interregnum—that is, a ''sede vacante'' ("vacant seat")—were promulgated by John Paul II in his 1996 document ''Universi Dominici Gregis''. During the "Sede Vacante", the Sacred College of Cardinals, composed of the pope's principal advisors and assistants, is collectively responsible for the government of the Church and of the Vatican itself, under the direction of the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church; however, canon law specifically forbids the cardinals from introducing any innovation in the government of the Church during the vacancy of the Holy See. Any decision that requires the assent of the pope has to wait until the new pope has been elected and accepts office.

In recent centuries it was traditional, when a Pope was judged to have died, for the Cardinal Chamberlain to confirm the death ceremonially by gently tapping the Pope's head thrice with a silver hammer, calling his birth name each time. This custom was not followed at the death of Pope John Paul I and probably was not revived upon the death of Pope John Paul II. The Cardinal Chamberlain then retrieves the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it in two in the presence of the Cardinals. The deceased pope's seals are defaced, to keep them from ever being used again, and his personal apartment is sealed.

The body then lies in state for a number of days before being interred in the crypt of a leading church or cathedral; the popes of the 20th century were all interred in St. Peter's Basilica. A nine-day period of mourning (''novendialis'') follows the interment of the late Pope.


The Code of Canon Law [http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P16.HTM 332 §2] states, "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone." This right has been exercised by, among others, Pope Celestine V in 1294 and Pope Gregory XII in 1409, Gregory XII being the last to do so.

It was widely reported in June and July 2002 that Pope John Paul II firmly refuted the speculation of his resignation using Canon 332, in a letter to the Milan daily newspaper ''Corriere della Sera''. Nevertheless, 332 §2 caused speculation that (1) Pope John Paul II would have resigned as his health failed, or (2) a properly manifested legal instrument had been prepared which effected his resignation if he could not perform his duties. Pope John Paul II, however, did not resign. He died on 2 April 2005 after a long period of ill-health and was buried on 8 April 2005. After his death, it was reported in his last will and testament that he considered abdicating in 2000 as he neared his 80th birthday. That portion of the will, however, is unclear and others interpret it differently.


Official list of titles

The official list of titles of the Pope, in the order in which they are given in the Annuario Pontificio, is: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.

The official list of titles does not include all the titles that are officially used.


The best-known title of the Popes, that of "Pope", does not appear in the official list, but is commonly used in the titles of documents, and appears, in abbreviated form, in their signatures. Thus Pope Paul VI signed as "Paulus PP. VI", the "PP." standing for "''Papa''" ("Pope").

The title "Pope" was from the early third century an honorific designation used for ''any'' bishop in the West.Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article ''Pope'' In the East it was used only for the Bishop of Alexandria. Pope Marcellinus (d. 304) is the first Bishop of Rome shown in sources to have had the title "Pope" used of him. From the 6th century, the imperial chancery of Constantinople normally reserved this designation for the Bishop of Rome. From the early sixth century it began to be confined in the West to the Bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the eleventh century, when Pope Gregory VII declared it reserved for the Bishop of Rome.

In Eastern Christianity, where the title "pope" is used also of the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Rome is often referred to as the "Pope of Rome", regardless of whether the speaker or writer is in communion with Rome or not.

Vicar of Peter and Vicar of Christ

Early bishops occupying the See of Rome were designated "Vicar of Peter", indicating that they were successors of Saint Peter, the "Prince of the Apostles" or leader of the apostolic Church. The Roman Missal uses this title in its prayers for a dead Pope.

The designation "Vicar of Christ" was first used of a Pope by the Roman Synod of 495 with reference to Pope Gelasius I. But for long after this the stable designation for the Popes was "Vicar of Peter", while "Vicar of Christ" was a title used by the Roman Emperors of the East.[http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=X5rcnhLnRYMC&dq=%22vicarius+petri%22&q=vicarius+petri#v=snippet&q=vicarius%20petri&f=false New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: Study Edition By John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph) Green, Thomas J. Green, Canon Law Society of America, p. 432]

Much earlier, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) used the phrase "Vicar of Christ" of the Holy Spirit with regard to the Spirit's role of maintaining in the Church the teaching given by the apostles:

"Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, ... grant also that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,— is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith?"

He also referred to the Holy Spirit as the "Vicar of the Lord":

"For what kind of (supposition) is it, that, while the devil is always operating and adding daily to the ingenuities of iniquity, the work of God should either have ceased, or else have desisted from advancing? whereas the reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete was, that, since human mediocrity was unable to take in all things at once, discipline should, little by little, be directed, and ordained, and carried on to perfection, by that Vicar of the Lord, the Holy Spirit."

It was only from the time of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) that the title, which has no legal definition or juridical significance, was used stably of the Popes. For the Catholic Church, all bishops are vicars of Christ.

Supreme Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus

The term "Supreme Pontiff" (''Summus Pontifex'') or, more completely, "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (''Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis'') is one of the official titles of the Pope.

Inscriptions on buildings and coins often use the Latin title "Pontifex Maximus", which is not to be confused with "Summus Pontifex". The title "Pontifex Maximus" dates back to the early years of the Roman Republic. Beginning with Julius Caesar, it was associated with the Roman Emperors, until Gratian (359–383), under the influence of Saint Ambrose, formally renounced the title. It is commonly found in inscriptions on buildings erected in the time of a particular Pope and on coins and medals of his reign, and is usually abbreviated as "Pont. Max." or "P.M." The phrase literally means "Greatest Pontiff", but is often interpreted as "Supreme Pontiff", which is instead a literal translation of "''Summus Pontifex''".

Servant of the Servants of God

The title "Servant of the Servants of God", although used by Church leaders including St. Augustine and St. Benedict, was first used by Pope St. Gregory the Great in his dispute with the Patriarch of Constantinople after the latter assumed the title "Ecumenical Patriarch". It was not reserved for the pope until the thirteenth century. The documents of the Second Vatican Council reinforced the understanding of this title as a reference to the pope's role as a function of collegial authority, in which the Bishop of Rome serves the world's bishops.

Patriarch of the West

From 1863 until 2005, the ''Annuario Pontificio'' included also the title "Patriarch of the West". This title was first used by Pope Theodore I in 642, and was only used occasionally. Indeed, it did not begin to appear in the pontifical yearbook until 1863. On 22 March 2006, the Vatican released a statement explaining this omission on the grounds of expressing a "historical and theological reality" and of "being useful to ecumenical dialogue". The title Patriarch of the West symbolized the pope's special relationship with, and jurisdiction over, the Latin Church—and the omission of the title neither symbolizes in any way a change in this relationship, nor distorts the relationship between the Holy See and the Eastern Churches, as solemnly proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.

Other titles

Other titles commonly used are "His Holiness", "Holy Father". In Spanish and Italian, "''Beatísimo/Beatissimo Padre''" (Most Blessed Father) is often used in preference to "''Santísimo/Santissimo Padre''" (Most Holy Father). In the medieval period, "''Dominus Apostolicus''" ("the Apostolic Lord") was also used.

The Second Vatican Council gave fresh emphasis to the title of "Head of the College of Bishops", a title that had a long earlier history.


As indicated above, a Pope normally signs documents using the title "Papa" in the abbreviated form "PP." and with the numeral, as in "Benedictus PP. XVI" (Pope Benedict XVI). Exceptions are bulls of canonization and decrees of ecumenical councils, which the Pope signs with the formula, "Ego N. Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae", without the numeral, as in "Ego Paulus Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae" (I, Paul, Bishop of the catholic/universal Church). The Pope's signature is followed, in bulls of canonization, by those of all the cardinals resident in Rome, and in decrees of ecumenical councils, by the signatures of the other bishops participating in the council, each signing as Bishop of a particular see.

Papal bulls are headed ''N. Episcopus Servus Servorum Dei'' ("Name, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God"). In general, they are not signed by the Pope, but Pope John Paul II introduced in the mid-1980s the custom by which the Pope signs not only bulls of canonization but also, using his normal signature, such as "Benedictus PP. XVI", bulls of nomination of bishops.

Residence and jurisdiction

The pope's official seat or cathedral is the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and his official residence is the Palace of the Vatican. He also possesses a summer residence at Castel Gandolfo (situated on the site of the ancient city of Alba Longa). Until the time of the Avignon Papacy, the residence of the Pope was the Lateran Palace, donated by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.

The Pope's ecclesiastical jurisdiction (the Holy See) is distinct from his secular jurisdiction (Vatican City). It is the Holy See which conducts international relations; for hundreds of years, the papal court (the Roman Curia) has functioned as the government of the Catholic Church.

The names "Holy See" and "Apostolic See" are in ecclesiastical terminology the ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome (including the Roman Curia); the pope's various honors, powers, and privileges within the Catholic Church and the international community derive from his Episcopate of Rome in lineal succession from the Apostle Saint Peter (see Apostolic Succession). Consequently, Rome has traditionally occupied a central position in the Catholic Church, although this is not necessarily so. The pope derives his Pontificate from being Bishop of Rome but is not required to live there; according to the Latin formula ''ubi Papa, ibi Curia'', wherever the Pope resides is the central government of the Church, provided that the pope is Bishop of Rome. As such, between 1309 and 1378, the popes lived in Avignon (see Avignon Papacy), a period often called the Babylonian Captivity in allusion to the Biblical exile of Israel.

Regalia and insignia

Pope Pius VII, bishop of Rome, next to Cardinal Caprara. The Pope wears the pallium, a liturgical vestment that is used heraldically at the foot of the coat of arms of Benedict XVI.

* "Triregnum", also called the "tiara" or "triple crown", represents the pope's three functions as "supreme pastor", "supreme teacher" and "supreme priest". Recent popes have not, however, worn the ''triregnum'', though it remains the symbol of the papacy and has not been abolished. In liturgical ceremonies Popes wear an episcopal mitre (an erect cloth hat).
* Pastoral Staff topped by a crucifix, a custom established before the 13th century (see papal cross).
* Pallium, or pall, a circular band of fabric worn around the neck over the chasuble. It forms a yoke about the neck, breast and shoulders and has two pendants hanging down in front and behind, and is ornamented with six crosses. Previously, the pallium worn by the pope was identical to those he granted to the primates, but in 2005 Pope Benedict XVI began to use a distinct papal pallium that is larger than the primatial, and was adorned with red crosses instead of black.
* "Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven", the image of two keys, one gold and one silver. The silver key symbolizes the power to bind and loose on Earth, and the gold key the power to bind and loose in Heaven.
* Ring of the Fisherman, a gold ring decorated with a depiction of St. Peter in a boat casting his net, with the name of the reigning Pope around it.
* ''Umbraculum'' (better known in the Italian form ''ombrellino'') is a canopy or umbrella consisting of alternating red and gold stripes, which used to be carried above the pope in processions.
* ''Sedia gestatoria'', a mobile throne carried by twelve footmen (''palafrenieri'') in red uniforms, accompanied by two attendants bearing ''flabella'' (fans made of white ostrich feathers), and sometimes a large canopy, carried by eight attendants. The use of the ''flabella'' was discontinued by Pope John Paul I. The use of the ''sedia gestatoria'' was discontinued by Pope John Paul II, being replaced by the so-called Popemobile.

Source: Wikipedia