The papacy denotes the office of the pope, or bishop of Rome, and the system of central ecclesiastical government of the Roman Catholic Church over which he presides. Believed by Roman Catholics to be the successor of the apostle Peter, the pope grounds his claim to jurisdictional primacy in the church in the so - called Petrine theory. According to that theory, affirmed by the Council of Florence in 1439, defined as a matter of faith by the First Vatican Council in 1870, and endorsed by the Second Vatican Council in 1964, Jesus Christ conferred the position of primacy in the church upon Peter alone. In solemnly defining the Petrine primacy, the First Vatican Council cited the three classical New Testament texts long associated with it: John 1:42, John 21:15 ff., and, above all, Matthew 16:18 ff.
The council understood these texts, along with Luke 22:32, to signify that Christ himself constituted Saint Peter as prince of the apostles and visible head of the church, possessed of a primacy of jurisdiction that was to pass down in perpetuity to his papal successors, along with the authority to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith or morals.
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During the 4th and 5th centuries, after the Roman emperor Constantine's grant of toleration to Christianity (the Edict of Milan, 313) and its rise to the status of an official religion, a series of popes, most notably Leo I (r. 440 - 61), translated that claim into a primacy of jurisdiction over the church. That claim was matched, however, by the rival claim of the church at Constantinople to a jurisdictional primacy in the East equal to that of Rome in the West. In fact, for at least another century, it was the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople who could actually claim to be functioning as the supreme leader of Christendom in spiritual as well as temporal matters.
In the 8th century, after the rise of Islam had weakened the Byzantine Empire and the Lombards had renewed their pressure in Italy, the popes finally sought support from the Frankish rulers of the West and received (754) from the Frankish king Pepin The Short the Italian territory later known as the Papal States. With the crowning (800) by Leo III of Charlemagne, first of the Carolingian emperors, the papacy also gained his protection.
By the late 9th century, however, the Carolingian empire had disintegrated, the imperial government in Italy was powerless, and the bishopric of Rome had fallen under the domination of the nobles. Once again the papacy sought aid from the north, and in 962, Pope John XII crowned the German king Otto I emperor. In this revived empire, soon called the Holy Roman Empire, the pope theoretically was the spiritual head, and the emperor the temporal head. The relationship between temporal and spiritual authority, however, was to be a continuing arena of contention. Initially, the emperors were dominant and the papacy stagnated. The emperors themselves, however, set the papacy on the road to recovery. In 1046, Emperor Henry III deposed three rival claimants to the papal office and proceeded to appoint, in turn, three successors. With the appointment in 1049 of Leo IX, the third of these, the movement of church reform, which had been gathering momentum in Burgundy and Lorraine, finally came to Rome. It found there in Leo and in a series of distinguished successors the type of unified central leadership it had previously lacked.
With the papacy taking the leadership in reform, the second great phase in the process of its rise to prominence began, one that extended from the mid 11th to the mid 13th century. It was distinguished, first, by Gregory VII's bold attack after 1075 on the traditional practices whereby the emperor had controlled appointments to the higher church offices, an attack that spawned the protracted civil and ecclesiastical strife in Germany and Italy known as the Investiture Controversy. It was distinguished, second, by Urban II's launching in 1095 of the Crusades, which, in an attempt to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim domination, marshaled under papal leadership the aggressive energies of the European nobility. Both these efforts, although ultimately unsuccessful, greatly enhanced papal prestige in the 12th and 13th centuries. Such powerful popes as Alexander III (r. 1159 - 81), Innocent III (r. 1198 - 1216), Gregory IX (r. 1227 - 41), and Innocent IV (r. 1243 - 54) wielded a primacy over the church that attempted to vindicate a jurisdictional supremacy over emperors and kings in temporal and spiritual affairs.
This last attempt proved to be abortive. If Innocent IV triumphed over Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, a mere half - century later Boniface VIII (r. 1294 - 1303) fell victim to the hostility of the French king Philip IV. In 1309, Pope Clement V left Rome and took up residence in Avignon, the beginning of the so - called Babylonian Captivity (1309 - 78), during which all the popes were French, lived in Avignon, and were subject to French influence, until Gregory XI returned the papacy to Rome. During the 13th and 14th centuries, therefore, papal authority over the universal church was exercised increasingly at the sufferance of national rulers and local princes of Europe. This fact became dismally clear during the Great Schism of the West (1378 - 1418), when two, and later three, rival claimants disputed for the papal office, dividing the church into rival "obediences"; in their desperate attempts to win support, the claimants opened the way to the exploitation of ecclesiastical resources for dynastic and political ends.
The years of schism, then, and the related efforts of the general councils of Constance and Basel to limit the papal authority, saw the onset of the process whereby the papacy was reduced to the status of an Italian principality. Its supreme authority over the universal church had come to be no more than theoretical, the power over the national and territorial churches having passed to kings, princes, and rulers of such city - states as Venice.
Not until the election (1534) of Paul III, who placed the papacy itself at the head of a movement for churchwide reform, did the Counter - Reformation begin. Paul 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 far - ranging moral and administrative reform, including the 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 16th century also saw the development of foreign missions, which were encouraged by the popes and enhanced their prestige.
What this event actually foreshadowed was the demise of the papal temporal power. Although in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars the Congress of Vienna (1815) restored the Papal States, they were forcibly annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870, and not until 1929 with the Lateran Treaty was the "Roman Question" - the problem of nonnational status for the pope - solved. The treaty, which created in the heart of Rome a tiny, sovereign Vatican state, restored to the papacy a measure of temporal independence but left it with political influence rather than actual political power.
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 have come to exercise that authority with increasing vigor and in every aspect of religious life. By the crucial pontificate of Pius IX (r. 1846 - 78), for example, papal control over worldwide Catholic missionary activity was firmly established for the first time in history. The solemn definition of the papal primacy by the First Vatican Council gave clear theoretical underpinnings to Pius IX's own 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 Vatican I and the assembly of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.
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 John XXIII (r. 1958 - 63), 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. The establishment of national conferences of bishops tended to erode it to some degree, and Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), reaffirming the prohibition of artificial birth control, was met with both evasion and defiance. By the late 1970s papal authority itself had become a bone of contention.
Paul VI (r. 1963 - 78), however, continued the ecumenical efforts of John XXIII in his contacts with Protestant and Orthodox churches, as in his attempt to make discreet moves in the direction of pragmatic accommodation with the communist regimes of eastern Europe, a policy that would have been unthinkable during the reigns of Pius XI and Pius XII. Paul also reorganized the curia and spoke strongly for peace and social justice. With the accession of the Polish John Paul II (1978 - ) the church had, for the first time since Adrian VI in the 16th century, a non - Italian pope.
N Cheetham, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the Popes from Saint Peter to John Paul II (1983); J A Corbett, The Papacy: A Brief History (1956); C Falconi, The Popes in the Twentieth Century (1967); M Guarducci, The Tradition of Peter in the Vatican (1965); P Hebblethwaite, The Year of Three Popes (1979); L Hertling, Communio: Church and Papacy in Early Christianity (1972); E John, ed., The Popes: A Concise Biographical History (1964); H Kung, The Papal Ministry in the Church (1971); P J McCord, ed., A Pope for All Christians? An Inquiry into the Role of Peter in the Modern Church (1976); P Nichols, The Politics of the Vatican (1968); M M O'Dwyer, The Papacy in the Age of Napoleon and the Restoration: Pius VII, 1800 - 1823 (1985);
L Pastor, A History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages(1886 - 1933); Y Renouard, The Avignon Papacy, 1305 - 1403 (1970); J M C Toynbee, and J B Ward - Perkins, The Shrine of Saint Peter and the Vatican Excavations (1956); W Ullman, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (1970); K O Von Aretin, The Papacy and the Modern World (1970).
As head of the Roman Catholic Church the pope is considered the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ. He is also, and first of all, the bishop of Rome and, for Eastern Christians, the patriarch of the West. The term pappa, from which the word "pope" is derived, originated in ancient colloquial Greek as an endearing term for "father," and was then applied, beginning in the third century, to Eastern patriarchs, bishops, abbots, and eventually parish priests (of whom it is still used today). In the West the term was never very common outside Rome (originally a Greek-speaking church), and from the sixth century became reserved increasingly for the bishop of Rome, until in the later eleventh century Pope Gregory VII made that official. The term "papacy" (papatus), meant to distinguish the Roman bishop's office from all other bishoprics (episcopatus), also originated in the later eleventh century.
For Catholics the papacy represents an office divinely instituted by Christ in his charge to Peter (Matt. 16:18-19; Luke 22:31-32; John 21:15-17), and therefore something to be revered and obeyed as a part of Christian faith and duty. But the papal role has in fact varied from age to age, and a historical survey is required first to put papal claims into perspective.
Between the midfourth and the midfifth centuries, the apogee of the Western imperial church, Roman popes developed and articulated those claims which were to become characteristic. Over against emperors and patriarchs in Constantinople, who claimed that their church in "new Rome" virtually equaled that of "old Rome," the popes asserted vehemently that their primacy derived from Peter and not from their political setting, making theirs the only truly "apostolic see." Siricius (384-98) and Innocent (401-17) issued the first extant decretals, letters modeled on imperial rescripts in which popes ruled definitively on matters put to them by local churches. Leo the Great (440-61), who first appropriated the old pagan title of pontifex maximus, intervened with his Tome at the Council of Chalcedon to establish orthodox Christology, told a recalcitrant archbishop that he merely "participated in" a "fullness of power" reserved to popes alone (this later to become an important principle in canon law), and provided in his letters and sermons a highly influential description of the Petrine office and its primacy, drawing in part upon principles found in Roman law. Gelasius (492-96), finally, over against emperors inclined to intervene at will in ecclesiastical affairs, asserted an independent and higher pontifical authority in religious matters.
Throughout the early Middle Ages (600-1050) papal claims remained lofty, but papal power diminished considerably. All churches, East and West, recognized in the "vicar of St. Peter" a certain primacy of honor, but the East virtually never consulted him and the West only when it was expedient. In practice, councils of bishops, with kings often presiding over them, ruled in the various Western territorial churches. Reform initiatives came from the outside, even when (as with Boniface and Charlemagne) they sought normative guidance from Rome. Two innovations deserve mention: in the mideighth century the papacy broke with the Eastern ("Roman") emperor and allied itself henceforth with Western royal powers; at the same time popes laid claims to the papal states, lands in central Italy meant to give them autonomy but in fact burdening them with political responsibilities which became very damaging to their spiritual mission during the later Middle Ages and were not finally removed until the forcible unification of Italy in 1870.
The papacy emerged during the High Middle Ages (1050-1500) as the real leader of Western Christendom, beginning with the so-called Gregorian reform movement (its claims neatly epitomized in twenty-seven dicta noted down by Pope Gregory VII), culminating initially in the reign of Pope Innocent III (his reforms permanently inscribed in the Fourth Lateran Council), and waning again during the Great Schism and the conciliar movement. In 1059 a new election law (with modifications made in 1179, the same as that in force today) raised the pope above all other bishops, who were in principle still elected by their clergy and people. Henceforth the pope would be elected solely by cardinals, themselves papal appointees given liturgical and administrative responsibilities, and he could be chosen from among all eligible clergymen (preferably cardinals) rather than, as the older law held, only from among Romans. Papal decretals replaced conciliar canons as the routine and normative form of regulation, and this "new law" (little changed prior to the new codes issued in 1917 and 1982) reached down uniformly into every diocese in the West. The papal curia or court, reorganized and massively expanded, became the center of ecclesiastical finance and administration. Legates carried papal authority into all parts of Europe. The papal call to crusade brought thousands of laymen to arms, and eventually had important implications in the area of clerical taxation and the issuing of indulgences. Above all, this revitalized papacy constantly asserted the priority of the spiritual over the material world, and adopted for itself a new title as head of the church, that of "vicar [or placeholder] of Christ."
The early modern papacy (1517-1789) began with a staggering defeat. Protestant Reformers, persuaded that the papacy had corrupted the gospel beyond all hope of reform, revolted. The so-called Renaissance papacy had largely lost sight of its spiritual mission, and was forced reluctantly into the reforms articulated by the Council of Trent (1545-63). The papacy then took charge of deep and lasting reforms in, e.g., training clergy, upholding new standards for the episcopal and priestly offices, and providing a new catechism. The number of cardinals was set at seventy (until the last generation), and "Congregations" were established to oversee various aspects of the church's mission.
The critical attack of Enlightenment thinkers (Josephinism in Austria) together with growing national (Gallicanism in France) and episcopal (Febronianism in Germany) resistance to papal authority culminated in the French Revolution and its aftermath, during which time two popes (Pius VI, Pius VII) endured humiliating imprisonments. But the forces of restoration, combined with the official indifference or open hostility of secularized governments, led to a strong resurgence of centralized papal authority known as ultramontanism. Pope Pius IX (1846-78) made this the program of his pontificate, codified it as a part of the Catholic faith in the decrees on papal primacy and infallibility in Vatican Council I (1869-70), and enforced it with an unprecedented degree of Roman centralization that characterized the Catholic Church into the 1960s. Leo XIII (1878-1903), the first pope in centuries to have chiefly spiritual obligations following the loss of the papal states, approved neo-Thomism as an official challenge to modern philosophy and defined a Catholic position on social justice over against radical labor unions. Pius X (1903-14) condemned scattered efforts to bring into the Catholic Church the critical study of Scripture and divergent philosophical views known collectively as "modernism." Pius XII (1939-58) used the papacy's infallible authority for the first time to define the bodily assumption of Mary as Catholic dogma. Throughout the last century mass media, mass transportation, and mass audiences have made the popes far better known and more highly reverenced in their persons (as distinguished from their office) than ever before. Vatican Council II (1962-65) brought deep reforms, in particular a much greater emphasis upon bishops acting collegially with one another and the pope. Protestants are pleased to see a return to Scripture in the papacy's conception of the church's mission and the priest's office, together with a far greater openness toward other Christian churches.
Papal primacy rests upon the power of the keys which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors, though it has obviously varied in principle and especially in practice throughout the centuries. Leo the Great and the high medieval popes claimed for themselves a "fullness of power" which Vatican Council I defined as "ordinary" and "immediate" jurisdiction over the church and all the faithful in matters of discipline and ecclesiastical authority as well as faith and morals, thus potentially transforming the pope into a supreme bishop and all other bishops into mere vicars, an imbalance which Vatican Council II sought to redress with far greater emphasis upon the episcopal office. The triumph of papal primacy has nevertheless at least three noteworthy results. (1) In the continuing tug of war between papal and conciliar/episcopal authority, the pope has effectively gained the upper hand. He alone has the divinely given power to convoke councils and to authorize their decisions (something reaffirmed at Vatican Council II). (2) Since the fourteenth century, and especially since the ninteenth, episcopal appointments have been removed from local clergy and laymen and reserved to Rome (which tends to preserve loyalty to the pope but also prevents churches from falling prey to local factions and national governments). (3) In general, Rome's approval is needed for all laws which govern the church's institutions, liturgies which shape its worship, courts which enforce its discipline, orders which embody its religious life, and missions sent around the world, though there has been some decentralization in the immediate aftermath of Vatican Council II. Like all monarchical structures, primacy can be and usually is a very conservative force, though it can also initiate sweeping change, as in the reforms of the last two decades.
Until the last century, when papal pronouncements on a host of religious issues first became a regular feature of the Catholic Church, primacy in matters of faith and morals received far less attention than primacy of jurisdiction. Down to the sixteenth century and beyond, popes normally adjudicated matters first argued in schools and local churches, rather than initiating legislation themselves. All bishops originally possessed the magisterium, or the authority to preserve and to teach the faith handed down from the apostles, and general councils of bishops were called (usually by emperors) to resolve controverted doctrinal issues.
Rome eventually gained a certain preeminence, owing partly to the fame of its apostolic "founders" (Peter and Paul) and partly to its enviable record of orthodoxy, though this was not always above reproach, as in the condemnation of Honorius I (625-38) for his position on monothelitism, something which entered into the debate on infallibility. In the High Middle Ages the unfailing faith Christ promised to pray for (Luke 22:31-32) was understood to apply not to the whole church but to the Roman Church and then more narrowly to the Roman pope. Infallibility was first ascribed to him in the fourteenth century and defined as binding dogma after much debate and some dissent in 1870. This was intended to guarantee and preserve the truths of the apostolic faith. When Protestants disagree about Scripture's teaching on a certain doctrine, they appeal to a famous founder (Calvin, Wesley, etc.), their denominational creeds, or their own understanding; Catholics appeal to the authority they believe Christ conferred upon his vicar. Though popes are careful to distinguish fallible from infallible statements and have in fact made only one of the latter, their Petrine authority and frequent modern pronouncements can tend, as Luther first charged, to generate a new law and obscure the freedom of Christ.
The Orthodox considered the church to be organized around five patriarchates, with the see of Peter in the West holding a certain primacy of honor but not final authority. They have consistently refused to recognize any extraordinary magisterial authority (which resides in the teachings of general councils). The catalyst which finally divided the Eastern and Western churches in 1054 was Rome's revitalized claim to primacy, worsened by papal support for the crusades and establishment of a Latin hierarchy in the East. As hostility toward Rome increased, the Orthodox became ever clearer in their exegesis of the keys: the church was built upon Peter's confession of faith (which the Orthodox had preserved intact), not upon Peter himself or his sometime wayward successors. More recently, the Orthodox found the declaration of infallibility almost as offensive as did Protestants.
Catholics have never uniformly reverenced the papacy to the degree that most Protestants believe and that the ultramontane movement of the last century might have suggested . Outright repudiation nevertheless was rare. The so-called Old Catholics split away after the infallibility decree, and a small conservative group has denounced the changes wrought by Vatican Council II. But in the last generation some theologians, led by Hans Kung, have openly questioned infallibility, and many faithful Catholic have rejected the stand on contraception enunciated in Pope Paul VI's Humanae vitae (1968). There is increased suspicion of Roman primatial claims and considerable ferment in favor of episcopal and conciliar authority. But whether this is merely a momentary reaction or something of lasting significance is not yet clear.
Until the last generation Protestants have had almost nothing but evil to say of the papacy. Luther, contrary to popular myth, did not revolt easily against papal authority and for a long time held to the conviction of a Petrine office charged with the care of souls in the church; but when he became convinced that the vicar of Christ had in fact distorted and obstructed the proclamation of the gospel, he labeled him instead the "antichrist," and that label stuck for centuries. Indeed "popery" and its equivalent in other languages came to stand for all that was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church.
Liberal Protestants have meanwhile dismissed the papacy as a vestige of superstition, while several extremely conservative groups, often in gross misunderstanding of the papacy and its actual function, continue to link it with all that is evil in the world.
Since Vatican Council II evangelical Christians have come better to understand and to appreciate the pope as a spokesman for Christ's church, yet few would go so far as some ecumenically minded Lutherans, who suggested that a less authoritarian papacy could function as the rallying point for a reunited church. Most Protestants still consider the notion of a primatial Petrine office, instituted by Christ and conferred upon the bishops of Rome, to be scripturally and historically unfounded. Therefore the doctrine and office of the papacy will probably continue to divide Catholic from Protestant and Orthodox Christians for the foreseeable future.
J Van Engen
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
NCE, X, 951-70; XI, 779-81; LTK, VIII, 36-48; VI, 884-90; DTC, XI, 1877-1944; XIII, 247-391; RGG, V, 51-85; T. G. Jalland, The Church and the Papacy; K. von Aretin, The Papacy and the Modern World; J. D. Holmes, The Triumph of the Holy See; S. Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy; P. C. Empie, ed., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church; C. Mirbt and K. Aland, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und des romischen Katholizismus.
This term is employed in an ecclesiastical and in an historical signification. In the former of these uses it denotes the ecclesiastical system in which the pope as successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Jesus Christ governs the Catholic Church as its supreme head. In the latter, it signifies the papal influence viewed as a political force in history. (See APOSTOLIC SEE; APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION; CHURCH; PAPAL ARBITRATION; POPE; UNITY.)
Publication information Written by G.H. Joyce. Transcribed by Marcia L. Bellafiore. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
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