Back to Back Issues Page
Brief History of the Roman Catholic Pope
March 03, 2017

Someone asked me the history of the pope, so I drew up this brief outline. I expect to finish a book on this subject sometime this summer. (Working title: Rome's Audacious Claim)

1. The apostles start churches

2. The churches have problems and questions

3. While the apostles are alive, they ask the apostles how to resolve those problems and questions

4. The apostles die

5. When churches have problems they can't resolve, they ask for help from churches in which the apostles had taught.

6. In the second century, all churches adopt a form of church government with one bishop and a group of elders. (This is a very small change. Before this, many churches had only a group of elders.)

7. As the church gets larger, the churches in which the apostles taught become more important both as guides and for resolving problems.

8. In the third century, churches get even larger. Slowly the big churches (in big cities) help oversee the smaller churches in the surrounding area. A few churches--especially Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch--gain influence and authority in whole regions or whole countries.

9. Bishops of big cities get the name of metropolitan, and bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch become "patriarchs."

10. In the early fourth century, the emperor (Constantine) professes Christianity and lots of Romans become Christians.

11. The important cities of the empire become as important as the cities where the apostles taught.

12. Constantinople is added to the list of patriarchs. Rome becomes extremely authoritative and important because they are founded on two important apostles, Peter and Paul, and they are a capital city.

13. In the fifth century, barbarian hordes overthrow the western Roman empire. The apostolic churches of Greece remain under the Roman empire's control (with the emperor in Constantinople), but Rome itself is no longer part of the empire.

14. Rome is the only apostolic church in the west, now controlled by barbarians.

15. In the fifth and sixth centuries, Rome begins to regard itself as holding all authority over the churches and begins making doctrinal changes on its own. Eastern churches (still in the Roman empire and highly controlled by the emperor in Constantinople) regard Rome as "first among equals," but not primary. Rome continues to fight for sole authority.

16. The separation between the Roman empire (that no longer has Rome in it) and Rome and the barbarian nations of Europe grows wider. The Muslims conquer North Africa, so Rome no longer can exercise authority there.

17. By 1054, Rome has changed enough doctrines to create a rift with the churches in the Roman empire (that doesn't have Rome in it), and Rome and Constantinople excommunicate each other.

18. Rome goes on claiming its bishop has authority over the whole world, but no accepts that except Rome and the barbarian nations of Europe.

Note: There are some churches that accept papal primacy in the east. These are called "Roman Rite Churches." I don't know how prolific they are, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Grace to you as you follow Jesus.

Paul Pavao

Back to Back Issues Page