+ A.M.D.G. +


The mainstay of the Church is the Pope. He is the rock on which the Church rests (Matt. xvi. 18); and his office secures the maintenance of unity. St. John Chrysostom says that the Church would fail if it were not for its Head, who is the centre of its unity, as a ship would be wrecked if deprived of its pilot; and St. Cyprian adds that the enemies of the Church direct their attacks against its Head, in the hope that deprived of his guidance it may be shipwrecked. Among the Popes are counted no less than forty martyrs.

1. Christ conferred on St. Peter the primacy over the apostles and the faithful by the command: “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep;” by giving over to him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and by special marks of distinction.

After His resurrection Christ appeared to the apostles on the lake of Genesareth, and after the triple question to Peter “Lovest thou Me?” gave him the solemn precept: “Feed My lambs; [i.e., the faithful], . . . feed My sheep [i.e., the apostles]” (John xxi. 15). This office had been promised to St. Peter before the resurrection, on the occasion of his confession at Caesarea Philippi: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. xvi. 18, 19). The special marks of distinction conferred on St. Peter were the following: Christ gave him a new name, Peter; He chose him to be with Him on the most solemn occasions, as on Mount Thabor and in the Garden of Olives; He appeared to St. Peter after His resurrection before showing Himself to any of the other apostles (Luke xxiv. 34; 1 Cor. xv. 5, etc.).

St. Peter always acted as chief of the apostles and was so acknowledged by them.

He spoke in the name of the other apostles on Pentecost; he received into the Church its first Jewish and Gentile members; he performed the first miracle; it was he who moved for the choice of a new apostle; he defended the apostles before the Jewish tribunal; his opinion prevailed at the council of the apostles. The apostles recognized his pre-eminence, for the Evangelists in giving the list of the apostles always place St. Peter first (Matt. x. 2; Mark i. 36; Acts ii. 14); and St. Paul, after his conversion, regarded it as his duty to present himself to St. Peter (Gal. i. 18; ii. 2).

2. St. Peter was Bishop of Rome for some twenty-five years and died Bishop of Rome; and the dignity and power of St. Peter descended to the succeeding Bishops of Rome.

There is a great amount of evidence for the presence of St. Peter in Rome from the year 44 to 69. St. Peter writes about the year 65: “The Church that is in Babylon . . . saluteth you; and so doth my son Mark” (1 Pet. v. 13). Babylon was the name given by the early Christians to Rome, on account of its greatness and immorality. St. Clement of Rome writes about the year 100: “Peter and Paul were with an enormous number of the Christians martyred in Rome.” Tertullian, a priest of Carthage, about the year 200, congratulates the Church of Rome, because St. Peter died there, crucified like his Lord, and St. Paul died like another John the Baptist. In addition the grave of St. Peter was long ago discovered; his body lay in a cata comb under Nero’s circus; the third Pope erected a small chapel over it, to be replaced by a beautiful edifice built by Constantine (324); when this fell into disrepair, the present building of St. Peter’s was erected, in 1629.

The Bishops of Rome have always exercised supreme power in the Church, and that power has always been acknowledged.

When dissensions arose in the Church of Corinth about the year 100, the matter was referred not to the apostle St. John at Ephesus, but to the Bishop of Rome, St. Clement. About the year 190 the Pope Victor commanded the people of Asia Minor to conform to the Roman usage in the celebration of Easter, and those who demurred were threatened with excommunication, whereupon they yielded. About the year 250 Pope Stephen forbade the Bishops of North Africa to rebaptize those who returned to the bosom of the Church, and excommunicated those who resisted. The Bishops of Rome had the first place in all general councils. When heresy broke out the Bishop of Rome always inquired into it; and to him other bishops appealed when unjustly oppressed; thus when St. Athanasius was de posed by the emperor, the Pope reinstated him. From the earliest times the titles “high priest” and “bishop of bishops” have been given to the Bishop of Rome. When, at the Council of Chalcedon, the letter of Pope Leo was read to the assembled bishops, they cried out with one voice: “Peter has spoken by Leo; let him be anathema who believes otherwise.” The Vatican Council declares that it is the will of Christ that till the end of the world there be successors to St. Peter.

3. The Bishop of Rome is called Pope, or Holy Father.
He is also called, on account of his great dignity, the “holy Father,” His Holiness,””Vicar of Christ,” “Father of Christendom.”

On account of the opening words of Christ’s speech to St. Peter “Blessed art thou,” etc. (Matt. xvi. 17) the Pope is addressed as Beatissime Pater. The office is called the See of Peter, the Holy See, or the Apostolic See. The chair of St. Peter is still to be seen in Rome.

The Pope is also called from his see the Pope of Rome, and the Church under him the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Leo XIII. was born at Carpineto, in Italy, on March 2, 1810, ordained priest December 31, 1837, Archbishop of Perugia, 1846, and Pope February 20, 1878. To his energy we owe the abolition of slavery in Brazil, the campaign against it in Africa by the European nations, the repeal of many laws against the Church in Germany, the prevention of war between Germany and Spain, the founding of over one hundred bishoprics, especially among the heathen, etc. By his encyclicals he has denounced the Freemasons, recommended in a special manner the Third Order of St. Francis, and the devotion of the Rosary, displayed his zeal for the working classes, and exerted himself to produce reunion of the various Christian communities with the Catholic Church, etc. He is the two hundred and fifty-ninth Pope.

The Pope has precedence of honor over all other bishops, and also of jurisdiction over the whole Church (Vatican Council, 4,3).

“The Pope,” says St. Bernard, “is the high priest, the prince among bishops.” The following are some of his prerogatives: He assumes a new name on his election, as St. Peter received a new name from Our Lord, to signify that he is wholly devoted to his new office. From the tenth century onwards it has been the custom to choose the name from those of previous Popes, St. Peter’s alone being excepted out of reverence. He is privileged to wear the tiara, or mitre with the triple crown, expressive of the triple office of teacher, priest, and pastor; he has also a crosier ending in a cross, and a soutane of white silk. His foot is kissed in memory of those words of St. Paul: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. x. 15). He has the highest power in the Church as “teacher of all Christians” (Vatican Council) and “chief-shepherd of the shepherds and their flocks.” He has the most complete jurisdiction in deciding questions of faith and morals, and in arranging the discipline of the universal Church. This power extends over every single church, and every single bishop and pastor. He may elect and depose bishops, call together councils, make and unmake laws, send out missionaries, confer privileges and dispensations, and reserve sins to his own tribunal. For the same reason he may personally teach and guide any of the bishops or their flocks. He is the supreme judge of all the faithful; to him remains the final appeal. The Pope may choose seventy cardinals to act as his counsellors; they may have the right of choosing a new Pope after the see has been vacant for twelve days. Their dress is a scarlet hat and mantle, to remind them of their duty of loyalty to the Pope at the cost even of their blood. They form the various committees or congregations, e.g., the Congregation of Rites, of Indulgences, etc.

The Pope is quite independent of every temporal sovereignty and of every spiritual power.

For many years the Popes were temporal sovereigns, and ruled as such the States of the Church. The growth of the latter came about in the following manner: In the first centuries many estates were be stowed on the Popes as a free gift. From the time of Constantine the Great, the emperors lived away from Rome, and thus the Papacy began to exercise a certain authority over the city and central Italy. In 754 A.D., Pepin, the Frankish king, gave over to the Pope the territory he had won by the sword in the neighborhood of Rome, and also some towns on the eastern coast of Italy. This grant was confirmed by Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, in 774. The Popes lost and regained these possessions some seventy-seven times. In 1859 all the territory except Rome was torn, from the Pope, and in 1870 Rome itself, so that now all the Pope possesses is the Vatican. This temporal sovereignty was of great advantage to the Church; it secured the Pope’s independence in the exercise of his authority, it gave him a status among the powers of the earth, and supplied him with funds for carrying on the business connected with the Church, besides insuring liberty in the choice of a Pope. At present he is helped by the alms of the faithful, called Peter’s pence. Though deprived of his possessions the Pope is still recognized as a sovereign, even in Italy; and he has acted as arbitrator between nations. Many will remember his decision in 1885 in the disputed claims of Spain and Germany to the Caroline Islands. He also issues medals, confers orders, has the gold and white standard, adopted in allusion to the words of St. Peter: “Silver and gold I have none” (Acts iii. 6), and has ambassadors (legates and Nuncios) at various courts, etc. The Pope is supreme on earth, not being subject even to a general council (Eugenius IV., Sept. 4, 1439; Vatican Council, 4, 3). Any who appeal from the Pope to a general council are liable to excommunication (Pius IX., October 12, 1869).


This article, 2. THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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