Pope facts

Okay, this is slightly outside of the normal purview of this blog, but since I seem to be fielding a lot of Pope-related questions in my real life, I figured I would post some helpful* Pope facts here.

1.) The (sort of) first Pope was (probably) married.

Peter the Apostle is generally held to be the founder/first head of the church of Rome (although there are several references in the Christian Bible to him serving in Jerusalem along with James the brother of Jesus).  He was also (probably) married.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that Peter and other apostles had visited the church accompanied by “sister women” (adelphys gynaika).  Although it’s possible that Peter traveled with his sister, who was also in the church, his wife (who was a sister in the Lord) is generally accepted as a more plausible translation.  Thus, in the Revised Standard Version, it says “believing wife” (1 Cor 9).

2.) The first popes weren’t the singular heads of the church.

Well into the Middle Ages, the head of the church at Rome was still considered a Patriarch, and in the official church hierarchy, was equal to the other Patriarchs.  Indeed, after the fall of Rome, the Eastern Patriarchs often had more power within the church, because their Sees were the sites of either Biblical importance (i.e. Jerusalem) or political importance (i.e. Constantinople, after its founding in the fourth century).  However, the Roman Patriarchs were still Popes, in the sense that they were called Papa in Latin, and they did exert considerable control over the western church.

The Pope became the singular head of the Holy Roman Catholic Church after the East-West schism in 1054.

3.) The Pope wasn’t infallible until the 11th century (or technically the 1870s).

The first clear references to the Pope as infallible, that is, holding a sacred knowledge of the correct interpretation of scripture over that of other members of the church, didn’t appear until the period of the Great Schism, in particularly in the period immediately following the Schism in works attributed to Pope Gregory VII.  Although the term ‘ex cathedra’ had been used throughout the Middle Ages to signify writings coming from the Roman Patriarchate, before this period, there was little implication that these writings should hold any particular significance above those of the other Patriarchs or theologians.  So presumably before the 11th century, Popes were just really clever, not infallible.

The first canonical reference to infallibility didn’t appear until the 14th century, in reference to Papal disputes with the Franciscans over the correct interpretation of the Age of the Holy Spirit.  Most scholars point to the 13th and 14th centuries as the revival of Papal infallibility.  However, to be technical, the concept itself was not canonized as a specific feature of the Papacy until 1870, at the First Vatican Council.

4.) There have been more than a dozen anti-Popes.

Antipope really is the technical term for religion figures who had a genuine claim to the Papacy, but for one reason or another, were denied investiture at Rome.  There have been at least a dozen of them, and for a while in the late 14th and early 15th century, in addition to the Pope in Rome, there were two antipopes, one in Avignon and the other in Pisa, all three being supported by political factions attempting to maintain control over the Papacy.

Technically, anyone who is not listed in the official registry of Popes in Rome is considered an Antipope, although some of them may have been fairly elected, depending what source you’re reading.

As far as anyone is aware, combining Pope and Antipope will not result in the destruction of both.

5.) The Popemobile is really called the Popemobile, thanks to Pope John Paul II.

Although several 20th-century Popes had special vehicles commissioned with extra security precautions, the cars JP II commissioned were really called Popemobiles (Papamobile).

So there you go, five fun facts about Papal history.  And just because it’s St Paddy’s Day, one more about St Patrick:

St Patrick wasn’t Irish.

According to his biography, Patrick was a Roman citizen living in England.  As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland, where he was forced to work as a shepherd (because apparently that’s something people did back then?).  Although there are obvious narrative reasons why this story might have been invented (that he went from being a literal shepherd to being a figurative one), that he was a Roman is actually very likely, since one of his  accomplishments was teaching Irish monks Latin – something that would have been much easier if Latin was his mother-tongue.

For anyone out there who is interested in monastic history and hasn’t read it, I strongly recommend Thomas Cahill’s very readable and only slightly aggrandizing How the Irish Saved Civilization.  Now go enjoy some corned beef and green beer!

*Warning: these facts may not actually be helpful, unless you’re entering a Pope-round of pub trivia for St Paddy’s.


About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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2 Responses to Pope facts

  1. ataralas says:

    Mark 1 refers to Simon Peter’s MIL. (As do the other synoptics!) So yeah, def. married!

    I’d also like to point out that wikipedia has a page entitled List of Sexually Active Popes which is somehow both horrifiying and amusing.

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