Bishop of Rome
since 13 March 2013
|Ecclesiastical province||Ecclesiastical Province of Rome|
|Headquarters||Apostolic Palace, Vatican City|
|First holder||Saint Peter|
|Cathedral||Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran|
|Bishops emeritus||Benedict XVI|
|Papal styles of|
|Reference style||His Holiness|
|Spoken style||Your Holiness|
|Religious style||Holy Father|
|Part of a series on the|
|Hierarchy of the|
|Ecclesiastical titles (order of precedence)|
The pope (Latin: papa, from Greek: πάππας, romanized: pappas, 'father'), also known as supreme pontiff (pontifex maximus or summus pontifex), Roman pontiff (Romanus pontifex) or sovereign pontiff, is the bishop of Rome (or historically the patriarch of Rome), head of the worldwide Catholic Church, and has also served as the head of state or sovereign of the Papal States and later the Vatican City State since the eighth century. From a Catholic viewpoint, the primacy of the bishop of Rome is largely derived from his role as the apostolic successor to Saint Peter, to whom primacy was conferred by Jesus, who gave Peter the Keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the Church would be built. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013.
While his office is called the papacy, the jurisdiction of the episcopal see is called the Holy See. It is the Holy See that is the sovereign entity by international law headquartered in the distinctively independent Vatican City State, a city-state which forms a geographical enclave within the connurbation of Rome, established by the Lateran Treaty in 1929 between Italy and the Holy See to ensure its temporal and spiritual independence. The Holy See is recognized by its adherence at various levels to international organizations and by means of its diplomatic relations and political accords with many independent states.
According to Catholic tradition, the apostolic see of Rome was founded by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the first century. The papacy is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has had a prominent part in human history. In ancient times, the popes helped spread Christianity and intervened to find resolutions in various doctrinal disputes. In the Middle Ages, they played a role of secular importance in Western Europe, often acting as arbitrators between Christian monarchs.[a] In addition to the expansion of Christian faith and doctrine, modern popes are involved in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, charitable work, and the defense of human rights.
Over time, the papacy accrued broad secular and political influence, ultimately rivaling those of territorial rulers. In recent centuries, the temporal authority of the papacy has declined and the office is now largely focused on religious matters. By contrast, papal claims of spiritual authority have been increasingly firmly expressed over time, culminating in 1870 with the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra—literally "from the chair (of Saint Peter)"—to issue a formal definition of faith or morals. The pope is considered one of the world's most powerful people due to the extensive diplomatic, cultural, and spiritual influence of his position on both 1.3 billion Catholics and those outside the Catholic faith, and because he heads the world's largest non-government provider of education and health care, with a vast network of charities.
Main article: History of the papacy
Main article: Pope (title)
The word pope derives from Greek πάππας ('páppas'), meaning 'father'. In the early centuries of Christianity, this title was applied, especially in the East, to all bishops and other senior clergy, and later became reserved in the West to the bishop of Rome during the reign of Pope Leo I (440–461), a reservation made official only in the 11th century. The earliest record of the use of the title of 'pope' was in regard to the by then deceased patriarch of Alexandria, Heraclas (232–248). The earliest recorded use of the title "pope" in English dates to the mid-10th century, when it was used in reference to the 7th century Roman Pope Vitalian in an Old English translation of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.
The Catholic Church teaches that the pastoral office, the office of shepherding the Church, that was held by the apostles, as a group or "college" with Saint Peter as their head, is now held by their successors, the bishops, with the bishop of Rome (the pope) as their head. Thus, is derived another title by which the pope is known, that of "supreme pontiff".
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus personally appointed Peter as the visible head of the Church,[b] and the Catholic Church's dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium makes a clear distinction between apostles and bishops, presenting the latter as the successors of the former, with the pope as successor of Peter, in that he is head of the bishops as Peter was head of the apostles. Some historians argue against the notion that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, noting that the episcopal see in Rome can be traced back no earlier than the 3rd century.
The writings of the Church Father Irenaeus, who wrote around 180 AD, reflect a belief that Peter "founded and organized" the Church at Rome. Moreover, Irenaeus was not the first to write of Peter's presence in the early Roman Church. The church of Rome wrote in a letter to the Corinthians (which is traditionally attributed to Clement of Rome c. 96) about the persecution of Christians in Rome as the "struggles in our time" and presented to the Corinthians its heroes, "first, the greatest and most just columns", the "good apostles" Peter and Paul. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote shortly after Clement; in his letter from the city of Smyrna to the Romans he said he would not command them as Peter and Paul did.
Given this and other evidence, such as Emperor Constantine's erection of the "Old St. Peter's Basilica" on the location of St. Peter's tomb, as held and given to him by Rome's Christian community, many scholars agree that Peter was martyred in Rome under Nero, although some scholars argue that he may have been martyred in Palestine.
Though the interpretation of the historical record in open in various details to continuing debate, first-century Christian communities may have had a group of presbyter-bishops functioning as guides of their local churches. Gradually, episcopal sees were established in metropolitan areas. Antioch may have developed such a structure before Rome. In Rome, there were over time at various junctures rival claimants to be the rightful bishop, though again Irenaeus stressed the validity of one line of bishops from the time of St. Peter up to his contemporary Pope Victor I and listed them. Some writers claim that the emergence of a single bishop in Rome probably did not occur until the middle of the 2nd century. In their view, Linus, Cletus and Clement were possibly prominent presbyter-bishops, but not necessarily monarchical bishops.
Documents of the 1st century and early second century indicate that the bishop of Rome had some kind of pre-eminence and prominence in the Church as a whole, as even a letter from the bishop, or patriarch, of Antioch acknowledged the Bishop of Rome as "a first among equals", though the detail of what this meant is unclear.[c]
Sources suggest that at first, the terms 'episcopos' and 'presbyter' were used interchangeably, with the consensus among scholars being that by the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries, local congregations were led by bishops and presbyters, whose duties of office overlapped or were indistinguishable from one another. Some[who?] say that there was probably "no single 'monarchical' bishop in Rome before the middle of the 2nd century...and likely later."
Other scholars and historians[who?] disagree, citing the historical records of St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) and St. Irenaeus, who recorded the linear succession of bishops of Rome (the popes) up until their own times. However, 'historical' records written by those wanting to show an unbroken line of popes would naturally do so, and there are no objective substantiating documents. They also cite the importance accorded to the bishops of Rome in the ecumenical councils, including early councils.
In the early Christian era, Rome and a few other cities had claims on the leadership of worldwide 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 according to tradition Paul was martyred there.
During the 1st century of the Church (c. 30–130), the Roman capital became recognized as a Christian center of exceptional importance. The church there, at the end of the 1st century, wrote an epistle to the Church in Corinth intervening in a major dispute, and apologizing for not having taken action earlier. However, there are only a few other references of that time to recognition of the authoritative primacy of the Roman See outside of Rome.
In the Ravenna Document of 13 October 2007, theologians chosen by the 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, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. Translated into English, the statement means "first among equals".
What form that should take is still a matter of disagreement, just as it was when the Catholic and Orthodox Churches split in the Great East-West Schism. They also disagree 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 the late 2nd century AD, there were more manifestations of Roman authority over other churches. In 189, assertion of the primacy of the Church of Rome may be indicated in Irenaeus'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." In AD 195, 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 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).
The Edict of Milan in 313 granted freedom to all religions in the Roman Empire, beginning the Peace of the Church. In 325, the First Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism, declaring trinitarianism dogmatic, and in its sixth canon recognized the special role of the Sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Great defenders of Trinitarian faith included the popes, especially Liberius, who was exiled to Berea by Constantius II for his Trinitarian faith, Damasus I, and several other bishops.
In 380, the Edict of Thessalonica declared Nicene Christianity to be the state religion of the empire, with the name "Catholic Christians" reserved for those who accepted that faith. While the civil power in the Eastern Roman Empire controlled the church, and the patriarch of Constantinople, the capital, wielded much power, in the Western Roman Empire, the bishops of Rome were able to consolidate the influence and power they already possessed. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, barbarian tribes were converted to Arian Christianity or Catholicism; Clovis I, king of the Franks, was the first important barbarian ruler to convert to Catholicism rather than Arianism, allying himself with the papacy. Other tribes, such as the Visigoths, later abandoned Arianism in favour of Catholicism.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the pope served as a source of authority and continuity. Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604) administered the church with strict reform. From an ancient senatorial family, Gregory worked with the stern judgement and discipline typical of ancient Roman rule. Theologically, he represents the shift from the classical to the medieval outlook; his popular writings are full of dramatic miracles, potent relics, demons, angels, ghosts, and the approaching end of the world.
Gregory's successors were largely dominated by the exarch of Ravenna, the Byzantine emperor's representative in the Italian Peninsula. These humiliations, the weakening of the Byzantine Empire in the face of the Muslim conquests, and the inability of the emperor to protect the papal estates against the Lombards, made Pope Stephen II turn from Emperor Constantine V. He appealed to the Franks to protect his lands. Pepin the Short subdued the Lombards and donated Italian land to the papacy. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne (800) as emperor, he established the precedent that, in Western Europe, no man would be emperor without being crowned by a pope.
The low point of the papacy was 867–1049. This period includes the Saeculum obscurum, the Crescentii era, and the Tusculan Papacy. 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 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 traveled to the major cities of Europe to deal with the church's moral problems firsthand, notably simony and clerical marriage and concubinage. With his long journey, he restored the prestige of the papacy in Northern Europe.
From the 7th century it became common for European monarchies and nobility to found churches and perform investiture or deposition of clergy in their states and fiefdoms, their personal interests causing corruption among the clergy. This practice had become common because often the prelates and secular rulers were also participants in public life.
To combat this and other practices that had corrupted the Church between the years 900 and 1050, centres emerged promoting ecclesiastical reform, the most important being the Abbey of Cluny, which spread its ideals throughout Europe. This reform movement gained strength with the election of Pope Gregory VII in 1073, who adopted a series of measures in the movement known as the Gregorian Reform, in order to fight strongly against simony and the abuse of civil power and try to restore ecclesiastical discipline, including clerical celibacy.
This conflict between popes and secular autocratic rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and King Henry I of England, known as the Investiture controversy, was only resolved in 1122, by the Concordat of Worms, in which Pope Callixtus II decreed that clerics were to be invested by clerical leaders, and temporal rulers by lay investiture. Soon after, Pope Alexander III began reforms that would lead to the establishment of canon law.
Since the beginning of the 7th century, the Caliphate had conquered much of the southern Mediterranean, and represented a threat to Christianity. In 1095, the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, asked for military aid from Pope Urban II in the ongoing Byzantine–Seljuq wars. Urban, at the council of Clermont, called the First Crusade to assist the Byzantine Empire to regain the old Christian territories, especially Jerusalem.
With the East–West Schism, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church split definitively in 1054. This fracture was caused more by political events than by slight divergences of creed. Popes had galled the Byzantine emperors by siding with the king of the Franks, crowning a rival Roman emperor, appropriating the Exarchate of Ravenna, and driving into Greek Italy.
In the Middle Ages, popes struggled with monarchs over power.
From 1309 to 1377, the pope resided not in Rome but in Avignon. The Avignon Papacy was notorious for greed and corruption. During this period, the pope was effectively an ally of the Kingdom of France, alienating France's enemies, such as the Kingdom of England.
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 assumption that indulgences depended on a simple monetary contribution. The 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 Catholic Ecumenical Councils over the pope's. Conciliarism holds that the supreme authority of the church lies with a General Council, not with the pope. Its foundations were laid early in the 13th century, and it culminated in the 15th century with Jean Gerson as its leading spokesman. The failure of Conciliarism to gain broad 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. It came to a close when the Council of Constance, at the high-point of Concilliarism, decided among the papal claimants.
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. First in the Second Council of Lyon (1272–1274) and secondly in the Council of Florence (1431–1449). Papal claims of superiority were a sticking point in reunification, which failed in any event. In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire.
Protestant Reformers criticized the papacy as corrupt and characterized the pope as the antichrist.
Popes instituted a Catholic Reformation (1560–1648), which addressed the challenges of the Protestant Reformation and instituted internal reforms. Pope Paul III initiated the Council of Trent (1545–1563), whose definitions of doctrine and whose reforms sealed the triumph of the papacy over elements in the church that sought conciliation with Protestants and opposed papal claims.
Gradually forced to give up secular power to the increasingly assertive European nation states, the popes focused on spiritual issues. In 1870, the First Vatican Council proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility for the most solemn occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra when issuing a definition of faith or morals. Later the same year, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy seized Rome from the pope's control and substantially completed the unification of Italy.
In 1929, the Lateran Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See established Vatican City as an independent city-state, guaranteeing papal independence from secular rule.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as dogma, the only time a pope has spoken ex cathedra since papal infallibility was explicitly declared.
The Primacy of St. Peter, the controversial doctrinal basis of the pope's authority, continues to divide the eastern and western churches and to separate Protestants from Rome.
See also: Primacy of Simon Peter
The Catholic Church teaches that, within the Christian community, the bishops as a body have succeeded to the body of the apostles (apostolic succession) and the bishop of Rome has succeeded to Saint Peter.
Scriptural texts proposed in support of Peter's special position in relation to the church include:
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
Feed my sheep.
The symbolic keys in the Papal coats of arms are a reference to the phrase "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" in the first of these texts. Some Protestant writers have maintained that the "rock" that Jesus speaks of in this text is Jesus himself or the faith expressed by Peter. This idea is undermined by the Biblical usage of "Cephas", which is the masculine form of "rock" in Aramaic, to describe Peter. The Encyclopædia Britannica comments that "the consensus of the great majority of scholars today is that the most obvious and traditional understanding should be construed, namely, that rock refers to the person of Peter".
Main article: Papal conclave
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. The electors are now limited to those who have not reached 80 on the day before the death or resignation of a pope. The pope does not need to be a cardinal elector or indeed a cardinal; however, since the pope is the bishop of Rome, only those who can be ordained a bishop can be elected, which means that any male baptized Catholic is eligible. The last to be elected when not yet a bishop was Gregory XVI in 1831, the last to be elected when not even a priest was Leo X in 1513, and the last to be elected when not a cardinal was Urban VI in 1378. If someone who is not a bishop is elected, he must be given episcopal ordination before the election is announced to the people.
The Second Council of Lyon 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 Clement IV in 1268. By the mid-16th century, the electoral process had evolved into its present form, allowing for variation 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.
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, i.e., with key, 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. For the Papal conclave, 2005, 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 electors to insert multiple ballots. Before being read, the ballots are counted while still folded; if the 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 someone is elected by a two-thirds majority. (With the promulgation of Universi Dominici Gregis in 1996, a simple majority after a deadlock of twelve days was allowed, but this was revoked by Pope Benedict XVI by motu proprio in 2007.)
One of the most prominent 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 Saint Peter's Square. The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound to create 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 than the straw.) 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. Starting with the Papal conclave, 2005, church bells are also rung as a signal that a new pope has been chosen. 
The dean of the College of Cardinals then asks two solemn questions of the man who has been elected. First he asks, "Do you freely accept your election as supreme pontiff?" If he replies with the word "Accepto", his reign begins at that instant. If he replies not, his reign begins at the inauguration ceremony several days afterward. The dean asks next, "By what name shall you be called?" The new pope announces the regnal name he has chosen. If the dean himself is elected pope, the vice dean performs this task.
The new pope is led to the Room of Tears, a dressing room where three sets of white papal vestments (immantatio) await in three sizes. 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. The pope 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 cardinal protodeacon 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 announces the new pope's Christian name along with his newly chosen regnal name. 
Until 1978, the pope's election was followed in a few days by the papal coronation, which started with a procession with great pomp and circumstance from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's Basilica, with the newly elected pope borne in the sedia gestatoria. 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, as he said, Sic transit gloria mundi ("Thus passes worldly glory"). A similar warning against papal hubris made on this occasion was the traditional 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. According to tradition, he headed the church for 35 years and has thus far been the longest-reigning pope in the history of the Catholic Church.
The Latin term, sede vacante ("while the see is vacant"), refers to a papal interregnum, the period between the death or resignation 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 reform of the Tridentine Mass with the Mass of Paul VI, are heretical and that those responsible for initiating and maintaining these changes are heretics and not true popes.
For centuries, from 1378 on, those elected to the papacy were predominantly Italians. Prior to the election of the Polish-born John Paul II in 1978, the last non-Italian was Adrian VI of the Netherlands, elected in 1522. John Paul II was followed by election of the German-born Benedict XVI, who was in turn followed by Argentine-born Francis, the first non-European after 1272 years and the first Latin American (albeit of Italian ancestry).
The current regulations regarding a papal interregnum—that is, a sede vacante ("vacant seat")—were promulgated by Pope John Paul II in his 1996 document Universi Dominici Gregis. During the "sede vacante" period, the College of Cardinals 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, when a pope was judged to have died, it was reportedly traditional for the cardinal camerlengo to confirm the death ceremonially by gently tapping the pope's head thrice with a silver hammer, calling his birth name each time. This was not done on the deaths of popes John Paul I and John Paul II. The cardinal camerlengo retrieves the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it in two in the presence of the cardinals. The pope's seals are defaced, to keep them from ever being used again, and his personal apartment is sealed.
The body lies in state for several days before being interred in the crypt of a leading church or cathedral; all popes who have died in the 20th and 21st centuries have been interred in St. Peter's Basilica. A nine-day period of mourning (novendialis) follows the interment.
Main article: Papal resignation
It is highly unusual for a pope to resign. The 1983 Code of Canon Law 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." Benedict XVI, who vacated the Holy See on 28 February 2013, was the most recent to do so since Gregory XII's resignation in 1415.
|Reference style||His Holiness|
|Spoken style||Your Holiness|
|Religious style||Holy Father|
|Posthumous style||See here|
Popes adopt a new name on their accession, known as papal name, in Italian and Latin. Currently, after a new pope is elected and accepts the election, he is asked, "By what name shall you be called?" The new pope chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior cardinal deacon, or cardinal protodeacon, then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter's to proclaim the new pope by his birth name, and announce his papal name in Latin. It's customary when referring to popes to translate the regnal name into all local languages. For example, the current pope bears the papal name Papa Franciscus in Latin and Papa Francesco in Italian, but Papa Francisco in his native Spanish, Pope Francis in English, etc.
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 Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God.
The best-known title, 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 Paul VI signed as "Paulus PP. VI", the "PP." standing for "papa pontifex" ("pope and pontiff").
The title "pope" was from the early 3rd century an honorific designation used for any bishop in the West. In the East, it was used only for the bishop of Alexandria. 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 6th century, it began to be confined in the West to the bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the 11th 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 Jesus Christ" (Vicarius Iesu Christi) is one of the official titles of the pope given in the Annuario Pontificio. It is commonly used in the slightly abbreviated form "vicar of Christ" (vicarius Christi). While it is only one of the terms with which the pope is referred to as "vicar", it is "more expressive of his supreme headship of the Church on Earth, which he bears in virtue of the commission of Christ and with vicarial power derived from him", a vicarial power believed to have been conferred on Saint Peter when Christ said to him: "Feed my lambs...Feed my sheep".
The first record of the application of this title to a bishop of Rome appears in a synod of 495 with reference to Gelasius I. But at that time, and down to the 9th century, other bishops too referred to themselves as vicars of Christ, and for another four centuries this description was sometimes used of kings and even judges, as it had been used in the 5th and 6th centuries to refer to the Byzantine emperor. Earlier still, in the 3rd century, Tertullian used "vicar of Christ" to refer to the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus. Its use specifically for the pope appears in the 13th century in connection with the reforms of Pope Innocent III, as can be observed already in his 1199 letter to Leo I, King of Armenia. Other historians suggest that this title was already used in this way in association with the pontificate of Eugene III (1145–1153).
This title "vicar of Christ" is thus not used of the pope alone and has been used of all bishops since the early centuries. The Second Vatican Council referred to all bishops as "vicars and ambassadors of Christ", and this description of the bishops was repeated by John Paul II in his encyclical Ut unum sint, 95. The difference is that the other bishops are vicars of Christ for their own local churches, the pope is vicar of Christ for the whole Church.
On at least one occasion the title "vicar of God" (a reference to Christ as God) was used of the pope.
The title "vicar of Peter" (vicarius Petri) is used only of the pope, not of other bishops. Variations of it include: "Vicar of the Prince of the Apostles" (Vicarius Principis Apostolorum) and "Vicar of the Apostolic See" (Vicarius Sedis Apostolicae). Saint Boniface described Pope Gregory II as vicar of Peter in the oath of fealty that he took in 722. In today's Roman Missal, the description "vicar of Peter" is found also in the collect of the Mass for a saint who was a pope.
The term "pontiff" is derived from the Latin: pontifex, which literally means "bridge builder" (pons + facere) and which designated a member of the principal college of priests in pagan Rome. The Latin word was translated into ancient Greek variously: as Ancient Greek: ἱεροδιδάσκαλος, Ancient Greek: ἱερονόμος, Ancient Greek: ἱεροφύλαξ, Ancient Greek: ἱεροφάντης (hierophant), or Ancient Greek: ἀρχιερεύς (archiereus, high priest) The head of the college was known as the Latin: Pontifex Maximus (the greatest pontiff).
In Christian use, pontifex appears in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament to indicate the High Priest of Israel (in the original Koine Greek, ἀρχιερεύς). The term came to be applied to any Christian bishop, but since the 11th century commonly refers specifically to the bishop of Rome, who is more strictly called the "Roman Pontiff". The use of the term to refer to bishops in general is reflected in the terms "Roman Pontifical" (a book containing rites reserved for bishops, such as confirmation and ordination), and "pontificals" (the insignia of bishops).
The Annuario Pontificio lists as one of the official titles of the pope that of "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (Latin: Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis). He is also commonly called the Supreme Pontiff or the Sovereign Pontiff (Latin: Summus Pontifex).
Pontifex Maximus, similar in meaning to Summus Pontifex, is a title commonly found in inscriptions on papal buildings, paintings, statues and coins, usually abbreviated as "Pont. Max" or "P.M." The office of Pontifex Maximus, or head of the College of Pontiffs, was held by Julius Caesar and thereafter, by the Roman emperors, until Gratian (375–383) relinquished it. Tertullian, when he had become a Montanist, used the title derisively of either the pope or the bishop of Carthage. The popes began to use this title regularly only in the 15th century.
Although the description "servant of the servants of God" (Latin: servus servorum Dei) was also used by other Church leaders, including Augustine of Hippo and Benedict of Nursia, it was first used extensively as a papal title by Gregory the Great, reportedly as a lesson in humility for the patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, who had assumed the title "ecumenical patriarch". It became reserved for the pope in the 12th century and is used in papal bulls and similar important papal documents.
From 1863 until 2005, the Annuario Pontificio also included 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 commonly used are "His Holiness" (either used alone or as an honorific prefix as in "His Holiness Pope Francis"; and as "Your Holiness" as a form of address), "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.
Pope Francis signs some documents with his name alone, either in Latin ("Franciscus", as in an encyclical dated 29 June 2013) or in another language. Other documents he signs in accordance with the tradition of using Latin only and including the abbreviated form "PP.", for the Latin Papa ("Pope"). Popes who have an ordinal numeral in their name traditionally place the abbreviation "PP." before the ordinal numeral, as in "Benedictus PP. XVI" (Pope Benedict XVI), except in papal bulls of canonization and decrees of ecumenical councils, which a pope signs with the formula, "Ego N. Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae", without the numeral, as in "Ego Benedictus Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae" (I, Benedict, Bishop of the Catholic 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 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.
Main article: Papal regalia and insignia
In heraldry, each pope has his own personal coat of arms. Though unique for each pope, the arms have for several centuries been traditionally accompanied by two keys in saltire (i.e., crossed over one another so as to form an X) behind the escutcheon (shield) (one silver key and one gold key, tied with a red cord), and above them a silver triregnum with three gold crowns and red infulae (lappets—two strips of fabric hanging from the back of the triregnum which fall over the neck and shoulders when worn). This is blazoned: "two keys in saltire or and argent, interlacing in the rings or, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or". The 21st century has seen departures from this tradition. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, while maintaining the crossed keys behind the shield, omitted the papal tiara from his personal coat of arms, replacing it with a mitre with three horizontal lines. Beneath the shield he added the pallium, a papal symbol of authority more ancient than the tiara, the use of which is also granted to metropolitan archbishops as a sign of communion with the See of Rome. Although the tiara was omitted in the pope's personal coat of arms, the coat of arms of the Holy See, which includes the tiara, remained unaltered. In 2013, Pope Francis maintained the mitre that replaced the tiara, but omitted the pallium. He also departed from papal tradition by adding beneath the shield his personal pastoral motto: Miserando atque eligendo.
The flag most frequently associated with the pope is the yellow and white flag of Vatican City, with the arms of the Holy See (blazoned: "Gules, two keys in saltire or and argent, interlacing in the rings or, beneath a tiara argent, crowned or") on the right-hand side (the "fly") in the white half of the flag (the left-hand side—the "hoist"—is yellow). The pope's escucheon does not appear on the flag. This flag was first adopted in 1808, whereas the previous flag had been red and gold. Although Pope Benedict XVI replaced the triregnum with a mitre on his personal coat of arms, it has been retained on the flag.
Pope Pius V (reigned 1566–1572), is often credited with having originated the custom whereby the pope wears white, by continuing after his election to wear the white habit of the Dominican order. In reality, the basic papal attire was white long before. The earliest document that describes it as such is the Ordo XIII, a book of ceremonies compiled in about 1274. Later books of ceremonies describe the pope as wearing a red mantle, mozzetta, camauro and shoes, and a white cassock and stockings. Many contemporary portraits of 15th and 16th-century predecessors of Pius V show them wearing a white cassock similar to his.
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The pope's official seat is in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, considered the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, and his official residence is the Apostolic Palace. 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 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 that 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 ecclesiastical terminology for 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 Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles. 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 the 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. As such, between 1309 and 1378, the popes lived in Avignon, France, a period often called the "Babylonian captivity" in allusion to the Biblical narrative of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah living as captives in Babylonia.
Though the pope is the diocesan bishop of Rome, he delegates most of the day-to-day work of leading the diocese to the cardinal vicar, who assures direct episcopal oversight of the diocese's pastoral needs, not in his own name but in that of the pope. The current cardinal vicar is Angelo De Donatis, who was appointed to the office in June 2017.
Main article: Politics of Vatican City
|Sovereign of the Vatican City State|
|First Sovereign||Pope Pius XI|
|Formation||11 February 1929|
Though the progressive Christianisation of the Roman Empire in the 4th century did not confer upon bishops civil authority within the state, the gradual withdrawal of imperial authority during the 5th century left the pope the senior imperial civilian official in Rome, as bishops were increasingly directing civil affairs in other cities of the Western Empire. This status as a secular and civil ruler was vividly displayed by Pope Leo I's confrontation with Attila in 452. The first expansion of papal rule outside of Rome came in 728 with the Donation of Sutri, which in turn was substantially increased in 754, when the Frankish ruler Pippin the Younger gave to the pope the land from his conquest of the Lombards. The pope may have utilized the forged Donation of Constantine to gain this land, which formed the core of the Papal States. This document, accepted as genuine until the 15th century, states that Constantine the Great placed the entire Western Empire of Rome under papal rule. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish ruler Charlemagne as Roman emperor, a major step toward establishing what later became known as the Holy Roman Empire; from that date onward the popes claimed the prerogative to crown the emperor, though the right fell into disuse after the coronation of Charles V in 1530. Pius VII was present at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804 but did not actually perform the crowning. As mentioned above, the pope's sovereignty over the Papal States ended in 1870 with their annexation by Italy.
Popes like Alexander VI, an ambitious if spectacularly corrupt politician, and Julius II, a formidable general and statesman, were not afraid to use power to achieve their own ends, which included increasing the power of the papacy. This political and temporal authority was demonstrated through the papal role in the Holy Roman Empire (especially prominent during periods of contention with the emperors, such as during the pontificates of Pope Gregory VII and Pope Alexander III).
Papal bulls, interdict, and excommunication (or the threat thereof) have been used many times to exercise papal power. The bull Laudabiliter in 1155 authorized King Henry II of England to invade Ireland. In 1207, Innocent III placed England under interdict until King John made his kingdom a fiefdom to the Pope, complete with yearly tribute, saying, "we offer and freely yield...to our lord Pope Innocent III and his catholic successors, the whole kingdom of England and the whole kingdom of Ireland with all their rights and appurtenences for the remission of our sins". The Bull Inter caetera in 1493 led to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which divided the world into areas of Spanish and Portuguese rule. The bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570 excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England and declared that all her subjects were released from allegiance to her. The bull Inter gravissimas in 1582 established the Gregorian calendar.
Main article: List of diplomatic missions of the Holy See
Under international law, a serving head of state has sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts of other countries, though not from that of international tribunals. This immunity is sometimes loosely referred to as "diplomatic immunity", which is, strictly speaking, the immunity enjoyed by the diplomatic representatives of a head of state.
International law treats the Holy See, essentially the central government of the Catholic Church, as the juridical equal of a state. It is distinct from the state of Vatican City, existing for many centuries before the foundation of the latter. (It is common for publications and news media to use "the Vatican", "Vatican City", and even "Rome" as metonyms for the Holy See.) Most countries of the world maintain the same form of diplomatic relations with the Holy See that they entertain with other states. Even countries without those diplomatic relations participate in international organizations of which the Holy See is a full member.
It is as head of the state-equivalent worldwide religious jurisdiction of the Holy See (not of the territory of Vatican City) that the U.S. Justice Department ruled that the pope enjoys head-of-state immunity. This head-of-state immunity, recognized by the United States, must be distinguished from that envisaged under the United States' Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which, while recognizing the basic immunity of foreign governments from being sued in American courts, lays down nine exceptions, including commercial activity and actions in the United States by agents or employees of the foreign governments. It was in relation to the latter that, in November 2008, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati decided that a case over sexual abuse by Catholic priests could proceed, provided the plaintiffs could prove that the bishops accused of negligent supervision were acting as employees or agents of the Holy See and were following official Holy See policy.
In April 2010, there was press coverage in Britain concerning a proposed plan by atheist campaigners and a prominent barrister[who?] to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested and prosecuted in the UK for alleged offences, dating from several decades before, in failing to take appropriate action regarding Catholic sex abuse cases and concerning their disputing his immunity from prosecution in that country. This was generally dismissed as "unrealistic and spurious". Another barrister said that it was a "matter of embarrassment that a senior British lawyer would want to allow himself to be associated with such a silly idea".
Sovereign immunity does not apply to disputes relating to commercial transactions, and governmental units of the Holy See can face trial in foreign commercial courts. The first such trial to take place in the English courts is likely to occur in 2022 or 2023.
The pope's claim to authority is either disputed or rejected outright by other churches, for various reasons.
Other traditional Christian churches (Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Independent Catholic churches, etc.) accept the doctrine of Apostolic succession and, to varying extents, papal claims to a primacy of honour, while generally rejecting the pope as the successor to Peter in any other sense than that of other bishops. Primacy is regarded as a consequence of the pope's position as bishop of the original capital city of the Roman Empire, a definition explicitly spelled out in the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon. These churches see no foundation to papal claims of universal immediate jurisdiction, or to claims of papal infallibility. Several of these churches refer to such claims as ultramontanism.
Main article: Historicism (Christianity)
In 1973, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the USA National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation in the official Catholic–Lutheran dialogue included this passage in a larger statement on papal primacy:
In calling the pope the "Antichrist", the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the "Antichrist" when they wished to castigate his abuse of power. What Lutherans understood as a papal claim to unlimited authority over everything and everyone reminded them of the apocalyptic imagery of Daniel 11, a passage that even prior to the Reformation had been applied to the pope as the Antichrist of the last days.
Protestant denominations of Christianity reject the claims of Petrine primacy of honor, Petrine primacy of jurisdiction, and papal infallibility. These denominations vary from denying the legitimacy of the pope's claim to authority, to believing that the pope is the Antichrist from 1 John 2:18, the Man of Sin from 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12, and the Beast out of the Earth from Revelation 13:11–18.
This sweeping rejection is held by, among others, some denominations of Lutherans: Confessional Lutherans hold that the pope is the Antichrist, stating that this article of faith is part of a quia ("because") rather than quatenus ("insofar as") subscription to the Book of Concord. In 1932, one of these Confessional churches, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), adopted A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, which a small number of Lutheran church bodies now hold. The Lutheran Churches of the Reformation, the Concordia Lutheran Conference, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and the Illinois Lutheran Conference all hold to the Brief Statement, which the LCMS places on its website. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), another Confessional Lutheran church that declares the Papacy to be the Antichrist, released its own statement, the "Statement on the Antichrist", in 1959. The WELS still holds to this statement.
Historically, Protestants objected to the papacy's claim of temporal power over all secular governments, including territorial claims in Italy, the papacy's complex relationship with secular states such as the Roman and Byzantine empires, and the autocratic character of the papal office. In Western Christianity these objections both contributed to and are products of the Protestant Reformation.
Groups sometimes form around antipopes, who claim the Pontificate without being canonically and properly elected to it.
Traditionally, this term was reserved for claimants with a significant following of cardinals or other clergy. The existence of an antipope is usually due either to doctrinal controversy within the Church (heresy) or to confusion as to who is the legitimate pope at the time (schism). Briefly in the 15th century, three separate lines of popes claimed authenticity. Even Catholics do not all agree whether certain historical figures were popes or antipopes. Though antipope movements were significant at one time, they are now overwhelmingly minor fringe causes.
In the earlier centuries of Christianity, the title "Pope", meaning "father", had been used by all bishops. Some popes used the term and others did not. Eventually, the title became associated especially with the Bishop of Rome. In a few cases, the term is used for other Christian clerical authorities.
In English, Catholic priests are still addressed as "father", but the term "pope" is reserved for the head of the church hierarchy.
"Black Pope" is a name that was popularly, but unofficially, given to the superior general of the Society of Jesus due to the Jesuits' importance within the Church. This name, based on the black colour of his cassock, was used to suggest a parallel between him and the "White Pope" (since the time of Pius V the popes dress in white) and the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly called the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith), whose red cardinal's cassock gave him the name of the "Red Pope" in view of the authority over all territories that were not considered in some way Catholic. In the present time this cardinal has power over mission territories for Catholicism, essentially the Churches of Africa and Asia, but in the past his competence extended also to all lands where Protestants or Eastern Christianity was dominant. Some remnants of this situation remain, with the result that, for instance, New Zealand is still in the care of this Congregation.
Since the papacy of Heraclas in the 3rd century, the bishop of Alexandria in both the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria continues to be called "pope", the former being called "Coptic pope" or, more properly, "Pope and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle" and the latter called "Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa".
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church, it is not unusual for a village priest to be called a "pope" ("поп" pop). However, this should be differentiated from the words used for the head of the Catholic Church (Bulgarian "папа" papa, Russian "папа римский" papa rimskiy).
Some new religious movements within Christianity, especially those that have disassociated themselves from the Catholic Church yet retain a Catholic hierarchical framework, have used the designation "pope" for a founder or current leader. Examples include the African Legio Maria Church and the European Palmarian Catholic Church in Spain. The Cao Dai, a Vietnamese faith that duplicates the Catholic hierarchy, is similarly headed by a pope.
Although the average reign of the pope from the Middle Ages was a decade, a number of those whose reign lengths can be determined from contemporary historical data are the following:
During the Western Schism, Avignon Pope Benedict XIII (1394–1423) ruled for 28 years, seven months and 12 days, which would place him third in the above list. However, since he is regarded as an anti-pope, he is not included here.
There have been a number of popes whose reign lasted about a month or less. In the following list the number of calendar days includes partial days. Thus, for example, if a pope's reign commenced on 1 August and he died on 2 August, this would count as having reigned for two calendar days.
Stephen (23–26 March 752) died of stroke three days after his election, and before his consecration as a bishop. He is not recognized as a valid pope, but was added to the lists of popes in the 15th century as Stephen II, causing difficulties in enumerating later popes named Stephen. The Holy See's Annuario Pontificio, in its list of popes and antipopes, attaches a footnote to its mention of Pope Stephen II:
On the death of Zachary the Roman priest Stephen was elected; but, since four days later he died, before his consecratio, which according to the canon law of the time was the true commencement of his pontificate, his name is not registered in the Liber Pontificalis nor in other lists of the popes.
Published every year by the Roman Curia, the Annuario Pontificio attaches no consecutive numbers to the popes, stating that it is impossible to decide which side represented at various times the legitimate succession, in particular regarding Pope Leo VIII, Pope Benedict V and some mid-11th-century popes.
[M]any scholars... accept Rome as the location of the martyrdom and the reign of Nero as the time.
It is readily answered by the Papists, that "Peter was the rock." But let them tell me why Matthew used not the same word in Greek, if our Saviour used the same word in Syriac. If he had intimated that the church should be built upon Peter, it had been plainer and more agreeable to be the vulgar idiom to have said, "Thou art Peter, and upon thee I will build my church.
by the rock, is meant, either the confession of faith made by Peter; not the act, nor form, but the matter of it, it containing the prime articles of Christianity, and which are as immoveable as a rock; or rather Christ himself, who points, as it were, with his finger to himself, and whom Peter had made such a glorious confession of; and who was prefigured by the rock the Israelites drank water out of in the wilderness; and is comparable to any rock for height, shelter, strength, firmness, and duration; and is the one and only foundation of his church and people, and on whom their security, salvation, and happiness entirely depend.
On this rock – Alluding to his name, which signifies a rock, namely, the faith which thou hast now professed; I will build my Church – But perhaps when our Lord uttered these words, he pointed to himself, in like manner as when he said, Destroy this temple, John 2:19; meaning the temple of his body. And it is certain, that as he is spoken of in Scripture, as the only foundation of the Church, so this is that which the apostles and evangelists laid in their preaching. It is in respect of laying this, that the names of the twelve apostles (not of St. Peter only) were equally inscribed on the twelve foundations of the city of God, Revelation 21:14. The gates of here – As gates and walls were the strength of cities, and as courts of judicature were held in their gates, this phrase properly signifies the power and policy of Satan and his instruments. Shall not prevail against it – Not against the Church universal, so as to destroy it. And they never did. There hath been a small remnant in all ages.
There is the Greek a play upon the words, "thou art Peter petros-- literally 'a little rock', and upon this rock Petra I will build my church." He does not promise to build His church upon Peter, but upon Himself, as Peter is careful to tell us (1 Peter 2:4–9).
First, Some by this rock understand Peter himself as an apostle, the chief, though not the prince, of the twelve, senior among them, but not superior over them. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, Ephesians 2:20. The first stones of that building were laid in and by their ministry; hence their names are said to be written in the foundations of the new Jerusalem, Revelation 21:14...First, Some by this rock understand Peter himself as an apostle, the chief, though not the prince, of the twelve, senior among them, but not superior over them. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, Ephesians 2:20. The first stones of that building were laid in and by their ministry; hence their names are said to be written in the foundations of the new Jerusalem, Revelation 21:14. ... Thirdly, Others by this rock understand this confession which Peter made of Christ, and this comes all to one with understanding it of Christ himself. It was a good confession which Peter witnessed, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; the rest concurred with him in it. "Now", saith Christ, "this is that great truth upon which I will build my church." 1. Take away this truth itself, and the universal church falls to the ground. If Christ be not the Son of God, Christianity is a cheat, and the church is a mere chimera; our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, and you are yet in your sins, 1 Corinthians 15:14–17. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived. 2. Take away the faith and confession of this truth from any particular church, and it ceases to be a part of Christ's church, and relapses to the state and character of infidelity. This is articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesia—that article, with the admission or the denial of which the church either rises or falls; "the main hinge on which the door of salvation turns;" those who let go this, do not hold the foundation; and though they may call themselves Christians, they give themselves the lie; for the church is a sacred society, incorporated upon the certainty and assurance of this great truth; and great it is, and has prevailed.