by Anura Guruge
>> The Vatican Redefines The Papacy; Decouples It From Rome! … — Dec. 11, 2012.
That St. Peter (#1) was the first pope is a fundamental Catholic tradition and devotional belief, enshrined, inviolable and sacrosanct.
Hence, St. Peter has to be always deemed as the first pope, without caveat, per tradition. But, historical facts indicate otherwise.
The overriding problem is that the term ‘pope’, in the context it is now used, only became the exclusive prerogative of the Bishop of Rome in the late 4th century, during the reign of Siricius (#38), December 384 to November 399. Prior to that the Greek pappas and the Latin papa was commonly used in their original sense to refer to any priest or prelate, in much the same way that today’s Catholic priests are called ‘father’. It is the retroactive application of this title to those prior to Siricius, in particular the first 9 listed as ‘popes’, that causes issues.
The term ‘pope’ or an office comparable to that of a ‘pope’ are not mentioned in the Bible. That is why I tend to cringe when I see statements that claim that Peter became ‘pope’ around 30 AD! Per most accounts Christ was still alive in 30 AD. I really cannot conceive that there was a ‘pope’ while Christ was still on Earth. That Peter, the Rock, was special and enjoyed primacy among the Apostles might very well have been the case, but he was not ‘pope’ à la say John Paul II (#265) or Benedict XVI (#266).
Whether one likes it or not, the office that is now deemed to be that of the ‘pope’ is irrevocably tied to that of the Bishop of Rome. The pope is the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Rome is the pope. Period. That, per the historical record, is the basis of what is the papacy.
St. Peter, again per tradition and devotion, is credited as being the first Bishop of Rome. I have never subscribed to that. Even IF he was ever in Rome, and that is a HUGE ‘IF’, I do not believe that he ever considered himself to be a ‘Bishop’, of Rome or even Antioch. He was an Apostle. I don’t think he would ever have, post resurrection, considered his role to be anything other than that, i.e., an Apostle, the chief one at that. To be thought a ‘Bishop’, even if that office existed in his time, would have been a demotion. Bishops would be those that came after the Apostles.
Rome did not have a ‘Bishop’ per se till c. 140. In other words it was not a monepiscopacy during the ‘days’. Instead, the Church of Rome was run by a collegiate group of presbyters. That is beyond doubt or debate. The 8 so called ‘pope’ that followed St. Peter were, without questions, Roman presbyters — but they did not have singular authority. Pius I (#10) appears to have been the first cleric to have been the singular head of the Church of Rome, i.e., the nearest to being a bona fide Bishop of Rome. So, if anything it is Pius I who should be considered the first real pope.
Per the record, Linus, a presbyter, succeeded St. Peter. Well into the 2nd century it was Linus, rather St. Peter, that was considered to have been the first Bishop of Rome. So, that is where we stand. My goal here is to state the historical facts knowing full well that devotional tradition always trumps the facts.