The Pagan Roots of the Papacy

The pagan origin of the papacy: Why Saint Peter is not the first pope

The only proof of the pope is the Vicar of Christ found in the catechism, while the Biblical evidence they use is from Matthew 16:15-18. The infallibility of Rome was officially declared in the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870. Justified among themselves, the papacy is not in the Bible but instead can be rooted in Roman paganism.

1. Roman Catholics misinterpret Matthew 16:15-18

  • Peter’s role in the early mission was critical. In verses 15-16, Jesus commended Peter for saying, “Christ, the Son of the living God.” In verse 13, the other disciples had less preferred answers.
  • Jesus referred to Peter as Petras or “little rock.” Jesus is the “big rock” (Petros), the rock of all ages.
  • In verse 17, Jesus referred to the church as “the body of Christ” that He will build (not Peter). “The church” is comprised of all believers. (1 Cor. 12:27)
  • Peter was given the “Keys of Heaven” for his unique role in “opening the doors” for the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentles (Acts 10)—to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Peter never claimed preeminence among other apostles (1 Peter 5:1). There are no Biblical manuscripts to support apostolic succession through Peter. [Blue Letter]


2. The apostolic succession is an assumption

Apostolic succession claimed by the papacy is an assumption based on Matthew 16 or the Petrine theory. Scriptures do not support apostolic succession. However, “delegating responsibilities” has a different function.

Christian author Tertullian (160 AD) called the Bishops “transmitters of the apostolic seed,” which differs from the apostolic succession that the papacy presupposes.

3. Peter has no primacy over other apostles

  • The keys given to Peter are the privileges of all believers. These keys represent the Gospel to open doors.
  • There are NO manuscripts that say Peter is superior among the 12 apostles. Paul withstood Peter (also called Cephas, after Jesus gave the keys) to his face in Antioch. (Galatians 2:11–13)
  • Apostle James was Jerusalem’s church’s de facto leader. He officiated and spoke for the first church council on record (Acts 15).
  • According to Greek Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons, Peter and Paul helped establish the church of Rome.
  • Paul actively preached in Rome and stayed for two years to evangelize. (Acts 28:30)

Read commentary on Matthew 16:15-18, why the pope is not the vicar of Christ.

roman pontificates
Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Pope Clement XI had the title Pontifex Maximus.

3. The College of Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus

The Collegium Pontificum was the most important priesthood of ancient Rome. It is safe to say that the collegium was tasked to act as advisers of the King in all matters of religion. The Pontifex Maximus headed the collegium, and all the pontifices held their office for life. [NWE]

The pontifices (Council of the Roman priesthood) administered the “jus divinum.” Their primary duty was maintaining the pax deorum or “peace of the gods.”

The responsibilities of the pontifices, rooted in paganism

  • The pontifices’ main task was maintaining the Pax Deorum, the ‘peace with the gods.’
  • They advised the magistrates, interpreted the omens, and controlled the calendar. 
  • Consecration of all temples and other sacred places and objects dedicated to the gods.
  • Regulation of the calendar both astronomically and application to the state’s public life.
  • Administration of the law relating to burials or the worship of ancestors.
  • Supervision of marriage, adoption, and testamentary succession.
  • Care of the state archives and records of important events.
  • Perfunctory prayers and rituals.

Sources: Livius; Britannica

Pontifex Maximus: The supreme high priest

  • The Roman Emperor used the title to refer to himself as the “supreme priest.”
  • It was the most critical position in the ancient Roman polytheistic religion.
  • Pontifex Maximus was no longer used during the time of Emperor Theodosius I (379 to 395 A.D.).
  • In 1073, the Roman Catholic bishops assumed the title.
  • In the 1500s, “Pontifex Maximus” became the regular title of honor for the popes.

Julius and Augustus Caesar were Pontifex Maximus

The Pontifex Maximus was the “supreme priest,” among other lower positions. Julius Caesar elected pontifex Maximus in 63 B.C. and Emperor Augustus around 14 A.D.

The high priest of the Bible and Rome’s Pontifex Maximus

Catholic apologists claim Jesus, the “high priest” (ἀρχιερεύς in the New Testament), can be used interchangeably with its (supposedly) Latin counterpart, Pontifex Maximus.

The greek word ἀρχιερεύς may have the same intention as the Latin word Pontifex Maximus. But it is ridiculous to relate it to Jesus (the high priest of the Bible) because the Romans have always been polytheistic.

Jews and “true followers of Jesus” were monotheistic, while Rome had more deities than its citizens. Catholicism may have Christian roots, but the practice of the rosary and idols is pagan.

“The [city’s] population of divine beings could be thought of as larger than that of humans.” Pliny, Natural History 2.16.

Pontifex title associated with pagan supporters

In 382, Emperor Gratian, at the urging of Ambrose, formally renounced Pontifex Maximus’s title because it was associated with pagan supporters. This clearly indicates no connections between the “high priest” of the Christian Bible and the “supreme priest” of the pagan Roman Empire.

The College of Pontiff today

In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI adopted @pontifex as his Twitter handle, maintained by his successor Pope Francis. The word pontifex is Latin for the Pontiff.

  • The Roman “high priest” was called Pontifex Maximus
  • The Pontifex is the supreme leader of the College of Pontiffs.
  • The pope began using the Pontifical title in 1074.
  • Pope Francis continues to use the Pontifex title.

4. The “See of Constantinople” was a political establishment

The “See of Constantinople” was elevated to a jurisdictional prominence, not because of its apostolic origin but its political importance and influence on the Roman Emperors.

The First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. (the second ecumenical Council of churches) held a significant influence on the elevation of the “Five Sees,” Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

Roman Curia: The see of Rome today

The official list of titles of the Pope in the Annuario Pontificio includes “Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis (Supreme Pontiff of the whole Church) as its fourth title, the first being “Bishop of Rome.”

The Apostolic See or Holy See today includes the Pontiff (pope), the Secretariat of State, the Council for the church’s public affairs, and the other Institutes of the Roman Curia in the Vatican.


5. The Holy Roman Catholic church was established in 800 A.D.

The beginnings of the Roman Catholic church happened about four hundred years after Jesus. In 395 AD, the pagan Roman Empire collapsed, and the popes took on the title of Pontifex Maximus  (supreme priest).

The once glorious Rome wanted power and distinction, so they installed Pope Leo III in 800 A.D. as the “Holy Roman Emperor.” However, it insulted the Byzantine church, which also had apostolic succession.

To say that the first pope of the Roman Catholic church was a direct successor of Apostle Peter does not make sense. Based on their historical timeline, the roots of Roman Catholicism can be traced to the Roman Empire.

Roman Catholicism can be traced to the Roman Empire.

The “Byzantine Empire” (in Constantinople, Turkey) was the last vestige of the collapsed Roman Empire. They still had a Roman Emperor. The Roman Catholics (in Rome, Italy) had Pope Leo III declared Holy Emperor.

Catholic Mary is not the same as Mary mother of Jesus.
Why Protestants separated from Catholicism.
James McCarthy: Gospel according to Rome.

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