Is the Catholic Papacy, Rooted in the Roman Pagan Tradition?

History of the papacy and his pontifical title, rooted in the Roman Republic

Background: Western and Eastern Roman Empire

The Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox (centered on Constantinople, now Istanbul) and Latin-speaking Western Catholics (centered on Rome) were one in development from 325 A.D. until they divided in 1054 A.D. Both claim Apostolic tradition.

After the fall of the “Western Roman Empire” in 395 A.D., the “Holy Roman Catholic Church” became the new face of the fallen empire. The “Eastern New Roman Empire” or Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople, fell much later in 1453.

The political and religious power of Rome bolstered after the first schism in 451 (Council of Chalcedon). Its papacy (bishopry) became influential because of its location and association with Roman emperors. They positioned themselves as superior to other bishopry.

After the first Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. (Christianity at this point was declared legal in Rome), the “See of Rome” was elevated.

By 800 A.D., Pope Leo III crowned as Charlemagne. He was given the title of “Holy Roman Emperor,” to the dismay of the Eastern Orthodox, who also claim apostolic succession.

The only proof the pope is the Vicar of Christ found in the catechism. Their Biblical evidence only from Matthew 16:15-18. The infallibility of Rome officially declared in the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870.

Roman Catholics misinterpret Matthew 16:15-18

  • Peter’s role in the early mission was critical. In verse 15-16, Jesus commended Peter for saying “Christ, the Son of the living God.” In verse 13, the other disciples had wrong 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” comprised of all believers. (1 Cor. 12:27)
  • Peter was given the “Keys of Heaven” for his role in “opening the doors” for the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentles, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Apostolic succession is a Roman Catholic assumption

Apostolic succession claimed by the Papacy is an assumption based on Matthew 16 or the Petrine theory. Scriptures do not support apostolic succession. Delegating responsibilities is totally different. Tertullian called the Bishops “transmitters of the apostolic seed.”

Peter has no primacy over anyone

  • The keys given to Peter is the privilege of all believers as these keys represent the Gospel to open doors. (Commentary on Matthew 16:15-18)
  • There are NO manuscripts that say Peter superior among the 12 apostles. In fact, Paul withstood Peter (also called Cephas, after Jesus gave the keys) to his face in Antioch. (Galatians 2:11–13)
  • Apostle James was the de facto leader of the Jerusalem church and officiated and spoke for the first church council on record (Acts 15).
  • Peter and Paul helped establish the church of Rome according to Greek Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons.
  • Paul actively preached in Rome and stayed for two years to evangelize. (Acts 28:30)
roman pontificates
Julius Caesar, Augustus, Pope Clement XI, had the title Pontifex Maximus.

The pagan origin of the Papacy

The Ancient Roman Republic was NOT Christian at the time of the College of Pontiff. In fact, Christianity banned, and Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. The pontifices (council of priests) were in charge of civil law and consecration of the pagan temples.

The Title “Pontifex Maximus

The title Pontifex Maximus used by the Roman Emperor as “supreme (pagan) priests” was no longer used by the time of Emperor Theodosius I (379–395). Later, the popes assumed the title.

In 382, Emperor Gratian, at the urging of Ambrose, formally renounced the title of Pontifex Maximus because it was associated with pagan supporters.

In the 1500s, “Pontifex Maximus” became a regular title of honor for Popes during the renaissance.

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

  • The Roman “high priest” was called Pontifex Maximus
  • The origin of the Pontifical title of the Pope.
  • The Pontifex is the supreme leader of the College of Pontiffs.

The College of Pontiff

The pontifices are the council of the Roman priesthood. The college, or “collegium, of the pontifices” or College of Pontiff, was charged with the administration of the “jus divinum.” Their main duty was to maintain the pax deorum or “peace of the gods.”

Julius Caesar, Augustus were Pontifex Maximus

The Pontifex Maximus was the “supreme priest,” among other lower positions. Julius Caesar elected pontifex Maximus in 63 BCE. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus succeeded, then Emperor Augustus became responsible for the state cult.

The (pagan) responsibilities of the pontifices 

  • The main task of the pontifices was to maintain the pax deorum, the ‘peace with the gods’.
  • They gave advice to the magistrates, interpreted the omens, 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 public life of the state.
  • Administration of the law relating to burials and burying places and the worship of the Manes, or dead ancestors.
  • Supervision of all marriages, adoption, and testamentary succession.
  • Care of the state archives and records of important events.

Sources: Livius; Britannica

“See of Constantinople”

The “See of Constantinople” elevated to a jurisdictional prominence, not because of apostolic origin, but because of its political importance and influence of 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” which are Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

Rise of a “Holy Pope

In 395 AD, the pagan Roman Empire collapsed and the popes took on the title of Pontifex Maximus  (supreme priest). Thus began the rise of Roman Catholicism as we know it today.

The once glorious Rome wanted power and distinction, the reason they installed Pope Leo III in 800 AD as the “Holy Roman Emperor.” However, it was an insult to the Byzantine church (Constantinople).

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.

Supreme Pontiff of the whole Roman Church

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.”


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