Hello Rosary Lovers! In this post we will ask: What is the Pope?
The Pope, as we all know, is one of the most important figures on earth.
Whether people are Catholic or not, all nations take an interest in the Pope, what he’s up to and what he says.
Reguarly he is in the news. Every new election of a Pope is hot news all over the world.
He has spoken at gatherings of world leaders. He has met with and spoken to many presidents and rulers. He is greatly respected by many.
He is sought for spiritual and political advice. He is generally regarded as one of the world’s most important voices.
But who is he? What is the Pope?
Head of the Catholic Church
The Pope is the earthly Head of the holy Catholic Church on earth.
This is incredibly significant. It means that the Pope is the physical representative on earth of Jesus Christ.
St Peter and his Successors at Rome
Jesus is the ultimate Head of the entire Church of heaven and earth. When Jesus left this earth, he appointed one man to stand in his place to govern the Church on earth: St Peter.
Jesus called Simon ‘Peter’, which was a unique name Jesus made up on the spot. ‘Peter’ means ‘Rock’ or ‘Stone’. Jesus was therefore making St Peter the Rock of the Church.
Jesus went on to say that ‘on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ Jesus therefore made St Peter the instrument by which the Catholic Church would survive all the perils of the Devil.
Jesus also said: ‘I give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
Peter had full spiritual authority on earth: the keys of heaven itself, and the ability to bind and loose – with heavenly consequences – at will. Tremendous authority.
Peter was the first Pope. He was Bishop of Rome and died at Rome.
Down through the ages, there have been many successors to Peter’s bishopric at Rome. These are called the Popes.
Currently, Pope Francis is the 266th Pope/Bishop of Rome.
If you like, the Pope is the Prime Minister of Jesus Christ on earth. The Pope governs the Church for Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This means that when a final decision needs to be made on any matter of faith or morals, it is sometimes the Pope’s job to speak ex cathedra and make a final decision.
This is called the doctrine of Papal infallibility. It doesn’t mean that the Pope is always right all of the time on every issue. But it does mean that when the Pope speaks on a matter of faith or morals, with a desire to close a matter, he speaks from the chair of St Peter (ex cathedra), which means from the Church of Rome, the Head Church on earth.
When the Pope does this, the matter is closed. In the words of St Augustine: ‘Rome has spoken, the matter is ended.’
The Pope has done this a number of times in history. Generally, Catholics recall two instances:
- The definition of the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception (1854)
- The definition of the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption bodily into heaven (1950)
There may have been other times the Pope has spoken ex cathedra. In reality, it is very rare throughout Catholic history.
The Pope also has total authority, immediately, over the entire Catholic Church on earth and even over all Christians (even those who aren’t Catholic). He has this authority from God himself.
This is called the doctrine of Papal supremacy.
The Catholic Church is made up of 24 individual Churches. The Latin Church + the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Pope has supreme power and authority over ALL of these Churches at every moment. He can choose to use this authority as and how he pleases.
Generally, the Pope lets the Eastern Catholic Churches govern themselves. His focus tends to be on the Western world and the Latin Church.
The Pope can be appealled to by any Bishop all over the world, and even by any Christian/Catholic. Anyone can contact him and seek his help.
Servant of the Servants of God
It is the Pope’s job to serve the Church.
In reality, the headship and rulership of the Pope is inseparable from his service to the Church. He rules by service.
This is why the Pope often refers to himself as ‘the servant of the servants of God’. He is the slave of us all. He serves us all. This is in integral part of his office.
This is how Jesus told us all to serve. We are not to be like the rulers of the world who overpower their people, but ‘anyone who wishes to be great must be the slave of all’ (The Gospels).
The Pope especially serves the poor of the Church and the world. This is because the poor and the marginalised are a special focus of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus often tended to lepers.
The Pope serves us all by his teachings and his example. Even when he uses his supreme authority, he is serving us all.
The Pope takes NO WAGE. This is astonishing. It is probably the hardest job in the entire world, and yet the Pope has always receive no pay for doing it. This is the way it has always been and will always be.
The Pope does his job because he loves the Church and wants to submit to God’s decision. There have been many reluctant Popes. Pope Francis apparently didn’t want to become Pope.
It is not a job anyone should want, as such, because it means trying to steer a Church of 1.3 billion members through a world that is always changing and that often does not like the Church. It is a very fine tight-rope to try to balance on.
If King Solomon of old desperately needed divine wisdom to govern Israel, how much more does the Pope need divine wisdom and guidance in his role governing the Church all over the world?
Supreme Monarch of Vatican City
The Pope is also the Supreme Monarch of Vatican City. Vatican City is an exceptionally small country in Italy, within Rome. It is a proper and recognised Country/State, with its own Monarch and border controls.
Vatican City is the last remaining country in Europe which has a supreme Monarchy. This means that the Monarch (the Pope) actually RULES Vatican City.
Most European countries are constitutional monarchies. In practice this means that Parliaments put severe restrictions on the monarchs, so that the monarchs are often little more than a face for the country without much play in the decisions the country makes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this brief introduction to the Pope and if you have any questions, please don’t hestitate to leave a comment or get in touch.