History of the Popes

The history of Popes as leaders of the Catholic Church is rooted back in the time of Saint Peter. The Pope is the father figure of the Catholic Church. According to the Catholics, the pope is believed to be the successor to Saint Peter. The Catholics recognize Saint Peter as a Pope although he never bore the title of Pope. During the early times of the church, the bishops of Rome did not enjoy temporal power until the time of Constantine. After the fall of Rome, the papacy was influenced by the temporal rulers, and after some time, the papacy consolidated its territorial claims to a portion of the peninsula which is referred to as the Papal States.

Between 1048 and 1257, the papacy experienced great conflicts with the leaders and churches of the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. The conflicts led to the separation of Western Church and Eastern Church. Between 1257 and 1377, the Pope, who was just the bishop of Rome, lived in Viterbo, Orvieto, Perugia and then Avignon. The return of Popes to Rome after the Avignon Papacy then led to the Western Schism.

The Renaissance Papacy is well known for its artistic and architectural patronage into European power politics and theological challenges to papal authority. The Popes who were in power during the age of Revolution witnessed the largest expropriation of wealth in the Catholic Church’s history. These conflicts led to loss of the Papal States and creation of Vatican City.

After the formation of the Vatican City in 1929 under the reign of Pope Pius XI and by signing the Lateran Treaty, Vatican City became an independent state; the smallest in the world. However, the Catholic Church continued facing opposition from external forces, and this greatly affected the operations of the Popes. For instance, in 1939, the Vatican had to declare neutrality so as to avoid being drawn into conflict with the Germany and to avoid occupation by the Italian military. The whole period of the World War II (1939-1945) continued to disrupt the church’s operation, derailing most of its developments.

However, the church continued struggling and through the Vatican I and Vatican II Councils, it was bale to establish and amend some of the important parts of its constitutions. The Pope was given the full mandate to govern the church being the president of the Catholic Church and administering legislative, executive and judicial powers through organs. After the papal authority being properly established, the church then started running its functions independently. This led to the establishment of several branches of the Roman Catholic Church in different countries of the world.

From those early days until current times, the papal authority has continued and the Pope has remained the bishop of the Catholic Church. The headquarters of the Catholic Church is in Vatican City, and the Pope is the head of the entire church. The Popes are elected by the cardinal electors, where a simple two-third majority is required for a winner to be declared. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI resigned on 28th February 2013 leading to new election which led to Pope Francis being elected as the new Pope.