Papal Monarchy


papacy (pā´pəsē), office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter. The pope therefore claims to be the shepherd of all Christians and representative (vicar or vicegerent) of Christ. The claim of Petrine supremacy and (by virtue of Peter's connection to Rome) Roman supremacy, is based on Matthew 16:18–19. Papal supremacy is not acknowledged outside the Roman Catholic Church. The church further holds that God will not permit the pope to make an error in a solemn official declaration concerning a matter of faith or morality (see infallibility).

The pope has also traditionally been regarded as patriarch of the West, with the great majority, although not all, of the Christians recognizing his authority as pope also under his authority as patriarch. This question of areas of authority is practical only with regard to some of the Eastern-rite patriarchs in communion with the pope who may, for example, appoint bishops without papal confirmation. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI dropped patriach of the West from among his official titles in an ecumenical gesture toward the Orthodox Eastern churches; the title had been assumed by Pope Theodore I in 642. The pope generally lives in Rome, of which a portion (Vatican City) is politically independent and under his rule; the pope is thus head of a state and owes no political allegiance (see Vatican City; cardinal; papal election).

For a chronological list of popes and antipopes see the table entitled Popes of the Roman Catholic Church. For the ecclesiastical framework, the teaching, the history, and the geographical distribution of the church, see Roman Catholic Church. See also Christianity.

In the Early Church

There is no unequivocal evidence about the status of the pope in the earliest days of the church. That he was accorded special honor as the successor of St. Peter is acknowledged, but whereas Roman Catholic historians hold that the peculiar position of the Holy See was recognized and accorded authority, non-Catholic historians in general contend that the bishop of Rome was accorded honor over the other bishops, not authority. As missionaries sent directly from the city founded new churches throughout the West, more and more reverence was given to the pope. The Roman church was being enriched with gifts by converts, and it supported struggling young churches everywhere and supplied funds for charitable foundations all over Italy.

As the political power of the city of Rome declined, the pope inherited some of the Roman emperor's position as symbol and defender of civilization. The combination of assurance and intrepidity in dealing with barbarian attacks and rulers of emerging states in this period (300–700) was a mark of the great popes—saints Julius I, Innocent I, Leo I, Gregory I, and Martin I. The papacy gained prestige in the West and was powerful in doctrinal disputes, especially in the struggles over Arianism, Monophysitism, and Monotheletism.

In the Middle Ages

A fateful event for the papacy was the donation of lands made to the pope by the Frankish king Pepin the Short in 756. The papacy had already been given lands (since the 4th cent.), but it was the Donation of Pepin that came to be considered the real as well as the symbolic founding of the Papal States. The pope thus became a powerful lay prince as well as an ecclesiastical ruler. This intermingling of powers was a determining condition in the struggle between church and state that was a main theme in the history of the West in the Middle Ages. Strong lay princes attempted to direct the church just as the pope tried to establish secular as well as spiritual supremacy over the rulers.

A central point at issue in the 11th and 12th cent. was investiture, but the conflict was far wider and deeper. Although all in the West affirmed that Christendom was under the pope in Rome, that affirmation had little bearing on the question of papal supremacy in secular affairs. By crowning (800) Charlemagne, Leo III at once sponsored the empire and sanctioned the creation of a state which, as the Roman Empire (see Holy Roman Empire), was to be the chief antagonist of the papacy for centuries.

The papacy reached a high point of corruption in the 10th cent., when the Holy See was cynically bought and sold. Under Leo IX reform began, but bitter feeling between East and West brought the break with patriarch of Constantinople (1054); late in the 11th cent. sweeping reforms were carried out by the forceful Gregory VII. From that time forward the relative power of the papacy in quarrels with the emperor and with the kings of England, France, Naples, and Spain depended largely on the successes of individual popes and individual rulers. Pope Alexander III was pitted against Roman Emperor Frederick I and against King Henry II of England, and Pope Innocent III, despite opposition by Emperor Otto IV and Emperor Frederick II, made himself virtual arbiter of the West.

Innocent's reign (1198–1216) marked the zenith of papal secular power. As a religious leader Innocent worked to reform clerical morals and combat heresy. He ordered (1208) a crusade against the heretical Albigenses in S France that ended disastrously and cast a shadow over his pontificate. A century later Boniface VIII, an able canon lawyer, proved himself no match for the ruthless king of France, Philip IV.

Pope Clement V in 1309 deserted Rome for Avignon and the domination of France. During the so-called Babylonian captivity (1309–78) all the popes were French, all lived at Avignon, and all were under the control of the French kings. The Avignonese papacy represented the culmination of the administrative structure of the church, which reached into almost all corners of Europe.

Pope Gregory XI—acting partly on the advice of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden—moved the papacy back to Rome. But the church was immediately plunged into the disorder of the Great Schism (1378–1417). There were two or even three rival popes at a time (in later determination of true succession, those claimants ruled out of the succession are called antipopes). The schism ended in the Council of Constance (see Constance, Council of). Since then, apart from the abortive revolt at the Council of Basel (see Basel, Council of), there has been no schism in the papacy.

Subsequently, the pope had little real power outside Italy, and no 15th-century pope was prepared to attempt serious reform, which would have required challenging the vested interests of bishops, cardinals, and princes. Indeed, in the 15th cent. the papal court made Rome a brilliant Renaissance capital, enriched by some of the finest art of the West. The Renaissance popes, however, were little distinguished from other princes in the extravagance and immorality of their courts.

In the Reformation

Papal corruption during the Renaissance provided the background for the Protestant Reformation and alienated many followers of the established church. Martin Luther and his colleagues entered upon a basic theological revolution, reacting in part to the state of the papacy. They denounced the whole accepted view of God's relation to humanity and began a movement that split the Western Church.

Although reformation within the church began in the 1520s, papal involvement did not begin until the election (1534) of Paul III (see Counter Reformation). The Council of Trent (1545–47, 1551–52, 1562–63; see Trent, Council of) undertook to lay out the new definitions and regulations that reconstructed the church, including the papacy. The other major work of the 16th-century popes was the new development of foreign missions, which, as in ancient times, enhanced papal prestige. Of the several orders concerned with reform and missions, the Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of) were the best known. The 16th cent. also saw the stabilization of the Papal States as they would remain until the 19th cent.

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

After the Counter Reformation, the papacy continued to be plagued by another problem, one that reform had (of necessity) left untouched. This was the position in the church of the rulers of largely Roman Catholic states. Once one of these Catholic princes, whether devout or notoriously immoral, was sure of his power, he determined to include the church within it (e.g., insisting on the deciding voice in selecting the clergy). The kings of Spain even conducted their own Inquisition. It was accepted that Catholic rulers should hold a veto in papal elections.

By the 18th cent. every Catholic prince was at odds with the papacy. Spain had the longest record of this sort, lasting into the 20th cent. In France the triumphant Bourbons developed Gallicanism as a theory to justify their ecclesiastical pretensions; Louis XIV was its chief proponent, but the revolutionists of 1790 used it (in the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, banned by Pius VI), and so did Napoleon I as soon as he had signed the Concordat of 1801. Most extreme, and least enduring, were the schemes of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

In the 18th cent. the papacy seemed doomed; its weakness became a spectacle when Clement XIV was forced into suppressing the Jesuits, the only group in the church consistently loyal to the pope. Early in the 19th cent., when Pius VII tried to protect the sanctity of the Holy See, Napoleon had him ignominiously imprisoned. After the fall of Napoleon, with the increasing decline of the old absolutist states, the papacy imperceptibly gained. Papal opposition to the reunification of Italy deepened the suspicious dislike of most liberals for the papacy.

The loss (1870) of the Papal States proved in the end a blessing for the papacy, although it took 60 years to solve the Roman Question—the problem of assuring the pope nonnational status in a nationally organized world (see Lateran Treaty). The First Vatican Council enunciated the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. In the modern world, the popes no longer faced trouble with Catholic princes but did engage in struggles with secular states over anticlerical or specifically anti-Catholic legislation (e.g., Otto von Bismarck's Kulturkampf in Germany and the anticlericalism in France, Portugal, and Mexico) or overt attacks on all religion.

In the Twentieth Century

The popes at the end of the 19th cent. turned more toward pure spiritual and moral leadership in a tangled world. The growth of Catholicism in areas outside Europe tended to make the pope more and more the single unifying force in the church and therefore fundamentally an international figure. A singular succession of dynamic popes strengthened this effect; Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II all strove to reorient the church in the modern world, to combat secularism, and to extend Roman Catholic morality in social relations. The social encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891), was echoed in the encyclical of Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931); reinforced and restated by John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (1961); reaffirmed once again by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio (1967); and restated several times by John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), and Centessimus Annus (1991, the 100th anniversary of Leo's encyclical). The recommendations made in these encyclicals are international in scope, and the international prestige of the papacy has been increased by its steady advocacy of peace and its aid to the oppressed and destitute of the world.

Politically, the role of the papacy has been more controversial. Pius XII was criticized by some for not condemning more strongly the Nazi regime in Germany (especially in its persecution of the Jews); these critics suggest that he was far more implacably hostile to Communism. The encouragement of greater lay participation in the church itself (e.g., approval of the liturgical movement), fostering of the varied contributions of the parts of the church, desire to unite all Christians, encouragement of the "progressive" renewal within the church itself—all these came to the fore when Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. The efforts of the council, under the close direction of John XXIII and Paul VI, to renew the spiritual and organizational life of the church had the paradoxical effect of increasing challenges to papal authority.

The council's stress on the collegiality of bishops and pope in the rule of the universal church led to the establishment of national conferences of bishops, a step that tended to disrupt the direct exercise of papal authority over individual bishops and increase the autonomy of local churches. Following the council there arose discussions among Catholic theologians of the limits of papal jurisdiction and infallibility. Paul VI attempted to uphold the primacy of the papal teaching office in his reassertion, in the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), of the traditional doctrine prohibiting artificial birth control; his attempt was met with subtle evasion by some of the national conferences of bishops and by open defiance by some priests and theologians.

John Paul I was pope for 34 days in 1978 before his death. The nearly three decade pontificate of his successor, John Paul II (r.1978–2005), was marked by an increased papal presence in the international sphere through extensive travel outside Rome. He also broadened international representation in the College of Cardinals and in the Roman Curia. Although John Paul II worked to implement the mandates of the Second Vatican Council, he firmly and successfully reasserted the primacy and authority of the pope and the Vatican while also convening an unprecedented number of consistories to advise him. The first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI (1522–23), John Paul II was also the first Polish and Slavic pope. He was succeeded in 2005 by Benedict XVI, a German who had worked closely with John Paul in the Curia. Benedict XVI largely continued the policies of his predecessor, but surprisingly for a pope who was generally a traditionalist, he broke 600 years of tradition and chose to resign (for reasons of age) in 2013. Benedict's successor, Francis, an Argentinian, was the first non-European elected in more than 1,000 years as well as the first person from the Americas and the first Jesuit to be elected.


For general works dealing with the papacy, see bibliography under Roman Catholic Church. See also J. B. Bury, A History of the Papacy in the Nineteenth Century (1930, repr. 1964); Geoffrey Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (1968); Peter Nichols, The Politics of the Vatican (1968); Walter Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (3d ed. 1970); Ludwig von Hertling, Communio: Church and Papacy in Early Christianity (tr. 1972); J. N. D. Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986); B. Schimmelpfennig, The Papacy (tr. by James Sievert, 1992); E. Duffy, Saints & Sinners (1997); P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes (1997); P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, Chronicle of the Popes (1997); O. Chadwick, A History of the Popes, 1830–1914 (1998); J. J. Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (2011); E. Duffy, Ten Popes Who Shook the World (2011); G. Posner, God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican (2015).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Papal Monarchy: Selected full-text books and articles

The Worlds of Medieval Europe By Clifford R. Backman Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 12 "The Papal Monarchy"
Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History By Joseph R. Strayer Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1955
Librarian's tip: "The Papal Monarchy - Innocent III" begins on p. 147, and "The Papal Monarchy - The Popes and the Hohenstaufen" begins on p. 157
Outlines of Medieval History By C. W. Previté-Orton Biblo and Tannen, 1965 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. V "The Papal Monarchy"
Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order By Tomaž Mastnak University of California Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. Five "The Fall of the Papal Monarchy and the Rise of Territorial Power"
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