When did the Pope become the Pope? Hows does this whole Bishop of Rome, head of the Catholic Church thing work?
Salvete omnes. I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to "The Roman Minute," where you can sample a little bit of Rome in around a minute. Today we're going to talk about how the bishop of one city became the head of the entire western church. This change didn't happen in one day, but one could argue that it happened with one individual.
Leo the Great was bishop of Rome in the mid-400s. Leo was known for several things, including talking Attila the Hun out of attacking the city. But his chief legacy was his attempts to unite the church under one leader. Like many before him, Leo believed that when Christ said to Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven," (Matt. 16:19) that Christ was giving Peter authority over the entire church. Peter was traditionally the first bishop of Rome, and because of apostolic succession, Leo was his heir. He therefore started to claim authority throughout Italy and Gaul (which is modern-day France). When some other bishops objected, the Roman Emperor supported Leo, asserting that "the primacy of the Apostolic See [another word for bishopric] is established by the merit of St. Peter. . .by the majesty of the city of Rome, and finally by the authority of a holy council." Therefore, he states, "no one, without inexcusable presumption, may attempt anything against the authority of that see."*
Catholics therefore have Leo to thank for asserting boldly the rights of St. Peter. Protestants and Greek Orthodox have Leo to argue with if they choose. Either way, Pope Leo the Great is largely responsible for turning the Bishop of Rome into the Head of the Catholic Church.
I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl, bringing you "The Roman Minute" and wishing you Pax Christi.
*Valentinian III's Decree on Papal Power, 445.