Does a Pope have to be an intellectual?

To write encyclicals. To defend the faith. To speak authoritavely on behalf of the Church.
Has there ever been a Pope who was just a pragmatist with little or no education?
I notice the last 3 Popes seem highly educated, especially Benedict.

We are currently in what many consider a Golden Age of the Papacy. Since Leo XIII, at the turn of the twentieth century, we have had an unbroken line of spiritual, intellectual and political masters seated on the throne of St. Peter. There have been popes who were not intellectual giants. St. Celestine V comes to mind immediately. He was a holy hermit who pleaded the deadlocked cardinals to elect a new Pope. The cardinals saw it as a sign and elected him. He was considered a horrible pope, Dante even placed him in Hell in the Inferno because of his lack of an ability to lead the Church, but he was undoubtedly one of the holiest men of the the turn of the fourteenth century. As to the encyclical writing, it has only evolved into what it currently is in the past two hundred years. Before that, encyclicals were usually just Papal letters to the Church in a particular region. Yes, the past three popes have been intellectual giants, but so have all of the modern Golden Age Popes. Pope Benedict XV, who presided over the Papacy during World War I is widely considered to be the smartest man to have ever been Pope. I don’t think intellect is a requirement to become Pope, however I do believe it is what we need in the modern age and thus the Holy Spirit has chosen men who fulfill that need.


Holy Spirit.

No. He has to be male, a baptized Catholic, and these days a priest. This is an oversimplified answer perhaps.

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@goodcatholic , would you call St Peter an intellectual ?

" Peter and of John… illiterate and ignorant men" .(Acts 4:13)

If it was good enough for Jesus . . . . . . . . . . . .


he may have had an excuse because of the lack of universities then

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It helps to have good advisors.

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The seminary does require a considerable amount of education so having little or no education isn’t really possible.

As far as writing and speaking, I would say it is helpful when a pope is articulate and particularly gifted in intellect.

And also Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, seem to point at something.

The requirement is to actually attend seminary, not necessarily pass it. I know multiple priests who did not pass seminary, but were ordained after individual examination after they completed the course of studies.

The seminary is required for the priesthood, to my knowledge at least. In the seminary, Priests are educated about the Faith, so yes, the Pope would need to be an “intellectual” by some sorts (e.g having a knowledge of the faith; would you give the position of Pope to someone who has no idea of the Catholic faith? :O)

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While being educated is certainly a coveted trait if one is to be the Pope, I think it is far more important for the Pope to be pastoral. I look at the difference between Sylvester and Novatian during the controversy of the lapse of the third century as an example of the dichotomy between being educated and being pastoral.


A Pope needs wisdom, intellectual or not.

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I think today the pope needs to be highly educated. Not everyone highly educated is an “intellectual” so to answer your question you’d need to define the word.


You might be making an interesting point here.
By intellectual, I mean they like exploring theoretical and theological points through their writing. They enjoy the life of the mind. Hence an encyclical would be an opportunity to express insights they have through reading and prayer.
Anyone who has studied an extra degree at University must to some extent be considered an intellectual.
A non-intellectual is more common in the priesthood. Pragmatists whose forte is organising Parish ministries or dealing with day to day activities and events. Am I making myself queer?

In fairness, while he wasn’t intellectual in the sense of knowing mathematics or Classic literature, he was very knowledgeable about the faith. And being intellectual in that regard seems rather necessary.

Someone can be highly intelligent, but not necessarily an “intellectual.”

The saying comes to mind about a person being so “heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good.”

I think, while a Pope should be intelligent, wise, and articulate, he shouldn’t be someone wholly preoccupied with intellectual occupations. He needs a fatherly, pastoral concern for his huge flock and a willingness to engage with its problems.


Pope Benedict??

Uh, oh…a trap!!

No, I think he was wonderful Pope, and just who we needed at the time. I wish he had remained as Pope. But God usually seems to give us the Pope that we need at the time. I don’t know enough about Church history to venture more than that…

So I guess I can’t say that a Pope shouldn’t be only an intellectual…but he usually needs enough energy and pastoral abilities to go with it.

I don’t know. Maybe this meme sums it up:



In past centuries, popes were also temporal princes who ruled over the Papal States in Italy as well. A different skill would be needed for the tasks at hand. Alexander VI is widely condemned nowadays as a “bad pope”, but he was credited with cracking down on crime as well as bringing order to the city and building up its fortifications.

Those skills aren’t needed by modern popes.

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