Does the pope have to be the bishop of Rome?

I know that sounds like a strange question. Let me start by saying that I think I have a pretty good understanding of Petrine primacy/papal supremacy, and as a Catholic, I’m fully on board with the pope being head of the Church. However, I was recently confronted with a few hypothetical questions that I was unable to answer.

Based on my understanding, while the pope in some ways is a bishop just like any other bishop, he is special (I know that’s probably not the best word), because, as bishop of Rome, he is the successor of St. Peter, who founded the episcopal see at Rome and was its first bishop. However, St. Peter is also considered to be the founder and the first bishop (or patriarch) of the patriarchate of Antioch. So couldn’t the bishop/patriarch of Antioch also claim to be the successor of St. Peter?

I reasoned that the bishop of Rome outranked the bishop of Antioch due to Rome’s historical significance and the fact that Peter and Paul were both martyred there. However, what if somehow in the future Rome no longer exists? I know this is really far-fetched, but bear with me. What would happen if say the whole Italian peninsula was totally wiped out by a nuclear attack or natural disaster? Who would be the pope then, and what would be the rationale behind his authority?

This was written by bishop Irenaeus of Lyon before year 200 AD. It’s not a dogmatic source but it does answer the question historically.

  1. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as thetradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who existeverywhere.

  2. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and theirtraditions before his eyes.

You can be the bishop of Rome without living in Rome, as demonstrated by the Avignon popes.

Peter’s unique authority didn’t settle in Antioch (or Jerusalem before it) because he still had it when he left those cities. He died in Rome. Though, yes, undoubtedly the preeminence of Rome on the global stage at the time had something to do with its prominent position in the Church (and the reason why the two Ps ended up there).

That’s what I was thinking.

He could move to Gary Indiana or Humansville, Missouri and say that was where he was at, and I don’t think anyone except God could object.

The people responsible for electing a new pope when there is a vacancy is the college of cardinals, many, if not most, of whom live outside the Italian peninsula. If such a tragic thing happened, the surviving members of the college of cardinals would get together somewhere and elect a new bishop of Rome (a new pope), even if Rome no longer existed and he had to live somewhere else. As Usagi mentioned, it would not be the first time the bishop of Rome lived somewhere besides the Italian peninsula.

Of course he has to be the Bishop of Rome. He is, by definition, the Bishop of Rome. If he were the bishop of any other place, he would not exercise the primacy, for the primacy rests with the Church in Rome, which “presides in love” (as St. Ignatius of Antioch put it way back in the 2nd century). He could live somewhere else…but he would still be Bishop of Rome.
The Church teaches that St. Peter left his special primal ministry with his successors in Rome.
That being said, Antioch has always been accorded special honor as well. In the ancient Church, the bishop of Antioch ranked third - after Rome and Alexandria. St. Gregory the Great taught that all three of those sees exercised a Petrine primacy of sorts: Rome over the West specifically and the Church as a whole generally, Alexandria over Africa, and Antioch over Asia.

That was very well said.

Couldn’t he change that, though, being Pope? Is it infallibly declared or just the way it has always been? What IOW mandates Rome? I think the primacy rests with the Pope, not with the city. wherever the Pope is, there he is. Rome or wherever. Rome just happens to be the place. Which came first, the city or the bishop? Or is it simultaneous, in which case if Rome disappeared, the papacy would go with it? I don’t think that is right; there would still be a papacy, so it must be the Pope is the bishop of Rome, not the bishop of Rome is the Pope. Just my guess.

Yes, the pope has to be the bishop of Rome! The reason why the pope is situated in Rome is because Jesus wanted the Gospel preached through all the world. If there had not been persecutions in Jerusalem it is questionable how far the Gospel would have traveled. The persecutions forced the apostles outward. We see in the book of Acts a powerful movement to establish the Church in Rome. That is where the book of Acts finishes. St. Luke states, “This is how we finally came to Rome” (Acts 28:14). Some Evangelicals think the Book of Acts ends too abruptly. They fail to see that the establishment of the Early Church in Rome was the goal and Luke ends his book when this is accomplished. The move to Rome was very early in Christian history, it’s in the Bible. That’s about as early as it gets. Jesus said “make disciples of all peoples” (Mat 28:19) and that could best be accomplished through the communications nerve centre of the world, which was Rome.

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