What are the origins of the title Pope, Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus?

What are the origins of the title Pope, Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus?

It appears the first Pontifex Maximus originated back around 753 BC with the original Kings of Rome.

Please read:


"The Pontifex Maximus (Latin, literally: “greatest bridge-maker”) was the high priest of the Ancient Roman College of Pontiffs (Collegium Pontificum). This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post. A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic, it gradually became politicized until, beginning with Augustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office. Its last use with reference to the emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian[1] (reigned 375-383) who, however, then decided to omit the words “pontifex maximus” from his title.[2][3]

Centuries later, after the word “pontifex” had become a term used for Christian bishops,[4] including the Bishop of Rome,[5] the title of “Pontifex Maximus” was applied within the Roman Catholic Church to the Pope as its chief bishop. It is not included in the Pope’s official titles,[6] but appears on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of Renaissance and modern times."

“With the adoption of Christianity, the Roman emperors took it on themselves to issue decrees on matters regarding the Christian Church. Unlike the Pontifex Maximus, they did not themselves function as priests, but they acted practically as head of the official religion, a tradition that continued with the Byzantine emperors. In line with the theory of Moscow as the Third Rome, the Russian Tsars exercised supreme authority over the Russian Orthodox Church.”

How did this title come to be a part of the Catholic Church? How do Catholics tie in this ancient pagan title with the Jewish apostle Peter? Following the death of Christ and the 12 apostles, there were only bishops leading the church for centuries. Hundreds of years later the head bishop became known as Pope. Isn’t this a Roman tradition which isn’t Biblical? I would be interested in hearing what Catholics have to say regarding this.

To the best of my understanding, Pope Leo I was the first one to begin using the title of Pontifex Maximus. I believe he used it during his attempt to argue for Petrine primacy over all other bishops. In 451ad, however, the Council of Chalcedon rebuffed Leo, and decreed that the bishops of Rome and Constantinople had equal authority.

I believe your correct about Pope Leo I, however the title Pontifex Maximus was used hundreds of years earlier also. Here is a basic list:

Incomplete list of Pontifices Maximi
753 BC to 712 BC - Duties and power of office (even if perhaps not the title) held by the Kings of Rome
712 BC - Numa Marcius

509 BC - Papirius

449 BC - Quintus Furius
431 BC - Cornelius Cossus
420 BC - Spurius Minucius[35][36]
390 BC - Follius Flaccinator

332 BC - Cornelius Callissa
304 BC - Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, possibly Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus

254 BC - Tiberius Coruncanius
243 BC - Lucius Caecilius Metellus (d. 221 BC), resigned or removed from office circa 237 BC.
237 BC - Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus (d. ca 213 BC)
212 BC - Publius Licinius Crassus Dives (d. 183 BC),
183 BC - Gaius Servilius Geminus (d. 180 BC), possibly Gaius Servilius C.f. Geminus
180 BC - Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (d. 152 BC)
152 BC - Vacant
150 BC - Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum (d. 141 BC)
141 BC - Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio (d. 132 BC Pergamum, Asia Minor)
132 BC - Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus (killed in battle 131 BC, Asia Minor)
130 BC - Publius Mucius Scaevola (d. 115 BC or 113 BC)
115 BC - Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus,
103 BC - Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (d. 88 BC)
89 BC - Quintus Mucius Scaevola Pontifex (murdered 82 BC in the Temple of Vesta)
81 BC - Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius (d. ca 63 BC)
63 BC - Gaius Julius Caesar (d. 44 BC)
44 BC - Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, triumvir (d. 13 BC),
6 March 12 BC - Augustus
12 BC to AD 376 - Held by the Emperors



Would these folks have been something like the Masons, combining (originally) certain technical skills with a set of religious beliefs? Interesting.

Right, chris. I meant using the title in a Christian/papal context.

What about the origin of the title Brother, when did it first appear?

Chris, in all fairness on this, I don’t find the charge that the Pope adopted a title that was used by pagan emperors a fair critique on your part. For one, it is obvious that it is not used in a pagan context. It is wrong ecclesiastically because the Pope is not the supreme bishop of the Church on earth. However, that doesn’t make it “pagan.” Secondly, adopting pagan titles in and of itself is not wrong. It would only be wrong if it were used to promote a pagan religion. To the best of my knowledge, the Pontiff has never led worship to Sol Invictus.

My point is that I believe there was an Apostasy from the original Church of Christ established by Jesus and the apostles. I have a great respect and love for the Catholic members, but it is clear that the Catholic Church originated from a combination of Christianity as well as Greek, Roman, Pagan philosophies. The doctrines and church structure completely changed from what Jesus had originally established. We can see evidence of this everywhere. Pontifex Maximus is just one example of how many Roman traditions infiltrated the church and changed it to what it is now.

Jesus came to restore the true gospel to the Jews who had changed the original truths into something completely different. The Sadducees, Pharisees and others claimed they had the original true gospel from Moses. Helenism and Greek Philosophy had changed many things. Even after Christ, the Stoics and Epicureans had overtaken Rome with false Christian ideas that originated with Greek Philosophers like Aristotle.

I believe as in every dispensation in the past since Adam, the gospel had to be restored in its fulness. And with every new dispensation with a true prophet comes new scripture.

Actually the question on this thread is much ado about nothing. All religions come with titles, categories and ranks. It is a matter of what you call them. It is rather foolhardy to make a big deal about titles as that can be done to any religion if one wants to.

I agree with this comment.

The decision to adopt the old title was an example of extremely bad taste (I would argue that it ought to be, as quietly as possible, dropped), but it does not reflect a mixing of pagan and Christian religion

The claim of mixing philosophy into religion is a whole 'nother interesting subject but that is not relevant to the use of this title.

‘Pope’ means pappa. There is the Pope of Alexandria and another one in Rome. Catholic sources I recall reading long ago (sorry, I don’t have a link, it was a book long before the internet) indicated that at one time ‘pope’ was used to address common priests, but has long since become reserved to the bishop of Rome (and as it happens also Alexandria).

It’s pretty much a bait thread.

It was tempting to bite had it not been so transparent. An old native maxim I used to hear as a little kid - Let a fool dies by his own tool.

Christ, I find this comment of yours entirely disingenuous. You are Mormon. You are polytheistic, believing in thousands of gods. And you would honestly expect anyone to take your criticism of Rome as pagan seriously?

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