Where Did the Papacy Come From?

Among the many differences that Catholics have with Christians of other denominations, there is likely none greater than the pope. A symbol of Catholicism itself, the papacy is easily the most recognizable, distinguishable, and controversial aspect of our faith, offering us a sense of identity against all other Christians. Interestingly enough, it is the only part of our faith that we can claim solely as our own; while we may debate with others on things like the Eucharist, Mary, moral theology, and scripture, every one of our beliefs, except the papacy, is shared with at least one other tradition. It is, in a way, what defines us as Catholics.

Which is both affirming and startling at the same time.

As a Catholic, I find the papacy to be not only an authentic gift from Jesus but also a necessary aspect of effective leadership. I can’t imagine a Church without a head. And yet, I also know that the history of the papacy is long and varied, developed over time, and does not look anything today like it did in the early Church.

And yet, it leaves us with many unresolved questions. Is the papacy truly the most important part of our fait or simply the most different? Why, in a world with over a billion Christians, are we the only ones who accept this doctrine? How are we to work for Christian unity when this issue stands as such a divisive determiner of identity?

This was the motivation for this week’s Catholicism in Focus: Where Did the Papacy Come From? For something as important and controversial as the papacy, it would seem to be in our best interest to know where the doctrine comes from and why we continue to hold to it.

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