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Pope (Catholic Church)
Coat of arms of the Holy See
Coat of Arms of the Holy See.
Saint Peter and the origin of the office
Election, death and abdication
Residence and jurisdiction
Regalia and insignia
Status and authority
Political role
Objections to the papacy
Other popes
Longest-reigning popes
Shortest-reigning popes
Article discussion


Styles of
The Pope
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style NA

Official list of titles

The official list of titles of the Pope, in the order in which they are given in the Annuario Pontificio, is: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.[1]

The official list of titles does not include all the titles that are officially used.


The best-known title of the Popes, that of "Pope", does not appear in the official list, but is commonly used in the titles of documents, and appears, in abbreviated form, in their signatures. Thus Pope Paul VI signed as "Paulus PP. VI", the "PP." standing for "Papa" ("Pope").

The title "Pope" was from the early third century an honorific designation used for any bishop in the West.[2] In the East it was used only for the Bishop of Alexandria.[2] Pope Marcellinus (d. 304) is the first Bishop of Rome shown in sources to have had the title "Pope" used of him. From the 6th century, the imperial chancery of Constantinople normally reserved this designation for the Bishop of Rome.[2] From the early sixth century it began to be confined in the West to the Bishop of Rome, a practice that was firmly in place by the eleventh century,[2] when Pope Gregory VII declared it reserved for the Bishop of Rome.

In Eastern Christianity, where the title "pope" is used also of the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Rome is often referred to as the "Pope of Rome", regardless of whether the speaker or writer is in communion with Rome or not.

Vicar of Peter and Vicar of Christ

Early bishops occupying the See of Rome were designated "Vicar of Peter", indicating that they were successors of Saint Peter, the "Prince of the Apostles" or leader of the apostolic Church. The Roman Missal uses this title in its prayers for a dead Pope.[3]

The designation "Vicar of Christ" was first used of a Pope by the Roman Synod of 495 with reference to Pope Gelasius I. But for long after this the stable designation for the Popes was "Vicar of Peter", while "Vicar of Christ" was a title used by the Roman Emperors of the East.[4]

Much earlier, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) used the phrase "Vicar of Christ" of the Holy Spirit with regard to the Spirit's role of maintaining in the Church the teaching given by the apostles:

"Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, ... grant also that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,— is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith?"[5]

He also referred to the Holy Spirit as the "Vicar of the Lord":

"For what kind of (supposition) is it, that, while the devil is always operating and adding daily to the ingenuities of iniquity, the work of God should either have ceased, or else have desisted from advancing? whereas the reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete was, that, since human mediocrity was unable to take in all things at once, discipline should, little by little, be directed, and ordained, and carried on to perfection, by that Vicar of the Lord, the Holy Spirit."[6]

It was only from the time of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) that the title, which has no legal definition or juridical significance, was used stably of the Popes.[4] For the Catholic Church, all bishops are vicars of Christ.[7]

Supreme Pontiff and Pontifex Maximus

The term "Supreme Pontiff" (Summus Pontifex) or, more completely, "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis) is one of the official titles of the Pope.

Inscriptions on buildings and coins often use the Latin title "Pontifex Maximus", which is not to be confused with "Summus Pontifex". The title "Pontifex Maximus" dates back to the early years of the Roman Republic. Beginning with Julius Caesar, it was associated with the Roman Emperors, until Gratian (359–383), under the influence of Saint Ambrose, formally renounced the title. It is commonly found in inscriptions on buildings erected in the time of a particular Pope and on coins and medals of his reign, and is usually abbreviated as "Pont. Max." or "P.M." The phrase literally means "Greatest Pontiff", but is often interpreted as "Supreme Pontiff", which is instead a literal translation of "Summus Pontifex".

Servant of the Servants of God

The title "Servant of the Servants of God", although used by Church leaders including St. Augustine and St. Benedict, was first used by Pope St. Gregory the Great in his dispute with the Patriarch of Constantinople after the latter assumed the title "Ecumenical Patriarch". It was not reserved for the pope until the thirteenth century. The documents of the Second Vatican Council reinforced the understanding of this title as a reference to the pope's role as a function of collegial authority, in which the Bishop of Rome serves the world's bishops.

Patriarch of the West

From 1863 until 2005, the Annuario Pontificio included also the title "Patriarch of the West". This title was first used by Pope Theodore I in 642, and was only used occasionally. Indeed, it did not begin to appear in the pontifical yearbook until 1863. On 22 March 2006, the Vatican released a statement explaining this omission on the grounds of expressing a "historical and theological reality" and of "being useful to ecumenical dialogue". The title Patriarch of the West symbolized the pope's special relationship with, and jurisdiction over, the Latin Church—and the omission of the title neither symbolizes in any way a change in this relationship, nor distorts the relationship between the Holy See and the Eastern Churches, as solemnly proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.[8]

Other titles

Other titles commonly used are "His Holiness", "Holy Father". In Spanish and Italian, "Beatísimo/Beatissimo Padre" (Most Blessed Father) is often used in preference to "Santísimo/Santissimo Padre" (Most Holy Father). In the medieval period, "Dominus Apostolicus" ("the Apostolic Lord") was also used.


As indicated above, a Pope normally signs documents using the title "Papa" in the abbreviated form "PP." and with the numeral, as in "Benedictus PP. XVI" (Pope Benedict XVI). Exceptions are bulls of canonization and decrees of ecumenical councils, which the Pope signs with the formula, "Ego N. Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae", without the numeral, as in "Ego Paulus Episcopus Ecclesiae catholicae" (I, Paul, Bishop of the catholic/universal Church).[9] The Pope's signature is followed, in bulls of canonization, by those of all the cardinals resident in Rome, and in decrees of ecumenical councils, by the signatures of the other bishops participating in the council, each signing as Bishop of a particular see.

Papal bulls are headed N. Episcopus Servus Servorum Dei ("Name, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God"). In general, they are not signed by the Pope, but Pope John Paul II introduced in the mid-1980s the custom by which the Pope signs not only bulls of canonization but also, using his normal signature, such as "Benedictus PP. XVI", bulls of nomination of bishops.

  1. Annuario Pontificio, published annually by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p. 23*. ISBN of the 2009 edition: 978-88-209-8191-4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Pope
  3. Liturgical Notes and Resource Materials for Use upon the Death of a Pope
  4. 4.0 4.1 New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: Study Edition By John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph) Green, Thomas J. Green, Canon Law Society of America, p. 432
  5. Prescription Against the Heretics, Chapter 28)
  6. Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins, Chapter 1)
  7. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 27
  8. Communiqué concernant la suppression du titre «Patriarche d’Occident» dans l'Annuaire pontifical 2006
  9. Classic Encyclopedia: Curia Romana

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