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The Rise of the Papacy Analytical Essay

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Updated: Aug 8th, 2019

The church in Rome was just one of the many churches that were all over the Roman Empire. In 70 AD, however, the destruction of Jerusalem by the army of Titus meant that Rome was the new political as well as cultural capital of the empire.

Since many roads led to Rome and many people travelled there was a concentration of cultures and more so missionaries to a point where Christianity adopted Rome as its home base after the destruction of Jerusalem. This led to the growth of the roman church which warranted its respect especially due to its moral and doctrinal probity.

This strengthened its influence on the political class to a point where emperors like Constantine adopted Christianity and professed the faith openly. This led to the church, which had lived as a lonely entity outside the ruling class, enjoyed an imperial embrace.

With the moving of the roman political capital to Constantinople by the emperor Constantine, the bishop was left in Rome1. The bishop of Rome took over the title of the Pope due to the influence that the church had on the leadership of Rome at the time.

After the Roman Empire fell to the barbarians in 455 AD, the power of the bishop in Rome had grown immensely so as to fill the vacuum of leadership that was left. The church became the defender of order as well as the provider of justice.

With the invasions that were rampant all over the empire, which marked the end of the pax romana, the unity and stability of the people had been shattered and it was upon the church to restore this sense of unity and stability as well as the confidence of the people.

Pope Leo the Great was of particular importance in the rise of papacy as he not only convinced the barbarians not to destroy the city of Rome, he also coaxed the emperor Valentinian into recognizing the authority of the bishop of Rome officially which led to the issuance of an edict by the emperor that proclaimed the papal supremacy of the bishop.

The reason behind the strength of the papacy in Rome lies in the nature of its authority. The first issues that were raised in regard to the authority of the Pope, was the suggestion that the bishop of Rome was a direct successor of St. Peter.

This was later followed by the fact that Jesus had given St. Peter authority over the whole Christian church hence his successor also had to exercise authority over the church. Siriciuos was the first to impose the name Pope on himself and he served the church between 384 AD and 399 AD.

He was also the first to issue a ruling that had a binding legal precedent on church dispute. This made the title of the Pope to be associated with supreme ecclesiastical authority, which held pastoral guidance over all the churches and Christians in general.

Before Siricious, Damasus I had already been recognized by the roman authority in Constantinople when the heresies of Apollinarianism as well as Arianism were condemned by the roman authorities after he had condemned them. He had also commissioned the use of the Latin Vulgate in the translation of the Bible and this was followed throughout the following centuries.

There was the general belief that Leo the Great was the first Pope among the non-Christians as he was the first to exercise the misinterpretation of Mathew 16:18 to acquire some form of biblical support for his great authority.

In the eighth century the ‘donation of Constantine’ was made public. This publication contained the last words of Emperor Constantine that he said on his death bed and it proclaimed that he had ceded all the land as well as the authority of Rome to the Pope.

This exalted the position so much that the period that followed, between 897 and 955 was characterized by a total of 17 Popes. This was due to the corruption by power that the bishops of the time had. There was also the breach of the fundamental foundations of papacy such as clerical celibacy, where some of the men bribed to be ordained, some married and some kept concubines. This phenomenon is recorded in the Bible in Revelation 2:6, 14 and 15.

The dominance of Western Europe was mainly characterized by the rise of monarchs. At this period the Pope would crown kings which led to the establishment of the Papal States. This was mainly informed by need to obtain protection as well as support in case of aggression by the barbarians against Rome.

It is important to note that at this time, the Pope had total control over Rome, both as a Christian leader and as a political ruler, and any invasion of Rome meant that the authority of the Pope was being challenged2. An English Benedict monk by the name of Boniface was responsible for the crowning Pepin the short as the king of the Franks with approval from the Pope.

He had been ordained as bishop after his great mission to preach Christianity to the Franks who are now referred to as the Germans. He went ahead to establish monasteries in the land and this earned him a lot of trust from the Frankish rulers.

This led to a close relationship between the papacy and the Franks such that when the barbarians threatened to invade Rome, king Pepin protected Rome and even went ahead to give the Pope a strip of land in Italy which then made the office of the Pope a territorial ruler. This arrangement would continue for a while and it also instilled the totalitarian power of the church over states.

In 1296, however, during the reign of Pope Boniface, the Pope threatened to excommunicate anyone who dared to tax the church3. This being a period of military activity most kings were running out of resources to fund their huge armies and were therefore looking for other sources of income.

King Edward I of England and king Philip of France were not happy about this threat and king Phillip went ahead to put an embargo on the export of jewels from his territory. This affected the Pope’s resources and he therefore withdrew the threat of excommunication.

This created doubt among the people on the authority of the pope and later in 1301 the declaration by Boniface that all human beings were subject to the roman pope, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. King Philip resolved to depose the pope by claiming that he had been elected illegally and on grounds of immorality, heresy as well as simony.

Several churches joined in and King Philip’s troops went ahead to hold the pope prisoner in his hometown of Anagni in the Apennine Mountains for three days before he was rescued by his people. The people of Anagni escorted him back to Rome where he died a few weeks later. This marked the first open rejection of the pope and his spiritual dominance by the people, especially by the monarchies of Western Europe.

The rise of papacy was characterized by some positive as well as negative ramifications. Among the positive aspects was the unification of Europe especially after the Roman Empire had fallen. The pope was able to extend the same spirit of the pax romana through at a smaller scale considering that he was under the constant threat of invasions by the barbarians.

There was also the spread of Christianity which contributed to the installation of Christian morals in the roman laws. This ensured that the societies in Rome adopted the teaching of Jesus and were holier than before. Missionaries were now allowed to travel all over the empire to spread the word as well as establish churches and monasteries.

The negative ramifications on the other hand, were specifically disastrous to the Christian belief. The assumption of secular leadership by the bishops exposed the church to scrutiny especially where the church had to give rulings that contradicted the Bible and its teachings, for instance, in cases of executions.

The later rejection of the pope especially in the Western Monarchies also served to weaken the church and the Christian faith.


Ferguson, Everett. “Baptism in the early church: history, theology, and liturgy in the first five centuries”. Journal of Religious Studies Review 36 issue 1, (2010): 81-93. Web.

Nicole, Roger R. “The Canon of the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 2 (2002): 199-206. Web.

Verlag, Franz-Steiner. .Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (1993). Web.


1 Verlag, Franz-Steiner. The evidence of the conversion of to Christianity: book 16 of the theodosian code. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (1993). 68.

2 Everett Ferguson. “Baptism in the early church: history, theology, and liturgy in the first five centuries”. Journal of Religious Studies Review. Volume 36, issue 1, (2010). 71.

3 Roger, R. Nicole. “The Canon of the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 2 (2002): 134.

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