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The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2018


The pope is currently the leader of the Catholic Church throughout the world. Early popes spread Christianity as well as doctrines of the Catholic Church, although using different tactics and means opposed to normal ways. The Roman Church converted the Roman Emperor as well as other European countries into the pope’s secular kingdom. The popes therefore acted as both spiritual leaders and earthly kings.

How and why the Papacy in Rome became the center power

Emperor Constantintine’s declaration of Christianity as state religion in the former Roman Emperor became the foundation of the Papacy in the Roman Catholic Church. Thus the church that had previously had a humble beginning became the most powerful institution in the Roman Emperor.

However, the early church leaders were eventually replaced by ambitious individuals who wanted to exercise their power and control over the church and the people. When Constantine became Roman’s emperor, he moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople which is today referred to as Istanbul.

As a result, the bishop of Rome surfaced into limelight since the emperor no longer operated from Rome. Thus, he became the most important figure in Rome; in other words, he became the center of power in Rome since the city represented the center of the mighty Roman Emperor. Even though the city was not the Roman government’s headquarters, its prestige still continued.

During this period, there were five major districts referred to as Patriarchates, with each ruled by a church leader who was known as a patriarch.

The districts included Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria. At the start, all the patriarchs were regarded as equally important; however, with time, the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople turned out to be the most powerful in the emperor. Strong rivalry existed between these two most powerful patriarchs for many years over who was the most eminent. In AD 606, the emperor decided to bring the rivalry to an end, and an imperial edict granted the pre-eminence to Rome.

With time, the Roman Bishop acquired so much prestige that he became less satisfied with being appointed by the emperor, which had been the norm since the declaration of Christianity as a state religion. The then Roman bishop then proclaimed that his appointed was directly from God, and therefore he was the vicar of God, meaning that he represented God on earth. Thus, the Roman bishop was no longer appointed by the emperor; instead, he was elected by cardinals.

Factors that contributed to the dominance of the Roman Papacy over Western Europe

In the 4th and 5th centuries, tribes from northern Europe who were regarded as pagans and mostly Germanic consistently attacked Rome, and this finally led to the collapse of the Roman Emperor. However, these tribes on entering Rome after having conquered the Roman Emperor were attracted to the Roman Church especially by the magnificent cathedrals, the powerful and wealthy priest, as well as, imposing rituals. Accordingly, these tribes that had conquered the Roman Emperor felt at the feet for the priests.

The reputation of the Roman bishop regarding his authority as well as sanctity reminded the barbarians of their druids. This was mainly because the bishop had claimed that he was the vicar of God. Soon, the authority as well as power of the Roman bishop extended over parts of Western Europe, making him become the father of nations (pope) that had been conquered by the Roman Church. After having claimed to be vicar of God, the pope now declared himself the bishops of bishops.

This occurred in the 6th century. The pope now became a king over earthly kingdoms, and in effect, a large territory around the emperor of Rome became under the control of the pope. He was not satisfied with being the spiritual leader or the earthly king of these nations that the Roman Church had conquered. The Roman Church therefore sought to increase its control over the world, making Rome the center of power.

The dominance of the Roman Papacy over the larger part of Western Europe was largely contributed by the kings’ superstitious fear of the Catholic Pope as well as his power and wealth. The pope therefore began by wresting from the kings the power as well as the right to appoint the clergy in the kingdoms or countries they represented.

The superstitious fear for the pope’s eternal damnation prevented the kings from resisting against the pope. The supremacy of the papacy peaked around Western Europe until the period of reformation. This, the pope achieved with the aid of nobles who had also feared that they could be destroyed by the Church if they resisted, and so they helped build the Roman Emperor.

The six-century rule and control by the Roman Papacy was also attributed by the brilliance of the popes who ruled during the period. The pope always provided what the masses desired. Whenever the masses wished for salvation without sanctification or to keep their sins, the pope always offered that. If he felt that the masses desired outward rituals in place of inward sincerity, he allowed it.

In addition, the Papacy backed kings who were the likely winners. The Roman papacy also used bribery, excommunication, pomp, as well as, burning whenever he deemed it necessary to survive. By and large, the Roman Papacy founded his dominion on persecution of those who opposed him, his views, and doctrines or did not regard him as the vicar of God.

Negative ramifications of the Roman Papacy

The Roman Church continued with persecutions to instill his authority and power across the Roman Emperor and territories. The popes declared themselves as the only ones who had exclusive rights to interpret the Word of God, and therefore, they killed anyone who disagreed with them and confiscated their properties. As a result, thousands of innocent people were wrongly accused by greedy priests in order to acquire their properties. The church owned much land across Europe.

The Roman Papacy greatly hindered the progress in literacy that had begun in the regions that the popes ruled. Very few people could read, and any scholar who had acquired literacy in the ancient languages risked being branded a heretic.

This could even lead to persecution since knowing how to read meant that the individual could interpret the bible to the pope’s subjects. Even the popes themselves could hardly read, and the colleges instituted by the church did not impart proper literacy skills. As a result, priests were reduced to ritual performers since they could not even convey the simplest biblical message.

The Roman Papacy also encouraged the worship of idols. Throughout Europe, there were religious objects which people bowed to and respected as religious beings. Holiness in the Roman Emperor and throughout Western Europe involved prostrating oneself before objects which were treated as religious images. The popes also commanded that everyone under their control had to subscribe to what they believed in. They therefore prescribed to their subjects what to believe.

Within the Roman Church, church leaders scrambled for power and money. Each person who held a higher post within the church collected money from his juniors. Money became the most important thing in the Roman Church.

During this period, service fee was charged on activities such as blessing of marriages, anointing of the dead, dedication of homes, baptism of infants, as well as, offering of masses during burials. The church also sold indulgences, which people were made to believe that could shorten their period of suffering in Purgatory and so they paid money for that. Each service had its right price. The church therefore became a massive spiritual market.

The clergy, especially the priests did a lot of evil. Since they were protected by the Roman Papacy, they kept mistresses and frequently visited brothels.

Positive ramifications of the Roman Papacy

Although the Roman Papacy has been accused of having committed many evils, there were positive ramifications attributed to the reign of the papacy. During this period, the church freed itself from the worldly rule. It gained independence from the government and rulers of nations and kingdoms. Up to date, the pope, cardinals and clergy are not appointed by heads of governments or administrative levels any more. Elected church officials no longer pledged their allegiance to the king or ruler, but to the temporal power.

During the same period, the Roman Papacy introduced the idea of crusades. The first pope to come up with the idea was Gregory VII, and was later expanded by his successors. It later became a disgrace if one failed to join a crusade. Thousands of people including men, women, as well as, children attended crusades without any preparation believing that God would provide for them.

Although most of these crusades were inspired by the need to free the Holy Land and Jerusalem from the Turks and the Muslims and therefore involved massacre, most people who later joined the crusades, had sincere religious motives. Again, the crusades helped create relationship between the western and eastern world. This became the foundation of Renaissance.


The period of Roman Papacy was a time of political as well as religious chaos and corruption. The Roman popes had the power to exercise excessive authority over the people, and survived by instilling fear into the people and rulers that they were the vicar of God. Therefore, anybody who went against their word faced the consequences as they desired.

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"The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy." IvyPanda, 18 Oct. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/the-rise-of-the-roman-catholic-papacy/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy." October 18, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-rise-of-the-roman-catholic-papacy/.


IvyPanda. "The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy." October 18, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-rise-of-the-roman-catholic-papacy/.


IvyPanda. 2018. "The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy." October 18, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-rise-of-the-roman-catholic-papacy/.


IvyPanda. (2018) 'The Rise of the Roman Catholic Papacy'. 18 October.

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