Last month the 266th (or there abouts) Pope was elected in time to celebrate the Easter services of Holy Week. He appears to be a break from tradition not just because he is the first non-European Pope (although I’m not sure it really counts as his father was Italian but perhaps it is one small step at time) but also because he seems to have a more common and human touch—wanting to be close to the people.
The origin of the word is Pope is from either the Latin ‘papa’ or the Greek ‘pappas’ - a child’s word for ‘father’. Initially the term was used for all bishops and senior clergy, it wasn’t until the 6th Century that the term was used solely for the Bishop of Rome.
The Catholic Church believe that the line of the Pope can be traced back to St Peter and that Peter was identified by Jesus to lead the church. There is written evidence that supports this from Church Father Irenaeus (AD180) and even earlier from Pope Clement (AD 96) who wrote to Rome about the persecution of Christian stating that its heroes were the good apostles Peter and Paul.
The Papacy has been no stranger to controversy over the years including a very interesting period of time between the 3rd and the mid 15th Century when there were ‘Antipopes’. Antipopes were individuals who claimed to be the Pope but who had not been official selected by the method of the day. It became so confusing at several points that it is now not clear who had the genuine, legitimate claim to be Pope with the result that there is not a definitive chronological list of Popes. The greatest of these is known as the western Schism which occurred in the 14th Century and involved the establishment of an alternative Papacy in Avignon, France.
The Church of England was formed out of the desire of Henry VIII have his marriage to wife number one (Katherine of Aragon) annulled. In 1521 Henry wrote a document referred to as the ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’ which showed that at this stage he was a devout catholic and supporter of Papal supremacy with the result that he was awarded the title of ‘defender of the faith’ by Pope Leo X. By 1527 he was asking for an annulment of his wedding and trying any number of underhand methods to persuade or trick the Pope into granting it.
By 1529 he had compiled information from a number of sources to support his new argument that the Pope did not have the authority to make such decisions and that the true spiritual supremacy rested with the monarch. A number of Acts and Statutes were produced by the Church in England which resulted in the effective removal of all of the Pope’s influence in 1534 by the ‘Act of Submission of the Clergy.’ Thus we as the Church of England were founded and the way was opened for Henry to lay claim to the considerable wealth of the Church. Since then we have been separate from the Catholic Church.
In the intervening years a number of things have happened to the Pope including the introduction of the concept of the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra ( literally from the Chair) and the establishment of the Vatican as an independent state.
It will be interesting to see how over the course of this Popes ministry the relationship between the Catholic Church and Church of England develops. It is important to remember that there is one fundamental similarity, the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died to save us all. May God Bless Pope Francis as he begins his ministry.