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The First Popes

Since so much attention has been paid to the past (John Paul II) and present popes, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first Popes. So, here is what we know about the men who were Popes during the first one hundred years after Jesus. (Peter will not be covered since he is discussed in the book of Acts and I and II Peter.)

The Pope in today’s world is in spiritual head of all Catholics on the planet. Yet Peter, whom Catholics refer to as the first Pope, was not the spiritual head of all Christians in the Roman Empire. In fact, it wasn’t until Leo I (440-461) that the emperor recognized the bishop in Rome as the spiritual head of all the other bishops in the Roman world. Therefore, when looking at the records of the early church period, the word "Pope" is not used. So what we look for is the person who was Bishop of Rome. And that is easier to do. Yet for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to them as "Popes."

The source of information about the early bishops of Rome comes from papal lists from the second and later centuries. I have listed the Popes from AD 67, the year Peter died, to 136, a little more than 100 years after Jesus. (Sometimes a letter or book will mention the actions of someone but we have no way to check that with other evidence because no one else mentions it. This is referred to as "according to tradition." Therefore, if one book mentions an incident and it is found nowhere else, it is said to be "according to tradition"; we only have one piece of evidence to go on for that incident.)

Linus (67-78) According to tradition, Linus was appointed Pope by both Peter and Paul. Many scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome in the late 60’s, therefore Linus may have known Mark and even have seen the first copy of the Gospel of Mark. Also, a number of Jews revolted against the Romans in Israel in 66 and the Roman government sent an army to put down the revolution. Linus may have seen the troops leave and return. II Timothy 4:21 mentions a "Linus," but no one knows if it is the same or a different Linus.

Anacletus (79-91) Nothing is know about him other than his name on some lists.

Clement I (91-100) According to tradition, Clement was ordained by bishop by Peter, probably in the 60s. One letter of his does exist, called "Epistle to the Corinthians," although I have also seen it referred to as I Clement. It consists of fifty-nine "chapters," which are really paragraphs.

Evaristus (100-109) According to tradition, he (spiritually) divided the city of Rome into seven sections, each headed by a deacon or maybe presbyter.

Alexander I (109-116) Nothing is known about him other than his name on some lists.

Sixtus I (116-125) He passed the following ordinances: only ministers can touch sacred vessels; bishops who have been summoned to the Pope (apparently on disciplinary measures) may not return except with a letter from the Pope stating they may resume their duties in the diocese; and during the Mass the priest will recite a prayer with the people.

Telesphorus (125-136) All we know is that, when the church leaders were trying to decide whether to celebrate Easter on a Sunday or on Passover (no matter which day it was on), he celebrated Easter on Sunday without breaking with those who disagreed.

©2008 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com

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