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Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that the apostle Peter was the first Pope. Exactly when did this occur?

I can imagine a few different options

  1. When Jesus addressed Peter in Matthew:

    I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19 NASB

  2. At the death of Christ

  3. At the resurrection of Christ
  4. At the reinstatement of Peter (John 21:15-17)
  5. At the Ascension of Jesus
  6. At Pentecost

So, that is the question. At what specific time did Peter become the first Pope? (I assume that this coincides with the point at which Peter received the keys of the kingdom of heaven as well.)

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I can't help but thinking "doctrine" is too strong a word for this question, but I know what you're asking. But, I think the answer is just "When he got to Rome". –  Peter Turner Apr 19 '13 at 5:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The birth of the Church was at Pentecost and Peter was definitely present and immediately made his presence felt as the vicar of Christ on Earth subsequent to the descent of the Holy Spirit on him and the other apostles and Our Lady in the upper room.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them,

Acts 2:14 NABRE


But, the Pope, is the Bishop of Rome and after Peter's marvelous martyrdom, St. Linus was chosen as the next leader.

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate.

St. Irenaeus - Against Heresies 3.1.3

and after him came Cletus and Clement etc... until Francis and the collapse of humanity as we know it.

Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself and so are you in this question.

I think the best sense to read some of what Jesus says to Peter is in the anagogical (eternal) sense. Jesus even talks about Peter's death before it happens. There's no reason to think He's not also going to talk about his ministry before it happens. And after Peter's death, a lot of sacred scripture would have very little meaning if it didn't also apply in a very real sense to today and until the (imminent) end of the world.

So, I think you're right on all the points you make about when Peter's ministry begins. When you want to call him Pope is up to you. If you're talking about when he was able to proclaim Ex Cathedra, keep in mind he didn't have a chair to proclaim from. And beyond that, even today, it's the Pope or the Pope in Communion with the Bishops, who make infallible magisterial teachings.

So, back then, Peter, Clement, John and James the less (as well as any other Apostles and Bishops in town) could have gotten together to figure out what to do with all the power they'd been given by Christ and all the trouble they were given by the emperors.

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Assuming you meant when St.Peter received his supremacy and not just becoming the bishop of Rome, I believe it is to be at the reinstatement of Peter (John 21:15-17). For this reason, this is also the gospel reading in an installation Mass of a new Pope.

When Jesus addressed Peter in Matthew 16:18-19, he was foretelling the Peter's supremacy. Moreover at that time Jesus was with them, so there was no need for a pope.

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In appendix 2 of Eusebius The Church History, the date for Peter as Bishop of Rome is c.60. The first reference to Peter being the first Bishop of Rome comes from a 3rd. cent. writing of St. Cyrian in Epistle 51:

"... when the place of Peter and the degree of the sacerdotal throne was vacant."

There seems to be no writing from the 2nd. cent. explicitly saying that Peter was the Bishop of Rome. When reading about Peter from later writers, it seems to be universally believed that He was the first Bishop of Rome, though no documents to prove it have survived. Later Bishops had central authority of the Church, and as they claim to be successor to Peter, it is inferred that Peter also had some central authority - the newer Bishops were just carrying on his tradition.

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The pope has several roles, which coincide nowadays but which St. Peter seems to have acquired at different times. Popes are (1) bishops of Rome, (2) vicars of Christ, (3) heads of the college of bishops (and perhaps additional roles that I'm not thinking of right now). There is some indication that St. Peter had role (3) already before Christ's ascension, in that Christ had promised to make him the rock on which the church is built, and that other apostles showed St. Peter a certain deference. (St. John arrived at Christ's tomb before St. Peter on Easter day but waited for St. Peter to go in first.) Role (2) doesn't make much sense before Christ's ascension; while Christ was still on earth in human form, He wouldn't need a vicar. St. Peter might have assumed role (2) immediately after the ascension, but it seems that he exercised it publicly only from Pentecost on. Finally, St. Peter assumed role (3) only later in his life, when he moved to Rome after having been at Jerusalem and Antioch (and maybe other sees that I don't know about).

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