The Papacy Is Not A Medieval Invention


One of the common misconceptions about the Catholic Church is the idea that the Papacy—the office of the Pope—is a medieval invention. Critics often argue that the role of the Pope as the head of the Church was a development of later centuries, not rooted in the original Christian community. This view could not be further from the truth.

As a Catholic scholar, I am bound to present this discussion grounded in official Church teaching and Sacred Scripture. The idea of the Papacy is deeply rooted in the earliest traditions of the Church and the Bible itself.

The Biblical Foundation of the Papacy

Peter: The Rock on Which the Church is Built

The most foundational text in the New Testament that speaks about the role of the Pope is in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus not only gives Simon the new name “Peter,” which means “rock,” but He also states that upon this “rock,” He will build His Church.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Peter’s role as the rock signifies his special mission and leadership within the apostolic community. “Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him” (CCC 552). This wasn’t a medieval invention but a designation made by Jesus Himself.

The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

In the same passage, Jesus also tells Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This authority of “binding and loosing” is a significant one and indicates the leadership role Peter—and by extension, his successors—would play in the Church.

The Catechism explicitly says, “The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (CCC 553). Again, this is not a later development but a foundational teaching rooted in Scripture.

The Historical Continuity of the Papacy

Apostolic Succession

The concept of Apostolic Succession is crucial in understanding that the Papacy is not a later invention. The apostles were aware that their mission would need to continue after them. They ordained bishops as their successors, who would have the same authority as they did. The first bishops, including Peter, were apostles, and their apostolic authority has been passed down through an unbroken chain.

Early Christian Writings

Early Christian writings outside the New Testament also affirm the special role of Peter and his successors. St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 2nd century, calls the Church of Rome “the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans” (Letter to the Romans, Prologue). Even in these early centuries, the Church of Rome—and its bishop—had a special role in the Christian community.

The Role of the Pope: The Universal Shepherd

Vicar of Christ

According to Catholic teaching, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. This means he acts in the place of Christ in governing the Church. The Catechism states, “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise” (CCC 882).


One of the misunderstood aspects of the Papacy is the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Many mistake it for a belief that the Pope can never err. However, the Catechism clarifies: “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals” (CCC 891). It is a specific condition and doesn’t imply that the Pope is infallible in all his actions or statements.


Far from being a medieval invention, the Papacy has its roots in the very beginnings of the Church and its teachings are sustained by Scripture and Tradition. From Peter, the rock upon which Christ built His Church, to his successors who carry the “keys to the kingdom,” the Papacy serves as a sign of unity and continuity in the Church, just as it has from the earliest days of Christianity.

It is important to understand this office in its proper historical and theological context. In doing so, one can better appreciate the unbroken line of faith that stretches back to the apostles themselves, a line guided by the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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