The Rise of the Papacy

Papacy: Center of Power in Rome

In the second century, various Christian elders received respect that was proportionate to the rank of the city in which they were residents. Being the most powerful city in the world, that was both the richest and largest city of the time, Rome was viewed as the queen of the Imperial Roman Empire (Berean Beacon Ministries 2015). This elevated status ensured that Rome remained politically esteemed among the cities of the world even after the barbarian nations overthrew and took leadership of the Roman Empire. In later centuries the Barbarian leadership that had overthrown the Western Roman Empire, gave way to Papacy, which rose gradually to claim the central position politically. This gradual process began with Catholic bishops from the various parts of the Western Roman Empire perceiving and carrying themselves as being superior to ordinary elders and instead pledged allegiance to Catholic bishops in Rome (Berean Beacon Ministries 2015).

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Between the third and the fifth centuries, what had started as a simple pledge of allegiance evolved to the point where Bishops in Rome felt it was their right to assume leadership and as such demanded submission of the other bishops from the other parts of the empire (Bennett n.d.). Incidentally, it was also between the third and the fifth centuries that churches saw the growth of ritualism in churches, which was characterized more by ceremonialism as opposed to spreading the gospel and facilitating the conviction of the Holy Spirit on worshippers (Rosa 1988). Over time, the ruling clergy, based on their newly developed rituals and ceremonies organized themselves into a hierarchy with priests taking on more responsibilities besides the core duties of a priest: mediating between men and God. As the fifth century came to an end, it saw priests and ministers of the Gospel organized around the Bishop of Rome who had become the most powerful individual (Stark 1996).

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As the Catholic Church became an institution heavily dominated by hierarchy the Bishop’s power continued to increase as that of the Emperor declined from imperial power. The office of the Pope came about organically from the sixth century as the Bishop’s power and prestige continued to advance. This process received great political impetus from endorsements by Emperors such Emperor Justinian, Emperor Valentinian III and Emperor Theodosius 11 who revered the bishop and published decrees that identified the bishop as the rector of the whole church (Stark 1996). The title of ‘Pope’ was therefore associated with power and prestige and befitted the person who was the Bishop of Rome.

In the eighth century Papacy was propelled to new heights when Sylvester; the Bishop of Rome at the time, was bequeathed great spiritual power, authority and a lot of property by the then Emperor Constantine (Berean Beacon Ministries 2015). This contentious transfer of imperial power and authority from the Emperor to the Bishop was characterized by an inheritance so vast and full of splendor that was documented in an otherwise spurious document dubbed the ‘Donation of Constantine’. In addition to being bestowed with all the glory, all the dignity and all the authority of the imperial power, the Bishop of Rome, also referred to as the holy Pontiff and his successors were freely gifted the palace of the Lateran, all the western cities of Italy, and the city of Rome (Bennett n.d.). This deed of gift was often cited impressively, applied as a code and people were forced to believe it. There was no room to question its genuineness or point out its inconsistencies as those who refused to believe its legitimacy were faced with the punishment of death through burning.

It was from this authority that Popes, such as Pope Nicholas, were able to command territories and demand submissions from princes and bishops (Bennett n.d.). This unchecked power possessed by the Popes soon became corrupting, rendering the Papacy one of the most disorderly institutions in Italy (Rosa 1988). Politically the Papacy became a strong powerhouse that was fought over like a possession by the most powerful families of Italy (Bennett n.d.).

Factors that Contributed to Papacy’s Dominance of Western Europe

The split between the Latin Church and the Greek Church in the tenth century over ritualistic and doctrinal difference, to some degree buoyed Papacy especially in the political scen (Stark 1996)e. The transfer of imperial power from the Emperor to the Bishop of Rome is one of the most significant factors that contributed to the dominance of Papacy in Western Europe because it changed the political terrain by making the Pope more powerful than a Roman Emperor (Stark 1996). The fact that the Latin Church was well organized into an institution with a hierarchical system that commanded great power and facilitated a detailed belief system as the mediator between God and man is another factor that contributed to the dominance of Papacy (Stark 1996).

The church’s earlier connection with the apostles who came after the era of Jesus is also a significant factor that contributed to the dominance of Papacy as it lend credibility to the Latin Church making the institution overly popular among the people. People believed that the Papal office descended directly from Peter, the apostle appointed by Jesus to be the head of the church and thus recognized the Roman Catholic Church as the first authentic church in the empire. To cement this notion, Pope Damasus used the utterings of Jesus from Matthew chapter 16 verse 18 “And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Bennett n.d.). This Bible verse formed the foundation of the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church was established by the Apostles.

The Positive and Negative Ramifications of Papacy

The existence of the Papacy can be explained based on a theological rationale and a philosophical rationale. Philosophically, the Papacy as an authority expected to rule influenced the creation of social conditions that promoted human excellence at both the collective and individual levels. The Papacy as the head and leadership of the Roman Catholic Church played and continues to play a significant role in shaping global politics (Mansueto 2005). During the rule of the barbarians’ government, Christian conversions and the Church influenced governance by giving guidance to the leadership, which resulted in changes in government and consequently changes in people’s lives. The monastic ideals advanced by the Papacy had a positive impact on society and in particular the western civilization since monasteries also served as schools and the monks were educators who preserved literature and transmitted knowledge and information. In addition to this, the monks were disciplined, hardworking, and responsible for the growth and development of practices such as Agriculture and animal husbandry. The Church played an important role in the preservation of literature and the arts especially during the middle ages when there was a significant decline in all the arts. Through theatre performances, usually of dramatized stories from the Bible, literature, art, theatre, and other forms of art were preserved and passed down to the next generations. After the Roman Catholic Church was bestowed with so much power, the power began to corrupt the bishops after a while arrogance and other such inconsistencies bred disorder in the institution. According to Mansueto (2005), the imperfections of the papacy were as a result of difficulties in sustaining the autonomy needed to balance between the political powers required to influence the political arena globally and defend society against unjust social structures. To succeed in fulfilling the mandate of the church, the Roman Catholic Church is in desperate need of evolving into an institution that can hold authorities in the public sphere accountable before the court of natural law (Mansueto 2005). The heavy and narrow reliance on the papacy by the Church as a political power and a guarantor of the Church’s autonomy has proved unsustainable in the long term. The inherent problems and weaknesses found in papacy ought to be replaced by an institution that is strong both in leadership and in membership. Only when this is achieved can the Church succeed in their mandate to defend society from the ruling class and the unjust social structures they impose on people for their own benefit.

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