Friday, September 25, 2015

Should I know what a pope is?

We are in full pope mania.

I was in a hotel lobby eating breakfast when I saw the news cover a full ten minutes of the zoomed-in shot of the pope talking with someone.  Now, I like the guy.  He has a lot of good work to immerse himself in, but this is a lot of attention for one guy which made me ask myself:

"Should we all know what a pope is?"

Here is my twenty-second quick history of what a pope is:

The word pope comes from a Greek word pappas which means 'father.'  In the early years after the resurrection of Christ, it was illegal to be a Christian and people who identified with Jesus were in some cases tortured and killed.  Despite the abuse, there were communities of believers that emerged from all over the world.  These communities looked to certain leaders in their area that helped people remember the legacy of Jesus and stay strong in their faith.  The official title of these leaders was Bishop but they were also referred to as pappas (or popes).

So the word 'pope' started off as not being a super-special title.  It just meant someone who was going to watch out for you in your faith.

Now, the Bishop of Rome was always regarded as a special Bishop because he was seen as the direct descendent of Peter the disciple.  Peter led the church in Rome and was eventually martyred there on an upside-down cross.  So people who came after Peter were always seen as something special - imagine Rome being the flagship of early Christianity and the leader there as someone who was directly descended from Peter (who the Gospels arguably depict as being the cornerstone of the church).

But then everything changes . . .

In the early 300's a ruler came to power in Rome that made the religion of Christianity legal.  No more torture (certain Roman emperors would roll Christians in tar and set them on fire alive to light their gardens at night).  No more martyrdom (Roman citizens would come to the Coliseum to watch Christians be devoured by wild beasts).  With their newfound freedom, Christian leaders met in a series of councils to make sure they were all in agreement as to what Christianity should look like.

They didn't always agree.

When they disagreed it seemed that the Bishop of Rome was able to intervene and help the two sides to come to agreement.  In fact, this happened enough to grant the title Pontifex Maximus to the Bishop of Rome (the great bridge-builder - it is a term stolen from pagan Rome).  This title as well as the earlier title of Pope evolved into a certain kind of prestige.  Pope became less of a 'dad' idea that evoked a protective image of regional Bishops and more of an official title that suited the leader of all the Bishops.  So around 1,000 AD it was made formal that the word "Pope" would only be used of the Bishop of Rome as a sort of "President" of the church.

You can kind of guess how a house-based and faith-centered movement lost it's way as it turned into this huge corporate enterprise.  But that is beyond this article.  We can only pray that this Pope helps it to return to its roots.

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