What does the word ‘pope’ mean and when did it start to be used?


What does the word ‘pope’ mean?

The word comes from the  Latin ‘papa’ and means ‘father’. This is why we refer to the pope as ‘holy father’.

When did the title start to be used?

In the early history of the Catholic Church, any bishop might have used the title ‘papa’, but gradually the title became used only by the bishop of Rome. It was in the 11th century that it became the official title of the bishop of Rome, that is to say, the pope!

The earliest example of an inscription referring to the bishops of Rome with the title of pope is to be found in the catacombs of St Callixtus (or Callisto) on the outskirts of Rome. The catacombs are named after St Callixtus, who lived in the third century after Jesus Christ. St Callixtus was appointed by the then pope Zephyrinus to look after the catacombs, and inside the miles of  galleries of tombs that have been carved into the ground, many early martyrs are buried, including St Cecilia, who was venerated there for five centuries until her body was moved to a basilica built in honour of her. This underground cemetery was also the official burial place of the popes, with nine popes buried there, dating back to the third century.



July 14, 2013. General pope facts.

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