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The Pocket Guide to the Popes

The Pocket Guide to the Popes

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by Richard P. McBrien

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This pocket edition of Richard McBrien's acclaimed Lives of the Popes is a practical quick reference tool for scholars, students, and anyone needing just a few concise facts about all the popes, from St. Peter to Benedict XVI.


This pocket edition of Richard McBrien's acclaimed Lives of the Popes is a practical quick reference tool for scholars, students, and anyone needing just a few concise facts about all the popes, from St. Peter to Benedict XVI.

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“This short encyclopedia... is an indispensable reference.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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4.00(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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The Pocket Guide to the Popes

Chapter One

The Popes

1 Peter, Apostle, St.
Galilean,* d. ca. 64

Peter, Jesus' chief apostle, whom Catholic tradition regards as the first pope, was born in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. (The first succession lists, however, identified Linus, not Peter, as the first pope. Peter was not regarded as the first Bishop of Rome until the late second or early third century.)

That Peter was married and remained so even after becoming a disciple of Jesus is clear from the account of Jesus' healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) and from Paul's reference to the fact that Peter and the other apostles took their wives along on their apostolic journeys (1 Cor. 9:5). The pious belief that the apostles, including Peter, "put away" their wives once they received the call from Jesus has no historical basis. Rather, it arises from the mistaken and essentially unchristian assumption that celibacy is more virtuous than marriage because sexual intimacy somehow compromises one's total commitment to God and the things of the spirit.

Peter's Singular Role in the New Testament

Catholic tradition has regarded Peter as the first pope because of the special commission he received from Jesus Christ and because of his unique status and central role within the college of the twelve apostles. He was the first disciple to be called by Jesus (Matt. 4:18-19). He served as spokesman for the other apostles (Mark 8:29; Matt. 18:21; Luke 12:41; John 6:67-69). According to the tradition of Paul and Luke (1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:34), he was the firstto whom the Lord appeared after his Resurrection. Peter is also the most frequently mentioned disciple in all four Gospels and is regularly listed first among the Twelve (Mark 3:16-19; Matt. 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16). This latter point alongside others is of particular significance because, in the ancient world, respect and authority resided in the first of a line, the first born or the first chosen.

Peter's activities are not reported following the Council of Jerusalem, where he exercised an important, though not necessarily "papal," role in opening the mission of the Church to the Gentiles (Acts 15:7-12). Significantly, it was James, not Peter, who presided over the council and ratified its decisions. However, there is increasing agreement among historians and biblical scholars that Peter did go to Rome and was martyred there (by crucifixion, according to the North African theologian Tertullian [d. ca. 225]). However, there is no evidence that before his death Peter actually served the church of Rome as its first bishop, even though the "fact" is regularly taken for granted by a wide spectrum of Catholics and others. Indeed, there is no evidence that Rome even had a monoepiscopal form of ecclesiastical government until the middle of the second century. By the late second or early third century, however, Peter did become identified in tradition as the first Bishop of Rome. But tradition is not a fact factory. It cannot make something into a historical fact when it is not.

Peter and the Primacy

In the Catholic tradition, the biblical basis for associating the primacy with Peter is embodied in three texts: Matthew 16:13-19; Luke 22:31-32; and John 21:15-19. The fact that Jesus' naming of Peter as the "rock" occurs in three different contexts in these three Gospels raises a question about the original setting of the incident itself. Scholars are not sure if the naming occurred during Jesus' earthly ministry or after the Resurrection with what is called a subsequent "retrojection" into the accounts of Jesus' earthly ministry.

Scholars, however, point to a significant trajectory of images relating to Peter and his ministry as an independent basis for the primatial claims. He is spoken of as a fisherman (Luke 5:10; John 21:1-14), an occupation that, in fact, he and his brother Andrew had practiced; as the shepherd of Christ's sheep (John 21:15-17); as a Chris-tian martyr (John 13:36; 1 Pet. 5:1); as an elder who addresses other elders (1 Pet. 5:1); as a proclaimer of faith in Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:16-17); and, of course, as the rock on which the Church is to be built (Matt. 16:18).

Peter's unique importance as Jesus' first and chief disciple and as the leader of the college of the twelve apostles is clear enough. No pope in history has achieved his status, and it is no accident that none of the more than 260 individuals whom Catholic tradition regards as his successors have taken the name Peter II, including two whose own baptismal names were Peter (John XIV, elected in 983, and Sergius IV, elected in 1009). What can be said, however, about Peter's enduring significance for the papacy and for the Church itself?

Petrine Succession

History provides a long list of popes following Peter, beginning with Linus (ca. 66-ca. 78) and continuing into the twenty-first century and the beginning of the third Chris-tian millennium with such popes as Pius XII (1939-58), John XXIII (1958-63), Paul VI (1963-78), John Paul I (1978), John Paul II (1978-2005), and Benedict XVI (2005 ). Catholic tradition regards all of these popes as successors of Peter. In what sense are they his successors, and in what sense are they not?

In at least two of his apostolic roles, Peter could not have had successors: first, as the traditional cofounder with Paul of the Apostolic See of Rome; and, second, as one of the Twelve, who were personal witnesses of the Risen Lord. These are unique, nonrepeatable, and nontransmittable aspects of Peter's apostleship. On the other hand, the bishops of Rome do continue Peter's ministry of evangelizing the world and of main-taining the unity of the whole Church. They also continue to exercise within the college of bishops the same kind of pastoral authority Peter exercised within the original company of the Twelve. The word "continue" is important. The popes do not succeed Peter in the sense of replacing him, as a newly inaugurated president of the United States, for example, replaces his predecessor. The popes carry on Peter's ministry, but Peter as such is irreplaceable. He alone is the rock on which the Church is built.

The Pocket Guide to the Popes. Copyright � by Richard McBrien. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Richard P. McBrien is Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Educated at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has also served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. A leading authority on Catholicism, he is the bestselling author of Catholicism, Lives of the Popes, and Lives of the Saints, as well as the general editor of The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Most recently a consultant for ABC News, McBrien offers regular commentary on all the major television networks. He is also a prizewinning syndicated columnist in the Catholic press.

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Pocket Guide to the Popes 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
mkbrsm More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful little book for quick reference. As a former Church History teacher, I would recommend this to my students
Anonymous More than 1 year ago