15 Fascinating Facts about the History of that Ancient Office: the Papacy

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Catholics believe that Our Lord Jesus gave special authority to St. Peter among the apostles, and that the bishop of Rome, or Pope, is the successor of St. Peter.

The Pope has an important role for guaranteeing the integrity of doctrine and acting as a visible sign of unity for the Church. And after 2000 years and 266 popes, once thing is clear: papacies come in all shapes in sizes.

Here are 15 fascinating facts about this ancient office:

[See also: Pope Benedict XVI’s Parents Met Through This Unusual Classified Ad]

[See also: When Popes Wore Crowns: A Pictorial History of the Papal Tiara]

1) At least 5 popes had been married before receiving Holy Orders

In addition to St. Peter, about whom Scripture tells us he was married, four other popes had been married before receiving Holy Orders.

In at least one case, Pope Adrian II (867–872), his wife and daughter lived with him in the Lateran palace.

2) At least 2 popes may have been elected as teenagers

Pope John XII was 18 when he was elected pope. Its not known how old Pope Benedict IX was exactly when he was elected, though historians say he could have been anywhere from 11 years old to 20.

3) The shortest papacy was just 13 days

Pope Urban VII served September 15 – 27 in 1590.

4) Pope John Paul I doesn’t even make the top 10 shortest papacies

When they think of short papacies, most Catholics today think of Pope John Paul I, who served just 34 days in 1978. However, along with Pope Urban VII mentioned above, there are 10 other popes who served 33 days or shorter.

5) The longest papacy was 31 years, 7 months and 23 days

That is, if you don’t count St. Peter, who may have served more than 34 years. Other than that, Pope Bl. Pius IX served from 1846–1878. In second place is Pope St. John Paul II, who served 26 years, 5 months and 18 days.

6) A priest was once elected pope, but died before he could be consecrated a bishop

Pope-elect Stephen was a Roman priest elected to be the new bishop of Rome in A.D. 752. However, since he was just a priest and not a bishop, he still needed to be consecrated a bishop before he could be the bishop of Rome, or Pope.

However, he died just 3 days after his election and before he was consecrated. He may be the only person to have been elected pope and accepted it, but was never actually pope due to death.

7) Only 82 popes have been recognized as saints

With 266 popes, that means just about 30% have been recognized as saints.

8) 52 of the first 54 popes are considered saints

The first 35 popes are all considered saints (the first non-saintly pope? Pope Liberius).This means that, after A.D. 530, there have only been 30 popes canonized (or just 14% of the popes).

There are also 10 blesseds, 1 venerable, and 3 servants of God. See a full list.

9) At least 37 popes have been murdered

31 are specifically martyrs and 6 were murdered for other reasons. That means about 14% of the popes in history have been murdered.

There are 14 other popes who some people think may have been murdered which, if true, would bring the percentage up to just over 19%.

10) 38 popes have been members of religious orders.

There have been 18 Benedictines, 6 Augustinians, 5 Dominicans, 5 Franciscans, 2 Cistercians, 1 Theatine, and 1 Jesuit (our current Pope Francis!).

There have also been 12 popes who were members of third orders, all of them Secular Franciscans.

11) At least 9 popes have been accused of sinful sexual activity during their pontificates

For the record, if you take all of these accusations as based in fact, that’s just about 3% of all the popes in history.

12) There have been at least 41 significant antipopes

Many of them enjoyed considerable support from Church leaders and important government leaders. There hasn’t been a significant antipope since the 15th century.

13) The oldest person to have been elected pope was almost 80 years old

Pope Clement X was 79 years and 290 days old when he was elected. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was the fifth oldest person to be elected pope at 78 years and 3 days, and our current Pope Francis was the ninth oldest person to be elected pope at 76 years and 86 days.

14) The title “Pope” comes from the Greek word πάππας meaning “Father”

All priests and bishops can be referred to with the title “father” (you call your parish priest “father”), but the bishop of Rome, as the universal pastor, is the father.

15) The longest “Interregnum,” or time between the popes, was nearly 3 years

After a pope dies or resigns, a new one needs to elected. Occasionally, the election process gets held up for some reason (usually because the Cardinals are deadlocked and unable to find a majority), and there can be a significant length of time between papacies, called an “Interregnum.”  The longest such Interregnum was almost 3 years, from November 29, 1268 to September 1, 1271.

[See also: The Man Who Succeeded St. Peter: St. Linus, the Second Pope]

[See also: This Beautiful Roman Church Holds the Hearts of 25 Popes – Literally]

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