By Philip Schwerin
Paper given at South Central District Pastoral Conference (1998)
Introduction: “The Catholic Church believes that St. Peter was the chief Apostle, exercising by Christ’s appointment the supreme power of governing His Church. The Vatican Council says: ‘If anyone says that Christ the Lord did not constitute the Blessed Peter prince of all the Apostles and head of the whole Church militant; or if he says that this primacy is one of mere honor and not of real jurisdiction received directly and immediately from our Lord Jesus, let him be anathema.’”
Both Vatican Councils, as well as the Council of Trent, reinforced the primacy of the pope as descending from the line of St. Peter. But it was not always that way. The thrust of this paper will be to look at the development of the power and primacy of the pope, answering the question of how and when the Bishop of Rome assumed the title of the “Vicar of Christ” on earth.
Actually, we’re going to answer that question right here by stating that if we look to any century for such a development, we would probably point to the 12th century. If we try to affix the answer to one individual, it would have to be Innocent III who reigned from 1198-1216. But that would be a little overstating the case as it was a development that started and continued to build for over a thousand years, and the 12th century was the culmination of a struggle for power and position in the Christian Church.