The title Pope is the name given to the Bishop of Rome, the chief pastor of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the pope's powers as bishop of the Church came from a sacramental act of ordination, the pope is elected. Since 1179 the papacy has been filled by the Sacred College of Cardinals from whom the elected pope receives the titles of Bishop of Rome, vicar of Jesus Christ, successor of the prince of the apostles, supreme pontiff of the universal Church, patriarch of the West, primate of Italy, archbishop of the Roman province, sovereign of the state of Vatican City, and servant of the servants of God. The pope's jurisdiction over the faithful of the Church and his supreme authority in all questions related to faith and morality were originally defined in the Vatican Council's Constitution Pastor Aeternus.
The position of the pope, as leader of the Church, has direct and indirect influences on the spiritual and religious development of individuals, families, communities, and nations. While the jurisdiction of the Pope has changed little throughout the centuries, different individual popes have certainly had differing effects on people throughout history. Therefore, the influence of a particular pope and the influence of the office of the papacy must both be considered in understanding impact on religious and spiritual development. In addition, the influence of the pope and the papacy must be considered in accordance with historical time and the specific societal circumstances that existed in communities and nations around the world and how the pope and the office of the papacy became involved-or refrained from involvement. The pope impacts more than those within the Roman Catholic Church. By papal decree and encouragement, the Catholic Church is highly involved in social service and human development work, thereby touching the lives- religious/spiritual and nonreligious/nonspiritual-of billions of people around the world.
ORIGIN OF THE PAPACY
The institutional role of head of the Church originated when Jesus named Peter to this position. In Matthew 16:17-19, Christ promises the office to Peter and no other Apostle through this personal blessing: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
Peter is made the foundation and house of the Church, and through its relationship with Peter, the Church will always overcome forces of Evil. In the Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 28:16) and in Christ's own words (Matt. 7:24), Christ bestows authority of the Church to Peter, an authority that was His own. By this promise, Christ associates Peter to Himself. In Matthew 16:19, Christ offers the keys to the kingdom of Heaven to Peter, thereby conferring on him supreme power over the Church. Peter was given this role after the resurrection, described in John 21, wherein the Lord makes Peter shepherd of the lambs and the sheep before His leaving of the earth. Peter thereby takes His place as the Good Shepherd.
Christ intended the Church to be governed by one single authority, an authority position that was to be and is eternal to give the Church strength against its perpetual enemies-i.e., those within the gates of hell. As such, the office of Peter became a permanent feature within the life of the Church.
While there is little doubt that Peter visited Rome and was martyred there, there is doubt that he was ever bishop of Rome. However, references to his bishopric are frequent (e.g., Eph. 55:8; cf. 59:14) as are testimonies that from the very earliest times the papacy has held supreme authority over the universal Church. The understanding of the papacy being the successor of St. Peter is held to be a truth revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and by them transmitted to the Church.
THE POPE'S JURISDICTION
With the words, "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed in heaven," Christ made clear that the legislative authority he had within the Church also necessarily entails judicial authority. Peter and his future successors of the head of the Church were thereby given the power to impose laws (and determine when offenses are made to those laws), grant dispensation from these laws (and impose penalties and to pardon sins, John 20:23), and, if need be, to annul laws. Granted to Peter and his successors is supreme magisterium-the ability and right to declare doctrines and prescribe a rule of faith that all must follow. The pope's rule is supreme to all but Christ, and his jurisdiction extends only to the ends of the kingdom and not to matters extrinsic to the Church. When a pope legislates, he does so through powers given to him by Christ and not from government rulers, and he legislates over the faithful in spiritual and nonspiritual matters, including canon law, which oversees possessions such as schools, seminaries, and churches and the materials needed to successfully run and protect those possessions. Although the pope does have wide jurisdictional powers, for some time, as more nations saw Catholic populations diminish in representation, civil governments gained higher and wider legislative power.
The office of the pope has seen changes throughout the centuries in doctrine, legislative powers, and even in where it is housed. In the 20th century and today, popes have generally been incredibly active in moral and doctrinal teaching as well as human development and political debates and activities. The influence of the papacy within the Church has always shaped the Catholic faithful. That influence does not seem to be waning at all. In fact, faithful from around the world look to the pope for guidance-in that which is spiritual and nonspiritual-as much if not more than they ever have. As head of the Church, the pope will always maintain a role in the religious and spiritual development of millions of people around the world, and due to his wide and impressive jurisdiction and legislative powers within the Church, the pope will always be a controversial figure on the world political and sociocultural stage.