The Pontiff: Older Than Jesus

Everyone knows the Pope is old, but so is the office. The Papacy traces its roots back to St. Peter himself, but it turns out the institute is even older than that. In fact, it’s been around at least eight centuries before Jesus. Sometimes you’ll see the Pope referred to as the Pontiff. Mostly it’s a way for journalists to show off their mad vocabulary skills. But the title “Supreme Pontiff” comes from the LatinPontifex Maximus“, which was the title of the head of the Roman state religion.

If you’ve ever seen any of the ruins in Europe, you’ll know that the Romans had a thing for architecture. In fact, they liked building things so much that the head of their religion was called the “Master Bridge Builder”. From the days of the semi-mythical Kings of Rome, the Pontiffs led the tributes and sacrifices to Jupiter and his buddies up on Mount Olympus.

It was good work if you could get it, but when the Roman Empire switched from paganism to Christianity, the Roman Pontiffs had to change with the times. Since it was easier than going back to building bridges, they became the head of the Christian Church. Two millennia later, the Pope still uses this title, perhaps the only title on earth in use for 3,000 years.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at

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3 Responses

  1. January 4, 2013

    […] that are older than you might think. For example, the Pope’s title of “Pontiff” predates Christianity by almost a millennium. The mouse driven computer with a mouse, hypertext links and […]

  2. April 21, 2013

    […] between religion and morality with a simple 2×2 matrix. On one side, we’ve got religious vs non-religious people, and on the other side, moral vs amoral people. Now I understand that these […]

  3. January 6, 2014

    […] position of Pontifex Maximus still exists today, amongst the titles of the Pope. But in the days of the Roman Republic, the Pontiff was a political office as well as a religious […]

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