There are several theories about who was the first pope in the world, but to answer this question it is necessary to talk about the fisherman’s ring, the “anulus pescatoris” in Latin. On the jewel is a bas-relief image of Simon Peter, the apostle, fishing in a boat.
According to Catholic tradition, the first pope to use this symbol was Damasius I (305-384). He commanded the Church for 18 years during the second half of the 4th century.
The image present in the ring is in reference to the Gospel of Saint Mark, specifically the passage that defines the apostles and the religious who succeeded him as “fishers of men”.
Still according to Catholic tradition, the first pope was the man who has his image printed on the ring: Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Peter’s story is detailed in passages throughout the Bible.
“There is further research, but the most reliable source is the Bible”, explains researcher and scholar of the life of saints José Luís Lira, founder of the Brazilian Academy of Hagiology and professor at the State University of Vale do Aracaú, in Ceará.
The story of the world’s first pope
According to the Bible, Peter and his brother Andrew lived by fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They would have been the first to hear the call of Christ.
“The gospels make it clear that he was a person with a strong personality and a spirit of leadership”, says in an interview with the BBC, Vatican expert Mirticeli Medeiros, a researcher in the history of Catholicism at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
“So much so that Jesus himself stayed in his house when he began his mission. Perhaps because of his way, the Messiah chose him as his most important collaborator,” he added.
The professor at the São Bento Faculty of Theology, Father Jorge Luiz Neves da Silva, highlighted that even though he was an illiterate fisherman, he had an important role in the Christian mission.
“The gospels are unanimous in this reality and it is necessary to take into account the logic of vocation in sacred scripture: it is a constant that figures are called that would not be naturally chosen from the human perspective”, he said.
In addition, it highlights that before the encounter with Christ , he was not a religious.
“It is known that he was married because in the Gospels we read that Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Jesus was from Nazareth and moved, in his public life, to Capernaum. He lived in Peter’s house. It is unclear whether his wife was still alive,” explains Lira.
Despite biblical texts stating that Jesus loved John, the messiah entrusted the church to Peter. The last was the one who recognized that Jesus is the son of God.
The biblical passage that justifies the theory of Peter as pope of the Church is in chapter 16 of the gospel written by Saint Matthew. In this passage, Jesus says to the apostle Simon:
“For I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
So Simon becomes Peter because of the stones. Over the years came the understanding that he would have been named the first leader of the Church, the rock on which to build the new religion.
However, Medeiros states that the meaning of pope in that context was primitive.
“The word, whose meaning is ‘father’, was widespread among the first Christians”, he explains. She adds that it was not just “the bishop of Rome” who deserved the treatment.
“Several bishops were called that, as well as some sages from the community itself”, he adds.
“It is so true that, to this day, the top leader of the Coptic Church in Egypt is also called ‘pope’”.
He points out that the papacy, as an institution, did not yet exist. The first move to do so took place in the 3rd century, led by Pope Callistus I (155-222).
“The institution of the papacy, which assumes a legal and institutional role, only happened with Leo 1st, in the 5th century, and Gregory the Great, in the 6th century. In the 8th century, this institution began to consolidate, as the pope not only stood out as a religious authority, but also as a temporal authority”, he explains.
Father Silva adds that the scriptures make clear Peter’s fundamental role at the head of the first Christians.