A Brief History of the Popes

Catholics believe that the pope is the universal shepherd of the universal church. We also believe that Jesus Christ established the papacy (see Matthew 16:18-19).

The history of the popes is filled with inspiration and excitement; it also includes periods of scandal and corruption. Christianity is rooted in the past, resounds in the present, and necessarily moves into the future. In others words, Christianity begins in faith and finds its fulfillment in love.

The following list of popes covers immense territory. In a sense, it outlines the story of Christianity. It includes periods of dynamic growth, as well as periods of heresy and schism. The vast majority of popes carried out their sacred trust with grace and dignity; others were swept into corruption, division, political intrigue, and scandal.

This papal timeline is based on dates listed in the Vatican's official list. The basic information includes the name of the pope and the dates of his particular pontificate. In some cases, a third piece of information has been added, namely, a unique feature about that specific pope. The entries with an asterisk (*) highlight significant events from world history that happened during that specific pontificate.

1 St. Peter, d. ca. 64. The first disciple called by Jesus; he is also credited with writing two Letters that appear in the New Testament. The first pope to be martyred and the first pope to be named a saint.
2 St. Linus, 67-76.
3 St. Anacletus (Cletus), 76-88. His name is commemorated in Eucharist Prayer I.
4 St. Clement I, 88-97. He is also known as Clement of Rome.
5 St. Evaristus, 97-105.
6 St. Alexander I, 105-115. Inaugurated the custom of blessing houses with holy water.
7 St. Sixtus I, 115-125. The Latin name Sixtus means "sixth", the sixth successor of Peter.
8 St. Telesphoros, 125-136. Inaugurated the seven-week fast before Easter.
9 St. Hyginus, 136-140. Along with St. Justin Martyr, Hyginus was well-known for defending the Church.
10 St. Pius I, 140-155. The first pope to function as Bishop of Rome.
11 St. Anicetus, 155-166.
12 St. Soter, 166-175. Introduced Easter as an annual liturgical feast in Rome.
13 St. Eleutherius, 175-189. Served as a deacon to Pope Anicetus.
14 St. Victor I, 189-198. The first African pope.
15 St. Zephrynus, 199-217.
16 St. Callistus I, 217-222.
17 St. Urban I, 222-230.
18 St. Pontian, 230-235. The first pope to abdicate his office.
19 St. Anterus, 235-236. Died a natural death after serving as pope for less than two months.
20 St. Fabian, 236-250. One of the most respected popes of the early Church.
21 St. Cornelius, 251-253.
22 St. Lucius I, 253-254.
23 St. Stephen I, 254-257.
24 St. Sixtus II, 257-258. This highly venerated martyr was beheaded by order of the Emperor Valerian.
25 St. Dionysius, 260-268. His election to the papacy was delayed because of Christian persecution in Rome.
26 St. Felix I, 269-274.
27 St. Eutychian, 274-283.
28 St. Caius, 283-296. The Roman Empire is partitioned into West and East.
29 St. Marcellinus, 296-304.
30 St. Marcellus, 308-309.
31 St. Eusebius, 309-310.
32 St. Melchiades, 311-314.
33 St. Sylvester I, 314-335. During his pontificate, the first ecumenical council (in Nicaea) was held.
*Construction of St. Peter's Basilica begins in 330.
*Seat of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople in 331.
34 St. Mark, 336. His papacy was cut short within the year.
35 St. Julius I, 337-352. He strongly defended the Council of Nicaea's teaching on the divinity of Christ.
36 Liberius, 352-366.
37 St. Damascus, 366-384. He authorized a new Latin translation of the New Testament.
*Barbarian invasions begin in 375 and continue to 568.
38 St. Siricius, 384-399.
39 St. Anastasius, 399-401.
40 St. Innocent I, 401-417.
41 St. Zosimus, 417-418.
42 St. Boniface I, 418-422. He is the author of this familiar axiom, "Rome has spoken; the cause is finished."
43 St. Celestine I, 422-432. The Council of Ephesus was held during his pontificate.
44 St. Sixtus III, 432-440. He showed remarkable leadership for building Church unity.
45 St. Leo I (the Great), 440-461. He and Pope Gregory (590-604) are the only two popes to be called "the Great." Leo courageously confronted Attila the Hun and neutralized other barbaric invaders.
46 St. Hilary, 461-468.
47 St. Simplicius, 468-483.
48 St. Felix III. 483-492.
49 St. Gelasius, 492-496. He was first pope to be called "Vicar of Christ."
50 Anastasius II, 496-498.
51 St. Symmachus, 498-515.
52 St. Hormisdas, 514-523.
53 St. John I, 523-526. He was first pope to travel to the East (Constantinople).
54 St. Felix IV, 526-530.
55 Boniface II, 530-532. He was the first pope of German extraction.
56 John II, 533-535.
57 Agapitus, 535-536. He strongly opposed the Arian heresy, which held that that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God.
58 St. Silverius, 536-537. He was the first pope to resign his office.
59 Vigilius, 537-555.
60 Pelagius I, 556-561
61 John III, 561-574.
*Muhammad (570-632), the founder of Islam, was born during John III's papacy.
62 Benedict I, 575-579.
63 Pelagius II, 579-590. He was the second pope of German extraction.
64 St. Gregory I (the Great), 590-604. The first pope to have been a monk, his name is closely associated with Gregorian chant.
65 Sabinian, 604-606.
66 Boniface III, 607. He died of natural causes nine months into his papacy.
67 Boniface IV, 608-615. His pastoral style was modeled on Pope Gregory's papacy.
68 St. Deusdedit, 615-618. During his pontificate, Rome suffered the ravages of an earthquake and the plague.
69 Boniface IV, 619-625. Known for his compassion for the poor, he distributed his entire wealth to the needy.
70 Honorius, 625-638.
71 Severinus, 640. He died two months after his consecration.
72 John IV, 640-642.
73 Theodore I, 642-649.
74 St. Martin I, 649-655. He was the last pope to be recognized as a martyr.
75 St. Eugene I, 654-657.
76 St. Vitalian, 657-672.
77 Adeodatus II, 672-676.
78 Donus, 676-678.
79 St. Agatho, 678-681. He restored friendly relations between Rome and Constantinople.
80 St. Leo II, 682-683. He was very pastoral in helping the poor and in advancing the quality of Church music.
81 St. Benedict II, 684-685.
82 John V, 685-686. Illness marked his entire pontificate.
83 Conon, 686-687.
84 St. Sergius, 687-701. He introduced the singing of the "Lamb of God" at Mass.
85 John VI, 701-705.
86 John VII. 705-707.
87 Sisinnius, 708. He died of natural causes twenty days after his election.
88 Constantine, 708-715. He spent one full year in Constantinople to improve relations between Rome and the East.
89 St. Gregory II, 715-731.
90 St. Gregory III, 731-741. He promoted missionary efforts to Germany and England.
91 St. Zachary, 741-752.
92 Stephen II, 752-757.
93 St. Paul I, 757-767. Brother and close advisor of Pope Stephen II, he is the only example of a new pope succeeding his older brother.
94 Stephen III, 768-772.
95 Adrian I, 772-795. Peaceful conditions allowed him to build and restore many churches in Rome.
96 St. Leo III, 795-816.
*Charlesmagne is crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800.
97 Stephen IV, 816-817.
98 St. Paschal I, 817-824.
99 Eugene II, 824-827.
100 Valentine, 827. He died less than two months after being consecrated.
101 Gregory IV, 827-844.
102 Sergius II, 844-847.
103 St. Leo IV, 847-855.
104 Benedict III, 855-858.
105 St. Nicholas I, 858-867.
106 Adrian II, 867-872.
107 John VIII. 872-882. The first pope to be assassinated, poison was the cause of death.
108 Marinus I, 882-884.
109 Adrian III, 884-885.
110 Stephen V, 885-891.
111 Formosus, 891-896.
112 Boniface, 896. He died of natural causes after about fifteen days in office.
113 Stephen VI, 896-897.
114 Romanus, 897. Little is known of his short pontificate.
115 Theodore II, 897. He was in office about twenty days.
116 John IX, 898-900.
117 Benedict IV, 900-903.
118 Leo V, 903. He was overthrown after less than two months in office.
119 Sergius, 904-911. He represents one of the most corrupt periods of the papacy.
120 Anastasius, 911-913.
121 Lando, 913-914.
122 John X, 914-928. He entire pontificate was filled with political intrigue.
123 Leo VI, 928.
124 Stephen VII, 928-931.
125 John XI, 931-935.
126 Leo VII, 936-939.
127 Stephen VIII, 939-942.
128 Marinus II, 942-946.
129 Agapitus, 946-955.
130 John XII, 955-964.
131 Leo VIII, 963-965.
132 Benedict V, 964-966. At one point, King Otto deported Benedict and reinstated the previous pope, Leo VIII.
*Poland is Christianized beginning in 966.
133 John XIII, 966-972. There is confusion about the legitimate claims to the papacy from Leo III to John XIII.
134 Benedict VI, 973-974.
135 Benedict VII, 974-983. He increased the frequency of "ad limina visits." That practice still continues today, each diocesan bishops meets personally with the pope to discuss the state of the diocese.
136 John XIV, 983-984. Changed name to John since he was unwilling to keep his baptismal name of Peter.
137 John XV, 985-996. The first pope to formally canonize a saint (St. Ulric in 993).
138 Gregory V, 972-999. The first German pope.
139 Sylvester II, 999-1003. The first French pope.
140 John XVII, 1003. Authorized Polish missionaries to work among the Slavs.
141 John XVIII, 1004-1009. Abdicated the papacy shortly before his death to become a monk.
142 Sergius IV, 1009-1012. He changed name to Sergius since he was unwilling to keep his baptismal name of Peter.
143 Benedict VIII, 1012-1024. He was the first of three laymen who were consecutively elected to the papacy.
144 John XIX, 1024-1032. He succeeded his older brother Benedict VIII to the papacy.
145 Benedict IX, 1032-1044.
146 Sylvester III, 1045.
147 Gregory VI, 1045-1046.
148 Clement, 1046-1047.
149 Damasus, 1048. He died of malaria early in his papacy.
150 St. Leo IX, 1049-1054.
151 Victor II, 1055-1057.
152 Stephen IX, 1057-1058.
153 Nicholas, 1058-1061. He changed procedures for electing a pope, only allowed cardinal electors.
154 Alexander II, 1061-1073. He was known as a reformer pope.
155 St. Gregory VII, 1072-1085. He expanded the reformist agenda of Alexander II.
156 Blessed Victor III, 1086-1087.
157 Blessed Urban II, 1088-1099.
*The first university with the authority to grant degrees is established in Italy in 1088.
*The Crusades, a series of attacks by Western Christians against the Muslims to take control over Jerusalem, continues for the next 92 years.
158 Paschal II, 1099-1118.
159 Gelasius II, 1118-1119.
160 Callistus, 1119-1124.
161 Honorius II, 1124-1130.
162 Innocent II, 1130-1143. He convened the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
163 Celestine II, 1143-1144.
164 Lucius II, 1144-1145.
165 Blessed Eugene II, 1145-1153. He proclaimed the Second Crusade in 1145.
166 Anastasius, 1153-1154.
167 Adrian IV, 1154-1159. He was the first and only English pope.
168 Alexander III, 1159-1181. He imposed penance on King Henry II for the murder of St. Thomas of Becket (1172).
169 Lucius III, 1181-1185. Spent most of his pontificate outside of Rome.
170 Urban III, 1185-1187.
171 Gregory VIII, 1187. He was elected at age 87 and died two months later.
172 Clement III, 1187-1191. He was preoccupied with plans for launching the Third Crusade.
173 Celestine III, 1191-1198.
174 Innocent III, 1198-1216. He was the highpoint of the medieval papacy and exercised considerable political and spiritual power.
*In 1215, King John issues the Magna Carta.
175 Honorius III, 1216-1227. He approved rules for the new Franciscan, Dominican, and Carmelite orders.
176 Gregory IX, 1227-1241. He canonized Francis of Assissi in 1226, Anthony of Padua in 1232, and Dominic in 1234.
177 Celestine IV, 1241. He died of natural causes about two weeks after being elected.
178 Innocent IV, 1243-1254. He was first pope to approve the use of torture in the Inquisition to obtain evidence of heresy.
179 Alexander IV, 1254-1261. He canonized Clare of Assisi.
180 Urban IV, 1261-1264.
*The highpoint of Gothic architecture, the massive Chartres Cathedral, is consecrated in 1260.
181 Clement IV, 1265-1268.
*St. Thomas Aquinas begins writing the SummaTheologica, which unifies faith and reason.
182 Blessed Gregory X, 1272-1276. This conclave met for three years to elect a new pope.
183 Blessed Innocent V, 1276. He was the first Dominican pope, the papal custom of wearing a white cassock probably originated with this pope.
184 Adrian V, 1276. He died only five weeks after his election.
185 John XXI, 1276-1277. He was the first and only medical doctor to be pope.
186 Nicholas, 1277-1280. He was the first pope to make the Vatican Palace his residence.
187 Martin IV, 1281-1285.
188 Honorius IV, 1285-1287.
189 Nicholas IV, 1288-1292. He was the first Franciscan to be elected pope.
*The Crusades formally end in 1291.
190 St. Celestine V, 1294. He was one of the very few popes to resign from the papacy.
191 Boniface VIII, 1294-1303.
192 Blessed Benedict XI, 1303-1304.
193 Clement V, 1305-1314. His papacy began the period known as the Avignon popes.
194 John XXII, 1316-1334. He was the second of the Avignon popes.
195 Benedict XII, 1335-1342.
196 Clement VI, 1342-1352. He advanced the practice of indulgences, the abuse of which would contribute to the Protestant Reformation 200 years later.
*The bubonic plague kills one-third of Europe's population between 1348 and 1350.
197 Innocent VI, 1352-1362.
198 Blessed Urban V, 1362-1370.
199 Gregory XI, 1371-1378. Persuaded by Saint Catherine of Siena to return the seat of the papacy to Rome, he was the last of the Avignon popes.
200 Urban VI, 1378-1389. He was the last non-cardinal to be elected pope. The years 1378-1417 are known as "the Great Western Schism," a period of crisis when rival popes claimed papal authority.
201 Boniface IX, 1389-1404.
202 Innocent VII, 1404-1406.
203 Gregory XII, 1406-1415.
204 Martin V, 1417-1431. His election to the papacy marked the end of the Great Western Schism.
205 Eugene IV, 1431-1447. He was unsuccessful in trying to reestablish union between Latin and Greek Churches.
206 Nicholas V, 1447-1455. He was the first of the Renaissance popes and a strong patron of the arts.
207 Callistus III, 1455-1458. He was the first Spanish pope. He reopened the case of Joan of Arc and declared her innocent of witchcraft.
*The Gutenberg Bible is printed.
208 Pius II, 1458-1464. He canonized Catherine of Siena.
209 Paul II, 1464-1471. He reneged on promise to reform the Church.
210 Sixtus IV, 1471-1484. He built the Sistine Chapel.
211 Innocent VIII, 1484-1492.
212 Alexander VI, 1492-1503.
*Christopher Columbus lands in America.
213 Pius III, 1503. He died only seventeen days after his consecration as pope.
214 Julius II, 1503-1513. He commissioned plans for the new St. Peter's Basilica.
215 Leo X, 1513-1521. The Protestant Reformation began during Leo's pontificate.
216 Adrian VI, 1522-1523. He was the first pope of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
217 Clement VII, 1523-1534. Clement is the pope who refused to grant King Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
218 Paul III, 1534-1549. He convened the Council of Trent and worked for Church renewal.
*In 1543, Copernicus disputes that Earth is the center of the universe.
219 Julius III, 1550-1555.
220 Marcellus II, 1555. He died of a stroke less than one month after election to papacy.
221 Paul IV, 1555-1559. He is the pope who created the Index of Forbidden Books.
222 Pius V, 1559-1565. He reconvened the Council of Trent, after it had been suspended for ten years.
223 St. Pius V, 1566-1572. He enforced the decrees of the Council of Trent and published the Roman Catechism.
224 Gregory XIII, 1572-1585. He adopted the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use today. He also was a strong supporter of the missions in India, China, and Japan.
225 Sixtus V, 1585-1590. He reorganized the Roman Curia, which then remained unchanged until Vatican II.
226 Urban VII, 1590. He died of malaria, one week after his election.
227 Gregory XIV, 1590-1591.
228 Innocent IX, 1591.
229 Clement VIII, 1592-1605. He was the fourth pope elected within a period of 1 1/2 years.
230 Leo XI, 1605. In poor health when elected pope, he died less than one month after the election.
231 Paul V, 1605-1621. Known for his positive accomplishments in Church renewal, ironically, he is best remembered as the pope who censured Galileo for teaching the Earth revolves around the sun.
232 Gregory XV, 1621-1623. He introduced the idea of electing a pope by secret ballot. He also canonized Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, and Francis Xavier.
233 Urban VIII, 1623-1644. He is the pope who consecrated the new St. Peter's Basilica.
234 Innocent X, 1644-1655.
235 Alexander VII, 1655-1667. He allowed missionaries in China to use Chinese rites.
*In 1666, Newton discovers the Law of Gravity.
236 Clement IX, 1667-1669.
237 Clement X, 1670-1676.
238 Blessed Innocent XI, 1676-1689. He is widely admired for positive contributions to preaching and catechesis.
239 Alexander VIII, 1689-1691.
240 Innocent XII, 1691-1700. Known and respected as a reformist pope, especially in simplifying administrative procedures.
241 Clement XI, 1700-1721. He is the pope who made the feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) a universal holy day of obligation.
242 Innocent XIII, 1721-1724.
243 Benedict XIII, 1724-1730.
244 Clement XII, 1730-1740.
245 Benedict XIV, 1740-1758. He is the author of the first papal encyclical, The Duties of Bishops.
246 Clement XIII, 1758-1769
247 Clement XIV, 1769-1774.
248 Pius VI, 1775-1799. He denounced the French Revolution and was later imprisoned by Napoleon.
*The American Declaration of Independence is signed in 1776.
249 Pius VII, 1800-1823.
*In 1804, Napoleon declares himself emperor of France.
250 Leo XII, 1823-1829. He called a Holy Year in 1825 to strengthen the bond between the papacy and Catholics.
251 Pius VIII, 1829-1830. He approved the decrees of the First Council of Baltimore.
252 Gregory XVI, 1831-1846. He was the last monk to be elected pope.
253 Pius IX, 1846-1878. His thirty-one year pontificate is the longest in history. He called the First Vatican Council, which defined papal infallibility and supremacy.
*The American Civil War takes place between 1861-1865.
*Charles Darwin publishes his theory of evolution.
254 Leo XIII, 1878-1903. Known for his efforts to bring the Church into open dialogue with the world, Leo XIII is considered the first of the modern popes. His encyclical "Of New Things" continues to be the standard of the Church's commitment to social justic
255 St. Pius X, 1903-1914. His papal motto was, "To restore all things in Christ." He is widely admired for lowering the age for First Communion to age seven.
*In 1908, Henry Ford introduces the world's first automobile.
256 Benedict XV, 1914-1922. He is remembered as a peacemaker both within the Church and among the countries who participated in World War I.
257 Pius XI, 1922-1939. Pius XI is the first pope to use the radio as a means of pastorally reaching the world.
258 Pius XII, 1939-1958. His papacy was indelibly marked by the times--namely, World War II and the following cold war period. He devoted his energy to world peace, fighting Communism, and to Marian piety.
*In 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launches the first satellite.
259 John XXIII, 1958-1963. Perhaps the most beloved of all popes, John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council whose impact includes expanding the role of the laity, liturgical renewal, collegiality of bishops, and ecumenism.
*Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring ushers in the ecology movement.
260 Paul VI, 1963-1978. He continued the work of Vatican II and became the first pope to travel around the world by airplane.
261 John Paul I, 1978. He was the first pope to take a double name. Death of natural causes ended his short pontificate of 33 days.
262 John Paul II, 1978-2005. The first Polish pope in history is also the most traveled pope in history. His extensive writings and speeches cover just about every major issue from freedom to materialism, to the modern search for meaning and the sacred, to world peace to social justice among all countries--rich and poor.

 

 

 

Kids' Clubhouse | KIDS ONLY Club | Teen Center
Faith First for Families | Catechists & Teacher
RCL Books and More | Faith First Home | Email Us