The Roman Catholic Encyclopaedia refers mainly to three sources for its knowledge of the early Popes:
- The Pope “list” which originated with Hegesippus about 165 AD;
- An occasional letter from an ecclesiastic (usually Greek), naming, in most cases quite incidentally, the head of the church in Rome;
- The events of secular history.
These three elements, when added together, are moulded into a “life” of each Pope. The lack of real information is justified on the grounds that the Roman church of the early years was disorganised; yet Rome argues conversely, that in the same period she produced no scholars because she was busily engaged in organising herself.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia's Official Pope List
St. Peter (32-67)
St. Linus (67-76)
St. Anacletus (76-88)
St. Clement 1 (88-97)
St. Evaristus (97-105)
St Alexander 1 (105-115)
St Sixtus 1 (115-125)
St Telesphorus (125-136)
St Hyginas (136-140)
St Pius 1 (140-155)
St Anicetus (155-166)
St Soter (166-175)
St Eleutherius (175-189)
St Victor 1 (189-199)
St Zephyrinus (199-217)
St Callistus 1 (217-222)
Of this list of "Popes," and the conveniently orderly succession of dates ascribed to their "bishoprics," only three real persons emerge from the silence of history.
St Clement 1 is known only incidentally through putting his name to the one genuine letter from Rome to Corinth circa 100 AD that we have already analysed. Thereafter, only Victor 1 and Callistus 1 emerge from historical darkness.
St Victor I (189-199 AD) claimed authority over the bishops of Asia Minor, ordering them to observe Easter according to Roman custom. His claim to be the “Bishop of Bishops” was emphatically rejected by the other churches and the Greek speaking Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, courteously warned him that he had gone too far.
St Callistus 1 (217 - 222) is the first concrete figure of Roman ecclesiastical history. Hippolytus, the most important Roman theologian of the first three centuries, devotes many pages to a scathing account of the conditions of the church and of the character and career of Pope Callistus. Callistus was Pope when the first public meeting place of the Roman church was opened in 222 AD and he, though officially a saint and martyr, died in an odour, not of sanctity, but of knavery.
No prelate, priest or church in the East ever entertained any Roman claim to pre-dominance, and it was rejected by every bishop in the West until the barbarians wrecked the empire and Rome alone could maintain a bishop of any importance.
The facts of history are that, before circa 170 AD, there is no mention of Peter being in Rome or any admission that the head of the Christian community in Rome was the successor of Peter.
* Many scholars have pointed out that it would not have been possible to appoint anyone as the "Bishop" of Rome before circa 100 AD as such a hierarchical structure did not yet exist. A full discussion can be found in the Catholic Encyclopaedia article "Bishop" which begins with the words: "The historical origin of the episcopate is much controverted: very diverse hypotheses have been proposed to explain the texts of the inspired writings and of the Apostolic Fathers relating to the primitive ecclesiastical hierarchy..."
How long, O Lord, how long...?