Pius Bishop of Rome?

By COGwriter

Who was Pius of Rome? Was he a pope?

The generally touted Catholic position is that Pius was the tenth pope and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4). Is that correct?

This article will refer to historical records and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.

Certain Claims

While visiting the Vatican in 2004, I purchased a book in its basilica museum bookstore titled The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997). The book states that it is sponsored by the "Pontifical Administration, which has tutelage over the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter".

It makes many claims about the early bishops of Rome including this about Pius:

10. PIUS I, ST. (140-155) Born at Aguileia in Fruili...Some historians attribute to him the choice of the date of Easter as the Sunday after the March full moon...He opposed the heresy of the heretic Marcion. Inspired by the ideas of St. Justin expressed in the "Dialogo con Trifone", Pius established norms for welcoming the Jews converted to the Christian faith (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4).

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes this about him:

Date of birth unknown...During the pontificate of Pius the Roman Church was visited by various heretics, who sought to propagate their false doctrine among the faithful of the capital. The Gnostic Valentinus, who had made his appearance under Pope Hyginus, continued to sow his heresy, apparently not without success...But Catholic teachers also visited the Roman Church, the most important being St. Justin, who expounded the Christian teachings during the pontificate of Pius and that of his successor...The "Liber Pontificalis" (ed. cit.) speaks of a decision of this pope to the effect that Jewish converts to Christianity should be admitted and baptized...Two letters written to Bishop Justus of Vienne (P.L., V, 1125 sq.; Jaffé, "Regesta", I, 2nd ed., pp. 7 sq.), ascribed to Pius, are not authentic (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Obviously, welcoming Jews into the Christian faith is something that was originally part of the New Testament Church (Jesus and most of the early converts were Jews), so this is why that is a puzzling claim for any one to make of any professed Christian leader.

The bigger issues here are heretics flourished under Pius and that Justin had major influence.

Justin held views that should not have been adopted by any true Christian (please see article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate?).

Also, Roman Catholic, Protestant, nor Eastern Orthodox believers should realize that Justin would not consider them to be Christians, as Justin wrote:

For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians" (Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 80).

But Pius was highly influenced by Justin.

Was He A Pope?

Technically, Pius was not a pope. The Catholic leaders in Rome did not take that title until after Siricius of the late fourth century (see Appendix A). He, however, may have been one of the first to take the title "bishop of Rome".

Was Pius I the First Bishop?

It is important to note that several Catholic scholars recognize that there is no proof that anyone was actually considered to be a bishop in Rome until sometime in the second century. One such Catholic scholar, A. Van Hove, wrote this about early bishops:

In other words, although there were bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor in the first and second centuries, there is no mention of a monarchic episcopate (a bishopric) in other places, like Rome, until the middle of the second century.

Furthermore, even some more recent Catholic scholars understand that the New Testament provides no support for the idea that one of the apostles appointed someone to be "bishop of Rome":

We must conclude that the New Testament provides no basis for the notion that before the apostles died, they ordained one man for each of the churches they founded..."Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?"...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).

Various Catholic writings state that Hegesippus came to Rome in the mid-2nd century and asked about its early leaders. F.A. Sullivan suggests that those Romans apparently mentioned names of leaders they had heard of (as most would have had no direct contact with any from the first century) as there were no early records with names. Because there was, at the time of Hegesippus' visit, a bishop of Rome and there had long been bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor, F.A. Sullivan also suggests that Hegesippus and later writers presumed that the early Roman leaders were also monarchical bishops, even though that is not considered to have been likely.

However, it is possible that Pius was the first to hold the title "Bishop of Rome" or at least to be thought of that way.

One interesting point that Tertullian raises is that he claims that the heretic Valentinus wanted to be made bishop:

We know, I say, most fully their actual origin, and we are quite aware why we call them Valentinians, although they affect to disavow their name. They have departed, it is true, from their founder, yet is their origin by no means destroyed; and even if it chance to be changed, the very change bears testimony to the fact. Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent (Tertullian. Against the Valentinians, Chapter 4. Translated by Alexander Roberts. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Presuming that Valentinus came to Rome near the time prior to Hyginus's death, it is probable that he wanted to be considered the leader in Rome to replace Hyginus. However, the actual leader of the Roman Church, prior to Anicetus, was apparently Pius I. Valentinus is believed to have moved to Cyprus c.140 after whatever appointment/recognition was received by Pius (although it is possible that he left when it was clear that Anicetus would become bishop). It should be noted that there is no contemporaneous proof that Pius actually held the title "Bishop of Rome", but it is possible that he did. But this is not clear. What is clear is:

...we have good reason to conclude that by the time of Anicetus (155-66), the church of Rome was being led by a bishop whose role resembled Ignatius or Polycarp (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 143).

However, it may be that the reason that Anicetus was the first Roman leader to clearly hold the title "Bishop" of Rome was that others in the area of Rome decided that one with the title "bishop" was necessary to show that someone had higher authority than the various heretical leaders that were in the area of Rome at that time (such as Valentinus and Marcion, for two examples).

It may be of interest to note that it actually took the status of Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna (who was not a Roman) to have the status to denounce the gnostic heretics. Notice what Irenaeus wrote:

Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus. Cerdon, too…Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus.

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time -- a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles... John, the disciple of the Lord…exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me?" "I do know thee, the first-born of Satan" (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).

Polycarp came to Rome around 155 A.D. We in the Churches of God consider that Polycarp was the predominant leader of the true Church at this time. Notice that Polycarp condemned Valentinus at that time and that there is no indication that any of the Roman Catholic leaders successfully did this prior to Polycarp's visit.

The Shepherd of Hermas Indicates Pius Was Bishop of Rome

An unusual book (bizarre in my opinion), which Roman Catholics consider to be an important part of the writings of the so-called "Apostolic Fathers" is called The Shepherd of Hermas (also called The Pastor).

According to a late second/early third century document known as the Canon Muratorianus possibly put together by one called Caius, The Shepherd of Hermas was apparently written by the brother of this Pius:

The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Pius sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time (Caius. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. In Muratori, V. C. Antiq. Ital. Med. av., vol. iii. col. 854. From http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0510.htm 07/25/07).

Now, even though that text was ultimately rejected as scripture by the Roman Catholics, it was accepted as scripture within the early followers of the Roman and Alexandrian churches for a long while after it was written (it was probably written around 150 A.D., much later than any of the accepted books of the Bible). Notice what The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

..."The Shepherd" (Poimen, Pastor), a work which had great authority in ancient times and was ranked with Holy Scripture. Eusebius tells us that it was publicly read in the churches, and that while some denied it to be canonical, others "considered it most necessary". St. Athanasius speaks of it...St. Irenæus and Tertullian (in his Catholic days) cite the "Shepherd" as Scripture. Clement of Alexandria constantly quotes it with reverence, and so does Origen (Chapman. J. Transcribed by Don Ross. Hermas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

A careful reading of this long text should show anyone interested in scripture that this book should not be accepted on the same level as scripture. But since it mentions one called Pius who was a bishop in Rome (plus a person named Clement, without the bishop title), this may be the earliest document that specifically names someone as a "bishop of Rome" prior to Anicetus. Hence, it is important to Roman Catholics as "proof" that they did have bishops by the middle of the second century.

However, it is probably just as likely that "Caius" is simply using the term bishop as by the time of his writing, the leading Catholic authority in Rome was called a bishop.


There was a Roman Catholic leader named Pius. He did little that anyone is aware of unless he was the first to decide to change Passover observance to a Sunday--and if so, that was a significant human act.

He also probably was not as radical as the heretic Valentinus, which is probably why he was considered to have been the last leader of the Roman Church prior to Anicetus.

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Appendix A

As scholars have pretty much come to the same conclusions about the lack of information on most of the early alleged bishops of Rome, this section is placed at the end so that the reader (who may have read the articles on Linus of Rome or What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History) will not have to read redundant information). But it is also here so readers will understand that there is absolutely no early historical justification to consider that Telesphorus was a pope or even an actual bishop--and that the early historical records support the concept that the early Christian church should be traced through Asia Minor and not Rome.

The "Apostolic Fathers"

The term "apostolic fathers" is used by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike to describe writings believed to have been written by those who knew personally or nearly personally, one or more of the original apostles. These writings probably begin after John finished with the Book of Revelation, and continued through about 156 A.D. (the last document probably being the letter of The Martyrdom of Polycarp or the Epistle to Diognetus--which could have been much later). These documents essentially were preserved by supporters of the Roman Catholic Church and it is unclear if they are exactly as originally written. Here is what the Roman Church teaches about them:

The Apostolic Fathers Christian writers of the first and second centuries who are known, or are considered, to have had personal relations with some of the Apostles, or to have been so influenced by them that their writings may be held as echoes of genuine Apostolic teaching. Though restricted by some to those who were actually disciples of the Apostles, the term applies by extension to certain writers who were previously believed to have been such, and virtually embraces all the remains of primitive Christian literature antedating the great apologies of the second century, and forming the link of tradition that binds these latter writings to those of the New Testament...The period of time covered by these writings extends from the last two decades of the first century for the Didache (80-100), Clement (c. 97), and probably Pseudo-Barnabas (96-98), through the first half of the second century, the approximate chronology being Ignatius, 110-117; Polycarp, 110-120; Hermas, in its present form, c.150; Papias, c.150. Geographically, Rome is represented by Clement and Hermas; Polycarp wrote from Smyrna, whence also Ignatius sent four of the seven epistles which he wrote on his way from Antioch through Asia Minor; Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia; the Didache was written in Egypt or Syria; the letter of Barnabas in Alexandria (Peterson J.B. Transcribed by Nicolette Ormsbee.The Apostolic Fathers. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

What is most interesting is that although the letter often ascribed to Clement mentions Apollos and Cephas (Peter, Chapter 47--which only says that Paul wrote about Cephas and Apollos), Paul (many times), and some messengers (Chapter 65), he never mentions Linus, Pius, or anyone who became known as "the bishop of Rome" after him.

Although Ignatius mentions some local bishops in his letters, he also never mentions Linus, Pius, or anyone who became "the bishop of Rome"--and his most praise is for Polycarp of Smyrna (see Ignatius' Letter to Polycarp).

In Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, he mentions Ignatius (in a positive light), but also Valens (who was a leader who Polycarp states left the faith, probably in Rome). Polycarp also never mentions Linus, Pius, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome. The letter titled The Martyrdom of Polycarp is basically all about Polycarp, and it too never mentions Linus, Pius, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome.

The Didache (otherwise known as The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) mentions that deacons and bishops are to be appointed (15:1), but again it never mentions Linus, Pius, or anyone who became the "bishop of Rome".

There is simply no direct, nor indirect, reference to Pius in any of the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (though he was later claimed to be the brother of the writer of one of those writings, though he himself is not mentioned in it). Pius, according to his complete omission from the writings of the "Apostolic Fathers" (circa 100-160 A.D.) simply did not have a major leadership role in the Church.

No Roman Popes Prior to the 4th Century

By not referring to Pius as a pope in this paper, I am not being disrespectful to his memory, but historically accurate.

It needs to be understood that the title pope for the bishop of Rome was NOT taken until the late fourth century as nearly all Catholic sources acknowledge. The following are two such sources:

SIRICIUS, ST. (384-399)...was the first to assume the title of pope from the Greek papa meaning father (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 13).

The title pope (papa)...It was apparently in the fourth century that it began to become a distinctive title of the Roman Pontiff. Pope Siricius (d. 398) seems so to use it (Ep. vi in P. L., XIII, 1164) (Joyce G. H. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. The Pope. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Therefore, any person wishing to be accurate would never refer to Pius as a pope or pontiff.

Was Pius Peter's Spiritual Successor?

While I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Pius, was the actual successor.

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Thiel B. Ph.D. Pius of Rome. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007 0725

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