The Truth About The First Pope

On the date of March 13, 2013, the Catholic Church recognized its 266th pope, according to Biography, when the current pontiff, Francis, was elected. Most of the time, the pope serves until death. Therefore, some have served longer than others, with a particularly short stint being held by Pope John Paul I, who famously held the office for just over a month before dying in his sleep in 1978. On the other hand, Francis was elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned after just shy of eight years in the job, the first pope to step down from the job, while still breathing, since 1415.

One of the defining characteristics of the Catholic Church is the importance the institution places on the papacy, the office of the pope. Obviously, there have been some very naughty popes along the way. All of them are, and have been, human. Sometimes they've been very human, prone to missteps, mistakes in judgment, but also, decisive leadership for the good of not only the Church, but the world. Several popes, including Francis, have spoken before the United Nations. 

All in all, though, the Church believes that God helps guide the election process that results in a new leader ... and they also believe that history shows an unbroken line of popes since the time of Jesus Christ.

The first pope was crucified upside down

So if Pope Francis is Pope #266, who was Pope #1? 

According to, that distinction belongs to the Apostle Peter, chosen by Jesus Christ himself to lead the new Church. In Matthew 16, Jesus proclaims, "You are Peter, and upon this rock" — the name Jesus uses translates to rock — "I will build my church." Peter's authority is further recognized in the New Testament's Acts of the Apostles. Like many religious figures, tradition plays into the story more than solid history, and it's tradition that tells us that when Peter was sentenced to be crucified, he stated that he was unworthy to die the way Jesus did, and so asked to be crucified upside down.

Since then, as the Guardian reports, papal tradition has long considered St. Peter the first pope, followed by St. Linus, and then St. Anacletus.