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Why Doesnít the Pope Live in Jerusalem?

So hereís the thing: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, never left the country of Israel, and died in Jerusalem. It would seem that an international Christian organization would want its headquarters to be in Israel, even Jerusalem itself. But who wants to live and work there now with so much turmoil. But what about a Christian organization which predates the turmoil, which has been around (its followers say) since the time of Jesus Himself? Surely that organization would be headquartered in Israel. So that leads to the question of the day: Why doesnít the Pope live in Jerusalem?

Actually that is just the first part to the question. The second part would be, why does he live in Rome? As you might guess, there is a reason for Rome. In order to understand that, we have to look at the Catholic understanding of the Pope and a military action taken by the Muslims.

First, the Catholic understanding of the Pope. Catholics believed that the lineage of popes begins with Peter the Apostle. Why Peter? Catholic understanding holds that Jesus transferred spiritual authority to Peter as head of the Church on Earth (see Matthew 16:13-19).

Peter and Paul died in Rome (Peter being crucified upside down and Paul being beheaded since he was a roman citizen and could not be crucified.) After Peter died, the person next chosen as bishop of Rome also became the Pope. (According to Catholic understanding.)(Popes today still carry the title of Bishop of Rome.) Once that pope died, a new person was chosen as pope. And so on and on.

During this early time period bishops existed in cities other than Rome. All major cities and many minor ones eventually had bishops. But the one in Rome claimed authority as head of the Church through his lineage to Peter. And that is why Popes still live in Rome.

Second, the Muslim military action. As mentioned above, bishops lived in all major cities from early in Christian history. Even so, four cities had extremely influential bishops: Rome, Alexandria (Egypt), Jerusalem, and Antioch (where the Apostle Paul was from). Eventually another city/bishop was added to this list: Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium in 325 and changed its name to Constantinople. Since this was the new Roman capital, its bishop became extremely influential: now we have five important bishops.

Over time these bishops wrote to each other, both asking and giving advice. But something would happen in the year 610 which would change all this: three of these cities would loose their Christian identity and one would be severely limited. In that year, an Arab named Muhammad claimed that an angel had spoken to him. This was the beginning of the Muslim faith.

This occurred near Mecca, which is in present-day Saudia Arabia. Islam spread during Muhammadís lifetime throughout the Arabian Peninsula. But after Muhammadís death in 632, it really spread. Within 100 years of Muhammadís death, Muslims controlled all the land from present-day Turkey, south to northern Africa, and into Spain. This placed Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria in Muslim hands, which meant they ceased to exist as Christian strongholds. And Constantinople? It was besieged on several fronts and so its importance and influence was greatly reduced. That left only Rome as a center of Christian influence, and the bishop of Rome as the only influential Christian leader. And the head of the Catholic Church has remained there since.

©2010 Mark Nickens

Question/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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