How Is the Pope "Elected?"
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The First Pope & Early Years
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According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ chose his apostle Peter as the first Pope of Christianity. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Peter:

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus then strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

The Bible’s New Testament contains an additional four metaphors for the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:5–6, Rev. 21:14). However, the Bible does not mention how Popes were to be elected after Peter. So, the early Christians began to develop their own procedures for electing new Popes, under a body of canon law – religious law.

During the early years of Christianity, the senior members of the Christian community and general laity – the general members of Christianity – elected the Pope. Later, only the senior clergymen in and around Rome elected the Pope. In 1059, the Roman Catholic Church restricted the job of electing the Pope to the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. (A cardinal is a priest and senior official of the Church, and usually a bishop. The cardinals of the Church are collectively known as the College of Cardinals.)

The modern election of the Pope was set forth during the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, in which a group of bishops, abbots, and many other representatives met to discuss religious topics such as the election of the Pope. The Council of Lyons established the modern election of the Pope and the conclave (which will be discussed later in this article).

Next, we’ll go over what happens when the Pope dies.