Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online

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Pontifex Maximus
(580 words)

The title pontifex maximus (“supreme pontiff”) derives, as is well known, from the most important priest (Priest/Presbyter) in the Roman religion. However, its use within Christianity is much later than is generally assumed. Contrary to the idea that it was already held by Pope Leo I (440–461 CE), the title was not initially used because of its pagan (Pagan/Paganism) connotations and because it had been a key element in imperial titles since Augustus. In fact, it was unknown in papal nomenclature until the Renaissance. Two ye…

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Simón, Francisco Marco, “Pontifex Maximus”, in: Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online, General Editor David G. Hunter, Paul J.J. van Geest, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte. Consulted online on 28 September 2023 <>
First published online: 2022

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