Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online

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Pontifex Maximus
(572 words)

The title pontifex maximus (“supreme pontiff”) derives, as is well known, from the most important priest 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 years after the rejection of the ponti…

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Marco Simón, Francisco, “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 21 July 2024 <>
First published online: 2018

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