What is an Antipope?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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An antipope is someone who claims to be the Pope, but is not recognized as a validly elected pope by the Roman Catholic Church. The only official Pope is the one elected and ratified in Rome by a council of cardinals upon the death of the last Pope. Antipopes reflect arguments and schisms within the church, some of which have historically been political in nature, while others have stemmed from disputes over religious doctrine.

The first recorded and widely recognized antipope was Hippolytus, in the third century CE. Ultimately, Hippolytus was canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint, because he reconciled with the church before his death. The last notable antipope was Felix IV, in the 1400s, illustrating the remarkable stability of the Roman Catholic Church after it managed to gain the upper hand in the Papal Schism of the early 1400s. A number of lesser antipopes have cropped up since this time, but usually in such isolated areas and with such small groups of followers that they have not been considered important.


There are a number of ways in which someone can become an antipope. At various points in history, people have simply declared themselves popes, but typically such antipopes gain little public support or attention. Most typically, an antipope arises as the result of a religious faction working in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. During the Papal Schism, for example, rival groups in Avignon and Rome vied for control of the Papacy, and each elected its own pope.

Antipopes can also be elected by third party organizations, as also happened in the Papal Schism, when an attempt was made to reconcile the problem and a third rival to the papacy was produced instead. In some cases, antipopes have also been declared by political entities, such as kings, typically out of a desire to gain control of the church for political or social reasons.

Historically, when the Roman Catholic Church has received word of an antipope, it has often moved to excommunicate the antipope, along with his supporters. This severe penalty is designed both to punish the antipope and his faction, and to serve as a warning to would-be dissenters in the church. Rome maintains control of the Catholic Church and wishes to make this clear to Catholics all over the world; policy changes, decisions to alter the liturgy, and reforms in religious doctrine must all originate from Rome, just as the Pope himself does.


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Post 4

@stl156 - You are probably correct about the Avignon anti-popes being the most famous and powerful of all anti-popes but they are not the only anti-popes.

The Catholic Church is a religion that has nearly one billion members and there are many people who are never satisfied with church leadership and would like someone else in charge. Out of this feeling many anti-popes emerge all over the world and it is not uncommon at all to have an anti-pope in some form.

All that is needed for someone to be an anti-pope is a large base of support among members of the Catholic Church. I believe a village in a country in Eastern Europe declared one of their own the

pope after they were dissatisfied with the leadership of the Catholic Church. Again it is not at all uncommon to have an anti-pope and they never really have any power or really challenge the church authority at all, not since the Avignon anti-popes and that was nearly seven hundred years ago.
Post 3

@Emilski - What you are referring to concerning the two popes concerns the end of the Avignon Papacy.

Avignon is located in France and a french man was elected Pope but refused to move to Rome and instead moved the headquarters of the Catholic Church to Avignon France. Now the problem that occurred by doing this was that intense corruption occurred, mostly by the french governmental influence, and the Papacy stayed headquartered in France for almost a century.

After the Papacy moved back to Italy, several anti-popes followed in France and they still had a lot of support due to the French influence for nearly a century on the Papacy and that led to much support. A line of anti-popes continued for another on-hundred years and challenged the Catholic Church immensely until they were eventually suppressed. This is probably the most famous group of anti-popes and is probably the closest to overtaking the Catholic Church.

Post 2

@titans62 - I totally agree with you. The Catholic Church has had power struggles in the past similar to power struggles involving leadership of countries.

People do not realize how often the power of the Catholic Church has been challenged in the past and the number of anti-popes number well into the double digits in over the many centuries that the Catholic Church has been in power. I even believe that in the past there were anti-popes that were so strongly supported by people that the anti-popes for a time had as much power as the regular popes and were seen as the leaders of the Catholic Church by many.

Post 1

Although some people think that the Catholic Church is simply a religion with an elected leader, in the past it was not anywhere near as stable as it is nowadays and can be compared to a country (which Vatican City, where the Pope resides, technically is a country.)

The power struggles in the past in the Catholic Church have been similar to power struggles in countries and it is something that is very interesting to study, especially since the Catholic Church keeps fantastic records going back several centuries.

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