Oldest Popes in History

12 Oldest Popes in History

The papacy is one of the oldest institutions in the world. It has been around for almost two thousand years, and there have been more than two hundred popes. It is the highest office in the Roman Catholic Church, and only a bishop can become a pope.

The Catholic Church believes that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he entrusted his apostles with his mission to spread the gospel of Christianity throughout the world.

The first pope was St. Peter, the first leader of the Christian church after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. The next Pope was St. Linus, who led the church for 11 years before he died in AD 76. In this article, we will take a look at 12 of the oldest popes in history.

We will discuss their origins, where they served, what they did during their reigns, and how long they served as Pope.

12. Pope John XXII (November 25, 1881 – June 3, 1963)

Age: 81 years and 189 days
Original Name: Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli
Nationality: French
Predecessor: Pius XII

photo source: Wikipedia

Pope John XXIII, also known as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was one of the most well-liked popes in history (reigned 1958–1963) and is credited with ushering in a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church through his willingness to embrace change (aggiornamento), which was especially evident in his convocation of the Second Vatican Council.

He published many encyclicals with significant societal impact, most notably Pacem in Terris. The formal procedures that would result in John being recognized as a saint were started by his successor, Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II declared him to be a saint in 2000.

Did You Know?

He was canonized in 2014 on the same day as Pope John Paul II.

11. Pope Innocent XII (March 13, 1615 – September 27, 1700)

Age: 85 years and 107 days
Original Name: Antonio Pignatelli
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Alexander VIII

Pope Innocent XIIphoto source: Papal Artifacts

Pope Innocent XII, also known as Antonio Pignatelli, presided over the Catholic Church and the Papal States from July 12, 1691, until his passing in September 1700.

The policies of Pope Innocent XI, who began the fight against nepotism but failed to gain momentum under Pope Alexander VIII, were continued by him, taking a challenging position against it in the Church. He issued a papal bull, strictly forbidding it to achieve this.

The Pope also used this bull to prevent relatives from receiving money or land.

Did You Know?

Based on the real-life account of the Pope’s intervention in a historical murder trial in Rome while he was Pope, Robert Browning’s lengthy poem The Ring and the Book (1869) features Pope Innocent as one of the narrators.

10. Pope Pius IX (May 13, 1792 – February 7, 1878)

Age: 85 years and 107 days
Original Name: Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Gregory XVI

photo source: Encyclopedia Britannica

By eliminating the distinction between an “alive” and “unanimated” fetus from Catholic dogma and establishing the order that a human should be safeguarded from conception onward, Pope Pius IX, also known as Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, made a significant contribution to the abortion issue.

Abortion at any stage of pregnancy was prohibited and subject to ex-communication under the decree he implemented during his papacy. The ruling of Pope Pius IX was codified as Catholic Church canon law.

Did You Know?

Expulsion for abortion established Canon Law in 1917 and was later updated in 1983 due to his efforts to penalize people who had abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

9. Pope Celestine V (May 19, 1215 – May 19, 1296)

Age: 86 years
Original Name: Pietro Angelerio di Morrone
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Nicholas IV

Pope Celestine Vphoto source: SUNDRY THOUGHTS

The order of the Celestines, a division of the Benedictine order, was established by Pope Celestine V, also known as Pietro Angelerio, in his early years as a monk and hermit. After a two-year deadlock, he was chosen Pope in the Catholic Church’s final non-conclave papal election.

The affirmation of the Pope’s ability to resign was one of his few remaining edicts; practically all of his other formal actions were revoked by his successor, Boniface VIII.

A week after delivering the proclamation, on December 13, 1294, Celestine announced his resignation and expressed his wish to resume his simple, pre-papal existence. After that, Boniface imprisoned him in the castle of Fumone in the area of Lazio to stop him from becoming the antipope. At 81, he passed away in custody on May 19, 1296.

Did You Know?

The plays Sunsets and Glories by Peter Barnes from 1990 and L’avventura di un povero Cristiano (The Story of a Humble Christian) by Ignazio Silone from 1968 dramatize the life of Pope Celestine V.

8. Pope Clement X (July 13, 1590 – July 22, 1676)

Age: 86 years and 9 days
Original Name: Emilio Altieri
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Clement IX

Pope Clement Xphoto source: Wikipedia

From 29 April 1670 until his passing in July 1676, Pope Clement X, also known as Emilio Bonaventura Altieri, served as the head of the Catholic Church and the dictator of the Papal States. He was elected Pope at 79, making him the oldest Pope in history.

Nineteen Martyrs of Gorkum, who had been captured in Gorcum, the Netherlands, and executed in Brielle on July 9, 1572, out of hatred for the Catholic faith, the primacy of the Pope, and the Roman Church, were beatified by Clement X on November 24, 1673.

Anybody who gave a relic a name other than the cardinal-vicar gave it would face severe penalties, as the Pope ruled. Moreover, anyone who demanded any payment for sealed and genuine relics was warned they would suffer the punishment of ex-communication.

Did You Know?

Along with Pietro, Francesco Orsini, who would eventually become Pope Benedict XIII, was one of the 20 cardinals that Clement X created in six consistories.

7. Pope Francis (December 17, 1936 – present)

Age: 86 years (in progress)
Original Name: Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Nationality: Argentine
Predecessor: Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francisphoto source: Catholics News Agency

Although the 76-year-old Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires is well-known across the continent, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or Pope Francis, nonetheless maintains the simplicity of a pastor and is much loved by his diocese, throughout which he has traveled extensively by bus and the underground during his 15 years as an ecclesiastical leader.

The son of Italian immigrants, he was born on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires.

His mother, Regina Sivori, was a loving woman committed to raising their five children, while his father, Mario, had been an accountant hired by the railways. He received his priestly ordination from Archbishop Ramón José Castellano on December 13, 1969.

There at the University of Alcalá de Henares in Spain, he continued his education in 1970 and 1971, and on April 22, 1973, he started his last career with the Jesuits.

Did You Know?

Pope Francis is considered the first to become Pope from the Americas, particularly Argentina.

6. Pope Clement XII (April 7, 1652 – February 6, 1740)

Age: 87 years and 305 days
Original Name: Lorenzo Corsini
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Benedict XIII

Pope Clement XIIphoto source: Wikipedia

Pope Clement oversaw the expansion of a deficit in the papal coffers. As a result, he gained notoriety for creating the Trevi Fountain, adding a new façade to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, and buying Cardinal Alessandro Albani’s antiquities collection for the papal gallery.

He issues the first official papal denunciation of Freemasonry in his bull In eminenti apostolatus from 1738.

Bartolomeo Corsini, Marquis of Casigliano, and Elisabetta Strozzi, the Duke of Bagnuolo’s sister, were the parents of Lorenzo Corsini, who was born in Florence in 1652. His parents were both sprung from the old nobility of Florentine. He belonged to Saint Andrea Corsini’s extended family.

He worked to bring the Roman and Orthodox churches together, received the Coptic Church’s patriarch, and convinced the Armenian Patriarch to lift the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo I.

Did You Know?

On December 19, 1735, he appointed Luis Antonio Jaime de Borbón y Farnesio, the Royal Infant of Spain, age 8, to the Sacred College, making him the youngest Cardinal ever.

5. Pope Lucius III (c. 1097 – November 25, 1185)

Age: 88 years
Original Name: Ubaldo Allucingoli
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Alexander III

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Pope Lucius III was a native of Lucca and was born as Ubaldo, the son of aristocracy Orlando Allucingoli, maybe around 1097. Pope Innocent II made him a cardinal in December 1138. He was also dispatched as a legate to France.

He served as a legate to Sicily for Pope Eugene III, and in January 1159, Pope Adrian IV elevated him to the position of Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri. Finally, in September 1181, Cardinal Allucingoli, who went by Lucius, was elected Pope in Velletri.

He resided in Rome from November 1181 to March 1182. Still, due to unrest in the city, he was forced to spend the remaining time of his papacy in exile, primarily in Velletri, Anagni, and Verona.

Since Lucius refused to crown Henry of Hohenstaufen as Frederick I’s predestined heir in 1185 because of his anti-imperial policies, the gulf between the Empire and the Curia on Italian political matters grew.

Did You Know?

He was first made a cardinal-deacon of San Adriano and later, in May 1141, a cardinal-priest of Santa Prassede.

4. Pope Celestine III (c. 1106 – January 8, 1198)

Age: 92 years
Original Name: Giacinto Bobone
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pope Innocent III

Pope Celestine IIIphoto source: Wikipedia

From 30 March or 10 April 1191 until his passing in 1198, Pope Celestine III presided over the Catholic Church and the Papal States. He had contentious ties with various kings, notably King Tancred of Sicily, Emperor Henry VI, and King Alfonso IX of León. Despite Henry VI’s wife’s claim, Celestine acknowledged Tancred as the ruler of Sicily in 1192.

He threatened to have King Richard I of England excommunicated for holding him imprisoned illegally, but he could not do so since the College of Cardinals opposed it.

On the grounds of consanguinity, Celestine also denounced King Alfonso IX of Leon’s union with Theresa of Portugal. As a result, León and Portugal were placed under an interdict.

Did You Know?

Shortly before his death, Celestine would have resigned from the papacy and suggested a successor, but the cardinals forbade him from doing so.

3. Pope Gregory XII (c. 1325 – October 18, 1417)

Age: 92 years
Original Name: Angelo Correr
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Innocent VII

Pope Celestine IIIphoto source: New York Daily News

From 30 November 1406 until 4 July 1415, Pope Gregory XII, born Angelo Correr, served as the leader of the Catholic Church.

He was opposed by Alexander V and John XXIII of Pisa, Alexander V of Avignon, and Benedict XIII of the Western Schism. Gregory XII resigned freely in 1415 to resolve the Schism and bring the Church together.

He was appointed the titular Latin Patriarch of Constantinople on December 1st, 1390. Pope Innocent VII appointed him a cardinal and made him the Cardinal-Priest of San Marco on June 12, 1405. He served as Constantinople’s Apostolic Administrator from 30 November 1406 until 23 October 1409.

Did You Know?

Gregory XII lived out the remainder of his days in quiet seclusion at Ancona. Until Benedict XVI did so on February 28, 2013, over 598 years later, he was the latest Pope to step down.

2. Pope Leo XIII (March 2, 1810 – July 20, 1903)

Age: 93 years and 140 days
Original Name: Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci
Nationality: Italian
Predecessor: Pius IX

Pope Leo XIIIphoto source: Supremacy and Survival

The intellectualism of Pope Leo XIII and his efforts to clarify the Catholic Church’s stance on contemporary thought is widely recognized.

Pope Leo explained the worker’s right to a fair wage, safe working conditions, and the creation of trade unions in his well-known encyclical Rerum Novarum, which also affirmed the rights of property and free enterprise.

Pope Leo opposed both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism and supported the rights of property and free enterprise.

Leo XIII is renowned in particular for his conviction that pastoral work in the social and political spheres was also a crucial task of the church as a means of promoting social justice and upholding the rights and dignity of the human person.

Did You Know?

His bones were first moved to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in 1924 after being interred in the grottos of Saint Peter’s Basilica upon his passing in 1903.

1. Pope Benedict XVI (April 16, 1927 – present)

Age: 95 years and 244 days
Original Name: Joseph Alois Ratzinger
Nationality: German
Predecessor: John Paul II

photo source: Catholic News Agency

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, served as the Catholic Church’s 265th Supreme Pontiff and is considered the oldest Pope in history. On April 19, 2005, he was chosen to be Pope St. John Paul II’s successor.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published several books about the Catholic religion and its teachings before and after he was chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

He is a well-known theologian who, first as a Prince of the Church and later as Holy Father, significantly impacted our world. Unfortunately, he resigned from the papacy on February 28, 2013, becoming the first pope to do so since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, citing a “loss of vigor in mind and body.” Nevertheless, many people continue to find inspiration in his life’s sanctity.

Did You Know?

The Vatican revealed that Benedict XVI had signed up on Twitter in December 2012 under the username @Pontifex.


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