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Antipope Felix V, the last historically significant Antipope.

An antipope (from Latin: meaning "rival-pope" or "counter-pope")[1] is a person who makes a controversial, yet substantially accepted, claim to be the lawful Pope, and is elected in opposition to the Pope that is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Antipopes are typically those supported by a fairly significant faction of cardinals, and in several cases it was hard to tell who was, in fact, the lawful Pope, since the claim of each was widely accepted.

There have been several antipopes throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The period when antipopes were most numerous was during the struggles between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The emperors frequently imposed their own nominees, in order to further their cause. (The popes, likewise, sometimes sponsored rival imperial claimants in Germany in order to overcome a particular emperor.) Rival claimants to the papacy were also common during the Western Schism and the Avignon Papacy.

In modern times, claimants to the Papacy who have few followers, such as the Sedevacantist antipopes, are not generally counted as antipopes, and therefore are ignored for regnal numbering.


Early period

The earliest antipope is debated. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Natalius was the first antipope but he allegedly recanted and came back to the fold. [2] However, the most widely recognized earliest antipope was Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) who protested against Pope Callixtus I and headed a separate group within the Roman Catholic Church.[3] Hippolytus was later reconciled to Callixtus's second successor Pope Pontian, when both were condemned to the mines on the island of Sardinia. He has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Whether two or more persons have been confused in this account of Hippolytus,[4] and whether Hippolytus actually declared himself to be the Bishop of Rome, remains unclear, especially since no such claim is found in the writings attributed to him.[5]

Novatian (d. 258), another third-century figure, certainly claimed the See of Rome in opposition to Pope Cornelius, and is thus reckoned as another early antipope.

Middle Ages and Avignon era (the "Babylonian captivity")

The period when antipopes were most numerous was during the struggles between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The emperors frequently imposed their own nominees, in order to further their cause. (The popes, likewise, sometimes sponsored rival imperial claimants in Germany in order to overcome a particular emperor.)

Additionally, the Catholic Church endured a prolonged period of crisis that lasted from 1305 until 1416. During these years, the Church found its authority undermined, openly challenged, and divided among rivals. Although it emerged at the end of the period with its authority seemingly intact, the struggle brought significant changes to the structure of the Church and sowed seeds that would later sprout in the Protestant Reformation.

This century of crisis can be divided into two periods of unequal length: the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism.

Avignon Papacy

In the first phase, the popes were resident not in Rome but in Avignon, in southern France. Because a bishop is supposed to reside in his see, this circumstance, which lasted from 1305 to 1378, undermined the authority and prestige of the papacy. During this period, seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon:

  • Pope Clement V: 1305–1314 (moved Papal residency in 1309, his fourth year of office, having consented to, if not colluded with, King Phillip IV in the mass imprisonments and property seizures in 1307 in southern France of the Knights Templar, a wealthy organization Papally-ordained in 1128 as subject to no Kingly authority, only to the Pope)
  • Pope John XXII: 1316–1334
  • Pope Benedict XII: 1334–1342
  • Pope Clement VI: 1342–1352
  • Pope Innocent VI: 1352–1362
  • Pope Urban V: 1362–1370
  • Pope Gregory XI: 1370–1378

In 1378, Gregory XI moved the papal residence back to Rome and died there.

The Western Schism

After 70 years in France the papal curia was naturally French in its ways and, to a large extent, in its staff. Back in Rome some degree of tension between French and Italian factions was inevitable. This tension was brought to a head by the death of the French pope Gregory XI within a year of his return to Rome. The Roman crowd, said to be in threatening mood, demanded a Roman pope or at least an Italian one. In 1378 the conclave elected an Italian from Naples, Pope Urban VI. His intransigence in office soon alienated the French cardinals. And the behavior of the Roman crowd enabled them to declare, in retrospect, that his election was invalid, voted under duress.

The French cardinals withdrew to a conclave of their own, where they elected one of their number, Robert of Geneva. He took the name Pope Clement VII. By 1379 he was back in the palace of popes in Avignon, while Urban VI remained in Rome.

This was the beginning of the period of difficulty from 1378 to 1417 which Catholic scholars refer to as the "Western schism" or, "the great controversy of the antipopes" (also called "the second great schism" by some secular and Protestant historians), when parties within the Catholic church were divided in their allegiances among the various claimants to the office of pope. The Council of Constance in 1417 finally resolved the controversy.

Resolution and impact of the Western Schism

For nearly 40 years the Church had two papal curias and two sets of cardinals, each electing a new pope for Rome or Avignon when death created a vacancy. Each pope lobbied for support among kings and princes who played them off against each other, changing allegiance when according to political advantage.

In 1409 a council was convened at Pisa to resolve the issue. The council declared both existing popes to be schismatic (Gregory XII from Rome, Benedict XIII from Avignon) and appointed a new one, Alexander V. But neither of the existing popes had been persuaded to resign, so the church had three popes.

Another council was convened in 1414 at Constance. In March 1415 the Pisan pope, John XXIII, fled from Constance in disguise; he was brought back a prisoner and deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned voluntarily in July.

The Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, refused to come to Constance. In spite of a personal visit from the emperor Sigismund, he would not consider resignation. The council finally deposed him in July 1417. Denying their right to do so, he withdrew to an impregnable castle on the coast of Spain. Here he continued to act as pope, creating new cardinals and issuing decrees, until his death in 1423.

The council in Constance, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V as pope in November.

Political theorists in the mid-fourteenth century began to express the view that the papacy was not even the supreme power source in the church, but that a duly-convened council of the higher clergy could override popes in circumstances that warranted intervention. The Schism was the supreme example of such circumstances, and the actions of the Council of Constance, which deposed three rival popes and elected a single pope to take up residence in Rome, represented the high point of conciliarist influence. Soon after, however, Pope Martin V, the very pope whom the council had put in place began the work at setting aside conciliarist attempts to make regular meetings of councils a permanent feature of church governance.

Thus, the Great Western Schism, which, on the grounds of the allegedly invalid election of Pope Urban VI, began in 1378 with the election of Clement VII, who took up residence in Avignon, France, led to two, and eventually three, rival lines of claimants to papacy: the Roman line, the Avignon line, and the Pisan line. The last-mentioned line was named after the town of Pisa, Italy, where the council that elected Alexander V as a third claimant was held. To end the schism, the Council of Constance deposed, in May 1415, John XXIII of the Pisan line, whose claim to legitimacy was based on a council's choice. Pope Gregory XII of the Roman line resigned in July 1415. The Council formally deposed Benedict XIII of the Avignon line, who refused to resign, in July 1417. Afterwards, Pope Martin V was elected and was accepted everywhere, except in the small and rapidly diminishing area that remained faithful to Benedict XIII. The scandal of the Great Schism created anti-papal sentiment and fed into the Protestant Reformation at the turn of the sixteenth century.

List of historical antipopes

Antipope Original name Dates Notes In opposition to:
Natalius around 200 later reconciled Pope Zephyrinus
Hippolytus 217–235 later reconciled with Pope Pontian Pope Callixtus I
Pope Urban I
Pope Pontian
Novatian 251–258 founder of Novatianism Pope Cornelius
Pope Lucius I
Pope Stephen I
Pope Sixtus II
Felix II 355–365 installed by Roman Emperor Constantius II Pope Liberius
Antipope Ursicinus Ursinus 366–367 Pope Damasus
Antipope Eulalius 418–419 Pope Boniface I
Antipope Laurentius 498–499
Byzantine emperor Anastasius I Pope Symmachus
Antipope Dioscorus 530 Pope Boniface II
Antipope Theodore 687 Pope Sergius I
Paschal (I) 687 Pope Sergius I
Constantine II 767–768 Pope Stephen III
Philip 768 installed by envoy of Lombard King Desiderius
John VIII 844 elected by acclamation Pope Sergius II
Anastasius III Bibliothecarius 855 Pope Benedict III
Christopher 903–904 between Pope Leo V and Pope Sergius III
Boniface VII 974 between Pope Benedict VI and Pope Benedict VII
984–985 between Pope John XIV and Pope John XV
John XVI John Filagatto 997–998 supported by Byzantine emperor Basil II Pope Gregory V
Gregory VI 1012 Pope Benedict VIII
Benedict X John Mincius 1058–1059 supported by the Counts of Tusculum Pope Nicholas II
Honorius II Pietro Cadalus 1061–1064 Agnes, regent of the Holy Roman Empire Pope Alexander II
Clement III Guibert of Ravenna 1080, 1084–1100 supported by Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor Pope Gregory VII
Pope Victor III
Pope Urban II
Pope Paschal II
Theodoric 1100–1101 successor to Clement III Pope Paschal II
Adalbert or Albert 1101 successor to Theodoric
Sylvester IV Maginulf 1105–1111 supported by Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor
Gregory VIII Maurice Burdanus 1118–1121 Pope Gelasius II
Pope Callixtus II
Celestine II Thebaldus Buccapecus 1124 Pope Honorius II
Anacletus II Pietro Pierleoni 1130–1138 Pope Innocent II
Victor IV Gregorio Conti 1138 successor to Anacletus II
Victor IV Ottavio di Montecelio 1159–1164 supported by Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor Pope Alexander III
Paschal III Guido di Crema 1164–1168
Callixtus III Giovanni of Struma 1168–1178
Innocent III Lanzo of Sezza 1179–1180
Nicholas V Pietro Rainalducci 1328–1330 supported by Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor Pope John XXII
Clement VII Robert of Geneva 1378–1394 Avignon Pope Urban VI
Pope Boniface IX
Benedict XIII Pedro de Luna 1394–1423 Avignon
Pope Innocent VII
Pope Gregory XII
Pope Martin V
Alexander V Pietro Philarghi 1409–1410 Pisa Pope Gregory XII
John XXIII Baldassare Cossa 1410–1415 Pisa
Clement VIII Gil Sánchez Muñoz 1423–1429 Avignon Pope Martin V
Benedict XIV Bernard Garnier 1424–1429 Avignon
Benedict XIV Jean Carrier 1430–1437 Avignon
Pope Eugene IV
Felix V Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy November 5, 1439 –
April 7, 1449
elected by the Council of Basel
Pope Nicholas V

The list of Popes and Antipopes in the Annuario Pontificio does not include Natalius (perhaps because of the uncertainty of the evidence) nor Antipope Clement VIII. It may be that the following of the latter was considered insufficiently significant, like that of "Benedict XIV," who is mentioned along with him in the Catholic Encyclopedia article[6]

In its list of the Popes, the Holy See's annual directory, Annuario Pontificio, attaches to the name of Pope Leo VIII (963-965) the following note:

"At this point, as again in the mid-eleventh century, we come across elections in which problems of harmonizing historical criteria and those of theology and canon law make it impossible to decide clearly which side possessed the legitimacy whose factual existence guarantees the unbroken lawful succession of the Successors of Saint Peter. The uncertainty that in some cases results has made it advisable to abandon the assignation of successive numbers in the list of the Popes."

As for Sylvester III, sometimes listed as an Antipope, the Holy See's Annuario Pontificio classifies him as a Pope, not an Antipope. In line with its above-quoted remark on the obscurities about the canon law of the time and the historical facts, especially in the mid-eleventh century, it makes no judgement on the legitimacy of his takeover of the position of Pope in 1045. The Catholic Encyclopedia places him in its List of Popes [7] though with the annotation: "Considered by some to be an antipope."

Current claimants

Whilst all modern claimants to the Papacy are technically antipopes, none of them have received wide enough recognition, as defined earlier in this article, to be considered as true antipopes. Modern antipopes are religious leaders of breakaway Roman Catholic sects who reject the commonly recognized Popes and instead claim the papacy for their own leaders. The Roman Catholic Church regards these as excommunicated schismatics as having incorrect views.

Most (but not all) of these groups derive from sedevacantism and thus are often called Sedevacantist antipopes or, more correctly, as Conclavist antipopes. Both Sedevacantists and Conclavists believe that the Popes of recent decades were heretics and not legitimate popes. While sedevacantists, as their name indicates, actually believe that the see of Rome is vacant and recognize nobody as Pope, Conclavists believe that by electing someone else as Pope, they have ended such vacancy.

Those individuals who have been chosen or have set themselves up as replacement popes are sometimes called antipopes. In contrast to historical antipopes, the number of their followers is minuscule and therefore they are mostly not recognized as serious claimants to the papacy. Some modern anti-popes have developed their own religious infrastructure, thus being popes of their particular sect. A significant number of them have taken the name "Peter II," due to its special significance.


In 1950, Frenchman Jean Colin claimed to receive revelations from God and to have been made Pope (even while Pope Pius XII was alive) as "Pope Clement XV." Pope Pius XII publicly declared him by name a "vitandus" excommunicate (one who should be avoided). In 1963, Jean Colin founded the ultra-liberal, ultra-modernist "The Renewed Church of Christ" or "Church of the Magnificat," based first in Lyons, then at Saint Jovite, Quebec, Canada. The Colinites have since disintegrated into several factions, with one successor "Pope" in France. Another, larger, faction is led by Jean-Gaston Tremblay, one of Colin's disciples, who declared himself constituted "Pope" by apparition even before Colin had died and who calls himself "Pope John-Gregory XVII." He is now based in Saint Jovite, as head of the "Order of the Magnificat" and "The Apostles of the Latter Days."

Palmarian Catholic Church

Another group known as the Palmarian Catholic Church accepts the Roman Catholic Popes until 1978, including Pope Paul VI, who is revered by them as a "martyr pope." However, they reject all subsequent Roman Catholic popes since 1978, and in their place, they elevated Clemente Domínguez y Gómez as Pope Gregory XVII. Gómez claimed to have Marian apparitions that informed him that the Vatican had become corrupt. He had a vision that the Holy See should be transferred to Palmar de Troya in Spain, and the Roman Pope excommunicated.

In 2005, Clemente Domínguez y Gómez was succeeded by Manuel Alonso Corral (as Peter II, the Pope of the Palmarian Catholic Church).


  1. Oxford English Dictionary: Antipope Retrieved December 17, 2007.
  2. Monarchians - Dynamists, or Adoptionists - Retrieved September 23, 2007. (See also Eusebius' EH5.28.8-12 who writes after being "scourged all night by the holy angels," covered in ash, dressed in sackcloth, and "after some difficulty," tearfully submitted to Pope Zephyrinus. It is said as proof of the angels' actual intervention, Natalius displayed the wounds they had left on his back.)
  3. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.(Oxford University Press, 1997), 149.
  4. The catacombs the destination of the great jubilee - Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  5. Hippolytus, Gregory Dix and Henry Chadwick, (ed.) The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub Co., 1991)
  6. Pope Martin V Retrieved December 17, 2007.
  7. List of Popes, Retrieved December 17, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kelly, J.N.D, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0192139649
  • MacCarron, Daniel. The Great Schism: Antipopes who split the church. D.M.C. Universal, 1982. ISBN 9780950780801
  • Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 9780198269540
  • Antipope Hippolytus, Gregory Dix and Henry Chadwick. The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr: Apostolike Paradosis. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub. Co., 1991. ISBN 9780819215727

External Links

All links retrieved July 31, 2023.


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