From the Italian word papa, it has been used since the 6th century to describe the "father" of the Church. For this reason he is also known as the "Holy Father."

Pontifex Maximus

This title is derived from the Latin word pons, meaning "bridge," and the adjective maximus, which means "great." It reflects his role as a "bridge builder."

Summus Pontifex

Originally a name used for Roman leaders, it means the pope is the "highest priest" in the Catholic Church.


Derived from pontifex, pontiff was another Roman term that referred to the highest priest. The pope is often referred to as the supreme pontiff or the Roman pontiff.

Servant of the Servants of God

Adopted by St. Gregory the Great in 602, the title reflects the pope's role as a servant to the people of God in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Vicar of Christ

Added by St. Leo the Great in the 5th century, it reminds the faithful of the pope's role as an earthly representative whom Jesus appoints to shepherd his flock. The word vicar means "one who rules or leads in the place of another."

Sovereign of the Vatican City State

A recent title of the pope, it recognizes his role as leader of the Vatican City State.

Bishop of Rome

Ever since St. Peter, the pope has been known for his role as the local bishop of the city of Rome.

Primate of Italy

Historically each region of the Church has a "primate," which refers to the first or primary leader of the Church in that specific area.

His Holiness

This title is most commonly used when addressing the pope, but is also used for other religious leaders in the English language.