Do Coptic Christians Recognize the Pope?

by Brian E. Frydenborg
Copts mourn the death of their pope outside a Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt.

Copts mourn the death of their pope outside a Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt.

Coptic Christians do not recognize the Roman Catholic Pope based in Rome as having religious or spiritual authority over them. In fact, Coptic Christians have their own separate pope and church, and have been apart from the Catholic Church for well over a millennium. Here we will explain Coptic Christianity by looking at its history, information on its pope, and information on its community.

Foundation

Outside the immediate area where Jesus of Nazareth lived and preached, Egypt was one of the first areas where Christianity spread. Coptics believe that Jesus's own Apostle Mark came to Egypt around 50 CE, and count him as their first Pope of Alexandria. and a large Christian community was established there.

Split with the Rest of Christianity

When Christians in the Roman Empire held the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, the Christian community that would later be called the Coptic Orthodox Church separated from the rest of the the official, Imperial backed Church (which would later split into the Catholic and Orthodox Church) over a dispute on the exact nature of the divinity of Jesus, a dispute which in modern times has narrowed greatly. Copts held that Jesus's divine and human natures were one and the same, what is known as the monophytist belief. This differs from the Catholic/Eastern Orthodox interpretation which holds that Jesus had two distinct divine and human aspects.

The Coptic Papacy

Coptic Christians are led their by their own pope, 118 of them since Mark the Apostle. Election of the Coptic Pope is a very unique process. Potential Coptic Popes must be 40 years old and have been monks for 15 years. The three candidates who get the most votes have their names put on pieces of paper and a child picks from these to pick the Coptic Pope. The current Coptic Pope is Tawadros II, who took office just last year in 2012.

The Modern Coptic Church

Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church has between 6-11 million members in Egypt, totaling 6% (says the Egyptian government) to 20% (says the Coptic Church) of the population, and they are concentrated in several of Egypt's northern cities. There are also a million Copts outside of Egypt. Copts in Egypt believe they are denied their rightful share of power and have suffered persecution and, especially after the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime, increased violent attacks at the hands of Muslims.

About the Author

Brian E. Frydenborg lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He received his Master of Science in peace operations from George Mason University's School of Public Policy in 2011. Frydenborg also holds a double major Bachelor of Arts in history and politics from Washington and Lee University.

Photo Credits

  • Salah Malkawi/Getty Images News/Getty Images