Bible Dictionaries
Pius I., Bishop of Rome

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Search for…
Prev Entry
Pionius, Martyr at Smyrna
Next Entry
Placidia, Empress
Resource Toolbox

Pius I., bp. of Rome after Hyginus in the middle part of 2nd cent. The dates cannot be fixed with certainty, the traditions being contradictory. The Liberian Catalogue and the Felician both name Antoninus Pius (138–161) as the contemporary emperor, as does Eusebius ( H. E. iv. 11). Lipsius ( Chronol. der röm. Bischöf. ), after full discussion of the chronology, assigns from 139 to 154 as the earliest, and from 141 to 156 as the latest, tenable dates. The absence of distinct early records of the early Roman bishops is further shewn by the fact that both the Liberian and Felician Catalogues place Anicetus between Hyginus and Pius. So also Optatus (ii. 48) and Augustine (Ep. 53, ordo novus ). But that the real order was Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, may be considered certain from the authority of Hegesippus (quoted by Eus. H. E. iv. 22), who was at Rome himself in the time of Anicetus, and, when there, made out a succession of the Roman bishops. Irenaeus, who visited Rome in the time of Eleutherus, gives the same order ( adv. Haer. iii. 3; cf. Eus. iv. 1; v. 24; Epipb. adv. Haer. xxvii. 6).

The episcopate of Pius is important for the introduction of Gnostic heresy into Rome. The heresiarchs Valentinus and Cerdo had come thither in the time of Hyginus and continued to teach there under Pius (Iren. i. 27, ii. 4; cf. Eus. H. E. iv. 11). Marcion of Pontus, who took up the teaching of Cerdo and developed from it his own peculiar system, arrived there after the death of Hyginus (Epiph. Haer. xlii. 1; cf. Eus. H. E. iv. 11).

Pius, according to the MURATORIAN FRAGMENT (c. 170) and the Liberian Catalogue, was brother to HERMAS, the writer of the Shepherd . Lipsius (op. cit. ) considers this relationship established. Westcott (Canon of N. T. pt. i. c. 2) accepts it, and adduces internal evidence in the work of Hermas itself.

Those who maintain the view of the presbyterian constitution of the early Roman church, and of the earliest so-called bishops having been in fact only leading presbyters, to whom a distinct episcopal office was afterwards assigned by way of tracing the succession, would attribute the development of the later episcopal system to the age of Pius, Thus Lipsius speaks of him as the first bishop in the stricter sense ("Bischof im engeren Sinn"). He supposes both Hyginus and Pius to have presided over the college of presbyters, though only as primi inter pares , and the need of a recognized head of the church to resist Gnostic teachers to have led to the latter obtaining a position of authority which, after his time, became permanent. The advocates of this view adduce passages from the Shepherd of Hermas, in which messages are sent in rebuke of strifes for precedence among the Christians at Rome ( Vis. iii. 9; Mandat. ix.; Simil. viii. 7). These strifes are assumed to denote the beginning of struggles for episcopal power in the supposed later sense But there is no evidence in the passages of the strifes having anything to do with such struggles. [HERMAS.]

More cogent is the fact that, in the account given by Epiphanius of Marcion's arrival in Rome, he is represented as having applied for communion to the presbyters, without mention of the bishop. Those to whom he applied, and who gave judgment, are called "the seniors (πρεσβῦται ), who, having been taught by the disciples of the apostles, still survived" (adv. Haer. xlii. i); also "the presbyters ( πρεσβῦτεροι ) of that time" (ib. c. 2); also ἐπιεικεῖς καὶ πανάγιοι πρεσβύτεροι καὶ διδάσκαλοι τῆς ἁγίας ἐκκλησίας . But these expressions do not disprove the existence of a presiding bishop, acting in and through his synod, who would himself be included in the designation πρεσβύτεροι . For it was not till some time after the apostolic period that the names ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος were used distinctively to denote two orders of clergy. Even Irenaeus, though enumerating the bishops of Rome from the first as distinct from the general presbytery, still speaks of them as presbyters; using in one place (iii. 2, 2) the phrase "successiones presbyterorum," though in another (iii. 3, 1 and 2) "successiones episcoporum." Cf. iv. 26, 2, 3, 5; v. 20, 2; and Ep ad Victorem ( ap. Eus. v. 24); where the bishops before Soter are called πρεσβύτεροι ὁι προστάντες τῆς ἐκκλησίας . Tertullian also (Apol. c. 39) calls bishops and presbyters together seniores. Moreover, the omission by Epiphanius of any mention of a head of the Roman presbytery at the time of Marcion's visit may be due to a vacancy in the see. For it is said to be after the death of Hyginus, with no mention of Pius having succeeded. In such circumstances the college of presbyters would naturally entertain the case. Certainly very soon after the period before us, both Pius and his predecessors from the first were spoken of as having been bishops (however designated) in a distinctive sense, and Anicetus, the successor of Pius, appears historically as such on the occasion of Polycarp's visit to Rome (Iren. ap. Eus. H. E. v. 24).

Four letters and several decrees are assigned to Pius, of which the first two letters (to all the faithful and to the Italians) and the decrees are universally rejected as spurious. The two remaining letters, addressed to Justus, bp. of Vienne, are accepted as genuine by Baronius, Binius, and Bona, but have no real claims to authenticity.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Pius I., Bishop of Rome'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography.​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​p/pius-i-bishop-of-rome.html. 1911.