St Pius I was the ninth successor of St. Peter and he reigned for about twelve years between 142 and 154. He was the brother of Hermas who wrote “The Shepherd”. During his pontificate he had to deal with the gnostic heretics Valentinus, Cerdon and Marcion of Pontus. His saint day is celebrated on 11 July. Pius was a Roman born to Rufinus, the Liber Pontificalis claims he was from Aquileia but JP Kirsch believes this to be a confusion with a later Rufinus of Aquileia1. If the information related about Hermas’ own life (that he was a slave then later a freedman) in The Shepherd can be relied upon then this would tell us also about Pius’ life however scholars believe that it is likely that the story recounted in The Shepherd is fiction.

His Pontificate

It was during the pontificate of Pius’ predecessor, Hyginus, that the gnostic heretics Valentinus and Cerdon had arrived in Rome. Hyginus had been unable to prevent them preaching their gnostic heresy and the situation worsened for Pius when Marcion of Pontus arrived. Marcion studied the teachings of Cerdon and developed them even further. He went on to found his own church in Rome. However the visitors to Rome during Pius’ pontificate were not all bad news. St Justin, a converted pagan, came to Rome. St Justin was a great preacher and he wrote a great deal defending the faith against the ideas of the gnostic heretics.

The Liber Pontificalis refers to a decision by Pius to allow Jewish heretic converts to Christianity to be baptised. Scholars are unsure as to what this means or whether it may refer to actual Jews or Judaeo Christians. There are two letters to Bishop Justus of Vienne erroneously accredited to Pius and a legend credits Pius with founding the churches of St. Pudens and St. Praxedes but there is no historical justification for this.

The First Pope?

Some scholars consider Pius to be the first supreme Pontiff. There is debate as to whether the first Popes were actually holders of an episcopal office or rather simply the leader of the council of presbyters. Scholars refer to a variety of sources that identify Pius as a Bishop and his predecessors simply as presbyters but they seem to use these phrases interchangeably.

Those who believe that the early “Popes” were only designated as such after the title came into affect cite the gnostic troubles as a reason for a true episcopal system to be established. They also cite parts “The Shepherd”, the work by Hermas, as reprimanding the church for the struggle for supreme power within the council of presbyters, ie the position of Pope.


1 – Catholic Encyclopaedia (

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