Definition of pontiff in US English:


(also sovereign, supreme pontiff)


  • The Pope.

    ‘the Pope's first visit to Poland as pontiff’
    • ‘During the war and afterward, Jewish leaders lavishly praised the wartime pontiff.’
    • ‘Even then, the crowds at the Vatican were not certain they had a new pontiff until the bells of St Peter's rang out.’
    • ‘The pontiff died at the Vatican in Rome on Saturday, aged 84.’
    • ‘He must arrange the funeral and burial of the Pope and direct the election of a new pontiff.’
    • ‘Earlier today, outside Cologne, the pontiff celebrated mass with up to 1 million young people.’
    • ‘The Pope made history yesterday by becoming the first pontiff to cross the Tiber to address the Italian parliament.’
    • ‘In addition, the pontiff hopes to visit Syria, Malta and Poland next year, according to Vatican sources.’
    • ‘The royal couple met with the new pontiff at the Vatican's summer residence in the Alban hills, south of Rome.’
    • ‘Next to the ground was a papal cross, which commemorated a visit by the pontiff.’
    • ‘Lay Catholics rarely petitioned their pontiff and never to suggest he take a certain stand on an issue.’
    • ‘In a letter addressed to priests around the world, the pontiff said he was profoundly hurt by what he called the most grievous form of evil.’
    • ‘The Vatican said the pontiff has been cured of the flu-related breathing problems that landed him there.’
    • ‘He was also among the first world leaders to bend the knee before Pope Benedict XVI after the pontiff's elevation earlier this year.’
    • ‘The late pontiff was also the first pope to step inside a synagogue in 1986 when he visited Rome's biggest synagogue.’
    • ‘The pontiff called for a ‘resolute effort’ to resolve the plight of the refugees.’
    • ‘Highly conservative in doctrine and bluntly liberal in his social views, the pontiff has galvanised the Church.’
    • ‘To the strains of an ancient crusader hymn, the princes of the church led the pontiff into the square.’
    • ‘Only three other pontiffs have led the Catholic church for as long as he did.’
    • ‘The pontiff had invited her to the Vatican to talk about family planning.’
    • ‘The last pope to hold the name of Benedict was an Italian whose reign from 1914 to 1922 encompassed World War I.’


Late 17th century (denoting an early Christian bishop): from French pontife, from Latin pontifex (see pontifex).