Saturday 16 December 2017

Francis: what's in a name?

Alex Spillius

JORGE Mario Bergoglio's decision to become the first Pope Francis spoke volumes about his background and how he will lead the Roman Catholic Church, but also gave himself a very tough act to follow.

It was seen as a tribute to St Francis of Assisi, the 13th Century reformer and one of the most venerated religious figures in history, who lived in poverty and heard a voice that challenged him to "rebuild the church".

As a Jesuit, the name could be a reference to Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century, and an effort to emphasis the order's creed of humility and evangelism. Either way, his choice of name reflected the belief that the church needs to show humility after years of scandal, without veering from its conservative doctrine.

Honour

In 2005, German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he chose the name Benedict to honour Saint Benedict of Nursia, "whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe", and Pope Benedict XV who sought reconciliation during World War One.

The last pope to inaugurate a name was John Paul I, in 1978, who did so in honour of his two immediate predecessors.

He died 33 days later to be succeeded by John Paul II, a name taken in his honour by the Pole Karol Wojtyla.

The tradition of taking a papal name dates back to 533 when Pope John II became the first to adopt a new name. He felt his birth name, Mercurius, was inappropriate since it was also the name of a pagan God.

There are plenty of papal names that appear to have been consigned to history, such as Sergius, Sixtus, Simplicius, Pelagius and Linus.

The bookmakers' favourite names before yesterday were Leo and Pius.

The latter would have signalled a conservative papacy but was way off the mark.

Irish Independent

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