Skip to comments.New Pope's First Message? 'A Name is a Sign'
Posted on 04/16/2005 4:46:53 PM PDT by NYer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The first message a new pope sends to the world is encoded in the name he chooses.
If Roman Catholicism's next leader calls himself John Paul III, that would signal continuity. "John" would connote a gentle father while "Pius" could herald an era of deep conservatism.
A name from the distant papal past -- improbable ones like Zephyrinus, Hilarus or Formosus -- would send Catholics scurrying to their history books to see what it could mean.
The maxim "Nomen est omen" (Latin for "a name is a sign") is as valid today for popes as it was for ancient Romans whose emperors took new names or titles when they assumed power.
"It's a practice that goes back as far as the Book of Genesis, where Abram changed his name to Abraham," said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat and papal historian.
"Simon changed his name to Peter, which means rock," he added. "Because Christ said he was the rock on which he would build the Church."
There is no law saying popes must choose a new name, but a tradition more than 1,000 years old cannot be ignored. Popes declare their choice right after being elected.
The first pope known to have changed his name was John II in 533. He was previously called Mercury but thought the Christian pontiff should not have the name of a pagan Roman god.
This became more common after an 18-year-old with another name from pagan times, Octavian, was chosen in a rigged election in 955 and decided to take the name John XII. A man named Peter opted for Sergius IV in 1009 out of respect for the first pope.
Popes who bore the name Pius made it synonymous with deep conservativism.
Pius IX (1846-1878) rejected democracy, Pius X (1903-1914) denounced modern liberal politics and Pius XI (1922-1939) ran the Church in an autocratic way, Pham said. Under Pius XII (1939-1958), the Church cracked down on liberal theologians.
Cardinal Angelo Roncalli reportedly spent the evening before his election as John XXIII in 1958 thumbing through a list of popes to check what earlier Johns had done.
When Albino Luciani was elected in 1978, he took the first double name in papal history, John Paul I, to show he wanted to combine John XXIII's reforms with the more traditional stand of his immediate predecessor, Paul VI (1963-1978).
When John Paul I died 33 days later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland honored him by taking the name John Paul II. "It is said that he considered something more Slavic, like Stanislas, but then thought the better of it," Pham said.
The next pope could be tempted to call himself John Paul III. But if Wojtyla goes down in history as John Paul the Great, as his supporters want, a successor taking his name could risk being known as John Paul the Lesser.
Without knowing the identity of the next pope, it is hard to guess which name he will pick -- but that hasn't stopped Dublin bookmakers Paddy Power from opening betting on it.
A surprise choice -- Benedict -- leads the pack ahead of John Paul and John, mostly because someone has placed an unusually large bet on it, company spokesman Paddy Power said.
The choice of Benedict could signal a subtle shift to more moderate policies, judging from the way the Benedict XV turned away from Pius X's rigorous anti-modern stand, Pham said.
"We were surprised because we thought John Paul or John would certainly be on top," said Power, who had no explanation for Benedict's popularity.
"There seems to be some connection between Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and the name Benedict," he said, referring to the former Paris archbishop deemed too old to be in the race.
"The same person who put a big bet on Lustiger also bet big on Benedict."
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Well... that's what they say. If the next Pope picks Peter what will be going theough your mind...lol
Prayin' for a Pius here!
how about we name the next pop after one who saw a need to begin the defensive wars known as the crusades?
Let's get back to the early days -- Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Fabian, Damasus, Symmachus, Calixtus ...
How about Stephen VIII?
I like Pope Ronald.
I'd as soon have another Urban, all of that name have had a history of hostility to muslims.
Stephen the VIII or Formosus II would be my picks...
It better not be John Paul Steven.
How do you like the associations Reuters makes with "conservatism":
"rejected democracy"; "rejected modern liberal politics" (OK, not so bad); "autocratic".
I don't know why I bother complaining...I should be used to it by now.
Ok, that took me a moment. You really think outside the box sometimes. :)
"Because Christ said he was "A" rock on which he would build the Church."