Monday, March 11, 2013

Choose Your Own Papal Name

Popes by and large take the name of a past pope as their own.  And the name they choose generally signifies their vision for their papacy, the qualities and policies they wish to emulate.  So in 1978 John Paul I took the names of the last two popes, John and Paul, both responsible for Vatican II. Benedict looked back to Benedict XV, pope during World War I who fought against the push of secularism and relativism and was invested in finding peace. As Benedict XVI said upon his selection:
Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples.
So, the big question is, what name will the new pope take?

Because I am a fantastic time waster, I decided to go through the list of all the previous popes and generate a list of the possible names, along with things that they are known for (according to Wikipedia -- so take it with a heaping mound of salt). After each, I offer a little evaluation of the name as a possibility. All of that is below, and is filled with snark and silliness. The history of the papacy -- it's something, sister. It's really something.

Here's what I discovered -- most of the former popes probably have no shot at getting chosen, either because they promulgated policies that horrify us today (like the guys who said slavery was wrong, but only if the slaves were Christians; or the many popes whose main claim to fame were crusades/wars), or because they did nothing. Tons of popes lived less than a year after taking the job. One guy was Pope for 22 days -- and his term was only the sixth shortest.

So, much as I might like to discover an awesome name that is totes going to get chosen from the 6th century, really, most of the strong candidates emanate from the 19th and 20th centuries.

But see for yourself.  For your entertainment, ladies and germs, may I present: The Papal Names.

(PS I really went to town on this, going through almost all the possible names out there, and adding a little history and humor here and there.  If you're just looking for the likely possibilities, skip to the end.)


Peter (33-67) -- You'd think this would be the most obvious choice of all, to emulate Peter.  But in fact no pope has ever taken the name Peter. There's only the one Rock.

Okay, that is actually not Peter. Peter was much older. 
And his tatt was of a fish. 

After Peter, we've got 3-6 centuries of bishops of Rome who were not in charge of the whole church, just Rome. In some cases and over time they had special status because they were bishop of Rome, but they weren't the heads of the Church in the way that we understand this concept today.  (The term "pope" in fact was a term used for any bishop in the Western Church as of around 300. It becomes reserved for the bishop of Rome around 600.)

And using all that as an excuse I will jump to 600.  But if you're interested, here's a couple of the best ones in between:

Linus (64/67-76/79) -- Immediately follows Peter. Issued decree that women should cover heads in Church. Martyred. I can't stop thinking of him dancing like the Peanuts.

Hyginus (136/138-140/142) -- The Pope of Hygiene.

Anticetus (154-166) -- First bishop of Rome to condemn anything as heresy. So, fun at parties, then?

Soter (166-174) -- Declared that marriage was only a sacrament if blessed by a priest.

Pontian (230-235) -- First Pope to quit the job, when the Roman Emperor had him arrested and exiled to a labor camp.

Eutychian (275-283) -- Said to have buried the remains of 324 martyrs with his own hands.

Siricius (384-399) -- Had the title Pontifex Maximus. Which is a freaking awesome name for a wrestler.

I'm Gonna Maximus Your Pontifex!

Hilarius (461-468) -- Tied for the name I most want a new pope to take.  

Silverius (536-537) -- Greedy, treacherous, ousted and nearly murdered his predecessor. Banished. Died of starvation on a desert island. I don't want to talk ill of the dead, but dang.

Pelagius II (579-590) -- Copied everything, even his name. (Get it? Sounds like plagiarism? It's funny, right?)

But enough tomfoolery. Let's get to some contenders:


Sabinian (604-606) -- Sold grain to Romans for high prices. Supposedly responsible for the ringing of bells during the Eucharist and canonical hours. Yawn.

Severinus (640) -- Pope for 2 months. Described as friend to the poor. Also considered a real jerk as a teacher, and was responsible for the death of Dumbledore, but then turned out to be totally a good guy double agent who had sacrificed his whole life for this girl that married somebody else. But still pretty much irritating. 

Vitalian (657-672) - Tried to restore relationships with Constantinople, England. Supposedly allowed the introduction of organ music to liturgy. So now you know who to blame.

Adeodatus II (672-676) -- Known anecdotally for his generosity. Improved monastic discipline. And spent his whole pontificate trying to explain why he had chosen such a horrible name.

Donus (678) -- Had the forecourt of St. Peter's Basilica paved. Also amazing with wainscoting!

Agatho (678-681) -- Convened a meeting that decreed once and for all that Christ is of two wills, divine and human. Which was important, but also makes me sleepy.

Conon (686-87) -- Lasted as pope about the same length as Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show. Bud-dum-bump.

Sissinius (708) -- Pope for 20 days. Probably because his name was Pope Sissinius.

Constantine (708-715) -- Strongly identified with the Eastern Church. Refused to accept coins with Emperor on it.  Which is the 8th century version of edgy. 

Zachary (741-752) -- Great diplomat, had major influence on affairs in Europe. Not bad; not exactly connected to anything going on in the Church today, but the first real possibility.

Valentine (Aug-Sept 827):

Dude: that's Cupid, not Pope Valentine.

Valentine (Aug-Sept 827) -- Consecrated Pope before he had been ordained a priest.  Chosen by the priests, nobility people of Rome. Great story.  The name to use if you get called next week to come and be the Pope. Otherwise...

Formosus (891-896) -- Almost excommunicated by predecessor for aspiring to the job. As Pope, forced to crown someone Roman Emperor, had problems between dioceses. Persuaded someone to invade and control Italy. Basically, a hot mess. Fail.

Lando (913-914) -- Last pope to choose an original name. Also, the first to choose the most  awesome name ever. New Pope, you need to choose this name. And he needs to have a Cardinal named Chewie.  

The man comes with his own cape, for God's sake.

Help me, Cardinals of the Conclave. You're my only hope.  

Romanus (Aug-Nov 897) -- Deposed a few months after elected. Lived rest of his life as a monk.  Blah blah blah blah.

Theodore II (Dec 897) -- Tried to fix some fractures within the church, then died.  I'm sure it was just a coincidence.

Marinus II (939-942) -- Focused on administrating the Church, sought to reform clergy. Showed special support for monasteries. The Cardinals certainly want a pope that is on top of both administration and reform...

Agapetus II (946-955) -- Focused on settling internal Church squabbles.  Known for his caution and holiness. Caution, yeah, that sound fantastic.

Sergius IV (1009-1012) -- Helped with the urban development of Rome (nice!), but largely by way of simony -- aka paying for sacraments and offices (naughty!). Rome also pillaged during his reign. Pope Serge? I don't think so.

Sylvester III (1045) -- Pope for 3 months after Benedict IX was driven out, then thrown out of the job when he came back. Wah wah.

Damascus II (1048) -- Reign of 22 days. Thought to have been poisoned by an ally of Benedict IX, a former pope who wanted the job. His real name was also Poppo. As in "Here come the Poppo."

Stephen IX/X (long story) (1089-90) -- A major political player before he became pope. After, not so much. NEXT.

Paschal II (1099-1118) -- Tried to work withthe  Orthodox Church.  And by "work" we mean had a crusade but was willing to get along if the Orthodox would accept the Pope's primacy over "all the churches of God throughout the world." A real reconciler, that one.

Gelasius II (1118-1119) -- Reformed the papal administration, setting up secretaries for the Pope (aka early Curia). Exiled from Rome twice in his 9 months of office.  PASS.

Anastasius IV (1153-1154) -- Girl's name. Fuggedaboutit. (Also, didn't do much.)

Lucius III (1181-1185) -- Fought a lot with Holy Roman Emperor. (Who didn't. Those ones, such divas.) Condemned a whole bunch of heretics. Was preparing to start a crusade when he died. FAIL. 

Honorius IV (1285-1287) - Had been a diplomat. Consolidated power of the Vatican States.  Meh. 

Celestine V (1294) -- A Benedictine hermit, got the job by writing a letter to the Cardinals, after they had spend 2 1/2 years in Rome unable to decide on a pope, telling them God would punish them if they didn't pick someone soon. Had no clue how to run the show; appointed the king's favorites to church jobs. But when he saw he wasn't doing well, he resigned, after 161 days.  Made a saint.  Great story, great guy. Doesn't seem like the right name for the next pope. 

Boniface IX (1389-1404) -- Pope during a schism.  Let's not go there.

Martin V (1417-1431) -- Gave Jews back many of the rights they had lost under other popes. Traveled a lot. Opposed slavery if the slaves were Christians.  Said the rest of Africa, thanks for nothing. 

Eugene IV (1431-1447) -- Kind to the poor, enemy of heretics. Similar positions to Martin on slavery.  UGH. 

Nicholas V (1447-1455) -- Issued a bull that gave the King of Portugal the right to attack, conquer and subjugate his non-Christian foes. This really was not a good time in the church.  

Callixtus III (1455-1458) -- Excommunicated Halley's Comet. I am not making that up. 

Adrian VI (1522-1523) -- Pushed for reform in the Church; resisted by the Cardinals. Over his head in international relations. Last non-Italian elected until John Paul II, and heckled by the Romans for being a foreigner. So clueless about the job that when he was elected Pope he wrote to see whether there might be some suitable lodging for him from which to do his job. For which we love him. 

Julius III (1550-1555) -- Wanted to reform the church, but in the end had lots of scandals, people advancing in station because of sexual relationships or family. Had his brother adopt a 14 year old homeless boy, then showered him with benefices.  Moving on...

Marcellus II (1555) -- Found the Conclave and ascension so exhausting he up and died. Which just goes to show, Popin' ain't easy.

Sixtus V (1585-1590) -- Lots of reform/renewal of the Vatican States. Lots of public works. Decisive. Speedy. Excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I. Decided abortions and contraception merited excommunication.  Not a fan of the Jesuits. He sounded great at first, didn't he? 

Urban VIII (1623-1644) -- Handsome. Well spoken. Doled out jobs to relatives like life savers. Great patron of the arts. Called the trial against Galileo. Made smoking in church punishable by excommunication.  Yikes.

Alexander VIII (1689-1681) - Giving money to charity and his family, wiped out the papal treasury in 16 months.  You know, like you do. 

Innocent XIII (1721-1724) - Prevented the Jesuits from accepting any more novices.
Clement XIV (1769-1774)  - Suppressed the Jesuits.  Please no one choose these names.

Gregory XVI (1831-1846) -- Last non-bishop to be elected. Condemned the slave trade. Also opposed gas lights and railways, lest they give the bourgeoisie more power and lead to pressure on the power of the Pope. Called railways "ways of hell." Imagine what he would have called Greyhound.

I love the smell of recirculated air in the morning.

19th and 20th CENTURIES: 

Leo XIII (1878-1903) -- Third longest pontificate. Tried to encourage understanding between Church and modern world. Opened Vatican Secret Archives to researchers. Refounded the Vatican Observatory. First pope to be recorded audially and visually. Brought stability to the Church, and brought the Church back into the mainstream in Europe.  Promulgated the rosary, wrote about the importance of Scripture study and Aquinas, and issued encyclical Rerum Novarum on social inequalities and the rights/duties of labour.  Do I even need to go on? This guy has the goods. 

Pius XII (1939-1958) -- Reintroduced ancient liturgical traditions like the Easter Vigil. Expanded the use of liturgies in languages other than Latin. Added social sciences like sociology and psychology to training of priests. Emphasizes the role of the Bible.  Defined the dogma that Mary was assumed into Heaven. Wrote about evolution as possibly describing the biological origins of humanity, wrote about the family. Also publicly neutral during World War II; famous Christmas address interpreted to attack the Nazi's treatment of Jews. Hid Jews in Italy from deportation, but never publicly condemned the Holocaust. A lot of good traits, but his actions during World War II negatively color most people's opinion of him. Many people would probably be upset if this name were chosen.  

John XXIII (1958-1963) --  Removed the description of Jews as "perfidious" from liturgy. Confessed the Church's anti-semitism over the centuries. Called for Vatican II. Called the Church to a more open relationship with the world. Great diplomat. Funny, pastoral, witty, canny. Called "Good Pope John." Drank gin martinis. Such an icon for liberal Catholics that it's hard to believe anyone would consider using name. It would be quite a statement if they did - and perhaps a divisive one. 

All I can think of is that line from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer:
"Eat Papa, eat. Nobody likes a thin Santa."

Paul VI (1963-1978) -- Identified with neither the left nor the right. Did away with much of the regality of the Papacy. Continued Vatican II and pressed for its reforms after it was over. Interested in dialogue with modern world, ecumenism. Established synod of bishops as ongoing part of Church, advisory body for the Papacy. Defended priestly celibacy. Ignored advice of his hand-picked committee to denounce contraception, and thought reaction against that position would fade. On this guess, he was quite wrong.  But he clearly got lots of other things right.  

John Paul II (1978-3005) -- Uber-charismatic evangelist; helped bring down the Soviet Union; stood strong in his beliefs despite the divisions they caused; fought for the dignity of human life in all its forms and stages; deep in his respect of other religions. Disallowed any public talk about women's ordination; at the same time, allowed a number of married Christian clergy to convert to Catholicism. Stayed in office despite years long debilitation. Like John XXIII, would likely be a polarizing choice for a papal name. But in the current climate it's a lot more likely to happen. 

Benedict XVI (2005-2013) -- Once the Pope's gladiator on matters of doctrine, as pope a much more kind, pastoral figure. Fought against interpretations of Vatican II that considered it a radical break in church practice. had great respect for the local authority of the bishops. Stepped aside when he felt it was time, at a time both the world Church and the Vatican remains mired in scandals. Ideologically, any number of the candidates would line up with Benedict.  But given the trouble the Church is in, many might choose to go with a different name so to suggest a fresh approach.


Leo XIV -- For a reformer who's invested in social issues and middle of the road or conservative theologically.
Paul VII -- Someone aiming at simplicity, conservatism, reform.
John Paul III -- An evangelist. A warrior for a certain take on Vatican II.
Benedict XVII -- A pastoral figure interested in maintaining the status quo theologically.
Marinus III -- Someone invested in the administration of the church and dealing with sexual abuse issues.

Outside choices:
Zachary II -- An international affairs guy.
John XXIV -- Someone trying to embrace Vatican II or the Church's relationship with the world. Or just an optimist.
Pius XIII -- Probably a theological conservative, with special concern about sexual issues. Would have to be someone who works extra hard on relationships with Judaism.
And finally:
Lando II -- Someone who is JUST PLAIN AWESOME. 

They could also choose a combination -- John Paul Benedict, anyone? John John Paul? Peter Paul  Lando?




Anonymous said...!/notes/mary-sweeney/such-a-timely-question-what-is-his-name-what-am-i-to-tell-them/580046602007228

Anonymous said...!/notes/mary-sweeney/such-a-timely-question-what-is-his-name-what-am-i-to-tell-them/580046602007228

Anonymous said...

Wow. I knew John Paul II had a long papacy, but I didn't know it verged on the "Dune" God-Emperor length.

Also, while I knew some papacies were very short, Alexander VIII seems to have gone a bit overboard.

Anonymous said...

JP II 1978-3005?!!

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

That was a mistake. (Or was it...)