Friday, January 26, 2007

By what name?

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Here's a question that's always a good conversation starter. Sometimes I ask people, What name would you choose if elected pope? It's purely hypothetical, of course (I've never had the opportunity to ask a cardinal, but I'm sure they would politely decline to answer anyway). But it is always interesting why someone would choose a particular name.

The gospels tell us that Jesus gave the name Peter (meaning "rock" or "stone") to Simon bar Jonah. "Peter" does not so much describe who Simon was as it describes who Jesus wanted him to become. Immediately after one of his successors is elected and consents, a he is asked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, "By what name shall you be called?" The Pope-elect chooses the regnal name by which he will be known from that point on.

During the first centuries of the church, men elected Bishop of Rome used their baptismal names even after their elections. Sometimes the baptismal name was new (named for a saint) and sometimes it was original. New names are also common at ordinations and consecrations and are particularly associated with life professions in some religious orders.

The custom of choosing a new papal name began in AD 533 with the election of Mercurius who was named after the Roman god Mercury. Obviously, Mercurius thought that it would not be appropriate for a pope to be called by the name of a pagan god, and instead took the name of a previous pope John, and so became known as John II. Since that time the pope has customarily chosen a new name for himself during his Pontificate; however, until the 16th century some popes continued the use of their baptismal names.

The last pope to use his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II in 1555. The choice of a name is generally honorific or symbolic to the goal of a new papal reign. Honorific names have been based on immediate predecessors, mentors, political similarity, or even after family members (as was the case with Pope John XXIII). In 1978, Albino Luciani became the first pope to use two names for his regnal name when he took the name John Paul. He did this to honor both his Vatican Council predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI. With the unexpected death of John Paul I a little over a month later, Karol Wojtyla took the name John Paul II to honor his immediate predecessor and continue the post-conciliar mission.

Symbolic names signal to the world who the new pope will emulate, what policies he will seek to enact, or even the length of his reign. Pope Benedict XVI stated he chose that name because of his desire to be a peacemaker. The practice of a continuing with a baptismal name as pope has not been ruled out and future popes (who make the rule anyway) could elect to continue using their baptismal names.

There has never been a Pope Peter II. Even though there is no specific prohibition against doing so, men elected to the Papacy have by custom refrained from doing so. This is because of a tradition that only Saint Peter should have that honor. In the 10th century Pope John XIV used the regnal name John because his given name was Peter.

My answer?
I guess I should answer the question before I ask for answers in the comments. My silly answer would be Bob or Magillicutty because I think "Pope Magillicutty" sounds funny. My serious has always been Linus (possibly the same Linus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21 according to Irenaeus). He is recorded as the first successor to Peter at Rome who was entrusted with the leadership of the early church there, died a martyrs' death, and was buried next to Peter on Vatican hill. Little is known about him, but I feel some identity with the name and I like the idea of its uniqueness and antiquity.

In researching Linus for this post, I was very surprised to learn that the Liber Pontificalis gives 23 September (in AD 79) as the day of his death and thus his feast day. It was interesting to me because I was ordained to the priesthood in 2002 on the 23rd of September. And I never new the connection until now.

Comments please . . . What name would you choose if you were elected pope?


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think Pope Magillicutty is hilarious. Makes me giggle every time I think about it. Well done, Timothy.

Pope Elizabeth has an interesting ring, doesn't it?

But, if I couldn't use my baptismal name, then I think either Pope Maria (after the BVM of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ) is most appropriate.

(Maria sounds more majestic and melodious than 'Mary', eh?)

Pope Julian (after the Dame of Norwich) also sounds rather nice, doesn't it? Of the sort of gender ambiguity one might need as the first woman Pope.

Pope Catherine (late of Siena) is clearly not ambiguious in terms of gender, but it does have a very regal sound to it.

Pope Monnica (mother of Augustine of Hippo) might be fitting for the first Anglican woman Pope.

Then again, were the Anglican Church to have a Pope (which, given the Windsor Report and the notion of an Anglican Covenant, that might not be so far-fetched an idea), and to push the absudity up one more level (that said Pope would be female), then I suspect the only name that would be acceptable to anyone is:

Pope Mary Magdalene.

Well, that's my nickle's worth of opinion on the matter.

Betcha you didn't think a woman would ponder the question, much less provide some answers, now didja there, Timothy?

Well, consider the history of St. Brigid - mistakenly consecrated bishop instead of abbess of her community.

Or, read the most excellent book POPE JOAN and be no longer surprised.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

The question (which must by nature be hypothetical) is not for males only. I like Maria or Miriam.

I guess another thing to consider is if a future pope will ever add a new name to the list, or if only current names will be perpetuated. Only time will tell.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Pope Miriam. Well done.

Come to think of it, Pope Sara is good as well.

I suppose, after Pope Miriam, Pope Eve is most appropriate.