A few weeks ago, the pope had to step on my 7 Things series and by the time I’d recovered enough from the shock to sit down and start writing, a terrible cold came through my house one person at a time like an evil, viral version of the game telephone. Sadly, it appears I picked up the charges. Finally, let’s return to our 7 Things series.
(I had been doing a 7 Things series on Salvation History, but for the next few weeks, you’ll understand if I switch topics a bit.)
7 Things You Should Know about the Papacy
- The Keys – Sitting on my desk is a frame with a piece of fabric in it, the last surviving remnant of the “I ❤ My German Shepherd” t-shirt, printed with the Keys of Peter. The keys make their appearance in Matthew 16:16-20, where Jesus gives them to St. Peter. Divorced from its context, this seems like an odd gesture. As many theologians, Dr. Scott Hahn the most famous – but far from the first – of them, have pointed out, this passage in Matthew relies on the text of Isaiah 22:15-25, wherein a new Prime Minister is declared for the House of David. Thus, Jesus proclaims Peter the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of God, the Church.
- The Titles – The pope is a lot more than just the Bishop of Rome. Borrowing from the Catholic Source Book, the pope is Pope, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Successor of St. Peter as Prince of the Apostles, and Servant of the Servants of God. Pope Benedict sent ripples through some tradition-loving Catholic circles in 2006 when he renounced the title Patriarch of the West. Some of these titles are inherent to the office, others are more political in nature, in relation to the pope’s position as a head of state. Biblically, one could add also “Prime Minister of the Kingdom of God” (see #1 above).
- The Places – Popes have hailed from all parts of the world at times. What I mean is not that every continent has been represented, but that, relative to their own times, there have been popes from the four corners of the known world. Peter was a Jew from Bethsaida in Galilee. There have been Greek, Syrian, African, Italian, Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Palestinian, Portuguese, German, and Polish popes, to name a few. Check out Fr. Z’s recent post on many of these popes.
- The Papal States & Lateran Treaty – In the middle 700’s, Alstulf, King of the Lombards, was invading the lands near Rome. The popes appealed to the Byzantine Empire for help, which they were unable to attain. In 751, Pope Stephen II declared Pepin the Short, a Frankish ruler, the protector of Rome. In 754 and 756, Pepin, having subjugated the Lombards, made donations of land around central Italy to the pope. This was the origin of the Papal States, which increased the temporal power of the pope significantly and was, indirectly, the cause of much of the medieval corruption we hear about. In the middle 1800’s, a series of revolutions broke out in Italy rising from the nationalist desire to reunite the various city-states and regions of Italy into a single country. For almost 60 years from 1870, Italy did not recognize the papal claim to any lands. In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed, recognizing the Vatican City (The Holy See) as an independent and sovereign nation. While this would have upset many popes before that time, it proved providential. Not only did it separate the papacy from a long-standing cause of political attachment, but it also meant that the Vatican was not simply another part of Italy for the Nazis to invade when they took control of Italy. The white line painted around St. Peter’s Square indicated the limit of the Nazi’s stranglehold on Rome.
- The Name – In 533, a Roman named Mercurius was elected pope. Due to his pagan name – Mercury is the Roman god of messengers and thieves – Mercurius decided to change his name to John II. Ever since that time, the popes have taken new names upon their election, often as an hommage to previous pontiffs they admired. Pope John Paul II took his name to honor Paul VI and John XXIII, while Benedict took his name to honor not only Benedict XV, who reigned during WWI and the “suicide of civilized Europe” (his words), but St. Benedict of Nursia, whose monastic tradition largely gave rise to Christian Europe. What name will the next pope choose? I’d like to see a Gregory or Pius. Want to voice your own thoughts? Check out Fr. Z’s poll.
- The Saints – Among the 266 popes, according to New Advent’s enumeration (one pope, Stephen II, is left off some lists because he died before consecration), 78 are saints, 11 are blessed, and 177 are either too obscure to history or not notably holy enough to be beatified or canonized.
- The Greats – Among the popes, four have been given the title “great” by history, though the most recent certainly hasn’t been cemented into that status (and despite my own feelings about him, my suspicion is that he won’t be): Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Nicholas the Great, John Paul the Great.
Extra Freebie Trivia:
While the Holy See is in a state of sede vacante, i.e., no pope, this emblem is used: