Sunday, April 17, 2005

New Pope New Name

Ever since Albino Luciani was elected to the papacy in 1978 and chose the name Pope John Paul folks have wondered if we would ever see a Pope George Ringo!

Pope John Paul I was the first pope to choose a double name. Having set the precedent he was immediately succeeded by Pope John Paul II. This leaves open the distinct possibility that the next pope might seriously consider to one-up them both by choosing three names.

Before 900 AD or so, popes kept their own names (except for one named "Mercury" who felt that his personal name was too pagan for the papacy). In deference to St. Peter, who is considered to have been the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope, no pope has yet chosen to become Peter II.

St. John, however, has been considered fair game. So far, there have been XXIII Pope Johns, more than any other papal name (Gregory is second with XVI). Curiously, the name John did not appear in the papacy until the 53rd pope was elected in 523 AD. He was subsequently elevated to sainthood which might have led XXII of his successors to choose the same name for good luck.

Those who are mathematically challenged can take comfort in knowing that, in 1276, the newly-elected pope chose the name Pope John XXI, completely missing the fact that there had never been a Pope John XX! (ht. Paul Frankenstein) This means of course, that the previous paragraph should indicate that there have only been XXII Pope Johns rather than XXIII. But Roman Catholic scholars are still searching around for the missing Pope John XX and, if they should ever find him, the previous paragraph will have been vindicated (which, by the way, makes me think that the name Pope Vindicate I would have a rather nice sound to it)!

With the death of the last pope (Pope John Paul II) and with the Cardinals poised to convocate in the Sistine Chapel tomorrow (Monday) to choose the next one, speculation is rampant concerning what name or names will be chosen. (read about it here)

It is unlikely that the next pope will be bold enough to choose a more contemporary sounding name, such as Pope Fifty Cent, Pope Mobile or Pope On-a-Rope. More likely we will see the name Gregory or Clement reappear again after absences of over 100 years and 200 years respectively. Taking the name Pope John Paul III would, I think, only serve to emphasize what a tough act the next pope will have to follow.

Perhaps a symbolic name might be appropriate. Given the recent sexual scandals among priests in the United States and the need to "clean up" the church, it might be a good time to reach back to a 2nd century papal name and choose Pope Hyginus II.

On the other hand, given the generally depressing state of of the world these days, I am hoping that we will soon see the next Bishop of Rome presented to the world as Pope Hilarius II.

Note: If you really want to find out more about the popes and their names, you can click here.