For Pope-to-Be, Choice of Name Means Plenty

Pius Seen as Slap at Jews, Leo Would Be Revolutionary

Lion of Rome: Pope Leo XIII was a progressive pontiff during the turn of the 20th century. A new pope might choose that name to signify a liberal bent.
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Lion of Rome: Pope Leo XIII was a progressive pontiff during the turn of the 20th century. A new pope might choose that name to signify a liberal bent.

By Reuters

Published March 13, 2013.
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Defenders say Pius XII did as much as he could to defend Jews against the Holocaust, so taking the name could identify the new pope as one of a conservative group that has pushed for him to be made a saint. Jewish groups have urged the Vatican not to canonise him, at least until wartime records are clearer.

After his election in 2005, German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he chose the name Benedict to honour Saint Benedict of Nursia, “whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe”, and Pope Benedict XV who sought reconciliation during World War One.

JOHN PAUL THE LESS?

The Latin maxim “nomen est omen” - 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.

Key figures in the Bible also changed their names, including Saint Peter the first pope and Saint Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, so there is a Christian precedent as well.

The first pope known to have changed his name was John II in 533. He was called Mercury by his family 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 pagan name, 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, avoiding comparison with the first pope.

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. He chose the name because his father had it and it recalled the Apostle John.

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 honoured him by taking the papal name John Paul II.

It is unlikely another pope will call himself John Paul any time soon. If Wojtyla goes down in history as John Paul the Great, as his supporters call him, a successor taking his name could risk being known as John Paul the Less.


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