April 24, 2005

Habebamus papas

With the election of Benedict XVI, papal history has been much in the news of late, so this is my small contribution of the flood of information. My interests in the topic are purely academic, so please don’t take offence if you are either devoutly Catholic or rabidly anticlerical.

Specifically my interests were piqued by the variety of conflicting claims about how the tradition of papal renaming — for instance Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger becoming Pope Benedict XVI — was started. The first to do this, as far as I can tell, seems to have been Pope John II (533-535 AD), who was originally named Mercurius. One can see how such a dramatically pagan name might be a problem — though it didn’t seem to be a problem for Pope Dionysius (260-268 AD). I suppose St. Peter doesn’t count, even though he was originally named Simon. The first pope to be “the second” of any name was Pope Sixtus II (257-258 AD), though this was presumably his actual name (ironic though, eh?).

Other bits of papal trivia that I find interesting: there has never been anyone else named Pope Peter — that would be presumptuous; the last pope not to have a number appended to his name, and therefore not named after a previous pope nor to have another pope named after him, was Pope Lando (913-14 AD) — I wonder why…; Pope Benedict IX, a disasterous pope by all accounts and presumably not the reason the current pope chose the name, was pope three times (1032-45, 1045, 1047-8); sadly, the legend of there being a female pope, Pope Joan, is just that, a legend; there hasn’t been an antipope since the 15th century — ah, to live in more interesting times…

If there are any experts on church history out there, feel free to correct any of the above or enlighten me further.

Posted by Mark at April 24, 2005 06:48 PM | TrackBack