Tuesday, April 19

Of Names

A fair amount of the Shriners' papal discussion had focused in recent days on names. The first difficult task facing any pope, afterall, is the choice of a name.

As the Pope's first real public act, it gives significant insight into the path that a given Pontiff will pursue -- especially since the name is the very identity which the Pope assumes.

There are three ways of which I can think to interpret the choice of a name:

1) With reference to last pontiff who bore that name.
This was the case with John Paul I and John Paul II, who choose the names of popes of Vatican II (John XXIII and Paul VI) as a sign that they would continue the work of the Council.

2) With reference to the origin of the name.

3) Simple personal regard for the name itself.
This is the reason John XXIII picked "John" -- there was no (positive) history associated with Pope Johns in a millenium.

What does "Benedict XVI" say?
In the first sense, Pope Benedict XV was a theological moderate following the anti-modernist campaigns of St. Pius X. He considered Catholics "spiritually Semites," and indeed Ratzinger wrote books on the relationship of Catholics and Jews. Pope Benedict XV was also a strong advocate of peace.

In the second sense, St. Benedict essentially Christianized Europe and, through perfecting human arts for the liturgy, began high culture in Europe. The culture and evangelization of Europe is certainly the halmark of much of what Ratzinger said before the conclave.

The new pope had to choose a name that wasn't John, Paul, or John Paul: we've had a LOT of John and Paul, and John Paul III would be totally eclipsed by John Paul the Great. At the same time, names like Pius or Clement would sound very awkward today, like it or not. Since there have only been about 12 papal names in the last 800 years, the field of choices was narrow. I think Benedict XVI did a good job with that issue.

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