Latest Stories

Papal names: A symbolic choice for new pope

The “Pope Emeritus” is keeping his name rather than reverting back to his baptism name of Joseph Ratzinger. AFP FILE PHOTO

VATICAN CITY—From Pius to Clement, Hilarius to Simplicius, papal names from down the centuries are inextricably linked to the brilliant or wretched legacies of the men who have ruled the Vatican.

Cardinals gathered in a secret conclave to elect a new pope to head up the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics following the shock resignation of Benedict XVI will already be mulling the name they would choose if they are picked.

Very little time passes between their election, acceptance of the role and appearance on a balcony high above St. Peter’s Square, where they announce their new title.

With so much weight placed on the significance of the papal moniker, they have to choose wisely.

The tradition of choosing a new name dates back to the sixth century, when an ordinary priest — Mercurius — was elected but felt he could not keep his pagan name so swapped it for John, arguing that if Christ had renamed Simon, the first pope, as Peter, other popes could do the same.

Since then only one, Adrian VI in the 16th century, has kept his baptism name.

While some names are associated with peace or theological brilliance, others have more controversial connotations.

There has not been any pope called Celestine since the name was taken by a hermit in 1294, who was elected against his wishes and resigned the post after five months. He was immortalized by the Italian poet Dante, who placed him in Hell for his “great refusal”.

Benedict XVI’s resignation may have changed the perception of the term “job for life”, but plumping for Benedict XVII or Celestine VI might suggest another resignation is in the pipeline.

The “Pope Emeritus”, who keeps his name rather than reverting back to his baptism name of Joseph Ratzinger, had told crowds on St. Peter’s Square at the moment of his election in 2005 that he wanted to emulate the papacy of Benedict XV, who reigned during World War I.

“He was a true and courageous prophet of peace who struggled strenuously and bravely, first to avoid the drama of war and then to limit its terrible consequences,” the then pope said.

While popes in the first few centuries were called anything from Zachary to Adeodatus or Victor, from the 16th century onwards the same names have been circulating — Clement, Gregory, Pius, Paul, Benedict — and it is likely to be one of those, or a composite name.

John Paul I was the first in 1978 to bring two papal names together, to honor those who led the Roman Catholic Church during the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II upheld the tribute when his predecessor died after just 33 days.

Those aspiring to a charismatic leadership to reconnect with the faithful after Benedict’s somewhat staid rule, might call themselves John Paul III — or even just John, after “Good Pope John” XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council and declared it his mission to open the Church up to the world.

While the name Pius might appear at first to have the right connotations, the last pope to go by it, Pius XII, was nicknamed “Hitler’s Pope” by his detractors because of what they said was his silence during the Holocaust.

Gregory and Alexander also have unfortunate associations: Gregory VII, elected in 1073, was accused of necromancy and using a bed of nails to torture those who crossed him — while Alexander VI, a member of the wealthy Borgia family, was renowned for throwing wild orgies inside the papal palace.

One of the most bizarre popes of all time was ninth-century Stephen VII, who despised his predecessor Formosus so much that he had his rotting body dug up, dressed in papal robes and put on trial for occupying the papacy illegally.

Formosus was found guilty, the fingers he used to give blessings were chopped off and his body tossed in the Tiber — an ungracious end which makes it unlikely that anyone will choose the name Formosus II, whether or not the trial was fair.

According to Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, the best odds are that the new pope will call himself Leo — which means lion — while the fifth best odds are for Peter.

It will be a brave man, however, who names himself Peter II.

The name is considered off limits out of respect for the Church’s first pope and, according to a prophecy attributed to a 12th-century saint, the next Peter’s pontificate will bring the destruction of Rome and kick off the Apocalypse.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Catholic Church , Conclave , Religion , Vatican

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. Massive infra spending set
  5. OFW brings MERS virus to Philippines
  6. DOJ to NBI: Arrest Cedric Lee, 4 others
  7. Cardinal Tagle to faithful: Join politics to clean it
  8. Estrada, Gigi Reyes denied access to evidence from other respondents
  9. Lacson’s wife loses diamond earring to thieves but recovers jewelry quickly with police arrest
  10. DOJ orders arrest of Cedric Lee
  1. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  2. MH370 co-pilot made mid-flight phone call – report
  3. Netizens cry: 6/55 Lotto was rigged
  4. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  5. ‘Wife of Jesus’ theory papyrus not fake – Harvard study
  6. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  7. Gay college instructor arrested for oral sex with student
  8. ‘King’ Yabut and I: Driver bares Makati dad ‘abuses’
  9. It was difficult having Japanese blood
  10. Palace: We can’t blame increase in population on Vitangcol
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Pork payoffs to newscasters Erwin Tulfo, Del Prado, others bared
  4. UP back on top as ‘average’ student aces bar
  5. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  6. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  7. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  8. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  9. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  10. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’


  • Nebraska toddler gets stuck inside claw machine
  • Philippine eagle rescued by Army turned over to DENR
  • Gunmen attack Iraq military base, kill 10 soldiers
  • South Korea president shouted down by distraught parents
  • Classmates celebrating 60th birthday among missing in ferry sinking
  • Sports

  • Nadal passes clay landmark with 300th victory
  • Wawrinka waltzes through with Monte Carlo walkover
  • Power Pinays smash India in Asian Women’s Club volleyball opener
  • PH youth boxers off to stumbling start in AIBA World tilt
  • Durant has 42, Thunder beat Pistons 112-111
  • Lifestyle

  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • Entertainment

  • Jones, Godard, Cronenberg in competition at Cannes
  • Will Arnett files for divorce from Amy Poehler
  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Business

  • Total says makes ‘very promising’ oil find off Ivory Coast
  • ‘Chinese Twitter’ firm Weibo to go public in US
  • World stocks subdued, Nikkei flat on profit taking
  • Asia stocks fail to match Wall Street gains
  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • Technology

  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • DFA: 2 Filipinos survive Korean ferry disaster
  • PH asks airline passengers to check for MERS
  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • Marketplace