Thursday, March 14, 2013

Francis the Fourth

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio surprised us all when he took the name "Francis" as Bishop of Rome and pope of the Church.

Cardinal Albino Luciani broke with tradition in 1978 when he took a double name; he chose "John" to honor Pope John XXIII and "Paul" to honor his predecessor Pope Paul VI.

If our historical record is correct, Pope John II (533-535) was the first Bishop of Rome to change his name (unless you count Jesus' changing Simon's name to Peter); he had been Mercurius, and it must have seemed inappropriate for a pope to have the name of a pagan god.

In 938 the Bishop of Pavia in Italy, Peter Canepanova, was appointed pope by the emperor; out of deference to St. Peter, the new Bishop of Rome changed his name to John XIV. Sergius IV in 1009 also had "Peter" as his baptismal name and did not want to have the same official name as the Apostle.

Gregory V (996-999), the first German pope, changed his name from Bruno, and Pope Sylvester II (999-1003), the first French pope, changed his name from Gerbert. There has been the suspicion that both did so in order to sound more "Roman."

The last two popes to keep their baptismal names were Adrian VI (1522-23) and Marcellus II (1555).

Taking a new name upon becoming pope is a custom, not a rule. Cardinal Bergoglio could have become Pope Jorge I. Instead he chose Francis, the first Bishop of Rome to have that name.

Since he is a Jesuit, Cardinal Bergoglio might have been influenced by the example of  Francis Xavier, who died in 1552, one of the original group of seven Jesuits ordained in 1537. Francis Xavier has been called "one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church." He is invoked as patron of foreign missions.

Francis de Sales, who died in 1622, is a bishop and doctor of the Church, remembered for his encouraging lay spirituality and for writing his classic Introduction to the Devout Life. He is patron of writers.

And, of course, there is St. Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226, the founder of  the Franciscans. This Francis is known for his simplicity, asceticism, humility, mystical experiences.

I like to think that all three in this triumvirate could be his inspiration.

Francis Xavier lived as a poor man in order to serve the poor. It is said that he slept on the ground and chose a diet of rice and water. He died at age 46.

Francis de Sales, known as a wise, learned, and gentle teacher, explained the teachings of the Church and Bible, urging the faithful to develop their spiritual lives.

Francis of Assisi, according to one story, heard God say to him, "Repair my church," and in his own unique way Francis did just that, calling attention to the church's failings and encouraging its reform.

If the qualities of each Francis surface in the pontificate of Pope Francis I, then the Church of the twenty-first century will have experienced another humble, wise, and reforming leader --just what we need in a church with "a disfigured face."

Perhaps Pope Francis will be added to the triumvirate, and become thereby Francis the Fourth. We must pray for him.

(Father Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints and his Lives of the Popes are two excellent, easy-to-read sources for learning more about the leaders and inspirers of the Church.)

1 comment:

  1. How do you feel Pope Francis will fulfill his role? Do you see this as a positive move for the future of the Church?