A Pope by Any Other Name …

A Pope by Any Other Name …

Today’s guest blogger is Mark D. Motz. Motz is a life-long parishioner at Guardian Angels Church in Cincinnati, where when he was four years old—according to family legend—he told Monsignor Piening he wanted to be either the pope or a fire truck when he grew up. He became a writer, editor, and photographer instead.

I have to be honest. I was pulling for Cletus II.

Don’t get me wrong, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made an inspired choice in naming himself the first Pope Francis. St. Francis of Assisi heard the voice of God telling him to “rebuild my Church.”

And St. Francis Xavier—a contemporary of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius—was one of the great missionaries and evangelists of the Church. Certainly builder and missionary would be admirable qualities in any pontiff, and I am hopeful our new Holy See embodies both.

Still, I pulled for Cletus.

A family joke

See, I wrote the petitions for my sister’s wedding, an honor I took seriously and (mostly) reverently. But because there was a requirement to have a petition beseeching prayers for the pope, I cracked an inside joke. I used a mini litany of the first three popes—Peter, Linus, and Anacletus—to lead into the prayer for John Paul II, a nod to a member of the wedding party nicknamed Cletus. (That my aunt, who read the petitions, biffed the more formal “Anacletus” and said “Anicetus” made it all the funnier to those of us in the know.)

Cletus was a martyr whose name in Greek means “one who has been called.” There was a time when Church historians believed he was a different person than Anacletus—the longer name means “unimpeachable”—and listed him as two different popes. For what it’s worth, Anicetus was the 11th pope; his name means “unconquered.”

Names intrigue me. I am honored my name is among the fairly small list of one-time papal names—Mark is one of 43 names before last week affixed to only one pope—to say nothing of the even more exclusive list of four Gospel authors.

When one of my godsons told me he chose John as his Confirmation name, I told him he had made a mistake. Pick something more radical, I said. Drive your parents bonkers. Go with a cool saint name like Rocco or Elmo. Or a saint/pope name like Hilarius or, yes, Cletus (which would have been funnier than Hilarius). I had to smile when he told me he wasn’t going for John the Baptist, John the Evangelist or any of the 15 other St. Johns I found in my Maryknoll Missal. Nope. He chose St. John the Dwarf, an Egyptian hermit noted for his obedience. Atta boy.

From Anterus to Zosimus

I find it interesting that the practice of popes taking new names originated when a priest named Mercury ditched the name of the Roman god he was born with and adopted John II in 532 A.D. I find it equally fascinating that Pope Dionysius (259-268 A.D.) had no such qualms about keeping the name of a god associated with drinking and debauchery.

Francis is only the third first-time papal name in the last 1,100 years, following Pope John Paul I in 1978 and Pope Lando in 913 A.D. Lando. As in Calrissian. Well, not really, but a Star Wars geek can dream, can’t he? Lando was his birth name. Turns out Pope Lando served only about six months, dying early in the year 914.

Another one-and-done papal name is that of Pope Fabian, who served 14 years from 236-250. This despite not even being a priest prior to his ascension. The story goes that as Christians gathered in Rome to elect a successor to Pope Anterus, Fabian happened to be in town and a dove landed on his head. That was enough of a sign for the people, who elected him by acclaim. About 1,700 years after Fabian’s death, the name had something of a resurgence thanks to Philadelphia teen Fabiano Forte—a singing idol who went by Fabian—who cranked out 11 Billboard hits in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Alphabetically, the last pope is Zosimus, who served as Holy See from March 417 to December 418. Calabrian by birth and thought to be the son of a Jewish father, Zosimus was alleged to have a pretty serious temper. Which, after a lifetime being called Zosimus, is completely understandable.


Photos: Mark D. Motz



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  • http://twitter.com/ACRProducer ACR Producer

    Mark… You could still be Pope… someday. If an Argentinian can do it…