Archive for the ‘Popes’ Category

When and Why Did Popes Start Changing Their Names?

September 6, 2010

One Roman Catholic correspondent criticized my list of popes that denied the immaculate conception (link to list and discussion) on the basis that some of the statements were made by the popes before they took office.

He actually went so far as to claim:

Men who become Pope change their names precisely to show that what they taught before, which may be erring, is of no account to their pontificate.

Of course, my correspondent was just trying weasel out of the evidence that was stacked against him, but it did make me wonder: when did the name changing begin?

The obvious answer of “Simon’s name was changed to Peter” isn’t correct. First of all, “Peter” was Simon’s surname (see the discussion here). Second, many of the early bishops of Rome (and alleged bishops of Rome) did not take on a pseudonym.

I’d love to have a more definitive answer, but EWTN reports this:

Papal Names – Most of the early Popes kept their own names upon election. However, when the Roman priest Mercury was elected in 533 he took the name John II, so the Church would not have a Pope named after a pagan god. Thus began the practice of taking a new name which today is taken for granted.

which seems like a reasonable explanation (source). The practice seems to have stuck, although I’m not aware of any canon law that absolutely requires a name change.

The last pope not to change his name was Marcellus II (crowned in 1555). Ironically, his name is the name of a pagan god (Mars, like his name sake and like pope Mark). It’s also worth noting that while he would have been the first recorded bishop of Rome with the name “Mercury,” the official list of popes also includes among his predecessors not only those named for the major god Mars, but also those named for some of the lesser gods: Dionysis, Anterus, and Zephyrinus. (source)

John II did not get the trend to catch on immediately. The next several popes maintained their birth name, though John III (originally Catelinus) followed suit (he may have changed his name before becoming pope). (source) Indeed, the next few name changes were to be called “John” (Octavian became John XII in 955 and Pietro Canepanova became John XIV in 983) (source). However, by 1503, when Julius II retained his birth name he was disrupting a 494 year tradition spanning 72 popes (source).

So – what is the real reason that popes change their names? It’s a tradition. If you like it, thank Johns II, III, XII, and XIV for paving the way – but don’t make the facile assumption that they do it for theological reasons, or that this is a tradition that comes down from the apostolic era.



Pope Joan

June 22, 2010

Peter Stanford’s work, The She-Pope, is apparently being turned into a film. The basic gist of the work is that one woman managed to become pope, only to give birth to a child in public (thereby betraying her secret). Allegedly this all took place in the late 9th century. The story should be taken with a whole shaker of salt, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it is an interesting story with more and better factual support than, say, the alleged bodily assumption of Mary.

(Link to article: CAUTION – web page features immodest women, and story is a little explicit about how the Church allegedly avoids another Pope Joan. Thus, this link is neither for those with lust problems, or for children.)

Same Church? We report, you decide.

December 19, 2008

Example 1
Pope John Paul II: “[It] is everyone’s duty to work to ensure that the poor have access to credit on equitable terms and at affordable interest rates.” (source) (1 January 1998)

Example 2
Pope Sixtus V famously declared interest to be “detestable to God and man, damned by the sacred canons and contrary to Christian charity” (secondary source, page 7) (1586)

I know some people will immediately try to distinguish Sixtus V’s comments by noting that he was referring to “usury” and then applying the modern definition of “usury” as “excessive interest.”

Example 3
Pope Benedict XIV anticipated this kind of attempt and wrote:

One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully, either to increase one’s fortune, to purchase new estates, or to engage in business transactions. The law governing loans consists necessarily in the equality of what is given and returned; once the equality has been established, whoever demands more than that violates the terms of the loan. Therefore if one receives interest, he must make restitution according to the commutative bond of justice; its function in human contracts is to assure equality for each one. This law is to be observed in a holy manner. If not observed exactly, reparation must be made.

(source) (1745)

Benedict XIV argued that his position was not merely his personal private opinion or a theological innovation, and prohibited teachings against his teaching:

4. This is how the Cardinals and theologians and the men most conversant with the canons, whose advice We had asked for in this most serious business, explained their opinions. Also We devoted our private study to this matter before the congregations were convened, while they were in session, and again after they had been held; for We read the opinions of these outstanding men most diligently. Because of this, We approve and confirm whatever is contained in the opinions above, since the professors of Canon Law and Theology, scriptural evidence, the decrees of previous popes, and the authority of Church councils and the Fathers all seem to enjoin it. Besides, We certainly know the authors who hold the opposite opinions and also those who either support and defend those authors or at least who seem to give them consideration. We are also aware that the theologians of regions neighboring those in which the controversy had its origin undertook the defense of the truth with wisdom and seriousness.

5. Therefore We address these encyclical letters to all Italian Archbishops, Bishops, and priests to make all of you aware of these matters. Whenever Synods are held or sermons preached or instructions on sacred doctrine given, the above opinions must be adhered to strictly. Take great care that no one in your dioceses dares to write or preach the contrary; however if any one should refuse to obey, he should be subjected to the penalties imposed by the sacred canons on those who violate Apostolic mandates.

(same source – same date)

Was John Paul II the “successor” of Sixtus V and Benedict XIV? We report, you decide.

Nevertheless, I think a few people will recognize that JP2’s view on interest (while apparently motivated by a concern for the poor) is not only different from, but expressly condemned by, Sixtus V and Benedict XIV. Popes make mistakes. Either JP2 was right or S5 and B14 were right, but they are not both right. Either taking interest on loans is a sin or it is not.

But some will complain that all this is trivial, because none of the staments involved are ex cathedra statements. Consequently, there is no impact on papal infallibility, even where (as here) popes seem to contradict one another. That kind of response (while it reveals a recognition of part of the problem) misses the thrust of the issue.

To get at the issue, let me ask a few further thought-questions for my papist readers. Do you believe you can decide who was right and who was wrong between JP2 and S5/B14? If so, what is your standard? Are you making yourself a mini-pope by deciding? If not – do you see why we are not making ourselves mini-popes when evaluate Trent or Vatican I or Vatican II? And our standard is the unshakable standard of Scripture, which is the only authenticable tradition of the apostles.


Question to Romanists

December 17, 2008

Given the statement: “Religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.”

a) Do you agree with the statement?

b) Do you consider the Reformed churches “religious minorities”?

c) Do you consider Luther and/or Calvin to be “founding figures” of the Reformed churches, within the sense of this statement?

d) If you answered “yes” to each of (a)-(c), do you condemn the mocking of Luther and/or Calvin that is provided by so many Romanists?


Pope Gregory VII from the German Perspective

August 3, 2008
The Character of Pope Gregory
extracted from
The Variations of Popery
Samuel Edgar, D.D.
(1855 ed., pp. 111-12)

Gregory the Seventh, who obtained the papacy in 1073, was another pontifical patron of iniquity. He was elected on the day of his predecessor’s funeral, by the populace and soldiery, through force and bribery, without the concurrence of the emperor or the clergy. Desiderius, abbot of Monte Cassino, on this head, accused Hildebrand to his face of precipitation. He obtained the supremacy, in the general opinion, by gross simony.[FN1] He had the hypocrisy or hardihood, nevertheless, to pretend that the dignity was obtruded on him against his will.

Benno has sketched the character of this pontiff in strong colors. This cardinal accused his holiness of simony, sacrilege, epicurism, magic, sorcery, treason, impiety, and murder. The Italians of Lombardy drew nearly as frightful a portrait of his supremacy. These represented his holiness as having gained the pontifical dignity by simony, and stained it by assassination and adultery.

The councils of Worms and Brescia depicted his character with great precision. The council of Worms, comprehending forty-six of the German prelacy, met in 1076, and preferred numerous imputations against Gregory. This synod found his holiness guilty of usurpation, simony, apostasy, treason, schism, heresy, chicanery, dissimulation, fornication, adultery, and perjury. His infallibility, according to this assembly, debased sacred theology by innovation, and scandalized Christendom by his intimacy with the Princess Matilda. His holiness, in the sentence of the German prelacy, preferred harlots to women of character, and adultery and incest to chaste and holy matrimony.[FN2]

The council of Brescia, in 1078, portrayed his supremacy with equal freedom. This assembly, composed of thirty, bishops, and many princes from Italy, France, and Germany, called Gregory a fornicator, an impostor, an assassin, a violator of the canons, a disseminator of discord, a disturber of the Christian commonwealth, and a pestilential patron of all madness, who had sown scandal among friends, dissension among the peaceful, and separation among the married. The Brescian fathers, then declared his holiness guilty of bribery, usurpation, simony, sacrilege, ferocity, vain-glory, ambition, impiety, obstinacy, perverseness, sorcery, divination, necromancy, schism, heresy, Berengarianism, infidelity, assassination, and perjury. The sacred synod having, in this manner, done justice to his character, deposed Gregory from his dignity by the authority of Almighty God.[FN3]

The fathers of Worms and Brescia supported the Emperor Henry against Pope Gregory. Their condemnation of the pontiff therefore has, by Labbé, Alexander, and Binius, been reckoned the effect of personal hostility, and, on this account, unworthy of credit. Their sentence, indeed, is no great evidence of their friendship for his holiness. But these two councils were, in this respect, in the same situation with the other synods who have condemned any of the Roman hierarchs. The Roman synod that condemned John the Twelfth, the Parisian assembly that convicted Boniface, the Pisan and Constantian councils that degraded Gregory, Benedict, and John, all these were placed in similar circumstances, and actuated by similar motives. But their sentences are not, therefore, to be accounted the mere ebullitions of calumny. Gregory’s sentence of deposition against Henry was, according to the partizans of popery in the present day, an unlawful act, and beyond the limits of pontifical authority. The fathers of Worms and Brescia, therefore, had a right to withstand Gregory in his assumption and exercise of illegal and unconstitutional power.

[FN1] Du Pin, 2. 210, 215. Bruy. 2. 427.
[FN2] Labb. 12. 517. Cossart. 2. 11, 48. Bruy. 2. 471. Alex. 18. 398.
[FN3] Labb. 12. 646. Alexander. 18. 402.


Edited by TurretinFan (2008) to update spellings and footnote numbering/format. Book available at no charge in electronic form from Google Books (link). It should be noted that obviously the account above is the account from the German perspective, not the Italian perspective (which would praise Gregory). Even the accounts from the Italian perspective, however, acknowledge that Gregory VII had started his career serving a simoniacal pope (“There could be no doubt as to Alexander’s successor. Hildebrand [later called Gregory VII] had been virtually Pope during two pontificates. The efforts of the Clugny party against simony and clerical marriage had been inspired by him, though he had begun his career as the chaplain of a simoniacal Pope.” The Age of Hildebrand, M. R. Vincent, 1896, p. 64).

Gregory VII is that pope whose intrigues in European politics led to Emperor Henry IV standing standing barefoot in bad weather for three days in a castle courtyard, which (in turn) led to Gregory’s own deposition and exile by Henry subsequently. In the development of the papacy and its arrogation over the European church, Gregory’s role is significant, although he died defeated and in exile with an appointee of Henry IV on the papal throne.

Thus, even works that essentially write off the German councils make comments such as: “Gregory’s character was in many respects a grand and noble one. But impartial history decides that the good he accomplished was far more than counterbalanced by his fanatical enforcement of celibacy (q. v.), which has continued to this day to demoralize the Romanist clergy, and by his semi-blasphemous assertions of almost divine power for the papacy. His earlier efforts for ecclesiastical reform were, no doubt, sincere and earnest; but at a later period he was led astray bу the ambition of exalting his see over all the dignities and powers of the earth, spiritual as well as temporal. Not content with making, as far as in him lay, the Church independent of the empire, and at the same time establishing the control of the papal authority over the princes of the earth, objects which he left to be completed by his successor, Gregory determined to destroy the independence of the various national churches. His object was to raise the pope to supreme power over Church and State throughout Christendom. By a constitution of his predecessor Alexander II, which he dictated, and which he afterwards continued, it was enacted for the first time that no bishop elect should exorcise his functions until lie had received his confirmation from the pope. The Roman see had already, in the 9th century, subverted the authority of the metropolitans, under pretense of affording protection to the bishops; but now it assumed the right of citing the bishops, without distinction, before its tribunal at Rome to receive its dictates, and Gregory obliged the metropolitan to attend in person to receive the pallium. The quarrel of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, with William Rufus, was owing to that monarch not choosing to let him go to Rome, whither he had been summoned. The practice of sending apostolic legates to different kingdoms as special commissioners of the pope, with discretionary power over the national hierarchy, originated also with Gregory, and completed the establishment of absolute monarchy in the Church in lieu of its original popular or representative form. This doctrine of papal absolutism in matters of discipline was by prescription and usage so intermixed with the more essential doctrines of faith, that it came to be considered аз a dogma itself, and has defied all the skill of subsequent theologians and statesmen to disentangle it from the rest, while at the same time it has probably been, though at a fearful cost, the means of preserving the unity of the Western
or Roman Church. The measures accomplished and attempted by Gregory were (1) the abolition of the influence of the Roman nobility in the election of the pope; (2) the removal of all authority in the election of the popes from the emperors of Germany; (3) the establishment of the celibacy of the clergy; (4) the freedom of the Church in the matter of investitures.” (internal citations omitted) Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock et al. 1891, pp. 1003-04.

But even leaving aside Gregory VII, if one wanted a more undisputed example of papal simony than this (or than the pope under which Gregory VII got his start), one need only turn to Alexander VI (pope from 1492-1503), formerly Rodrigo Borgia. Of the manner of his election, of the depravity of his life, and of the gruesomeness of his death, I will for now leave the reader to discover for himself. While the ambitions of Gregory VII may have contributed to the Great Schism (1054) (or may simply have been the product of that political defeat), Alexander VI (among other factors) set the stage for Luther.

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