Papabili Names — What They Mean, Part II (of II)

We looked at the names of the first five papabili, viz. Odilo Pedro Scherer (Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil), Ennio Antonelli (President, Council for the Family, Vatican curia), Marc Ouellet (Archbishop of Québec, Canada), Wilfrid Fox Napier (Archbishop of Durban, South Africa), and Angelo Scola (Patriarch of Venice, Italy), in Part I.

So in this posting we focus on the other five, viz. Philippe Xavier Barbarin (Archbishop of Lyon, France), Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras), Christoph Schönborn (Archbishop of Vienna, Austria), Agostino Vallini (Vicar General of Rome, Italy), and José da Cruz Policarpo (Patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal).

‘Philippe’ is a variant of ‘Philip,’ originally a Greek name, and means horse lover. ‘Philip’ is a name that was widely used by French royalty and nobility. ‘Xavier,’ which is popular in Spain and in SW France, means bright or splendid. We haven’t had any popes with these names, or variants — whether as a prior name or a papal name.

[My friend Byron Hoover, with his vast knowledge of papal history sent me an email after reading this post pointing out that there was an antipope named ‘Philip’ in 768 who reigned for about 24 hours between July 30 and 31! J.N.D. Kelly, the godfather of modern papal historians, claims in his ‘Oxford Dictionary of Popes‘ that Philip should not be regarded as either a pope or antipope. I have, in general, ignored antipopes when it comes to papal names — only paying some heed to the three named ‘John,’ in an effort to clarify the numbering (i.e., ordinals) issues to do with the popes of that name. That an antipope had this name in no ways detracts from the Archbishop of Lyon’s chances of becoming elected. There are about 39 acknowledged antipopes. The third of these was Felix II. That, after Xystus/Sixtus II, was the 2nd repeated name. But it didn’t count since he was an ‘anti.’ But we have had two more named ‘Felix‘ since.]

We have, however, had two popes with ‘horse’ related names. These being: Conon (which I think may mean little horse) and Clement VIII whose birth name ‘Ippolito’ meant free, galloping horse. Philippe Xavier’s and Óscar Rodríguez’s names got me thinking. I could be wrong, but I have to think that when they were born, their parents, in their wildest dreams, never thought their sons, one day, would be papabili — and possibly even be the pope. I guess most parents don’t even want to tempt fate by thinking that far ahead. If they did, they might have chosen more propitious names, just in case.

From what I can see of ‘recent’ popes and the latest papabili, the only two sets of parents that might have thought, very sotto voce at that, that their sons may one day be popes would have been those of Pius XII and Paul VI. Pius XII’s father and grandfather had long and distinguished ties the Vatican, but there were no clerics in the immediate family circle. The name they gave him, ‘Eugenio,’ meaning well born, and a name used by three prior popes, was certainly auspicious if indeed he was to ever be elected pope. He was, on his 63rd birthday. Paul VI’s father, a lawyer, journalist and parliamentary politician, was actively involved with the lay, ‘Catholic Action’ movement. Given that they sent him to a Jesuit run school there is a possibility that they may had hoped that their son would prosper within the Church hierarchy. The name he was given, ‘John,’ was a good papal name though it hadn’t been used for a very long time at the time of Paul VI’s birth. John XXIII’s parents, sharecroppers, though they gave him an angelic name, probably never imaged that their firstborn would leave the homestead to become a priest.

‘Oscar’ is said to be an Old English name alluding to the spear of the gods. In Gaelic it is said to mean friend of the deer. ‘Oscar’ does not appear in the papal rolls in any form. But we do have some names to do with spears. These being: We have had ‘Gerbert,’ Silvester II, which means glittering spear, ‘Suidger,’ Clement II, that could have meant own a spear and ‘Gérard,’ Nicholas II, meaning brave spear carrier. So we have had the Roman god of war and spear carriers.

‘Christoph,’ a variant of the Greek ‘Christopher,’ obviously has to do with ‘Christ’ and means bearing Christ inside. It is a great name for a papabili or pope, especially since there is a marked shortage of ‘Christ’ related names in the papal rolls — the only possible one being ‘Sergius,‘ servant (of Christ), and I am not even sure that we have that derivation right. In my book I have a question mark (‘?’) against that meaning. [But there was, for 4 fleeting months between September 903 and Januray 904, an antipope named ‘Christoper.’ But as I mentioned earlier I don’t count ‘antis.’ Must be my technical background. For me at least, it is difficult, to quantify and count something that we by definition say didn’t happen — i.e., an antipope. That is why, by and large, I ignore them.]

Yes, we have a savior, ‘Soter,‘ and resurrection, ‘Anastasius.‘ We also have quite a few ‘God’ based names, for example, John, Zacharias, Theodore and Theophylactus. But nothing even close to a ‘Christoph.’ So, if he does become pope, I think it would be neat if he decides to retain his birth name à la Marcellus II, 454 years ago. John Paul I, in 1978, showed, with aplomb, that it is perfectly permissible for a pope to be innovative when it comes to choosing a regnal name.

‘Agostino,’ is Italian, and means majestic. It is a powerful, evocative name. Despite its roots, it is also another new name vis-à-vis the papal rolls. But we have had names such as Victor, Stephen (peaceful ruler) and Alexander (famed throughout the land).

‘José,’ is the Spanish for ‘Joseph,’ which means the Lord will add (or increase). The current pope Benedict XVI‘s birth name was ‘Joseph.’ The Italian form of it ‘Giuseppe’ was the birth name of Pius X. Having the same name as the current pope will not be an impediment for the Patriarch of Lisbon. We have had instances of successive popes with the same birth name, e.g., Clement XIV and Pius VI (Giovanni) and Paul IV and Pius IV (yet again, Giovanni).

So that is what we have in terms of the names of my top ten papabili. Hope you enjoyed it.

Thank you for your time.

Anura Guruge

Grace, and may peace be with you.


2 thoughts on “Papabili Names — What They Mean, Part II (of II)”

  1. I dont know where you get the idea about the meaning of Alexander.
    Any Greek lexicon will tell you that ALEXO is ward or keep off turn away or aside hence to defend assist or aid
    ANTHROPOS root ANER or ANDR man human being male so
    ALEXANDER means defender of men or protector of humans

    I should know as I am cursed with this name to espouse
    lost causes and defend unpopular opinions.

    nomen est omen unfortunately is true in my case

    Despite the etymology of the name however it clearly belongs to the likes of Attila Caesar Napoleon Washington William Arthur who spent more time killing men than protecting them. Their archetype is of course Alexander. Oh I forgot Muhammad.

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