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April 7, 2015

Papal Pandemonium: The Via Appia ends here

Papal Pandemonium 2015
Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
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For more info on Popes, visit New Advent's Catholic Encyclopedia

By the end of this week, white smoke will billow from the Chapel of the Forrest; those standing in Final Wager Square will rejoice.

And we will then hold a coronation of our own: the best papal name of all time.

Papal finals

Slightly different rules in this round. You get ONE VOTE. That’s it, like any good conclave.

After you’ve cast your ballot, drum up support for your favorite name by clicking the Twitter button next to it.

The poll closes Thursday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

The Papal Pedant returns!

Pope Eugene VBack for one last round of self-flagellation is my favorite pundit: Eugene Finerman, a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

When he’s not considering his preferred method of martyrdom, he is a mercenary freelance writer at FinermanWorks. Check out his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Are we ready? Let’s get on with it!


Pick the BEST papal name.

    Zephyrinus (2%, 2 Votes)

    Urban (1%, 1 Votes)

    Telesphorus (5%, 4 Votes)

    Simplicius (7%, 6 Votes)

    Linus (7%, 6 Votes)

    Lando (7%, 6 Votes)

    Hilarius (59%, 50 Votes)

    Dionysius (5%, 4 Votes)

    Boniface (7%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 85

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Support Pope Boniface! Boniface – used 8 times (last: 1404)

Derivation: Latin, good fate

I II III IV V
418–422 530–532 607 608–615 619–625
VI VII VIII IX
896 antipope 1294–1303 1389–1404

Boniface I fought with Antipope Eulalius, which I really hope was the inspiration for the battle cry of the Salamandastron badgers in the Redwall series.

Boniface VI served for 16 days – the shortest tenure of any consecrated pope.

Boniface VII was an antipope who overthrew and killed John XIII in 974; when John’s compatriots invaded, he raided the papal treasury and fled to Constantinople.

The Papal Pedant says:

Note: this is re-published from the semifinals.

“You have entered like a fox. You will reign like a lion. You will die like a dog.” That was a prophecy made to Pope Boniface VIII. This obviously came true because why else would I be quoting it?

The prophet was the former Pope Celestine V, who had been coaxed into abdicating by the apparently selfless Cardinal Gaetani. The weary Celestine wanted a monastic life near his beloved home of Naples. Gaetani promised him as much, and as the next pope–Boniface VIII–he would certainly look after Celestine’s welfare. However, the new Pope decided that a Roman prison could be just as spiritual as a Neapolitan monastery. Celestine really did not appreciate that. You noticed that from his prophecy.

As for his leonine reign, Boniface did impose himself as the judge and arbiter of Christendom. He was not the first Pope to do Kings what to do, but he may have been the worst at it. At least he no longer had to contend with invading German armies; his predecessors had organized the deposition and deaths of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. In achieving that, however, they left Italy prey to invading French armies. The French held Southern Italy and were ominously close to Rome. Yet, Boniface seemed bent on offending France. Whenever he intervened in an international dispute involving France, he never decided in Paris’ favor. France versus Aragon, France versus England, France versus Flanders…and France did notice. As for France’s plan to tax the Church, try taxing an excommunication. Its king was Philip the Fair, which referred to his looks–definitely not his character.

Philip was the great-great-great grandson of Henry II of England, and he may have inherited the same approach to a “turbulent priest.” In 1303, French agents kidnapped the Pope. There was a dispute over what to do what their captive. The “muscle” wanted to kill him; the “brains” wanted to try, disgrace and depose him. Beating him nearly to death seemed a good compromise. What was left of him was rescued after three days. He died soon after.

As for the ensuing scandal, there was none. The next Popes were much tactful toward France. “You want to dissolve and rob the Templers. Mais oui. You want the next Popes to be French. Bien sur! You think that we should relocate to Avignon. Allons-y!”

Boniface VIII was a martyr but generally to his ego.

Support Pope Dionysius! Dionysius (260–268)

Derivation: Greek, from the God of wine

The persecution of Christians under Emperor Valerian I was intense; after Pope Sixtus II was martyred in 258, it took the Church more than a year to fill the bishopric. Then Valerian was killed and his son and former co-emperor, Gallienus, issued an edict of tolerance, ushering in the 40-year “Little Peace” of the Church.

His name was probably inspired by a judge who was converted by St. Paul in Acts.

The Papal Pedant says:

Would you respect him more if we called him Dennis? That would be the Irish equivalent.

He certainly had his share of luck. At the time of his election, he needed it. The Emperor Valerian was persecuting Christian clergy. The diocese in Rome was a convenient place to start. Pope Sixtus II was decapitated; Deacon Lawrence became a patron saint of barbecues. There was no one really eager to be the next Pope. A year passed before Dionysius was elected. Valerian happened to be out of town and he was about to leave the empire.

In 260 the Emperor evidently was looking for weapons of mass destruction in Persia. Boy, did he and his army find them! At least, the Emperor survived but as a prisoner. The Persian Shah used Valerian as a footstool. Since it was not a pampered captivity, Valerian soon died and then began his second career. He was stuffed and mounted as a public trophy.

In portraits, Dionysius was never depicted with a smirk. But we know better. The next Emperor called off the anti-Christian campaign and even returned confiscated Church property. Christians enjoyed forty years of tolerance from pagans, if not from each other. Everyone was someone else’s idea of a heretic.

Twitter_logo_white Hilarius (461–468)

Derivation: Latin, cheerful

He exerted pressure on Gaul and Spain to fall in line with church doctrine, but was largely ignored. The Anglicized version of this name is Hilary.

The Papal Pedant says:

Who would kill anyone named Hilarius? Yes, someone in Human Resources.

To his credit, the barbarian chieftain – and Roman general – Ricimer had no reason to kill the Pope. A number of Roman Emperors were not that lucky: check the autopsies of Avitus, Majorian, Libius Serverus, and Anthemius. (Only Majorian was a real loss.) Ricimer was royalty himself – Visigothic and Suevi; however, such barbarian chic still not qualify himself to be a Roman Emperor. But the next best thing was to hire and fire the emperors. From 457 to 472, that is what Ricimer did.

He never bothered with Popes because they did not bother him. Leo, Hilarius, and Simplicius did not seem to mind that Ricimer was not their type of Christian. Ricimer belonged to the Arian denomination, the most popular creed among the barbarians. Yes, most of the barbarian tribes were Christians, but they regarded God the Father and God the Son as Wotan and Thor. (Both Thor and a Galilean carpenter did have hammers.)

Of course, the Church condemned Arianism as a heresy, but it prudently chose not to nag Ricimer. Pope Hilarius found it safer to pick fights with the bishops in Gallia and Hispania.

At the time, the Church in Western Europe rather democratic. The community was supposed to pick the bishop. That had been the practice when the diocese was still in hiding in catacombs. But the bishops now were picking their own successors as if the See were family property. Guess what: it probably was. The Church in Gallia and Hispania was controlled by Roman patricians.

The aristocracy had been the last bastion of paganism. However, at the end of the fourth century, in its last effective exertion of imperial power, Rome ordered the patricians to become Christian. To enforce this policy, the empire began transferring municipal government from patrician bureaucrats to bishops. So the patricians made a complete conversion: they became Christians and then began appointing themselves as bishops.

At the time, the Church had no specific requirements for a bishop; it was an administrative rather than a theological position. So if the largest landowner in Seville nominates himself as the new bishop, do you think that his tenants and slaves – his congregation – dare object? Even if these early prelates were aristocratic opportunists, most of their grandsons (celibacy was not yet required) proved devout bishops. They certainly enjoyed persecuting heretics and Jews.

The Church hierarchy was a patrician club and would remain one for another 14 centuries. Hilarius was politely ignored. Indeed, the Papacy would soon succumb to the aristocracy; and Hilarius was lucky not to have been condemned as a heretic.

Support Pope Lando! Lando (913–914)

Derivation: Latin, bright sun

Until Francis in 2013, Lando was the last pope to take a theretofore-unused name (it was his own).

The Papal Pedant says:

Note: this is re-published from the semifinals.

Lando was only a front for the Robber Barons who controlled the Papacy in the tenth century. He reigned less than a year. However, his name is fascinating and somewhat incriminating. Lando is a mitigated form of Landulf.

It might seem that his parents were fans of Tolkien; more likely they were Lombards, descendants of a barbarian tribe that seized much of Italy.

Among the German tribes, there were gradations of barbarism. The Goths were relatively refined, while the Angles and Saxons were complete louts. The Lombards were unfortunately among the crude. They invaded Italy in the late sixth century, pushing back the Byzantines and civilization to enclaves in Venetia, Rome and Southern Italy. The Papacy was protected by Byzantine garrisons, although the Popes also needed protection from the Byzantine bureaucracy.

In the mid-eighth century, the Popes had broken away from Constantinople; no Greek was going to destroy Italian icons. However, Rome still needed protection from the Lombards. The Papacy appealed to France’s King Pepin (the Joseph Kennedy of medieval France); the obliging French army broke the Lombard kingdom and ceded much of central Italy to the Pope himself.

But the Lombards did remain in the Italian gene pool. You must have noticed that Northern Italians are fairer than Southern Italians. Just compare Benito Mussolini with Antonin Scalia. Everyone does – but this time, just their complexions.

Twitter_logo_white Linus (67–76)

Derivation: Greek, flaxen-haired

Linus was the second pope, after Saint Peter.

The Papal Pedant says:

The Church has yet to decide if Linus was actually a martyr. The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word for witness, and as any aspiring “witness” knows: “the morbid the merrier.”

By that definition, Linus was definitely a failure. His death was either too trivial or embarrassing to remember. Was he dodging traffic in the Via Appia? He died in AD 76. Had he waited four years, he could have been the opening act at the Colosseum.

Twitter_logo_white Simplicius (468–483)

Derivation: Latin, simple

When Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor in 476, he left Simplicius in control of Rome’s administration.

The Papal Pedant says:

Note: this is re-published from the semifinals.

By the fifth century, the Papacy finally was a safe job. The Church Councils could give you an ulcer, and it was impossible to keep track of all the theories about the Trinity; but it still was a good job.

By contrast, the position of Emperor had never been safe and now was not prestigious. The emperors were figureheads of their military commanders, most of whom were German mercenaries. This remnant empire was ruled from Ravenna. At least the Adriatic port was defensible; Rome had been sacked too often.

In the first eight years of Simplicius’s reign, there had been six emperors – an assortment of ciphers. One was executed, two actually died of natural causes, and the other three were simply ousted. In 476, the German mercenaries finally decided to rule Italy for themselves. For the next sixty years they did a good job, better than any Italian government has since. They respected the Pope, and he was prudent enough to return the compliment.

Support Pope Telesphorus✝! Telesphorus (125–136)

Derivation: Greek, bearing fruit

A contemporary writer called his martyrdom “glorious”. He might have been the first pope to celebrate Lenten Week before Easter. Also the name of a Greek god.

The Papal Pedant says:

Telesphorus: He suffered a “glorious martyrdom” in the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Of course, there are no details to that martyrdom; we have to accept his dramatic demise as a matter of faith. However, we know that Hadrian was an outstanding emperor, and certainly not a vicious tyrant. Telesphorus must have unbearable to goad Hadrian. However, his execution might have been an act of compassion. Telesphorus was already a martyr to that damn name. It also happened to be the name of a dwarf god, the divine intermediary for the crippled. Yes, it seems a noble idea for a Pope’s name to denote empathy. But you will notice that his successors did not name themselves Leper or Pyorrhea. Telesphorus was not a trendsetter.

Support Pope Urban! Urban – used 8 times (last: 1644)

Derivation: Latin, city-dweller or kind

I II* III IV V*
222–230 1088–1099 1185–1187 1261–1264 1362–1370
VI VII VIII
1378–1389 1590 1623–1644

Urban VII was incredibly popular; he died, however, just 12 days after his election, never having been formally consecrated.

Urban VIII was the last pope to use force to increase the size of papal territory. He also banned the use of tobacco in church (under threat of excommunication, of course).

The Papal Pedant says:

Urban VIII: A Pope from central casting, he was a suave, charming Italian aristocrat. Yes, he prosecuted Galileo; you would have, too.

The problem with Galileo really had nothing to do with science or religion. It was all a matter of tact–and Galileo didn’t have any. The Church even gave him permission to publish his conclusions, so long as he followed Pope Urban VIII’s recommendation to be diplomatic to the supporters of the geocentric theory.

Unfortunately, Galileo did not feel like being polite to advocates of idiocy; and he wanted to insult anyone who even tolerated the geocentric club. So instead of a nice, scholarly discourse, Galileo had to write a satire. In his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, Galileo has the geocentric theory espoused by a pretentious fool named Simplicius. Apparently overestimating the Church’s sense of humor, Galileo gave Simplicius a remarkable resemblance to the Pope.

And this was in 1632, right in the middle of the Thirty Years War. In the midst of religious genocide, the Church really did not need the distraction of a debate among its parishioners over the sun’s and the earth’s itinerary. On the contrary, everything had to evolve around the Church. If Galileo couldn’t keep a civil tongue, he was lucky to have a tongue at all. The Church had nothing against the actual science; it was just at a really inconvenient time. Yes, the first convenient time turned to be 350 years later.

Click here to see Eugene’s take on Pope Urban II, King Richard I (the Lionheart), and the Crusades.

Support Pope Zephyrinus✝! Zephyrinus (199–217)

Derivation: Greek, of the west wind

Zephyrinus was not martyred in the traditional sense – you know, crucifixion, stoning, arrows, etc. – but is considered a martyr for the considerable mental and emotional anguish he was said to have endured during his 18-year pontificate. While Emperor Septimius Severus persecuted Christians, and several prominent Christians renounced the faith, Zephyrinus was said to be “the support and comfort of the distressed flock.”

The Papal Pedant says:

The Emperor Caracalla was a vicious tyrant. So why didn’t he kill Zephyrinus?

Let’s face it; Zephyrinus was easy to ignore. He was not even the only bishop of Rome during his reign. Another Christian denomination – a forerunner of Unitarians – had elected its own bishop. Zephyrinus could hardly sue for trademark infringement. The laws did not exist and neither did Caracalla’s understanding nature. The best that Zephyrinus could do was to pray for afflictions on the rival diocese.

According to Church lore, an angel scourged the rival bishop who then conceded to Zephryrinus. So much for the Unitarian martyrology.

3 Comments
  1. And the winner for favorite Papal Pedant is…Oh, no, not Andy Westney again! (And this time Leah Greenwald voted for me)

  2. I’m unclear on what the winner gets. A do-over on an encyclical? Getting Dante to expunge his record? Red Manolo Blahniks? Bruce Vilanch ghostwrites a response to the 95 theses?

  3. Leah, the Church wrote its response in 1520. The Papal Bull was not a great success since I described it as “The Worst Speech in History.” My lecture on it was published in Vital Speeches of the Day. (Yes, it is standard Eugene) I will be happy to send you, Mr. Vilanch and anyone else a copy. For those who would rather not admit to knowing me, the lecture is in the August 15, 2003 issue of Vital Speeches. Dick Cheney is in the same issue. (He never sent me a fan letter.)

What do you think?