When Paul VI died in 1978, I didn't know enough church politics to know who the main contenders for the apostolic succession were. Not having a strong opinion on who should be Pope, I lunged for my reference books to check out Pope names.
In my life that far, I could only remember two Popes: John XXIII and Paul VI. Before that, there was a rarely interrupted sequence of Pius's going back almost two centuries. My first hope was that we might get a new name. My second choice was that, if not a new name we might reuse an obscure name that had never produced a number two. In a way, I got both of my choices, with John-Paul and John-Paul both happening in less than two months. Though John-Paul was something of a cop out as far as new names go. So twenty-six and a half years later, let's give it another try.
But first, a moment of history geekiness. Lists of popes aren't a straightforward business. For the first three centuries of its existence, the Church was essentially an illegal organization in the Roman Empire. The succession of the earliest bishops of Rome is both obscure and debatable. In the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, the papacy was so embroiled in politics that factions often went off and elected competing Popes (the losing pretenders are called anti-Popes). A normal historical procedure for any other succession would be to list all of the possible candidates and leave it at that. But the Pope isn't a normal person. The Pope is the successor of the Apostle Peter and carries his holy authority. The apostolic succession needs to be clear and unbroken for the Pope to keep any authority. The list of Popes is an official history (in the worst sense of the phrase) and must be carefully scrubbed of anti-Popes and ambiguity. Of course, all that means to me is that some pretty cool names have been knocked out of consideration.
Looking at a good list, a few things stand out. During the first five hundred years of its existence, the Church had Fifty-four Popes. All of them except two (Liberius, 352-66 and Anastasius II, 496-98) have been made saints. Imagine how awful that must feel for them. Prior to John-Paul, the last time someone introduced a new name into the sequence was Pope Lando in 913. As a Babylon 5 fan, I could go for Pope Lando II.
Most of the early Popes have, for obvious reasons, very Roman names. Most of these early Roman Popes' names have never been reused. Here's a few of my favorites:
- Hilarius - (last used 461-68) Isn't that a happy sounding name? Wouldn't you want to watch a Hiarius news conference?
- Hyginus - (136-140) Because cleanliness is next to Godliness.
- Simplicius - (468-83) This was the successor to Hilarius. Those sound like pleasant times (unless you know anything about Roman history).
- Zephyrinus - (199-217) Maybe not; he sounds like an old wind-bag.
- Vitalian - (657-72) Has the added benefit of sounding like a cure for baldness or impotence.
What about completely new names? Here are a few possibilities:
- George-Ringo - for symmetry’s sake and just because.
- Henry - Look at it as an ecumenical outreach to the Anglicans.
- Spike or Butch - Something tough to let the world know this is not a Pope to be trifled with.
- He could follow the American tradition of familiarity and go for something like Pope Chuck.
- Since the bishop of Nigeria is considered to be in the running, maybe we could have something traditionally African and completely unpronounceable to western newscasters.
Does anyone have any other suggestions? We only have a short time to make nominations before the final call for bets is made.