Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The (Possible) Motto of Pope Francis

Although I am not certain, it seems that the motto of our newly-elected Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be his episcopal and cardinatial motto, Miserando atque eligendo.  According to a post on a website dedicated to Argentinian Heraldry, the motto comes from a homily by St. Bede the Venerable on the calling of St. Matthew.  The Archdiocesan website of Buenos Aires gives the relevant passage from the Venerable Bede's Homily 21 in Spanish:

Jesús vio a un hombre, llamado Mateo, sentado ante la mesa de cobro de los impuestos, y le dijo: "Sígueme". Lo vio más con la mirada interna de su amor que con los ojos corporales. Jesús vio al publicano, y lo vio con misericordia y eligiéndolo, (miserando atque eligendo), y le dijo Sígueme, "Sígueme", que quiere decir: "Imítame". Le dijo "Sígueme", más que con sus pasos, con su modo de obrar. Porque, quien dice que está siempre en Cristo debe andar de continuo como él anduvo. 

In English, the passage reads:

Jesus saw a man, named Matthew, sitting before a table of tax collection, and He said to him: "Follow me."  He saw him more with the interior gaze of His love than with corporal eyes.  Jesus saw the publican, and He saw him with mercy and choosing him, (miserando atque eligendo), and He told him Follow me, "Follow me," that is to say: "Imitate me."  He told him "Follow me," more than with his steps, with his mode of work.  Because, he who says that he is always in Christ ought to walk continually as He walked. (translation mine)

Thus, if I understand what I've read correctly, Pope Francis' motto will be "With mercy and choosing," describing how, though he is a poor sinner, our Holy Father has been chosen to follow the Lord by Jesus Christ's merciful love.

Let us pray for our new, humble Holy Father, and let us pray to the Theotokos, as he asked:

Madre de Dios, ruega por nuestro Santo Padre Francisco, hoy y por todos los dias de su pontificado.

Mother of God, pray for our Holy Father Francis, today and for all the days of his pontificate.

'Ρόδον τόν Ἀμάραντον (Unfading Rose)


Here is the relevant passage from St. Bede in its original Latin, from his Homiliae, Book II, Homily XXII (Patrologia Latina XCIV:251B, 251D-252A), "On the Birth of Saint Matthew the Apostle":

"Vidit, inquit, Jesus hominem sedentem in telonio, Matthaeum nomine, et ait illi: Sequere me. Vidit autem non tam corporei intuitus, quam internae miserationis aspectibus....Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, Sequere me.  Sequere autem dixit imitare.  Sequere dixit non tam incessu pedum, quam executione morum.  Qui enim dicit se in Christo manere, debet sicut ille ambulavit, et ipse ambulare."  

Interestingly, this passage is used in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours (IV:1418) for the Feast of St. Matthew on September 21 (pointed out to me by Crossroads Initiative).  Here is the translation given in the English version:

"Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me.  Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.  
He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me.  This following meant imitating the pattern of his life—not just walking after him.  Saint John tells us: Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." 

The Spanish translation of the Liturgy of the Hours (IV:1105 in PDF) translates the passage thus:

"Jesús vio a un hombre llamado Mateo, sentado al mostrador de los impuestos, ye le dijo: "Sígueme." Lo vio más con la mirada interna de su amor que con los ojos corporales. Jesús vio al publicano y, porque lo amó, lo eligió, y le dijo: Sígueme. Sígueme, que quiere decir: "Imítame." Le dijo: Sígueme, más que con los pasos, con su modo de obrar. Porque, quien dice que permanece en Cristo debe vivir como vivió él."


  1. I think the motto, applied to himself, means "lowly, and yet chosen." That is, he is pitiable and yet God chose him.

    1. Applied to himself, that is most definitely the meaning. But linguistically, it's interesting to notice that the motto is actually describing Christ's actions: "having mercy yet choosing" (or, "having mercy even to choosing"). Even in his motto, Pope Francis is centering the focus on Christ's actions, not his own state.

  2. Sort of a side note but when our Lord addressed St. Matthew, He used, I believe, as literal translations reveal, the imperative present progressive tense: "Be following Me."

    I like this because it reveals the nature of discipleship, its periodic falls under the weight of the cross. And this our Lord knows and pities.

  3. This is an ablative, describing the manner in which Jesus saw him. Jesus is the subject of the sentence.
    " quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, Sequere me."
    "...and because 'with pitying and choosing' He saw [him], he said to him, 'Follow me.'"

    "Miserando" comes from the verb "miseror", which means "to lament, to deplore, to commiserate, to pity, to feel sorry for, to view with compassion". In this case, it is in the ablative gerundive, describing the manner by which he is viewing him, i.e., "by/with commiseration/pity".

    "Eligendo" comes from the verb "eligo" which has as a root "lego", which means to "choose" (or "read", for that matter, in that you "picked out letters"). "Eligo" is the root of "elect" in English, and literally means "to pick out". In this case, in the gerundive ablative case, it means "by/with choosing".