There was a minor flap recently when the Vatican directory, Annuario Pontifico, was released with a new layout for the pages on Pope Francis. In previous years, the papal name was followed by the title, Bishop of Rome, and then a series of other titles, of which the most prominent was “Vicar of Jesus Christ”. This year, that title was relegated to a list of “historical titles”. It was an example of what I have taken to calling “imbergoglios”, where seemingly routine matters – like the annual Vatican directory – spark controversy. Cardinal Gerhard Müeller went so far as to call it “theological barbarism”.
The new Annuario layout lists “Jorge Bergoglio” and his dates above “Vicar of Christ”. It is, however, an interesting question, one that has been rapidly changing in recent pontificates: what is the relationship between the office of supreme pontiff and the man who holds it?
The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago put it bluntly early in this pontificate: “Jorge Bergoglio is dead. Pope Francis lives.” It echoed the supposed advice given to the new queen by her grandmother, the dowager Queen Mary in 1952: Elizabeth Windsor is to be mourned, Elizabeth Regina now lives.
Yet given the celebrations on May 18 for Karol Wojtyła’s 100th birthday, it is not quite so clear that Jorge dies when he becomes Peter. It was not so for Karol and Joseph. Indeed, the fact that the anniversary of Wojtyła’s birth was so widely marked signals the growing importance of the man who holds the office.
It is impossible to understand John Paul as pope without knowing the young Karol in the resistance underground during Nazi occupation, or Archbishop Wojtyła employing mass religious gatherings as a form of cultural battle with the communist regime. Indeed, the election of John Paul meant a “see” change for the bishop of Rome, no matter how he is styled in the Annuario.
A subtle but important change under John Paul was the dropping of the pontifical “we” in favour of the singular “I” in papal addresses. John Paul also changed the routine of the papal household, having a daily parade of visitors to the apostolic palace and guests at the pontifical table, a style more suited to his personality than the traditions of the office. When Pope Francis declined to live in either of the official papal residences it was an extreme application of that thinking.
John Paul did not simply draw upon the Wojtyła pastoral biography for his pontifical initiatives, such as World Youth Day and global pilgrimages. As time progressed he permitted Wojtyła the man to come to the forefront. In the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus he offered his account of the defeat of communism as a personal analysis, not magisterial teaching, surely a first for an encyclical. In 1994, with Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he answered personal questions put to him by a journalist – How do you pray? – and expanded in a personal capacity upon a wide range of matters. In 1996, he published a personal memoir as pope, the story of his priestly vocation, Gift and Mystery. Other personal books would follow, including a set of poems, Roman Triptych.
His nine trips to Poland were both apostolic pilgrimages and personal visits. His trip to Auschwitz in 1979 could be understood not only as the visit of the Vicar of Christ to the “Golgotha of the modern world”, but that of the former archbishop of Kraków to the territory of his own diocese.
The increasing importance of the man inside the office continued with Benedict XVI. If the nationality of the pope at Auschwitz could not be ignored, then nor could it be so when a German pope came. There Benedict spoke about the “criminal” Nazi regime of his youth; later, in 2010 in Birmingham, he would give thanks as a German for the Nazi defeat in the Battle of Britain.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had insisted during his long tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the right to publish and comment in a personal capacity. He did three very substantial interview books, wrote a memoir and published a book on the liturgy engaging the post-conciliar controversies head on. As pope, he continued in this novel fashion, publishing his trilogy of biblical theology, Jesus of Nazareth, explicitly as a personal work, inviting other scholars to engage and even disagree with him. It was masterfully magisterial in the analogous sense, but certainly not the papal magisterium. It was published under the dual name of Joseph Ratzinger –Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis has made the papal interview his principal means of communicating with the faithful. There have been more than dozen books already, including the mammoth 2017 Politics and Society, published in French. As a political matter with theological implications, Pope Francis chose to renew his Argentinian passport as Jorge Bergoglio after his election, inviting officials of the Argentinian state to take his fingerprints in the Vatican, surely an utter novelty. Pope Pius XI, who created the Vatican City State precisely to ensure that the pope was not subject to any civil power, could not have imagined the day.
The changes in the Annuario are peculiar and, without a proper explanation of the reasoning, likely to confound. But they have their own background, and fit into a now longstanding trend.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is founding editor of convivium.ca