Monday, April 10, 2006

Servus servorum Dei

Now that Father Thomas Reese, SJ, has had his hand slapped by Rome, John Allen has become the most sought-after commentator on the Catholic Church in the secular media. Mr. Allen is, of course, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

I generally respect his point of view despite his employer. Unlike the rest of those who write in the NC Rag, Mr. Allen is fair and balanced and usually quite accurate in his reporting.

"Usually" is the key operative here. His column in the Los Angeles Times today talking about Pope Benedict dropping the title "Patriarch of the West" contained this statement:
In many ways, the Vatican retains the trappings of a royal court, which means there's a whole series of lofty-sounding titles attached to the pope: "successor of Peter," for instance, because the pope is considered to stand in the place of St. Peter as Christ's designated leader of the church. The pope is also known as the "prince of apostles." Not to mention "bishop of Rome," "servant of the servants of God" (a title added by Pope Paul VI in the 1960s to stress humility) and so on. (my emphasis)
Hmm, that last one that I italicized is an interesting one. I had the impression that it was a much older title than the 1960's, and sure enough, the 1916 Catholic Encyclopedia provides our answer, from the article entitled, "Servus servorum Dei" (Servant of the Servants of God, for all you non-Latinophiles):
A title given by the popes to themselves in documents of note. Gregory the Great was the first to use it extensively, and he was imitated by his successors, though not invariably till the ninth century.
Ah yes, we moderns are the ones who stress humility, unlike those haughty, rude and power-mongering Middle Ages popes. It's a good thing that stereotype isn't supported by the facts.

1 comment:

jfgecik said...

Sir, I do not believe that anyone who would write for the "National (non-)Catholic Reporter" can be trusted. I have seen too many people being fooled by J. Allen.

Besides the error that you pointed out, consider another way in which he sneered at the popes. He said that one of their titles is "prince of the Apostles." In reality, the title is "Sucessor to the Prince of the Apostles."

In the 2006 "Annuario Pontificio," (pontifical yearbook), the pope is described as "Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of Vatican City State, and Servant of the Servants of God."

God be with you.