Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Tiaras, Etc

It's taken me quite a while to shake off my wish for a Papal Coronation, or at least for the Pope to wear a tiara.  There is something about the triple crown that speaks of a more muscular Catholicism: a Catholicism which faces up to the world, at least, but looks as though if the flesh and the Devil want a go, then we're ready.

The fact of JPs I and II doing without Coronations, and settling merely for Inaugurations felt a bit wet.  It was a though a dimension of the Pontificate had been sacrificed merely to give a good impression; as though the "temporal rule" bit was being somehow downplayed, merely to act in harmony with the spirit of the age.

Benedict XVI's decision to remove the tiara from his arms and to replace them "merely" with a mitre is actually a much richer and more symbolic gesture, and one which situates the Church in the new Millennium.  The Church needed to develop its independence through the Papal States in the Middle Ages so that the Papacy and the Church did not become prisoner or vassal of the Emperor or some lesser monarch.  But the independence became an end in itself, and the revenues accruing to the States became an end in themselves to a succession of Popes.  Their capture by Garibaldi in 1870, and the "imprisonment" of the Pope until the time of the Lateran Treaty in 1929 seemed like a disaster, but was in fact the start of an era of liberation.  The Vatican City State might look odd, but showed how the Papacy could maintain its independence during the Second World War.  In more recent years, it has ceded many of the trappings of statehood - such as a completely independent police force - because its independence is guaranteed.

Thus the logic of the abolition of the tiara: the Pope doesn't need the trappings of authority any more.  He is the Bishop of Rome, and his curia can work independently of Italian civil authority, as long as it behaves honestly.

And this leads me on to the title of Patriarch of the West.  I must admit to having been mystified when the Pope stopped using the title, but in the light of his renunciation of the tiara, things become clearer.  The Petrine Ministry is exercised by the Bishop of Rome, and any title which appears to outrank, rather than complement, the title of Bishop of Rome has to go.  His Primacy goes with his See and nothing else.  To use the title of Patriarch might in some way detract from or dilute the fact that as Bishop of Rome, he has all the title and authority he needs. 

This is not to detract from the title of Patriarch as used in the East - I think that in taking this decision the Pope's mind, for once, was not on the East.  It was more on liberating Catholics from thinking of the Papacy in terms of temporal authority so they could concentrate on what the Petrine Ministry has to offer the twenty-first century.


  1. Thank you for this. I have myself wondered about the abolition of the title, 'Patriarch of the West,' and you have neatly and concisely explained it for me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this post, it covers some issues that have been buzzing around my head recently.

    Of course, I think that some Eastern Patriarchs were quite concerned when Pope Benedict XVI decided not to use the ancient title, "Patriarch of the West". They thought of it not as a renunciation, but as an implicit claim - i.e. that the Pope is Supreme Pastor of the world (not just 'the West').

    I believe, though, that there is nothing to stop any future pope from being crowned or from restoring the title, "Patriarch of the West", to the list of those Papal titles that are crowned with the most important one, "Servant of the Servants of God".


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