Who was the first pope who chose a different name instead of using his birth name?

Pope John II, whose birth name was Mercurius

Pope John II, 6th century pope whose birth name was Mercurius, after the pagan god Mercury.

In 533 a priest called Mercurius was elected as the 56th pope.  He did not want to use the name of a pagan god, so he selected John II as his papal moniker, becoming the first pope to change his name.  The idea caught on, but it wasn’t until the 10th century that it became routine. Pope Marcellus II in 1555 was the last pope to use his given name.

The practice has even more ancient roots.  Old and New Testament figures found themselves with new names after times of great spiritual transition.   Rev. Stephen Bevans, a theology professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago made the point:

The tradition of choosing a new name actually hearkens back to the Bible, Bevans said. For instance, after a vision of an angel wrestling with him, old testament character Jacob renamed himself Israel, which means “contended with God.” And the first leader of the church, St. Peter, was known as Simon when he was one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, Bevans said.

Related Question:

How does the Pope get his name?

Does black smoke get sent up after each election, once a day or when until it it white when the new pope is elected?

After the first day of the conclave, there are 4 ballots each day, two in the morning and two in the evening.

In the morning, when the Cardinals first gather, they take a vote.  If there is a 2/3 majority and a Pope is selected in this ballot, they will burn the ballots immediately and it will have white smoke.  If the ballots are inconclusive, the ballots will be stored and burned with the next ballots (the second morning ballots).  If a Pope is elected with the second ballot of the morning, the chemical will be added to turn the smoke white to indicate a new Pope has been chosen.  If the ballots are inconclusive again, the smoke will be black.

The same process happens in the afternoon.  The first vote of the afternoon will only be burned immediately if a Pope has been elected.  If the first afternoon vote does not yield a Pope, the ballots will be burned with the second afternoon ballots, which will have a definite white or black smoke.

How important is it for a pope to be multilingual?

Must a pope speak multiple languages?

In short, the very nature of the Petrine ministry is as universal as the Church is, so for the pope to speak several languages is a serious blessing.

Historically, the papal office has fostered a multilingual pope and this has never been more true since the time of Blessed John Paul II’s papacy. That said, being a polyglot[1] is not a requirement for papabile cardinal.

But imagine how difficult it would be to be the pope who isn’t fluent in the international language of commerce–English. Consider a pope who lacks a comprehensive grasp of Italian and has to work daily inside the Vatican where the official language of the Curia[2] is Italian. More than tough–although, he could read the L’osservatore Romano[3], the Holy See’s unofficial newspaper, over breakfast.  The paper is made available in English, Spanish, German and Polish.

Speaking of those, and still other languages, a pope who is fluent in numerous languages is afforded a high level of connection with the faithful as well as clergy and religious in a language in which they themselves are comfortable. He can read documents of all levels of importance without the sometimes questionable filter of translation. He can address pilgrim groups visiting from around the world in their mother tongue during his Papal Audience on Wednesdays, not to mention how great it would be as a penitent to be in Confession with a pope as confessor knowing you could speak freely.

The Oxford History of Christian Worship notes that Catholic Church has officially recognized 350 languages for liturgical use throughout the world[4]. How wonderful when a pope can celebrate mass in two, or even one, percent of that number, let alone order pizza in Rome.

Does the pope or any of the cardinals tweet?

Pope Benedict XVI did tweet, as @pontifex.  His successor will decide whether to continue the papal twitter account. So the question of whether the pope tweets is dependent upon who is chosen during the conclave.

@pontifex twitter page during sede vacante

The papal twitter account, @pontifex, went dormant during the papal transition

In January 2013 Pope Benedict XVI set up a papal twitter account: @pontifex.  He tweeted sporadically in 8 different languages until his resignation on February 28.  Then the account went dormant, and the name listed on the account was changed from “Pope Benedict XVI” to “Sede Vacante.”  @pontifex will remain inactive until the new pope decides whether to tweet.

During the papal transition the twitter account of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State @terzaloggia sent a few tweets.

There is a growing number of cardinals who tweet.

Several of the cardinals have twitter accounts , including many of the cardinals who have been rumored as “papabile.”  Don’t expect any live-tweeting from inside the Sistine Chapel though; conclave rules prohibit the cardinals from any contact or communication with the outside world during the conclave.  Just to make sure that confidentiality and isolation is preserved, frequency-inhibitors have been installed in the Sistine Chapel and the residence hall to prevent electronic transmissions.

Related Question:

What will happen to the Pope’s twitter account now that Pope Benedict has resigned?

What is the oldest age ever reached by a sitting pope?

Pope Leo XIII, circa 1878

Pope Leo XIII, circa 1878

The oldest pope since medieval times* was Pope Leo XIII (pontificate 1878-1903), who died at 93 years and 140 days.

Interestingly, the next three oldest popes – at time of death or resignation – are:

Pope Clement XII (pontificate 1730-1740): 87 years, 305 days
Pope Clement X (pontificate 1670-1676): 86 years, 9 days
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (pontificate 2005-2013): 85 years, 318 days

*Prior to 1400 records of age were not precise.  For an attempt to list the 5 oldest popes of all time, click here.


Can the Pope have pets?

According to several news media outlets, the answer is no, the Pope can not have pets.  It has been reported that the policies for residing in the Vatican apartments state that pets are not allowed.

However, there are a few Popes who have had pets while leading the Church.  Pope Leo XII kept a small dog for company, several Popes had aviaries built in the Vatican gardens, and Pope Pius XII kept caged birds in the papal apartment.  You also have Pope Leo X, who was gifted a white elephant, named Hanno, by King Manuel I of Portugal.


sketch of Hanno with epitaph

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is well-known for his fondness of cats.  When asked about his affection for cats, Cardinal Mahony commented,

The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect. The pope adores cats.

Many have wondered hopefully if Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be able to have a pet cat now that he has resigned from the papacy.  The answer remains unclear, but it has been reported that outside the newly-renovated monastery, where he will reside, there are already many cats around that he can look after.

What was the longest conclave?

The longest conclave in pope-electing history was — in a way — the first literal conclave.  It’s because those cardinals refused to come to a decision that the impatient local authorities locked them in — cum clavis, “with a key.”

After Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268, the cardinals remained at a stalemate for more than two years.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the summer of 1270 the head and burgesses of the town of Viterbo, hoping to force a vote, resorted to the expedient of confining the cardinals within the episcopal palace, where even their daily allowance of food was later on curtailed.

The squabbling cardinals were finally starved into submission.

A compromise was finally arrived at through the combined efforts of the French and Sicilian kings. The Sacred College, which then consisted of fifteen cardinals, designated six of their body to agree upon and cast a final vote in the matter. These six delegates met, and on 1 September, 1271, united their ballots…

The result was the election of Pope Gregory X.  It was that same pope who set up the rules that established a conclave for future papal elections.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article “Conclave“:

“The stringency of these regulations at once aroused opposition; yet the first elections held in conclave proved that the principle was right. The first conclave [after the ad hoc one introduced by the civil servants of Viterbo — ed.] lasted only a day and the next but seven days.”

Recently the stringent rules of the conclave have been relaxed somewhat — but the world is watching, lest the cardinals get too comfortable.

Where does Benedict XVI live now that he has resigned?

the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfo

the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfo

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is currently staying at Castel Gandolfo, a papal palace located just over 15 miles (25 kilometers) outside Rome. (Castel Gandolfo, incidentally, is where popes typically live during the summer.)

The Pope Emeritus’ stay at Castel Gandolfo will be temporary. Renovations are underway at a monastery in the gardens of Vatican City, called Mater Ecclesiae (Latin for “Mother of the Church”). Once those renovations are finished, the Pope Emeritus will leave Castel Gandolfo, return to Vatican City, and live in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.

In other words — if all goes according to plan — both Pope Emeritus Benedict and the new pope will live at the Vatican: the new pope in the Apostolic Palace, and the former pope in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.

Here’s a video that shows the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery:

When Benedict XVI eventually dies, will he receive the same elaborate and traditional funeral as a sitting Pope?

Considering this is the first time a Pope has resigned in 600 years, it’s hard to tell. Also, it’s fair to note that Pope Benedict XVI did not resign amidst pressure or scandal. If he had resigned under different circumstances, it’s fair to say the funeral would be more quiet.

Chances are, the funeral for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will not draw the attention and excitement that Blessed John Paul II’s funeral did. Benedict XVI had a shorter papacy and did not attract the worldwide audience as Blessed John Paul II. There will most likely still be a funeral in the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI will probably lie in state for pilgrims to visit him one last time. The next pope will likely preside at his funeral, and the Cardinals from around the world will likely attend (in addition to the faithful from around the world).

Has an American ever been elected Pope?

To date, of the 264 elected popes, none of them have been American.