Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Refreshing Perspective

Now, here's just the retort I like....

I received this note from Fr Guy Selvester of the clergy of Metuchen, one of our distinguished heraldists out there in the field. As his take is impeccably-reasoned, well-written and hits its points without going off into the usual weirdness, it (and a visit to his site) is very much worth your time.

Well the Pope has certainly shown himself to be unpredictable. This is so in many things but in recent days that attention is focused on what he's wearing. What I find interesting is all those people who were quick to proclaim that since he used a mitre, instead of the triple tiara, as a heraldic emblem surmounting his coat of arms this was an indication that he was going to play down the unique position of the Papacy and see himself as "every other bishop". How they reach that conclusion is beyond me. Yet, there were many who were very quick to make this assertion. Namely, that the "hat" the Pope chose for his coat of arms was symbolic way beyond heraldry. It was, so they said, indicative of what kind of Pope he would be: a first among equals.

So what are we to make of the revival of the winter mozetta trimmed with fur, not seen for 30 years until now or of the camauro, absent for almost 50 years and also recently revived by the Pope?

Certainly, we can conclude one thing: the Pope gets chilly and wants to wear papal garments that keep him warm! Fair enough.

But while other bishops wear the mozetta no other bishop has one for summer and one for winter and another for really cold weather. No other bishop wears a mozetta trimmed in fur. No other prelate wears the camauro. No other prelate wears elaborately embroidered stoles over the mozetta as a normal part of choir dress.

So, those who wish to read great symbols beneath the surface in the Pope's choices (and I am NOT among them) can reach no other conclusion than these latest manifestations of papal sartoria set the Pope apart from other bishops rather than making him seem equal to all other bishops. Those who were so quick to see a great equalization in the use of the mitre in the papal arms must see a great singularity in the Pope's choice of attire. He is purposely dressing in a way that evokes images of a papacy of bygone days. The pope is reviving the image of the Renaissance papacy. He is clearly utilizing perogatives that set him apart, and above, other bishops rather than underscore his equality with them. He may still see himself as a first among equals but the emphasis is to be placed on first, not equals.

For those who will be quick to say (of the camauro and the winter mozetta, etc.), "That doesn't matter! Look at what the Pope is saying in his homilies...look at what directives the Pope is giving in his speeches and documents" I can only say that they should remember that when they want to remind everyone of what a powerful symbolic gesture his coat of arms was. You can't have it both ways. Externals either betoken a deeper meaning or they don't. We (who aren't the Pope) don't get to choose which ones do and which ones don't FOR him because it makes us happy.

And this, of course, is as it should be.
As a retort of the retort, one veteran commentator sent in the following:
Another garment that very obviously sets him apart ... the Petrine Pallium.

Unless they eventually make the transition to such pallia for all metropolitans, the fact that there is a Petrine pallium and that the Pope who kept the tiara OFF his coat-of-arms specifically added the Petrine Pallium to it, must say something.

And who to thank for the Petrine Pallium?

Say what you will, but the man's got a point.