October 23, 2013

Coat of Arms of Pope Francis Explained

The coat of arms of Pope Francis was revealed on 18 March 2013. Francis decided to keep both the arms and motto he used since his episcopal consecration in 1991, however altered to reflect his position as Roman Pontiff.

Charges and field

The coat of arms has three charges on a blue field. In reference to Francis being a Jesuit, the uppermost charge is the emblem of the Society of Jesus. The emblem is composed of a radiating sun, within which is the IHS christogram (a monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus) in red, with a red cross surmounting the H and three black nails below the H. Below the Jesuit emblem is an eight-pointed star, which is a long-standing symbol of the Virgin Mary, and a spikenard (or nard flower) representing Saint Joseph. In hispanic iconographic tradition Saint Joseph is often depicted with a branch of spikenard in his hand.

The charges appeared on Bergoglio's previous coat of arms, used when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, but as pope he changed the tincture of the star and the spikenard from argent (silver) to or (gold). The first version of the papal coat of arms published by the Vatican adopted the five-pointed star from Bergoglio's previous one, but it was later changed to eight points; the representation of the spikenard was also slightly altered.


The Vatican has not yet released specifics on the blazon, but an approximate had been made by John Hamilton Gaylor, as follows:
Azure on a sun in splendour or the IHS christogram ensigned with a cross paty fitchy piercing the H gules all above three nails fanwise points to centre sable, and in dexter base a mullet of eight points and in sinister base a spikenard flower or.

External ornaments

Traditionally, a pope's coat of arms was externally adorned only by the three-tiered papal tiara with lappets and the crossed keys of Saint Peter with a cord. The tiara represented the roles of authority of the pope, while the keys represent the power to loose and bind on heaven and earth. Pope Francis' arms maintain the keys, but replaced the tiara (as did his predecessor) with a triband mitre. However, the tiara and keys remain the symbol of the papacy, and appear on the coat of arms of the Holy See and (reversed) on the flag of Vatican City.


Unusually, Francis also decided to retain his personal motto: Miserando atque eligendo (Latin for: "by having mercy and by choosing"). It is taken from the 21st homily of Saint Bede, which is on the Gospel of Matthew and refers to the vocation of Saint Matthew. He writes:

Vidit ergo lesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi 'Sequere me'.
—Om. 21; CCL 122, 149-151

Bede is here discussing Matthew 9:9-13. The salient point is that Jesus chose Matthew as his disciple not in spite but because of his being a sinner. In the KJV translation:
9. And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

10. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.

11. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

12. But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

13. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The statement from the Vatican announcing the Pope's coat of arms and motto explained that the phrase had a special meaning for Francis as he felt it recalled his own vocation, when at the age of 17, he went to confession on St Matthew's day in 1953.

No comments :