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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Habemus Papam

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Jesus Christ was born in the time of Emperor Augustus and, with him, the Catholic Church. Christianity owes many things to the Greco-Roman world.

A Jew who expresses in Greek, Paul of Tarsus, based on the holy books of the Bible, diffused among the Greeks and Gentiles (non-Jews) the message of another Jew, Jesus, who his followers considered the long-awaited Messiah. That message, in Latin or Greek, using the cultural, social, institutional and administrative Rome structures reaches the far corners of the Roman Empire, and in just three hundred years that religion becomes universal and almost unique.

On another occasion we will discuss the importance of beliefs, doctrines, philosophy and Greco-Roman religion in the creation and development of Christianity. Today I will discuss only some current linguistic terms.

After the death of Jesus at the cross, his disciples leave for various destinations as apostles (Greek Απόστολος, "sent") to preach the good news (Greek εὐ, eu, "well, good" and αγγέλιον, angelion message , new”).

Christianity is organized administratively into dioceses (Latin dioecesis, from Greek διοίκησις, "administration") name of the administrative units of the Empire, first for the collection of taxes, and then territorial divisions of the province. At the head of each diocese it is a bishop, in Latin "episcopus" (Greek ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) literally supervisor, watchman (from ἐπί, epi, upon, and σκοπἐω, skopeo, watch or monitor).

The Bishop of Rome is the supreme authority of the Church; he is called "Papa Urbis Romae, Pope of Rome" (Latin for "papa or papas = father" and this from the Greek πάππας (páppas), "Dad” ), honorary title given to the bishops.

After the unusual (for unaccustomed, that's what it means etymologically the word "unusual") resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, it is held a conclave, that is, a cardinals meeting where they are "locked" to choose a new one. That is precisely what the word “conclave” etymologically means, from Latin "cum clave (clavis) = with key".

If anyone thinks that the meeting is locked to prevent outsiders from entering the College of Cardinals and intervene in this important meeting, he or she would be wrong. Actually the "conclaves" began in the thirteenth century; after the authorities got tired of waiting for the election of a new pope, that did not happen, they decided to lock the cardinal electors. The most famous occasion was held in the year 1268 in which elected Pope was Clement IV, once the locked voters "cum clave” receive only bread and water for food to precipitate his decision.

The pope or bishop of Rome is also called "Pontiff" (Latin pontifex,-ficis, word composed of pons, bridge, and verb facere, that means to make) and therefore the Pope is the one who makes bridges.
The Pontifex Maximus, president of the college of pontiffs, is the highest religious Roman authority, responsible among other things for the conservation of the first bridge in Rome, the pons sublicius, a wooden bridge over the Tiber river, built exclusively of wood and with wooden instruments, no metal.

This ancestral taboo evidences the sacred character and the difficulty that the ancients must have had to build a bridge, and evidences as well the respect that rivers inspired to them, in a sense considered deities. Although later, the bridge construction task was easier and Romans themselves made thousands of bridges throughout the empire, the most important priest of religion, then and now, is called "Pontiff".

The word school or college derives from the Latin "collegium" meaning corporation, group, group of colleagues. Therefore meets the so-called "college of cardinals". Cardinals are the princes of the Church, and therefore very important axes of his administration. The word derives from "cardo,-dinis" meaning hinge, door hinge, polo, cardinal point, line demarcating space for taking auspices or signals sent by the gods. And it also designated one of the two-way or main streets of a town or city that were cut perpendicular: the decumanus running from east to west and the cardo that ran from north to south. Precisely this implies the expression "compass points" or “cardinal points” to indicate north, south, east, west. Cardinals are therefore hinges and essential points of the Church.

Incidentally, the Latin word "ecclesia"  comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία  (ekklēsía),  meaning "assembly" or gathering of citizens.

The Cardinals cover their heads with the so-called "solideo" composed of two Latin words (solo deo = only to God), which is nothing but a hat or cap that covers the crown or tonsure (shaved crown) or top of the head. The Cardinals, according to the etymology, should only remove the cap in front of God, but they also do in front of the Pope as a sign of respect. Usually in all religions the priests and faithful people cover or discover their heads ritually. The color of this “cardinal cap” is red purple, color reserved in ancient times to the kings, princes and top officials. The Pope's solideo is white. The closest object and from which may come is the Jewish kipá, a word meaning "dome", although it is black and their use is mandatory in all sacred space, unlike the use of solideo.

Also the shoes are special and called "caligas", sandals, Latin calligae, regular shoe name of Roman legionaries. However the popes, cardinals and bishops sandals are rich embroidered with silk. Remember the famous 1968 movie "The Shoes of the Fisherman," based on the novel by Morris West, in which the actor Anthony Quinn plays the role of an Ukrainian bishop prisoner in a Soviet prison who is elected Pope.

The election of a new Pope takes place in the Sistine Chapel (name derived from Sixtus IV, Pope who ordered its construction), one of the most beautiful places next to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, whose dome decorated by Michelangelo depicts the Last Judgment, considered the best work of the artist.

The word “basilica” derives from the Latin basilica and this from the Greek βασιλικὴ, basilike, (royal, belonging to the king) and this in turn from the Greek βασιλεύς, basileus (king). So at first the word meant “the king's palace”, and the word seems to have been taken from the Hellenistic expression βασιλικὴ στοά, basilike stoa, (Royal Porch), that was a public building used as a courthouse, market, changes office and civic center. The plant of the basilicas used to be elongated and rectangular and had several upper galleries at the sides. The same way was adopted by Christian churches and, eventually, the term refers only to temples especially great, usually elongated and some of which also retain their galleries but rarely functional.

Rome is known as "the city of seven hills": the Aventine, Capitoline, Caelian, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal and Viminal. But there was more mounds in the area, as the Janiculum, the Pincio and the Vatican, in Trastevere, across the Tiber River, outside the city limits.

The name "Mons Vaticanus" means place of the "predictions", oracles or prophecies (the gods send signals to mortals), so the meaning may be something like "Mount of predictions or prophecies”. The Vatican is also, according to Christian tradition, the tomb of St Peter, the apostle whom Jesus said foundation and basis of his church, who was bishop of Rome and, as such, papa and pontiff of Christendom. In the fourth century the emperor Constantine ordered the construction of the old basilica of St. Peter. The current, the greatest temple of Christianity, was ordered by Pope Julius II, and starting the building in 1506.

Today the Vatican is a very small city-state of less than half a square kilometer, the result of the 1929 Lateran agreements.

Therefore, when a pope or pontiff dies or voluntarily ceases its function (only two cases have been throughout history, one right now), the cardinals and princes of the Church gather in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The color of the smoke from a fire that burned the ballots inform the Christianity about the result: if the smoke is black, i.e. if the fumata (Latin fumus, smoke) is black because of the burning of ballots with wet straw, no successor has been chosen yet, if the smoke is white (white fumata) a new Pope has been elected.

Finally, Cardinal Protodeacon (from Lat. Protodiacŏnus, and this from Greek πρῶτος, first, foremost and διάκονος, servant, minister) announces to Christianity, under the formula Urbi et Orbi (to the city -Rome- and world), in the official language of the Vatican, the Latin, the election with these words, and rituals:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
Habemus Papam:
Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum …,
Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem….,
Qui sibi nomen imposuit ….

I announce to you a great joy;
We have a Pope!
The most eminent and most reverend Lord,
Lord [First Name]     Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [Last Name],
Who takes for himself the name of [Papal Name].

   
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