5.08.2005

Caput Ethiopicum???

Benedict's New Coat of Arms



A few weeks ago, L'Osservatore Romano published Pope Benedict's new coat of arms, pictured above. EWTN explains the various elements of the coat of arms, and their significance; particularly noteworthy, IMHO, is the replacement of the triple-tiara (dropped in practice by Paul VI, but remaining in the coat of arms of JP's I and II) with a simple mitre, representing the pope's ministry as a bishop, but with three gold bands symbolizing the special order, jurisdiction, and magisterium of the pope. The elements of the shield themselves are drawn, in part, from the diocese of München-Freising where Benedict was ordained bishop.

Many people, however, who are not avid followers of the above news outlets, will get their first glimpse of the coat of arms today, as they appear on the papal window banner for the first time in public. I think that many people, though, are going to glance at the arms and begin, "Oh, wow, that's cute, a little bear, and a seashell, and a ...WTF???" The "Crowned Ethiopian" or the "Moor of Freising" is a traditional element of arms of the diocese of München-Freising. But so far the news reports have been quite informative about the Augustinian elements of the shell and the heavily-laden bear, but rather quiet about what to make of a black man with big red lips and a heavy gold earring. Yes, it makes sense that the pope would draw on his Bavarian heritage for his arms, but does it really make sense in 2005 to put imagery that rivals some of the worst lawn jockey art (and worse) of the American south? It's bound to be misinterpreted, and Benedict needs to get some old-fashioned P.R. people in to help him manage his brand. [tongue-pokes-cheek]

5 comments:

Nate said...

The Moor of Freising made me laugh out loud when I saw it, and my response was, indeed: "WTF?"

As for Pope Benedict's use of the mitre instead of the papal crown, it's too bad that he only wears the mitre for heterosexuals, while bashing GLBTQ Catholics on the head with his tiara.

Puzzled said...

The reference to "baptized pagan" seems to be oblivious to the fact that Ethiopia has one of the oldest Christian communities outside of Palestine; the first baptism of an Ethiopian is mentioned in the New Testament (Acts ch 8), a learned Ethiopian high official, at his own request.

But I'd be interested to know the actual significance of this particular "symbol" in heraldry (apparently it isn't uncommon), and otherwise referred to as a "Moor". And I agree that the image is an awful caricature, and bound to be misunderstood, either as a "moor" (=Moslem) or a racial caricature, like American "black face" minstrel actors, "Little Black Sambo", or the children's toy Golliwog. (The latter is still popular in England among toy collectors, who seem to forget the origin of the expression "wog".)

I also can't help wondering why, on assuming a so-called universal office, this man chooses symbols pertaining to his previous extremely local (provinical) bishopric. Symbols that need this much explaining aren't effective as symbols; if you have to explain it, it ain't working. At least JP2 (who I'm not a fan of either) stuck to a cross and "M", neither of which took much figuring out.

And the novel addition of the "pallium" below the shield also shows how out of it the Vatican bureaucracy is: the darn thing looks like a penis.

Another curiosity about this pope: on the official Vatican web site, under Benedict XVI, Biography, one finds a piece written by the man himself (!), which was initially all by itself, and only recently supplemented by a "short biography" by another. Talk about controlling the media! This guy's spent too long in the Roman bureaucracy...

BaptizedPagan said...

Well, first off, the "Baptized Pagan" refers to me, not to the figure in Benedict's arms. My friend Julie's Ethiopian fiance would likely have some words for me if I impugned the long Christian heritage of his country (which, btw, is a good caveat to remember for those of us used to thinking of Christianity in "Roman Empire" terms...there were lots of Christian groups (in Ethiopia, in the Persian Empire, etc.) which were entirely outside of the organization of the Roman Empire...where do we fit them in, in terms of thinking of orthodoxy? But that's for another post...)

On the pallium/penis, you may be right, Puzzled, but apparently your mind is a dirty as mine (and a friend's) are...

I think I disagree with you on the issue of choosing obscure symbolism, though...you're right that at worst it is just incomprehensible, but at best it helps to show that Pope Benedict didn't spring from the head of JPII fully formed, but instead has his own history, his own local cultural identity, and his own distinctive "soil" in which his Christian faith has grown...if bringing a little bit of Bavaria into the middle of Rome helps us, and him, to remember the context of his ministry and theology, then we might be better off for it...thoughts?

Anonymous said...

it seems the conquering of andulasia is just a bad dream to modern day europa. your childish remarks upon the moor of freising are by far a reactionary mode of thought a defence mechanism to sheild you from your enlightened past brought to you by this caricature. Food for thought, st maurice black patron saint of the holy roman empire from the beginnings of the 10th century. Because of his nameand native land, St Maurice has been portrayed as black ever since the 12th century. The insignia of the black head, in a great many instances, was probably meant to represent this soldier saint since the majority of the arms awarded were knightly or military. With 6,666 of his african compatriots, st maurice had chosen matyrdom rather tan deny his allegiance to his lord and savior, thereby creating for the christian world an image of a church militant that was as impressive numerically as it was colourwise. St Maurice would become the champion of the old roman church and a opposition symbol to the growing influence of luther and calvin. The fact he was the same race as the ethiopian baptizes by st. phillip in acts of the apostles was undoubtedly an important element to his significance as well. since the figure from the new testament was read as personification of the gentile world in its entirety. the complexion of st maurice and his theban legion(the number which signified an infinite contingent)was also understood as a representation of the church's universality-a dogmatic ideal no longer tolerated by the refomations nationalism. Furthermore, it cannot be coincidental that the most powerful of the german princes to remain in the catholic fold, the arch bishop albrecht von brandenburg, not only dedicated all the major institutions under his juridiction to st. maurice but in whats today the most important paintings of the renaissance, had himself portrayed in sacred conversations with him. even more blatant was the action of emanual philibert, duke of savoy. in 1572 he organized the order of st maurice. the papal promulgation published at its institution quite unequivocally that the sole purpose for this knighthood was to combat the reformation. the order still exist although it has combined with the order of st lazuras.
SIGILLUM SECRETUM "WTF" THE BAVARIAN IS VERY CRAFTY

WEARMOOR.....

Anonymous said...

I think it's a hint of who the next pope i going to be. He's African and answers the name Peter. Just to justify the "pagan" accusations..he will enter the reign in August 2012