Pope Francis’ motto: pitiable yet chosen

Pope Francis has chosen a motto along with a coat of arms. The motto is in Latin: “miserando atque eligendo”. There is some dispute among commentators as to what the motto means and how it should be translated. I agree with a number of other Catholics who have translated the phrase as “pitiable yet chosen”. The phrase conveys the humility of the Pope; it is his self-description. He sees himself to be pitiable, faulty, unworthy of the office of Pope. And yet he has been chosen by God.

The same expression could be used of any of us poor sinners. We are all pitiable, being fallen sinners with many sins and imperfections. We are all unworthy of Christ. And yet we have been chosen.

Is the Blessed Virgin Mary “miserando atque eligendo”? Yes, in some sense even Mary is unworthy. For though she is worthy as concerns sin, being sinless, and though she is worthy as concerns imperfection, being perfect, she is a finite creature before the infinite God. And so, in that last sense, even Mary is unworthy of Christ who is God.

Fr. Z. has suggested that the phrase “miserando atque eligendo” should be translated “By showing compassion and by choosing”. I disagree. Fr. Z. notes that the phrase is from Saint Bede’s sermon on Matthew 9. But that text in Latin still does not support Fr. Z.’s translation.

Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi Sequere me.

Fr. Z’s translation:
Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me’.

Fr. Z’s translation of that phrase, in the context of St. Bede’s sermon, is not grammatically correct in English: “because he saw by having mercy and by choosing”. More than an awkward translation, it is incoherent and incorrect.

My translation:
“Then Jesus saw the publican, and because he saw [him to be] pitiable and yet elect, he said to him: Follow me.”

My translation is coherent and grammatically correct in English, but a little loose. The meaning is that Jesus looked at Matthew, the tax collector, and saw two things that are somewhat contradictory: his pitiable state, implying that Jesus looked with pity or mercy on Matthew, and yet his suitability to be chosen as an Apostle, implying that Jesus would in fact choose him.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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9 Responses to Pope Francis’ motto: pitiable yet chosen

  1. Thanks a lot for your comments, I really appreciate them some kind of light in darkness… I’m an Colombian catholic reader, so please, excuse my English… I like your explanation and acceptation about failures in your studies about Revelations (What about if next pope -after Franciscus- be the “XIII th.”

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’m in the process of revising my eschatology. It may be simply that Pope Francis is Peter the Roman, and I was mistaken about Arinze being the future Pope Pius XIII. But I think perhaps the correct answer is more complex. It may be that “Peter the Roman” represents two things: the set of Popes who will reign during the tribulation, who have a certain similarity by that experience, AND a reference to a particular Pope, a successor to Pope Francis by the name of Pope Pius XIII.

  2. Maurilio says:

    Mr Conte,

    just like in English, the Latin verb “video” (“to see”) is clearly transitive, its object is only in the accusative ( http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dvideo ), as just before in “publicanUM vidit” (and not “publicanO vidit”); if “miserando” and “eligendo” worked as predicative adjectives of “publicanum”, they would be in the accusative, i.e.”miserandUM” and “eligendUM”, but we have “miserandO” and “eligendO” instead, that is either dative or ablative, but dative must be ruled out by the above authoritative reference to Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The verb ‘video’ is not always transitive, and its object is not always accusative. I’ll use the English translation so that more readers can follow. “I see the mountain” (transitive, accusative) “I see by the light of the moon” (intransitive, ablative).

      Of course I agree that the gerunds are ablative. But this does not imply that the translation given by Fr. Z. is correct. (His translation doesn’t really even make sense in English.) In a correct translation from Latin to English, the English will not always have the same tense, nor the same case, as the Latin. An overly literal translation is often awkward, but sometimes it is even incorrect.

  3. Joshua says:

    If they alleged prophecies of St. Malachy are correct, then I believe that Pope Francis is indeed Peter the Roman. Our Pope, like St. Peter, is an extremely humble and simple man. He is truly ” pitiable, yet chosen ” just like St. Peter. He is also a strong opponent of ” liberation theology ” and believes strongly in adhering completely to The Church’s doctrine. We’ll just have to see what happens in the days ahead.

  4. Mar says:

    Here is the official explanation provided by the Vatican of Pope Francis motto: it’s the quote of the vocation of St. Mathew commented by St. Bede and refers to a mystical experience of Pope Francis at age 17 that set him in his religious vocation as a Jesuit:

    • Ron Conte says:

      That’s a news story, citing the official explanation, which is in Italian. I looked at that Vatican webpage in Italian when I did the translation from the Latin. But it still does not give us an official English translation of the motto.

  5. joann says:

    i was wondering about your prediction about cardinal arinze being elected pope. can you comment Mr. Conte.

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