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.
“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.