Meaning of Pope Francis’ Coat of Arms

March 19, 2013

Pope Francis' coat of armsEcclesiastical heraldry goes back hundreds of years.  The images a bishop chooses tells us a lot about what he wants to emphasize, including the motto he chooses. The Vatican released the image of Pope Francis’ coat of arms this week, which is almost the same as his bishop’s coat of arms.

The bishop’s mitre at the top signifies that Pope Francis is the bishop of Rome. This significance is greater than any other bishop because the bishop of Rome has universal jurisdiction over all the faithful, not just those in Rome. The office of bishop exists primarily to teach the Faith and to provide the seven sacraments to his people. In his initial greeting on the balcony at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis referred to himself and Pope Emeritus Benedict as “Bishop of Rome.” He referred to all the faithful as “Romans,” meaning that we all belong to the universal Church.

On the mitre are stripes which are explained by Wikipedia:

These stripes recall the three crowns of the tiara, which came to represent the three powers of Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium. The stripes preserve that meaning and are joined at the center to show their unity in the same person.

papal tiara

Palatine tiara, via Wikipedia

The symbol of the keys is something only a Pope can use because only the Holy Father inherits the keys given to Peter in Matt: 16:19. The keys signify his obligation to rule, determining not only the discipline of the Church, but also safeguarding her treasures of Sacred Scripture and Tradition, i.e. the teachings of Christ.

The top symbol is that of the Jesuits with the famous symbol for Christ, “IHS,” in red signifying His blood shed for us, a cross over the “H”, and the three nails from the crucifixion below, all contained in a sun radiating light. Jesus is the center of everything, and being at the top of the shield means He rules all.

The Blessed Mother has, throughout the Christian centuries, been depicted in art with a star on her garments. Thus, Mary has a place on Pope Francis’ coat of arms in the form of a star.

The image that looks like grapes is actually that of a nard flower gone to seed according to the images I’ve found of this flower. It represents St. Joseph, who was selected to be the husband of Mary because his staff according to pious legend was the only one that flowered when the temple priests were seeking a worthy mate for her. St. Joseph is often painted with a branch of spikenard in his hand.

The three images taken together speak of the Holy Family, which in turn speaks of the sanctity of marriage and of life itself. Personally, I am thrilled to see St. Joseph given a prominent place on a Pope’s coat of arms because of his role as patron of the universal Church, his loving care and protection of his family, and his faithfulness to God.

The motto, ” miserando atque eligendo”  comes from a sermon by St. Bede the Venerable, an English monk who lived in the seventh century. It refers to the passage in the Bible where Jesus calls Matthew (Matt. 9). St. Bede wrote:

Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, “Follow me.”  “Follow” means to imitate. “Follow,” He said, not so much in the pacing of feet, as in the carrying out of morals. For whoever says that he remains in Christ, ought himself to walk as He walked: which means not striving for earthly things, not eagerly pursuing fallen riches, fleeing honors, willingly embracing all the contempt of the world for the sake of heavenly glory, being advantageous to all, loving, occasioning injuries for no one but patiently suffering those caused to oneself, but seeking always the glory of the Creator, as often as one can raise himself up toward the love of those things which are above.  This is what acting in that way is, this is following in the footsteps of Christ.

Father Z notes:

We ask, when reading about what Christ did, “How did Jesus come to pick Matthew?” He called Matthew by a) having compassion and b) by making a decision.

So the new Bishop Bergoglio, back in the day, chose a motto to describe how he would go about being a bishop: he would be a bishop by showing compassion and by making decisions… miserando atque eligendo.  He was probably thinking about how he felt himself to have been selected by God to follow Him: because God was merciful to Him and because God selected Him.  Thus, as a bishop, He would do the same: show mercy and make choices.

A good motto for a reformer.

Thanks to Father Z also for the translation of St. Bede’s commentary.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 Catholic Church

5 Comments to Meaning of Pope Francis’ Coat of Arms

  1. I’m glad you posted this, Barb. It is very informative and helpful. Thanks
    Rich Maffeo recently posted..In Our Most Desperate Need

  2. Rich Maffeo on March 19th, 2013
  3. Funny, at Andrew’s homeschooling co-op on Friday they had an introduction lesson about the Holy Father’s coat of arms and now I read this. Thank you for sharing this because the intro lesson left me wanting to know more. 🙂

  4. Carol@simple_catholic on March 24th, 2013
  5. Carol, I was really struck by the presence of the Holy Family on his shield. Nobody else has mentioned this at all, yet we are in a worldwide attack on families and marriage. What a great message to present to the world, hung out there for everybody to see.

  6. barb on March 24th, 2013
  7. Thanks for breaking that down. I had read Fr Z’s post on the latin but was not familiar wit how the Holy family was present in symbolism, especially the symbol for ST. Joseph, thought it was grapes. I am very hopeful that we will be very blessed by Pope Francis.
    MichaelMaedoc recently posted..On Human Nature, Pope Francis Coming Contribution

  8. MichaelMaedoc on March 25th, 2013
  9. Thank you for this Barb. Hope I can remember all that. It is so rich.
    Joann recently posted..A Little Inspiration to Brighten Your Day / Simple Catholic Living

  10. Joann on March 25th, 2013


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