Humility and the popes


This blog post was published on Tuesday 1 April 2008.

Susie and I recently returned from a few days in Rome, courtesy of her great aunt.   I have wanted to visit the Eternal City for years, mostly to see the Roman ruins, which are, well, ruins, but still spectacular!   The best preserved is probably the Pantheon, which is incredible, but the Colosseum and Baths are not far behind.

We also visited the Vatican museums and St Peter’s.   The Sistine chapel really is quite special, as are many other things in the museums.   However, St Peter’s basilica provides much food for thought.   In huge letters the front reads:

IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII

That is, translated, ‘In honor of the prince of apostles by Paul V Borghese, a Roman, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612 and the seventh year of his pontificate.’

All very well and good, but what you actually see when you look at it is ‘PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS’, because it’s in the middle, on the central pediment!   This is the story throughout Rome: the most prominent place is always given to the name of the Pope.   Even on the side of the Colosseum pope Pius IX gets pride of place!

While there I read this verse:

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honour.

Proverbs 15.33 (ESV)

And also this verse:

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2.21 (ESV)

I couldn’t help but think of all the popes who have sought their own interests, their own honour, before God’s.   All it would take is ‘SOLA DEO GLORIA’ (’only for God’s glory’) as an inscription.

The challenge to us is how easy it was for the popes to behave like this - and we are no different.   I’m sure if I was the pope and built an enormous church I’d be tempted to stick my name on it somewhere for the generations to see.