Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Map of Non-European Popes

Update: March 13, 2013

Geography Post on Pope Francis' Election as Pope

Updated map including Pope Francis

View Map of Non-European Popes in a larger map


Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign has taken both the Catholic and non-Catholic worlds by immense shock.  Some have begun to play the game of "who will be the next Pope?"  This game usually ends in a surprise no one saw coming but this does not stop people from trying over and over again.  Some have speculated , as they did in 2005 right after the death of Pope John Paul II's death, that there will be an African or Latin American Pope.  Some even go as far to say there could be the "first black Pope in 1,500 years."

I decided to study and map out popes born outside of Europe.  There were some surprises among the results.

View Map of Non-European Popes in a larger map

Of the 265 officially recognized Popes, 217 have been Italian while 17 were French and 13 were Greek (though this includes ethnic and cultural Greeks who were from Greek Italy and Greek Asia).  So to solve problems like this I declared a non-European pope to be one who was born outside the modern understanding of what is Europe, regardless of ethnicity or culture.

Three Popes were born in Roman Africa, which today is part of Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.  These African popes were Pope Victor I (189-199), Pope Miltiades (311 to 314), and Pope Gelasius I (492 to 496).  These Popes are sometimes described as Black in today's press because of their African origin.  However, the elite in these provinces were descendants of Italian Romans while the population in rural areas were Berbers, who are an olive hue.  There is no comparably or historic evidence that the African popes were Black.

Two popes, both ethnically Greek, were born in modern day Turkey.  Pope John V (685-686) was from Antioch and Pope John VI was from Ephesus (701-705).  John V is sometimes considered "Syrian" due to Antioch's location in Byzantine Syria.

Four popes were born in "Syria", modern-day Syria and maybe Lebanon.  These are Popes Anicetus (150 to 167), Sisinnius (708), Constantine (708-715), and Gregory III (731-741).  Anicetus was born in modern day Homs, site of heavy fighting in the on-going civil war, while the other three were born in newly Muslim conquered Syria.  This shows that Christian intellectual thought and leadership were not crushed right away by the new Muslim rulers as pointed out in The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died.

Two popes were born in modern day Israel, depending on who one asks.  Saint Peter, the first Pope, was born in the village of Bethsaida along the Sea of Galilee while Pope Theodore I (642-649) was an ethnic Greek from Jerusalem.  However, Bethsaida is east of the Jordan River in the Golan Heights region.  This is Israel or Syria on depending one's perspective.  Meanwhile, the historic part of Jerusalem where Pope Theodore I was from is mostly likely in the part of the city east of the 1949 cease fire line and therefore either Israel or the West Bank.

So of the eleven popes born outside Europe, at least two were of ethnically non-European origin: Peter (Jewish) and Constantine (Assyrian).  Up to three more, the Africans, may have been Berber.  So between 0.75% to 1.88% of all Popes were of non-European ethnicity.

Some of these Popes played major roles while pontiff.  Pope Theodore I worked hard and proved Roman supremacy over the Emperor and Patriarch in Constantinople.  Meanwhile Pope Victor I was the pope who changed the language of the Roman Church from Greek to Latin.  Without his change traditionalist Catholics would be lamenting the loss of Greek in today's liturgies.

Soon the Vatican will announce there is a new Pope.  No one yet knows who that person will be and where they will be from.  However, now you have a better understanding of the history of non-European popes.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a fascinating post. I just wanted to suggest further reading on the issue of three popes being born in newly Muslim conquered Syria. "Show[ing] that Christian intellectual thought and leadership were not crushed right away by the new Muslim rulers." Most of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq remained Christian for four centuries after the Arab conquest. For articles that explore the continuity of Late Antique Culture in the Levant I suggest the articles by Hugh Kennedy, Hugh "From Polis to Madina: Urban Change in Late Antique and Early Islamic Syria" (1987) and Gideon Avni, “From Polis to Madina” Revisited – Urban Change in
Byzantine and early Islamic Palestine" (2011). Both articles lay out the continuities in the inhabitants of the newly conquered cities, and the fact that most churches remained in the hands of the Christian communities. The Muslim conquest should not be confused in our minds with the sort of forced conversions that were common in Latin America under the Spanish Inquisition.

Anonymous said...

I read a book on the history of the popes a long time ago. A very detailed book by a great scholar as I remember. I wish I could relocate this masterful study. The author demonstrated that the first fifteen, or so, popes after Peter were Hellenistic Jews. Linus is a Latin name, but it was common for a privileged Jew in Rome, or elsewhere in Greater Italia, to use the name of their Roman patron. Jews were often employed as teachers or doctors and they were often adopted into the households of their patron. Such was the case, this author noted with Linus and Clement and several others. Most early popes had Greek names, but they were Jews. It took some time before a gentile was raised to the papacy. And I do not remember who was the first.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? A map about popes brings out Muslim propagandists?
Okay, nobody believes the Syrian Christians who were conquered by Muslim jihad armies where overjoyed about it. For example, Cilicia in Cappodocia, 650 AD had all their Christian males slaughtered by the invading Muslim army.
In the early years the Muslims didn't care so much about coverts; they preferred slaves, girls for the harem, plunder and material wealth and loot.
Later, the oppressive and humiliating dhimmi laws convinced some to "voluntarily" convert so they wouldn't have to watch their children starve to death.
The Church of St. John the Baptist in Damascus was demolished around 700 AD and a mosque built on the spot.

Raimo Kangasniemi said...

First of all, West Bank and Golan Heights are not Israel nor is Eastern Jerusalem. All are occupied areas under international law.

Secondarily, Cilicia and Cappadocia are geographically different areas. Cilicia is not in Cappadocia, Cicilia is the coastal region south of Cappadocia.

Third, considering popes from areas like the Roman North Africa and Hellenized Middle East, people could have multiple "ethnic-cultural" identities depending on different social contexts. Same person could have a Latin, Greek and Aramaic/Syriac names and de facto identities to be used in different contexts. So, calling these popes Greeks is problematic.

What comes to the effect of Muslim conquest in areas like Syria, we know that after the fighting had ended it was at first slight. By 750 only about 10 percent of the population of Syria were Muslims. More important, when it came to papacy, was the weakening of Eastern Roman Empire, the rise of the Frankish Empire and the severing of the maritime links between Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean. Papacy, after 751, severed its links to the East.

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks for the comments.

About the Israeli territory: that depends on who one asks. It may be considered occupied by many but the de facto truth is that it is part of Israel. Note that I have pointed that out on the map.

You're right about Cappadocia and Cilicia.

You're also right on the conversion rate. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died does a good job pointing that out.

Raimo Kangasniemi said...

It doesn't depend on who is it asked, because there is an objective definitions and objective authorities to decide these things. Israel and USA might not like it, but that's how it is and it's a good thing too, because otherwise we would see similar things in Turkish ruled northern Cyprus and the areas of Azerbaidzan that Armenia occupies, in Moroccan occupied areas of Western Sahara etc.

An often pointed remark about the divide between Latin Christendom and the Eastern Churches is a Syrian Christian chronicle's remark on the eve of the First Crusade that the continued succession of bishops in Rome was unsure. Which illustrates quite well in how unfertile a soil the demand of leadership of entire Christendom by the Latin Church fell during the centuries to follow.