What Does The Pope’s Motto Really Say? The Latin motto explained.

The motto of Pope, “Miserando Atque Eligendo” has aroused some people to send me questions.  What’s with the Latin?  What are those -nd- forms?  Are they gerundives?  People are getting some things wrong.

“Lowly and chosen”, some have suggested.   Noooooo.….

First, as others have noted, this is from Venerable Bede’s sermon on Matthew 9.  It is listed in one list as s. 22, and in others as s. 30 In nat. S. Matthaei .  For the Latin go here.  The lines immediately before provide some context.

Quia Christus Jesus venit in hunc mundum peccatores salvos facere, quorum primus ego sum. Sed ideo misericordiam consecutus sum, ut in me primo ostenderet Christus Jesus omnem patientiam, ad exemplum eorum qui credituri sunt illi in vitam aeternam (I Tim. I).

The Lord came to show mercy.

For the line in question.

“Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.

Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me'”.

What we have here is a fairly straight forward use of ablative gerunds.  The ablative conveys the manner or even instrumental dimension of what is being done.  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.

Let’s find the quote and then the context and sequela, if you will pardon the pun.

Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, Sequere me. Sequere autem dixit imitare. Sequere dixit non tam incessu pedum, quam executione morum. Qui enim dicit se in Christo manere, debet sicut ille ambulavit, et ipse ambulare: quod est non ambire terrena, non caduca lucra sectari, fugere honores, contemptum mundi omnen pro coelesti gloria libenter amplectio, cunctis prodesse, amare, iniurias nulli inferre, at sibi illatas patienter suffere, sed et inferentibis a Domino veniam postulare, nunnumquam suam, sed conditoris semper gloriam quaerere, quotquot valet secum ad amorem supernorum erigere. Haec est huiusmodi gerere, Christi est vestigia sequi.

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.

Stunning stuff.

Bottom line.

“By showing compassion and by choosing”.

We can dress this up a little but that’s what the motto really says.


I gave my old friend and mentor Fr. Reginald Foster a call and asked him about this.  He’s with me: gerunds.  FWIW.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Patrick-K says:

    It appears that there is some confusion with the Italian adjective “miserando” which does mean something like “lowly” or “pitiful.” But it’s Latin, not Italian.

  2. BLB Oregon says:

    Stunning stuff…yes. Wow. Thank you.

  3. motheroften says:

    This is beautiful.

  4. lhuizenga says:

    “What we have here is a fairly straight forward use of ablative gerunds.” *Snort*:) My Latin is a bit rusty. I need to bring it back up to where I can use and recognize ablative gerunds used straightforwardly.

  5. jessicahoff says:

    Bede is a good sign – those are wonderful homilies.

  6. Stephen Matthew says:

    “saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing”
    That is rather uncoventional English, it seems. Not incorrect, rather just uncommon.

    I think there is surely a better way (as to intelligibility) of rendering that in English, but it escapes me just how to do so without sacrificing slavish devotion to the Latin. It seems to me the two difficulties are in how “saw” is typically understood as a passive thing in Enlish, while in the Latin something far more active is going on, and the “by” is perhaps a bit inellagant as well.

    Mabye something using “peered”, “gazed”, or “looked upon” for the verb “saw” and a construction “out of” “from” “with” or “through” in place of “by”.

  7. Lori Pieper says:

    The Italian version on the Vatican website has “having feelings of love for him” for “eligendo.”

    Really? I suppose they got it mixed up with “diligendo.”

  8. kallman says:

    Glad to see you are back to form

  9. SteelBiretta says:

    Do all cardinals enter the conclave with a papal name and motto picked out, just in case? It doesn’t seem like you’d have a lot of time to pick them out between election and announcement.

  10. Scott W. says:

    I was hoping for a motto to put dissidents on notice like, flamma fumo est proxima but this is pretty good too. :)

  11. Septima says:

    Thank you for the enlightenment, everyone.

  12. Gail F says:

    How about the thing in the bottom right? Is it a clump of grapes or a flower? I saw it described BOTH ways in one “official” story — grapes to represent Christ, and a flower that resembled grapes, called “nardo” in Italian, which was supposed to represent St. Joseph. Anyone know?
    The press release linked to above says its a “nard” flower. But I would rather hear from a herald on this one than from the Vatican press office.

  13. Gail: That thing that looks like a bunch of grapes is supposed to be a bouquet of flowers of spikenard or of its fruit (whatever that is).

  14. Although I thought it was a bunch of grapes it appears that is a spikenard fruit rather than the flower and as pointed out elsewhere it is associated in Hispanic iconography with St. Joseph. The Jesuit emblem has a Franciscan root (another connection with Francis) in that it was popularised, if not indeed created, by St. Bernardine of Sienna (1380-1444). [The connect with St. Bernardin is interesting. If memory serves, his symbol, which he held when preaching, … was it not the Holy Name much in the manner of the symbol the Jesuits adopted later?]

  15. Geoffrey says:

    “Do all cardinals enter the conclave with a papal name and motto picked out, just in case?”

    All bishops have a coat of arms and an episcopal motto. These are usually modified slightly, if necessary, when a bishop is elected to the Chair of St Peter.

    I recall hearing that Blessed John Paul the Great’s episcopal arms (with the famous cross and Latin letter “M”) were acceptable according to the Polish heraldic rules, but not in the rest of Europe. The Vatican heraldic artists tried to get him to revise his blazon, but he refused… as Supreme Pontiff, he just changed the rules! :-)

  16. Imrahil says:

    Pity that after Pope Benedict removed the Tiara, Pope Francis apparently removed the pallium.

    There should be some distinct attribute of Papal office.

    Well, there’s still the keys and the mitre stylized a bit in the shape of a tiara (other bishops have no mitre, but a galero). Okay.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    But of all the things he could have chosen, why that?

  18. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    We have to remember that Benedict added the pallium, hardly a great tradition removed by Francis.

  19. MisterH says:

    For video clips of the three key moments in the election of Pope Francis, white smoke, the proclamation of “Habemus Papam,” and the first appearance of Francis, click on the link:

    I know that I will enjoy pulling viewing them from time to time.


  20. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Christo et Ecclesiae,

    yes, but – and this is the point: Pope Benedict inserted the pallium as a substitute sign-of-authority for the tiara he removed. Which Pope Francis did not restore either.

    I’d not have said any of these things, had he, e.g., inserted the Fisherman’s Ring instead of the pallium, if you get my drift.

  21. jhayes says:

    Here’s translation used in Fr. Lombardi’s press conference:

    “His motto—“miserando atque eligendo” (because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him)—is taken from the Venerable Bede’s homily on the Gospel account of the call of Matthew. It holds special meaning for the Pope because—when he was only 17-years-old, after going to confession on the Feast of St. Matthew in 1953—he perceived God’s mercy in his life and felt the call to the priesthood, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.


  22. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “By pitying and picking him out”?

    Re: spikenard — It actually has a priestly connection, and one to Adam and paradise, because there was a legend that Adam had begged the angels to allow him to bring the Song of Songs’ “saffron and spikenard, sweet flag and cinnamon” out of Eden, so as to be able to worship God with beautiful perfumes.

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Ohhhhhh stink.

    “Nardo” in Spanish means “lily.” All the pictures of St. Joe holding “nardos” or “una vara de nardos” are holding lilies.

    Somebody done messed up.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    They’re tuberose lilies, though. So they do look a bit clusterish when they’re budding, which may save some face.

    A “nardo” from Central America.

  25. Absit invidia says:

    Nicely done. Thank you for the translation. Yet another perfect example of this blog living up to its name “What Does The Prayer Really Say?”

  26. persyn says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. Whenever I see ablatives, I know it is going to be tough. Ablative of Agency? Absolute Ablatives? Ablative Gerunds? Indicative? Subjunctive? There more I learn, the less sure I get.

  27. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Eligendo is the Latin verb that gives us “election”, as in divine election.

    Check out this article at the Catholic Encyclopedia on divine election:


    It turns out that “eligendo” translated as “love” is not so far off, pace Lori Pieper.

  28. TLM says:

    This is why your blog has my vote! You make me think and I learn so much!
    This made me curious as to what prior Popes had as their Coat of Arms and motto’s. The varican website shows them all the way back to Pope Leo XIII (who doesn’t appear to have had either). They are each unique until more recently. One is a bit scary, not sure if it’s crow or what, but not a friendly looking bird.
    One of my favorite Pope’s, St. Pious X, has an unusual one and I’d love to know the meaning of his symbolism. Does anyone know a good reference for finding out about that? The biography I read of him didn’t mention it.

  29. Tom in NY says:

    Temporibus illis “imperial tax collection contractors” publicani were traitors who enriched themselves by force of arms of an occupying power. They were especially odious in a society that had little cash. Moreover, they would be considered ritually impure, since they did business with the goyim. Hence, Bede would say “(et)miserando (eum) atque (eum) eligendo…, since the contractor, despite his prosperity, was not part of polite society.
    Bede’s conclusion is, of course, powerful. He also might have said, though he did not,“Vestigia Christi sequitur, hoc modo agendo.”
    Salutationes omnibus.

  30. PA mom says:

    Great explanation! A good choice for a reformer, agreed. All action: emotional, then intellectual and physical.

    The flower? Suburban banshee, that has little resemblance to the lilies, even closed. Someone had to be going for grapes.

  31. As the man responsible for the (mis)translation of his episcopal motto, allow me to plead my case (and ignorance) and maybe learn something. :) [It is not actually about you. Some talking head on one of the TV networks went to the zoo on this.]

    I found the context (the Bede commentary/sermon on Jesus’ calling of Matthew), but found it difficult to render these three words outside of the complete context. In Bede, they’re describing Jesus looking at Matthew with mercy and with “choosing”. Grammatically, they’re future passive participles (gerundives), [No. They are gerunds.] which I understand as meaning they are passive and denote necessity or obligation. They would be rendered in English as “about to be [verb]ed” or “must be [verb]ed”.

    That leads me to believe that “quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi” could be translated super-literally as “because [Jesus] looked at [him] with to-be-pitied-ness and to-be-chosen-ness, he said to him…” [If they were gerundives. They are gerunds.]

    Taking those three Latin words out of context, I see them as applied to Matthew, who was to-be-pitied (to-be-shown-mercy) and to-be-chosen. I employed a bit of liberality in rendering the first word as “lowly” instead of “pitiable” or “miserable”. [But… they are gerunds.]

    So, please, let me know the error of my ways!

    [to be sure I double-checked with my old friend and mentor Fr. Reginald Foster. Gerunds. Making them into gerundives (no object, by the way) overcomplicatiplexifies the whole thing. Ablative gerunds.]

  32. Justin Martyr says:

    Here’s a link to a photo purported to be spikenard (would explain the image in the coat of arms that resembles grapes):


  33. Tom in NY says:

    @persyn: An ablative absolute is connected in meaning, but not by grammar, to the remainder of the sentence; its connection is “absolved,” from “absolvo, -ere, absolvi, absolutum.” Ablative of agency, especially with passive verbs, is “by (someone).” Gerundives, “by (doing)” have roots in “gero, gerere, gessi, gestum” which brings French and Spanish words for “management”. In Latin, “negotium gerere” would mean “do business.” Romans normally spoke in the indicative mood, as do we. The subjunctive shows up in contrary to fact conditions (“If you had stayed at home, you would have been safe”), purpose clauses (“Caesar went up the mountain to attack the enemy”), temporal clauses (“When Caesar learned…”) and other situations. Clarum tibi est?
    Salutationes omnibus.

  34. Therese says:

    What a lovely image. (I mean the Latin. I’m afraid I don’t know a thing about spikenard. ;-)

    The Lord sees in a different way than we do, of course. And this “seeing” arises from “having mercy and by choosing.” If I looked at others with these eyes of Christ, what would I see that I do not see now with my own eyes?

  35. magistra05 says:

    Gratias tibi ago propter hoc expositum.

  36. Therese says:

    For those interested in the difference between the gerund (a verbal substantive of the second declension, neuter gender, that has no nominative), the future passive participle (in the nominative generally, with a sense of obligation or necessity), and the gerundive proper, I happily direct you to George J. Adler’s beloved Practical Grammar, pages 115-119.

  37. Suburbanbanshee says:

    But why spikenard fruit? The fruit is apparently not useful, and the perfume/oil/food ingredient comes from the rhizomes, and the flowers are the identifiable part. I’m not gettin’ it.

  38. stephen c says:

    Wonderful post; you would have been a first-class language teacher … you inspired me to research the word “eligendo”; I really like its appearance (in its infinitive form, as a matter of grammar) towards the end of the Litany of St Joseph which I found on the internet a few minutes ago …(starting in English – let us pray to you Lord who in your ineffable providence … switching to Latin – Ioseph Sanctissmae Genetricis tuae sponsum eligere dignatus es – now all in English – let us pray to you Lord who in your ineffable providence kindly chose Joseph as the spouse of the most holy Mother of the Lord) … it also shows up twice in a row in Song of Songs, chapter 6 (the Bride is told by the Groom she is “chosen” as the Sun, and she is the “chosen one” of her mother)

  39. Giuseppe says:

    I thought ‘videre’ could take the dative or the accusative, and when it took the dative, it might be translated as ‘face’ instead of ‘see’. Thus, the 2 gerundives would actually be in place of the man (a.k.a. Matthew) who was pitiable and chosen.

    I translated this as:
    Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.

    Thus, Jesus saw the publican. And because he saw a suffering man who was to be chosen, he said to him, “Follow me.”

    Or, Thus, Jesus saw the publican. As Jesus faced this miserable man who was yet to be chosen, he said to him, “Follow me.”

    Fake Obselete-ICEL-ish version:
    Jesus chose Matthew, his tax-collecting apostle, so that the rich may become poor.

  40. Theodore says:

    Fr Z. Thanks for this. Does the Vatican Have a College of Heralds?

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  42. My very cursory web research on spikenard yielded two interesting bits of information. First, the emblem on Pope Francis’ coat-of-arms is indeed spikenard berries, not flowers. And second, it’s worth remembering that Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with spikenard ointment (presumably made from the berries) shortly before His Passion. This then may be a reference to the particularly sacrificial character of the Petrine ministry.

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  44. Mariana says:

    As Suburbanbanshee says, spikenard is made from the rhizomes, but perhaps Pope Francis wanted the flower in his shield instead. Alla heraldic pictures are strongly stylised, not naturalistic, that’s why the flower looks like a bunch of grapes.

    As we know, spikenard comes in alabaster flasks. Costly alabaster flasks. Which may be used for the Lord. Not necessarily to be sold and the money given to the poor….

    TLM, there is an explanation of Pius X’s coat of arms in Wikipedia.

  45. Andrew says:


    As Fr. Z. repeatedly points out, this motto does not employ the gerundivus. It is a gerundium. Same form, different meaning. Note that the gerundivus takes a preposition (a, ab) in the ablative.
    In this example the gerundium in ablative without a preposition answers to the question of “how”. How did Jesus see Mathew? Answer: miserando. The closest to it would be to say: cum miseratione. With pity. In some way the gerund is a declination of the infinitive ‘miserari’. If you can wrap your brain around that idea.
    But it becomes much simpler when you stop thinking “grammar” and focus on meaning. And stop thinking “english”. It is, other than engaging in lengthy speculation, impossible for English to provide a key to understanding what in Latin is eminently simple. Jesus videt illum miserando. Punctum.

  46. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But why spikenard fruit? The fruit is apparently not useful, and the perfume/oil/food ingredient comes from the rhizomes, and the flowers are the identifiable part. I’m not gettin’ it.”

    Rhizomes are the base part of the plant. The berries and flowers flow from the base and are considered the visible part that ground animal, birds, and man can see. In other words, if the rhizome is an analogy for Faith, the flowers and berries are the fruits of Faith – Faith made visible, as it were. If St. Joseph had been holding a spikenard plant (it was a Lilly, though), his Faith and righteousness would have been made visible though the berries and flowers. More than that, it is the berries that spring up fom the rhizome that feed (but poisonous to man, perhaps?). It could be considered as an analogy of works flowing from Faith.

    There are other associations of this plant in Jewish culture. It was a part of an 11 mixture set of oils and spices used to incense the Temple (omitting one was grounds for death). Nard means light. It might have been kept in Alabaster not only because this was a common mineral for sacred vessels, but because of the connection of translucent alabaster to light.

    The Chicken

  47. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, it came in “alabastron” flasks, which were glass. Which is how come you could break ’em.
    Breaking alabaster would be messy.

    OTOH, spikenard oil is apparently good for making your hair shiny and manageable, as well as fragrant. So there was some method in the ancients’ party madness.

  48. Thank you for the correction. I still think I am the responsible party, as I tweeted “lowly and yet chosen” first, and Rocco used it, and it spread from there. I’ll search out some appropriate penance.

  49. Giuseppe says:

    Jeffrey Pinyan, you and I shall do penance together. I thought ‘lowly and yet chosen’ was a dative object of ‘videt’ describing Matthew and not Jesus. My Latin teacher in high school (a Jesuit, I might add) once said that if you can’t think of anything to pray about in church, then recite Latin conjugations or declensions silently, as God appreciates that!

  50. Giuseppe says:

    I still like to think they are Malbec grapes!

  51. doanli says:

    I always learn so much from your blog, Father. Thank you. :)

  52. oakdiocesegirl says:

    From Wikipedia: In the hispanic iconographic tradition of the Catholic Church, the spikenard is used to represent Saint Joseph.[11] The Vatican has said that the Coat of arms of Pope Francis includes the spikenard in reference to Saint Joseph.
    Wikipedia is doing a remarkably up to the minute job of editing every Pope Francis reference I’ve looked up. Anyone know who is doing the wiki-or is it a team?

  53. Therese says:

    “If you can’t think of anything to pray about in church, then recite Latin conjugations or declensions silently, as God appreciates that!”


    Happy name day, Giuseppe!

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  55. Funky Dung says:

    I guess I biffed. With my lowly (har har) 10 credits of college Latin, I thought for sure the line read something like, “Therefore Jesus saw the tax collector, and because He saw him as pitiable, yet worthy to be chosen, He said to him, ‘Follow me’.” (with some mild liberties taken to smooth out the English)

    I’m still not sure I can’t be sure I can make heads or tails of that awkward English, but you’re certainly a greater Latin authority than I. ;)

  56. Giuseppe says:

    Thanks, Therese! I love St. Joseph’s Day. My pediatrician called him the patron saint of baby aspirin.

  57. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Further to Br. Tom Forde’s comment and Fr. Z’s addition, Gustav Schnürer relates that St. Bernardine had the mongram borne before him on banners as he entered a city and placed by the pulpit by the main doors of the cathedral where he preached – as well as having it painted on the the cathedral’s walls within and without, or an image of it placed upon the altars. Complaints about this were lodged with Pope Martin V, but St. Bernardine convincingly justified his practice, so that when he came to Rome Pope Martin allowed him to set up the banners and preach for 80 days, to auditors including the cardinals and the pope himself.

    Interestingly, Schnürer further notes that the sin which St. Bernardine most fiercely castigated in his sermons was sodomy, and quotes a Florentine sermon in whch he says, “I know there are cities where no Tuscan is permitted to live, or where no Tuscan is permitted to teach, to protect the children from corruption. Here, however, it is cultivated as an ‘art’…”.

    D.H. Farmer notes St. Bernardine as one of the propagators of devotion to St. Joseph.

    Might there also be (I ask, with ignorance of Spanish and recollections of West Side Story swirling together in my mind) a wordplay between the name of St. Bernardine and ‘nardo’?

  58. acardnal says:

    Enlightening 15 EWTN video interview with Cdl. Bergoglio! Narcissicism, consumerism, materialism! He mentions the idolatry of this modern world: people who idolize their pets! Cosmetics!


  59. acardnal says:

    “15” should read “15 minute” above.

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  61. Charlotte Allen says:

    I’m a former Latin teacher, and I’ve never seen “videre” take the dative. Am I wrong? If not, “miserando” and “eligendo” have to be gerunds, which means that Rocco’s translation was way off base.

  62. Eric Williams says:

    Another visit to my dictionary informs me that I mistook “atque” for “atqui”. Here’s how I’d render it now:

    “Therefore Jesus saw the tax collector, and because He saw him as worthy of mercy, and even of being chosen, He said to him, ‘Follow me’.”

    I’m sure Fr. Z has forgotten more Latin than I’ll ever know, but I just can’t shake my discomfort with his translation. Can someone please educate me?

  63. Andrew says:

    Charlotte Allen:

    I’ve never seen “videre” take the dative.

    Sic tibi videtur?

  64. Giuseppe says:

    The words on Pope Francis’s coat of arms are, by definition, placed out of context. He neither quoted the whole sentence nor the whole passage. Is there a way to read them out of context that does not involve active forms of the verbs, but rather as gerundives? In that case, ‘pitied, and yet chosen’, is a lovely motto.

  65. Charlotte Allen says:

    @Andrew: That’s the passive voice, in which “tibi” is an indirect object and “videtur” is translated as “it seems.” In the Bede passage, the verb is “vidit” (“saw”) in the active voice. It’s got to take the accusative. Do you have any examples of “videre” in the active voice taking the dative?

  66. Andrew says:

    Charlotte Allen:

    Language is not driven by grammar but by reason and by logic. It has to make sense. It is futile to multiply rules and exceptions to no end. As you say “videre” (in its active form) does not “take a dative”. But why? Because it wouldn’t mean anything, not because there is some “rule” against it. Anything that doesn’t make sense is linguistically wrong. But how many rules would we need to cover everything that makes no sense? First, a language must be understood, and only then, explained. But most teachers of Latin try to explain first, and understand later, or never.

  67. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Language is not driven by grammar but by reason and by logic.”

    Actually, you can’t have either reason or logic without grammar of some sort. Every try solving an algebra problem where the equal sign is arbitrarily placed? Grammar is more than just rules written in a book, however. These are the surface expression of a sort of hidden-layer processing going on in Wernicke’s area in the brain. John von Neuwman, in his book, The Computer and the Brain, makes the point very explicitly. The brain understands an ordering within communication, but has a certain flexibility in parsing it that no computer does. Part of this may be because the brain does statistical analysis of the placement of attributes and each word is processed as a neural field instead of as a point.

    Sorry. I’m doing research on this subject in humor processing right now. I am writing two papers on it and I’m supposed to be presenting two papers on it at a conference on humor in July (if I can afford to go).

    Grammar isn’t everything, since a lot of language is based on historical use and any particular grammar, per se, is not hardwired in the brain (although the idea of grammar, itself, is probably one of the structures pruned and refined in neural structure development before the age of 7).

    The Chicken

  68. Charlotte Allen says:

    @Andrew: I would argue that grammar is exactly reason and logic, as imposed upon language. “Videre” takes the accusative in the active voice because you see something (or someone)–you don’t “see to” or “see for” that person or thing.* Furthermore, Latin wasn’t Bede’s native language. He had to learn it, and he probably learned it from Priscian’s Grammar, which was the standard Latin school textbook during the Middle Ages. Priscian was a stickler for the rules. Thus, while Bede and other medieval writers indulged in “late Latin” usages that would have struck, say, Cicero, as ugly and unrefined, they did carefully follow the grammatical rules. I don’t think Bede would have ever used the dative with “videre” in the active voice.

    That said, I agree that Latin teachers ought to explain the logic of why certain cases are used in certain ways, and not just present students with a bunch of arbitrary-seeming rules. One problem is that young people these days aren’t taught the rules of English grammar. If you understand the difference between a direct and an indirect object, you’ll easily understand the difference between the dative and the accusative cases and which case should be used when.

    “Quia miserando atque eligendo vidit” is hard to translate into English literally without awkwardness. I’d opt for a loose translation: “Because he looked at him with pity and with the desire to choose him.” I think the motto sums up the way Francis views Christ’s choice of him, in all his human frailty, to head the Church.

    *Yes, I know that some Latin deponent verbs take the ablative, and a few other verbs take the genitive. Those verbs usually convey some sort of reflexive or self-referential meaning, however.

  69. Giuseppe says:

    I hereby give up my ‘videre + dative’ fantasy and accept the ablative. For penance I will say the “Gloria Patri…” because at least the Trinity is in the dative there!

    Allen & Greenough’s NEW LATIN GRAMMAR 505. Dative of the Gerund and Gerundive
    505. The Dative of the Gerund and Gerundive is used in a few expressions after verbs:– [1]
    diem praestitit operi faciendo (Cic. Ver. 2.1.148), he appointed a day for doing the work.
    praeesse agro colendo (Cic. S. Rosc. 50), to take charge of cultivating the land.
    esse solvendo, to be able to pay (to be for paying).

    NOTE.–The dative of the gerund with a direct object is never found in classic Latin, but occurs twice in Plautus.

    a. The dative of the gerund and gerundive is used after adjectives, [2] especially those which denote fitness or adaptability:–
    genus armorum aptum tegendis corporibus (Liv. 32.10), a sort of armor suited to the defence of the body.
    reliqua tempora demetendis fructibus et percipiendis accommodata sunt (Cic. Cat. M. 70), the other seasons are fitted to reap and gather in the harvest.
    perferendis militum mandatis idoneus (Tac. Ann. 1.23), suitable for carrying out the instructions of the soldiers.

    NOTE.–This construction is very common in Livy and later writers, infrequent in classical prose.

    b. The dative of the gerund and gerundive is used in certain legal phrases after nouns meaning officers, offices, elections, etc., to indicate the function or scope of the office etc.:–
    comitia consulibus rogandis (Cic. Div. 1.33), elections for nominating consuls.
    triumvir coloniis deducundis (Sall. Iug. 42), a triumvir for planting colonies.
    triumviri rei publicae constituendae (title of the Triumvirate), triumvirs (a commission of three) for settling the government.

    505,n1. Such are praeesse, operam dare, diem dicere, locum capere.
    505,n2. Such are accommodatus, aptus, ineptus, bonus, habilis, idoneus, par, utilis, inutilis. But the accusative with ad is common with most of these (cf. § 385. a).

  70. BonifaceX says:

    Thanks for this! My students and I worked through this passage in Latin class yesterday and noticed a couple of Latin typos:

    For amplectio > amplecti (passive infinitive of a deponent verb)
    For nunnumquam> nonnumquam, which the PL reports manuscript variants reading “numquam,” which seems to make more sense.
    “numquam suam [sc. gloriam],” “Never seeking his own glory, but the glory of the creator.”

    I trust Fr. Reggie, but checked Martin and Hurst’s translation of Bede’s homilies as well. They render the gerunds into finite verbs for the sake of the English: “[Jesus] felt compassion for him and chose him.”

  71. Tom in NY says:

    @magistra Carolina (Charlotte): I’ve used:
    nominative is its name -nomen
    genitive is its type – genus
    dative is given – data
    accusitive – ad causam – on the case
    ablative – ab+latus – carried away, first used “in a jar”
    And I’ve learned that sometimes elementary schools don’t teach much English grammar. And you should have seen students with Spanish roots discover that Spanish also has grammar. And if the student were studying any language which directly descended from Latin, the student would have to learn the same verb endings.
    Can you agree that even Bede was putting his verbs in the middle, or even St. Francis?
    Causa tui responsi tibi gratias ago.

  72. Nancy D. says:

    I am wondering if Father Reginald Foster had anything to say about the missing Filioque on page 20 of The Inauguration Mass Booklit?

  73. MaryofSharon says:

    If anyone wants to see a thorough discussion of those spikenards/nardos/tuberose buds (not fruit), take a look at the comments on the post at Adam’s Ale blog where a fluent Spanish-speaker did some terrific and inspiring research.


    The best we could come up with in our discussion over there is that the symbol is the fruit of the Polianthes tuberosa, a plant native to Mexico, occasionally known as spikenard (“nardos” that grow in a spike-like configuration), but having nothing to do with the spikenard of Asia which appears in the bible. This plant is known commonly in the US as a “tuberose” and south of the border as “nardo” or “Vara de San Jose” (“Staff of St. Joseph”)!

  74. Daniele says:

    As a Latin teacher, I would like to comment on the quote from St. Bede that was used by our Holy Father for his motto. Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, Sequere me. Since Latin rules changed over history and was rather free with word order compared to English, I would say that what Bede intended was that miserando and elegendo (gerundives with a passive meaning) were to agree with illi (thus in the dative). Thus: Jesus saw the publican and said to him, because he was to be pitied and chosen, follow me. This translation shows the underlying grammar, but since English does not like such passive constructions, it is better use the active voice and to write as others have done in various ways: Jesus saw the publican, and because he had mercy on him, chose him, and said to him, follow me. [I will stick with what I came up with in conversation with Fr. Foster. But thanks! It is an interesting topic.]

  75. Giuseppe says:

    Daniele, I hadn’t thought of ‘miserando atque eligendo’ as modifying the dative ‘illi’. Thanks for the interesting perspective.

    “Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.

    Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me’”.

  76. Dr. Edward Peters says:


  77. RickMK says:

    I was just wondering if this might actually be a (future passive) Ablative of Specification:
    because He saw the publican as “one to be pitied and yet one to be chosen

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