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What will the next Pope be named?

(More papal history)

Pope Clement XIV
Clement XIV
Abolished the Jesuits. Unsuccessfully.
A new Roman Catholic pope selects his own name. Based on previous popes, here is a list of all 81 possible names for Francis’s successor furnished with the proper available Roman numeral. From the top I went backwards in time, which should also very roughly parallel the descending probability of a particular name being chosen.

Pope Leo X
Leo X
With the future Pope Clement VII at left
Even some names toward the top of this list can probably be ruled out. For example, Pius XIII will likely remain vacant for now because of the cloud over Pius XII who many people argue could have rescued far more Jews during World War II than he did (though there are very strong contrary views, e.g., here). On a more sanguine note it’s perhaps equally unlikely the next pope will style himself John XXIV for fear of usurping the memory of the still very popular John XXIII. Sixtus VI might be something of a tongue-twister for English speakers, though the Spanish would have an easier time saying “Sixto Sexto.”

The College of Cardinals undoubtedly operates off a list identical to the one shown below, but there hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Felix II, who reigned during Pope Liberius’s banishment (355-358), was declared a pretender or “antipope” so lists usually skip from Felix I to Felix III. Consequently you’ll often see notations like Felix III (II) which might be interpreted as “Felix, numerically the third but rightfully the second.” Next, there were two popes named Stephen II elected in 752. The first died on the fourth day of his reign and is therefore usually ignored, but not by everyone; so like Felix above, except in reverse, you’ll see Stephen II (III), Stephen III (IV) and so on.

Next, Sylvester III, who set up shop during Benedict IX’s banishment of 1045 (more about him below), and Sylvester IV (1105-1111) were both declared antipopes. Thus the next Sylvester could be either Sylvester V (III), or, ignoring the two mountebanks entirely, just plain Sylvester III again. And finally, due to yet another antipope muddle, there was no Pope John XX. When physician Pedro Giuliano took the keys in 1276 he instead called himself John XXI.

Lucrezia Borgia
Unconfirmed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI
The longest run of a single ordinal began in 1241 with Celestine IV and continued with Innocent IV, Alexander IV, Urban IV and finally Clement IV until 1268. Two centuries earlier Benedict IX set a record in having been pope three (four? five?) separate times.

He was first installed as a teenager by his father in 1032. An angry mob deposed him in 1036 but within weeks Holy Roman Emperor
Lead Sugar
Yum, yum!
Conrad II put him back on the throne. Ousted again in 1045 in favor of Pope Sylvester III, he gathered an army over several months, retook the papacy, and declared Sylvester an antipope. A while later he decided to marry, so he sold his office to his godfather who became Gregory VI.

But when Benedict’s girl ditched him he returned, deposed his godfather, and held the papacy once more until July 1046. At that time Holy Roman Emperor Henry III called the Council of Sutri to sort out the mess and installed Clement II. When Clement conveniently died a year later from ingesting “lead sugar” (plumbous acetate) Benedict returned and reinstated himself yet again. The following July a party supporting Poppo of Brixon deposed Benedict, for the last and final time, and Poppo (whose mom must have been psychic to name him that) became Damasus II.

More papal history

Francis I
Benedict XVII
John Paul III
Paul VII
John XXIV
Pius XIII
Leo XIV
Gregory XVII
Clement XV
Innocent XIV
Alexander IX
Urban IX
Sixtus VI
Marcellus III
Julius IV
Adrian VII
Callistus IV
Nicholas VI
Eugene V
Martin VI
Boniface X
Celestine VI
Honorius V
Lucius IV
Anastasius V
Gelasius III
Paschal III
Stephen X (XI)
Victor IV
Damasus III
Sylvester III
Sergius V
Agapetus III
Marinus III
Lando II
Theodore III
Romanus II
Formosus II
Valentine II
Zachary II
Constantine II
Sisinnius II
Conon II
Agatho II
Donus II
Vitalian II
Severinus II
Deusdedit II (Adeodatus III)
Sabinian II
Pelagius III
Vigilius II
Silverius II
Felix V (IV)
Hormisdas II
Symmachus II
Simplicius II
Hilarius II
Zosimus II
Siricius II
Liberius II
Marcus II
Miltiades II
Eusebius II
Marcellinus II
Caius II
Eutychian II
Dionysius II
Cornelius II
Fabian II
Anterus II
Pontain II
Zephyrinus II
Eleutherius II
Soter II
Anicetus II
Hyginus II
Telesphorus II
Evaristus II
Anacletus II (Cletus II)
Linus II
Peter II

You’ll notice there were many uniquely named pontiffs*, especially in the bottom half of this list before the tenth century or so when they tended to go by their birth names. Pope John II was the first to depart from this and reject his birth name, Mercury, in 533. Francis is the first pope to break in a new name since the tenth century. There’s certainly nothing to stop his successor from ignoring the 81 choices above and using his own birth name, though that hasn’t happened since Marcellus II (b. Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi) in 1555.


* The first true pope in the modern sense was St. Leo I (440-461). His 44 predecessors, from Sixtus III going back to St. Peter, but for one exception, are more properly termed bishops of Rome. That exception is St. Siricius (384-399) who called himself a pope. Information regarding the first few centuries of this history is scant and unreliable, so it’s widely understood that some of the names at the bottom half of this list may well be incorrect or even fictitious.

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