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The first African pope? 1800 years ago…
I was about to start my own blog on the three african popes, because of all the attention being given to Cardinals Turkson, of Ghana, and Arinze, of Nigeria.
But then, i found this blog, and decided it was even better, because it came with a cool map showing the known or presumed birthplace for all known bishops of Rome outside of Europe. He even includes St. Peter.
I am still going to work on a quick post about the geographic distribution of the college of cardinals, and how it might better represent global Catholicism.
Map of Non-European Popes
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.
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.
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.
Original post from Geographic Travels.