Monday, July 7, 2014

Cardinal Virtues

When a Roman Catholic cardinal is mentioned in print, sometimes he is referred to with the title “Cardinal” before the first name, as in Cardinal Irving Goldberg, and sometimes with the title between the first name and the surname, as in Irving Cardinal Goldberg.  Why this difference?

It goes back to the Middle Ages, when the title of “cardinal” was given to pastors of prominent churches, who also wielded considerable political power.  They were regarded as the equivalent of secular nobility.  In fact, in 1630 Pope Urban VIII decreed their rank was equal to that of a prince, making them second only to crowned monarchs.  Even today, in the Church of England, the Lords Spiritual, as bishops of the more important dioceses are known, continue the medieval tradition of being seated in the House of Lords.

It was customary for a secular peer to style himself with his given name, followed by the word “Lord”—as in Alfred, Lord Tennyson or George Gordon, Lord Byron.  The reason for this was that often the name of the peerage was completely unrelated to the actual name of the person who held it.  John Smith, for example, might inherit the title Lord Windermere, so in order to clarify his identity, he became known as John (or sometimes John Smith), Lord Windermere.

Since cardinals were regarded as the equivalent of peers, they adopted the same practice for the placement of their titles.

After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the Catholic Church discontinued this usage as outmoded.  Today the Vatican website refers to cardinals with the title before the whole name, i.e. Cardinal Irving Goldberg.  Most newspaper stylebooks also follow this practice.

Some diehard traditionalists, however, including many cardinals themselves--no doubt wishing to show their pious respect for the office--cling to the old habit of inserting the title between the first and last names, so it still often appears that way.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou would like to insert his title between his first and last names, but he cannot remember either of them.

            A cardinal whose head was quite fat
            Couldn’t fit in his little red hat,
                        He tried a big miter,
                        But it was still tighter,
            So instead of his prayers, he said “Drat!”

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