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Catholic World News News Feature

Benedict: What's in a name? April 19, 2005

Upon his election to the pontificate, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger indicated that he wished to be known by the name: Pope Benedict XVI.

The new Pope's choice is clearly meant in homage to St. Benedict (480- 547), who was named the patron saint of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964, for his prodigious efforts to spread Christian culture throughout Europe by means of "the Cross, the book, and the plough." The religious order founded in Italy by St. Benedict-- the Benedictines-- spread quickly throughout the continent and had a formative influence upon the culture of Christendom. The Rule of St. Benedict, regulating the monks in a life that combined work and prayer, is among the foundational documents of Western civilization.

The first Pope to take the name Benedict reigned from 575 to 579. The most recent, Benedict XV, was born in Genoa as Giacomo della Chiesa in 1854, and died in Rome in 1922. The successor to Pope Pius X, now a canonized saint, Pope Benedict XV is remembered today primarily for having promulgated the first complete Code of Canon Law in 1917; the code remained in force until it was supplanted by the new Code approved by the late Pope John Paul II in 1983. Pope Benedict XV was much less successful in his valiant but fruitless efforts to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflicts that begot World War I.

In the history of the papacy, only John has been chosen more times (23) than Benedict as the name by which a new Pope will be known. By taking that name, the new Pontiff puts "Benedict" just ahead of "Gregory," since there have been 15 popes by the latter name.

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