What did the pope really tweet?

Last year, Pope Benedict tweeted in Latin, on a special papal Twitter site, @Pontifex_ln. The Latin of his tweet was relatively straightforward:

Unitati christifidelium integre studentes quid iubet Dominus? Orare semper, iustitiam factitare, amare probitatem, humiles Secum ambulare

Tamer Nawar, a graduate student in Classics at Cambridge, accurately translated this for the Telegraph:

What does the Lord command to those wholly eager for the unity of those following Christ? To always pray, to continually do justice, to love uprightness, to walk humbly with Him

But in the last few days, Pope Francis has also begun to tweet in Latin as well as in English and many other languages. The English papal Twitter account, @Pontifex, has provided translations, but they are paraphrases, more following the logic of  Comme le prévoit than of Liturgiam Authenticam.

The Latin tweets of this pope are more elaborate and convoluted than that of his predecessor. They seem to be relying more on late and relatively rare usages, and are marked by repetitions that the translators calmly skipped. And, there are some interesting “royal” constructions in the papal tweets.

So let’s have a look at What the Pope Really Tweeted.

Here is the most recent Latin tweet:

Famulatus verus est Dominatus. Dominus Pontifex famuletur universis oportet pauperrimis nominatim atque infirmissimis immo minimis.

The paraphrasing translators would have us believe that this means “True power is service.  The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”

But a very literal translation would be:

True service is rule [mastery, sovereignty]. The Lord Pope [the ruling pope] must serve all, specifically [by name] the poorest, the weakest, or, even more, the very least.

I would invite those more knowledgeable in late Latin to cite an example where an ancient author has written A verus est B, where the undoubted meaning is “True B is A”.

Then we have:

Christum nostra protegamus in vita mutuo curam omnium inter nos gerentes totamque protegamus amanter creaturam.

Which the translators rendered, “Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives, let us care for one another and let us be loving custodians of creation. ” This is very close to the Latin, which literally reads

Let us protect Christ in our life, mutually maintaining [bearing] care for all, between us, and let us lovingly protect all creation.

But the very first papal tweet is the most interesting:

Plurimas dilectissimi gratias imo ex corde vobis agentes enixe vos rogamus ut preces pro Nobis Miserenti Domino fundatis. Papa Franciscus

The translators, obviously influenced by the egalitarian spirit of Vatican II, rendered this, “Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis”

But what did the pope really tweet? He used the royal plural, and even capitalized the pronoun referring to himself (Himself). As Liturgiam Authenticam instructs us, capitalization is significant!

Dearest friends, bringing you many thanks from the inmost heart, we earnestly ask that you would pray for Us, founded on the Merciful Lord. Pope Francis

*  *  *

Before anyone gets wound up about this, I am virtually certain that the “original” tweets were in Spanish (@Pontifex_es) or Italian (@Pontifex_it) or English (@Pontifex), where the message was “true power is service” and there were no pleonasms, royal plurals or capitalized personal pronouns. I wonder who was turning the relatively simple and direct papal messages into elaborate, Ciceronian Latin.

Papal conspiracy theorists, notate bene.


  1. Congrats Jonathan on exhuming these strange texts, not papal composition, but the work of some hyper-erudite and perhaps mischievous translator. Happily you are the only person in the world who has read them!

  2. Having noted some rather “casual” translations of Pope Francis’ motto in some news sources, a colleague, a partristics scholar who studied in Rome, wondered whether it was time to recall the legendary Fr Reginald Foster. As Joe O’Leary also indicates, and I think Jonathan Day would concur, we probably shouldn’t credit the Latin tweets directly to the Pope.
    As a side note, for reasons I never fully understood, back in the early 90’s, when I worked briefly in our Generalate in Rome, filling in for a sick confrere, and between assignments myself, it was frequently said that requests written in Latin for permissions/approbations which were sent to certain Curia dicasteries came back quicker. We had our own venerable/legendary Latinist, a German SVD, who occasionally did work for different Vatican departments.

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