Pope’s Twitter Handle: What Does “Pontifex” Mean, Anyway?

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Apologetics, Benedict XVI, History

The Emperor Augustus was a "pontifex maximus." So how did that become a term for the pope?

Recently it was announced that Pope Benedict’s new Twitter handle is @pontifex.

Why did he pick this name, and what does it mean, anyway?

The word’s origin is more surprising than you might think!


Other Possible Names

Pope Benedict might have picked other names. Some plausible ones include:

  • @pope
  • @popebenedict
  • @popebenedictxvi
  • @benedictxvi
  • @popebenedict16

Why didn’t he pick any of these?

I would suggest two reasons.


Some May Already Be Taken

People have already been using some of the plausible papal Twitter handles, and Twitter does not easily reassign such names.

That’s why my own Twitter handle is @JimmyAkin3000 (Click here to follow me). Someone was already using my preferred handle, and they don’t easily reassign them.

Still, for the pope they might make an exception.

In fact, for all I know, they may haveĀ made an exception. Somebody may have already been using @pontifex.

But I think there’s another, even more practical reason.


Pope Benedict Is Thinking Ahead

While I hope that Pope Benedict reigns for many more years, he is not planning on being pope forever.

In thus think the main reason that he chose the handle he did is because he’s thinking ahead and didn’t want to make everyone have to sign up to get the next pope’s tweets–at whatever time there is a new pope.

In other words, he’s leaving future popes a ready-built Twitter platform that they can use to get their message out.

He thus didn’t include anything specific to him–no variation of “Benedict” or “XVI” in the handle.

That leaves us with generic words for pope–like “pope” and “pontifex.”


Why Not “Pope”?


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