The papacy can seem like a static fixture in world history. It is Europe’s most enduring political and religious institution, with continuity of activity since at least the third century. It is also inexorably grounded in place: the pope derives his authority from his office as bishop of Rome. His Roman-ness and, in recent centuries, his Italian-ness have come to be seen as defining characteristics. And yet the papacy, like any large institution has actually always been more dynamic than we might suppose. Popes themselves have gone through phases of hyperactive mobility – the peripateticism of the thirteenth century, the Avignon sojourn of the fourteenth, the global travels of John Paul II and his successors – however, their officials have also always been mobile, spreading out across Europe, and more recently the planet, to build bridges with diverse communities and to proclaim the pope’s writ.
This seminar sketches oscillations in the papacy’s focuses and locuses of mobility and how these things have shaped broader changes in its relationship with the Church and wider society as a whole. The present pope is amongst the most mobile ever – a mobility made possible by the progressive re-anchoring of the institution in the Vatican City State since 1870. But the pope’s need to perform presence on a global rather than local scale may now reveal something else important: he does not feel able to command the loyalty of Catholics as surely as his predecessors who lived out their lives from a fixed spot.
Dr Miles Pattenden, Senior Research Fellow in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University.
Dr Pattenden is a current Visiting Fellow with the HRC