Faith and the Monuments: Signs of Office

Happy Easter!

From the high response to our Faith and the Monuments post along with interest expressed in further demonstrations of the same theme, we offer another installment regarding what is sometimes called the Catholic “monuments tradition.” 

To revisit the central point: External objects, begotten in right faith, will both express and order toward unity in right faith, simply by being what they are. Not unlike the operation of Saints’ relics, such monuments stand as ready instruments for the communication of actual grace, tending toward Catholic unity. Simply put, such monuments will show forth and shape right faith in those who use and behold them – all the more so if such things are hallowed by the blessing of the Church as sacramentals.

In addition to the architectural example given in the previous post, another eminent one may be observed in symbols of office, one aspect of the monuments tradition which has seen rather dramatic change since the Second Vatican Council.

A wide range of illustrations could be offered, but the most striking is undoubtedly the signification of the Supreme Pontiff’s office, particularly viz. the papal crown.

Consider the faith that fashioned those monuments – employed from at least the 8th century and into the 20th – and consider what tenets of faith are betokened by the same. What do they teach about the supremacy of the Vicar of Christ on earth?


After the rather striking gesture of Pope Paul VI’s 1964 sale of his silver crown in favor of a simpler bishop’s mitre, the practice of “papal hat trading” was not long in arriving. Successors of St. Peter were soon seen in all manner of headgear.

To take a few recent examples:


This collection is not intended in ridicule or disrespect – but the fact that such a disclaimer proves necessary is perhaps the best illustration of the point; for to many, the papal hat trade is nothing but silly, harmless fun.

This is precisely why it – along with the abandonment of so many other signs of office and similar departures since the late 20th century – has dramatically undermined the Catholic monuments tradition, further occluding the Catholic faith from and for which they were fashioned.

The Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ and the divinely appointed principle of unity in Our Lord’s Mystical Body on earth, holds an office established by the eternal Son of God and to which all creatures must be subject in order to attain eternal salvation.

If one were to share this doctrine with someone seeking the Truth, which of the above pictures would communicate it?

Which could contradict it?

One comment

  1. While I agree with the general sentiment and the idea that the Holy Father should be mindful of the dignity and divine mission of his office, the papal tiara was not the only head gear ever worn by the pre-conciliar popes. The tiara was used at specific points in the liturgy and formal events. Other times was a mitre. For all his many obvious faults, that’s not so with Francis here.

    A better analogy would be St. Pius X in the garden in his hat… stately, though still not apples to apples, though. Rightly or wrongly, the post Conciliar popes are not secluded from the world as they were, who did not make informal public appearances. Before the same St. Pius X, popes also ate alone by custom…


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