The episcopal motto of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio is “miserando atque eligendo”. When I found that this afternoon, around 3 PM, I quickly made an effort to translate it. The simple Latin phrase of three words is chock-full of meaning and should tell us a lot about Bergoglio – now Pope Francis.
Miserando is related to the verb miserere (to have pity on, show compassion to); it means “to be pitied; pitiable; miserable (i.e. in need of mercy)”. I think it can be rendered as “lowly” or “humble” in this case.
Eligendo is related to the verb eligere (to vote, elect, choose); it means “to be chosen; elected”. While the papal conclave might make us lean toward “elected”, I think “chosen” is a more fitting and general translation, although the word “elect” does hold great meaning in Christianity: those chosen by God are the “elect”.
Atque is a conjunction. It means more than just “and”; it is closer to “and yet” or “and also” or “but still” or “but moreover”.
Very literally, this phrase could be rendered as “to be pitied, and yet to be chosen”. I think “lowly, and yet chosen” is an apt (albeit slightly free) translation. It means that Bergoglio identifies himself with the poor – with the lowly, the humble, the pitiable, les misérables – and that, in spite of (or because of!) this poverty, God has chosen him.
The Latin phrase comes from a homily by the Venerable Bede on St. Matthew (Homily 21):
Vidit, inquit, Jesus hominem sedentem in telonio, Matthaeum nomine, et ait illi: “Sequere me.” Vidit autem non tam corporei intuitus, quam internae miserationis aspectibus. … Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, “Sequere me.” Sequere autem dixit imitare. Sequere dixit non tam incessu pedum, quam executione morum. Qui enim dicit se in Christo manere, debet sicut ille ambulavit, et ipse ambulare.
This excerpt is found in the Liturgy of the Hours, on September 21 (the feast of St. Matthew), for the Office of Readings; here is the English translation:
Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: “Follow me.” Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: “Follow me.” This following meant imitating the pattern of his life—not just walking after him. Saint John tells us: “Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
When these words are taken out of this context and used as a motto on their own, I think it is proper to translate them as I have: “to be pitied, and yet to be chosen”, or more familiarly, “lowly and yet chosen”.
These words are a succinct summary of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), where Mary praises God for having lifted up the lowly. These words embody the wisdom of God, who chooses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). These words summarize God’s continual love and “preference” for the poor, especially as the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34). In short, these words are a summary of the whole divine economy!
Bergoglio – Pope Francis – recognizes himself as lowly, but does not let his humility cause him to turn away from God’s wondrous choice of him. Rather, he sees his poverty as a sign of God’s election, although the world might think it otherwise. This is the way of the Church, the way of each of us: we must recognize ourselves as poor, as lowly, as “miserable”, as sinners in need of mercy, as people of unclean lips. And yet God reaches out to us as He did to Isaiah (Isaiah 6). God purifies us by His angel of mercy, by His Son Jesus Christ, touching our unclean lips with a burning coal from the heavenly altar, with an ember aflame with the love of Christ, and so removes our guilt and forgives our sin, and says to us, “Whom shall I send? Whom shall I choose?” And each of us, in gratitude for the gift, must have the humility to accept the gift and respond, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!” For, in the end, it is not us who choose God; He has chosen us (John 15:16).