The Ring of The Fisherman

Today will be a day of “lasts.” Overnight, people held a candlelight vigil to mark Benedict’s last night sleeping in the papal quarters. This morning, he had an audience with the cardinals who would normally have gathered to pay their last respects and bury him. Instead, they each wished him well, and then will turn to the task of choosing his successor.

And later today, the Papal signet ring–the annulus piscatoris–will be smashed using a silver hammer. In keeping with ancient tradition, this is to prevent documents from being forged after the pope’s death, since that was the point of a signet ring: to seal a document.

It hasn’t been used for this function since the 19th century (a stamp and red ink serve the same purpose), and indeed some recent popes haven’t worn the signet. Benedict did, showing the traditional image of Peter the fisher of men, casting his nets from a boat.

This is Peter, who Jesus ordered to “put out into deep water.” That deep water is where the danger is for a fisherman. It’s also where the fish are. As Thomas Aquinas noted, if the highest aim of a captain was to keep his ship safe, he’d keep in the harbor. But that’s not what ships–or the barque of Peter–are built for.



‘night Papa

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • TracyB

    My first reaction was: Honestly, the vatican sounds like a goofy fraternity. How many traditions can they hold onto, and for what? Please don’t try to tell me this is deeply meaningful. It is a waste of time and money. Like matching red robes.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    “Please don’t try to tell me…” Okay then! You either get that the world and all that’s in it, from the lowest blade of grass to the trappings of an office established by the Incarnate Christ, is imbued with resonance and layers of meaning, or … you don’t. Your loss.

    If you refuse to understand, that’s really your problem, not ours. “Waste of time and money?” Really? I guess you think lots of people will get some use out of signet (worth not very much) with the name “Benedict XVI” on it.

    You remind me of Terry Eagleton’s criticism of Richard Dawkins: someone who thinks ‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn.

  • Joshua Koepp

    Thanks, Thomas. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Theodore Seeber

    If you think this is odd, what about the blanket boy in a high mass?