Kevin White, a Ph.D. Candidate in History and a Protestant, puts the election of Pope Francis into a larger historical context in a recent post at MereOrthodoxy.com.
This new Pope Francis is already an unexpected sort of pope.
It is, of course, too early to declare a definitive take on Pope Francis’ reign. ... By looking at who he is, the name he took, and the first impression he gave, we can already see much that is significant. So far, the theme of his election seems to be “novelty following precedent.’
Francis is, as many have already pointed out, the first non-European pope in over a millennium. Better put, he is the first pope who is from neither the Mediterranean world nor from Europe. He is from Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants. It is easy for people from the United States to forget that we were not the only American country to experience large-scale immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. Argentina in particular was an immigration magnet, in various eras even encouraging mass immigration. Everyone talks about Germans in Argentina, but Italians were the largest immigrant group. As a second generation immigrant, he is a native Italian speaker with a Spanish first name. So while he is the first Latin American pope, he might be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent. The novelty of his national origin manages to be surprisingly in line with the tradition of Italian popes.
Pope Francis’ above-mentioned membership in the Society of Jesus is also historic. Since their start in 1540, the Jesuits have been distinctive for their “fourth vow”. In addition to the normal vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, they make a special vow of obedience to the pope. This fourth vow has often served to place members of the Society at the pope’s disposal for special tasks and missions. As a result, Jesuits have often been dispatched as “fixers”: commissioned to reform a monastery or other Catholic institution, tasked with establishing missions in unevangelized lands, or sent to preach against heretics (including Jansenists or Protestants like me).
Read more of his historicized perspective at the full post below.