A Presentation delivered to the NYG&B Heraldry Committee and the College of Arms Foundation
January 28, 2016
Many people know that I have been involved in the study and creation of both the science and art of heraldry for over thirty years. Not surprisingly, my particular area of interest is the heraldic customs of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, in many ways I owe my abiding interest in heraldry to the Church.
I became interested in heraldry as a boy, as many do, because we were studying the Middle Ages in school. Then, it was much more tied up in a romantic interest in chivalry and, as a result, it seemed like something from long ago and far away. After all I was an American (pronounce that ‘Mur-can’) and we had thrown off the shackles of tyranny by abolishing the monarchy on this side of the pond and tossed onto the dustbin of history all the trappings and frummery of kings, aristocracy and the like.
However, one day in the children’s section of my public library I came across a biography of the then reigning pope, now Bl. Paul VI. The book contained a beautiful line drawing of his coat of arms. My eldest brother, some ten years my senior, who was a font of knowledge for me on all manner of things told me, when I remarked on it, that it was the usual practice for all popes to have coats of arms. In fact, he went on to explain that all bishops and dioceses had coats of arms and he even pointed out to me the examples from our own church and parochial school where heraldic images could be found.
It was as if someone had opened a door to a secret garden for me. Suddenly, heraldry no longer seemed long ago or far away. Even as a boy I had already felt a vocation and the Church was very much a part of my daily life. Now, thanks to that little book and my brother’s copious general knowledge I had discovered that heraldry was alive and well and living in the Church all over the world…including right here in the USA. Now two things which occupied a great deal of my thought and interest; my religion and coats of arms, found a happy marriage and from that point on (I was about eleven years old at the time) I was hooked on what would go on to be the enduring passion and avocation of a lifetime.
Jumping ahead to my high school years I began to be a little frustrated with learning more about Church heraldry because most of the source material was limited to secular heraldry and almost all of it either about English or Scottish heraldic customs. (not that there’s anything wrong with THAT!) In the majority of these books the mention of ecclesiastical heraldry at all was scant and, frequently, limited to a brief discussion of the heraldic practices of the Church of England. I kept wondering why no one had ever written a book about heraldry as used in the Catholic Church. This was several years before I had even heard of Woodward’s “Treatise” or Galbreath’s “Papal Heraldry”. Then in 1979 I came across, again in that same wonderful public library to which I will always be so grateful, a book entitled, “Heraldry in the Catholic Church: It’s Origins, Customs and Laws” by the late Archbishop Bruno Heim. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Here in one volume which I later discovered was the first English printing of an expanded version of his earlier work, “Coutumes et Droits Heraldiques de l’Eglise” (published in 1949). It was the book I had been hoping and wishing for. The extraordinary “Year of Three Popes” (1978) during which Heim had designed the coats of arms of John Paul I and St. John Paul II occasioned its publication. It went on to become my “bible” of sorts and Heim came to be held in very high esteem by me, as well as a host of others, not only because of this book for for other personal reasons.
It was because of Heim that I went on to discover the history and traditions of Roman Catholic Church heraldry in the Western and Eastern rites as well as a bit more about Anglican heraldry. This book revealed that it wasn’t only popes, bishops and dioceses that made use of armorial bearings but all the ranks and levels of clergy. It blew away the idea, comparable in secular heraldry, that coats of arms are only for the mighty and powerful; the upper echelon of society. Heim explained that it is not only those at the highest end of the elaborate hierarchy within the Church who are entitled to use heraldic ensigns but all the clergy. Wanting very much to be a priest but never presuming to aspire to the episcopate I had imagined that just as only knights, barons and princes used coats of arms in the secular realm so, too, the lower rank of clergy to which I aspired would not be permitted a coat of arms. Now, I had come to realize that I couldn’t be more wrong. I realized that as a priest I could have and use a coat of arms!
This was a big deal (to me anyway).
In 1987 I was living in Latrobe, PA in a Benedictine monastery and studying in the seminary for the priesthood. The diocese in which that monastery was located, Greensburg, PA, was receiving a new bishop. All the printed matter concerning his installation contained his new coat of arms which I immediately recognized had been emblazoned by Bruno Heim. The explanation went on to say the coat of arms had been designed by a Dr. Geza Grosschmid, Ph.D. of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. I resolved to contact Dr. Grosschmid, a long-time friend and collaborator of Abp. Heim it turns out as I was later to discover, to see if he could teach me more. Thus began an sort of unofficial “apprenticeship” for me that lasted until his untimely death in 1992. He was the one who helped to direct and focus my studies, critique my designs (with an eye he gained from working with Heim) and expand the scope of my research. Through him I gained a connection, albeit a slight one, to Heim.
Heraldry with its origins in the XII C. we know began as something employed by those who engaged in battle as a means of identification. It entered the Church primarily via its use on armorial seals employed by the clergy in their capacity as magistrates. We shall not go into a lengthy explanation of either of those origins today as it has been treated extensively elsewhere and in several other talks given in this venue, including more than one by me! Canon Law regulates the use of seals in no less than fifteen separate Canons and, by extrapolation, that provides some regulation of armorial bearings as well. In addition, various Rules, Instructions and Regulations of the Roman Curia, as well as various official Instructions and Letters Motu Priorio of the Supreme Pontiffs have “regulated” heraldry in the Church.
However, two important points remain inescapably true: 1) The Catholic Church does not “grant” arms to the clergy of the Church (and respects the jurisdiction of those heraldic authorities in existence over the clerical as well as the lay people within their jurisdictions) and 2) there is NO heraldic authority (as a body) within the Roman Catholic Church. The various regulations concern themselves primarily with the external ornaments in a heraldic achievement as these indicate rank, office or special privilege. The Church does NOT concern itself with regulating the design on the shield (i.e. the blazon) which explains the appalling state of so much Catholic ecclesiastical heraldry.
For example, there is the decree of Innocent X in 1644 which forbade the use of secular marks of dignity (like crowns) in the arms of cardinals and the further decree of Benedict XV in 1915 extending that prohibition to all bishops (and by interpretation to all prelates…but not to all clergy, interestingly enough); the Motu Proprio of St. Pius X “Inter Multiplices Curas” of 1905 that regulates the insignia of many of the prelates and the confirmation of the validity of that document in 1934 by Pius XI in the Apostolic Constitution “Ad Incrementum Decoris” as well as the Instruction of the Secretariat of State under Bl. Paul VI on the vesture, titles and insignia proper to cardinals, Bishops and Prelates of the Minor Orders issued in 1969 (which discontinued the use of mitre and crozier in the arms of Cardinals and Bishops).
But what of all the so-called “Junior Clergy”, those below the rank of bishop? Some maintain that there is no heraldry proper to them and they couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s briefly examine what has evolved over time to indicate in heraldry the varying ranks of the lower clergy within the Catholic Church.
PRIEST: In his excellent book Heim states plainly, “Those who object to a simple priest using an ecclesiastical hat (on his coat of arms) hold this position arbitrarily, and without the support of any ecclesiastical decision, code or regulation. It must be remembered that all priests belong to the same ecclesiastical order and are thus possessed of equal sacerdotal and other privileges.” (p.125) So, the priest ensigns the shield with a simple black galero that has two tassels pendant from it.
DEANS & MINOR SUPERIORS: These are priests who do not necessarily hold any ecclesiastical rank higher than that of priest but whose functions (office) place them in a special category. They make use of a black galero with four tassels pendant from it. The tassels may be arranged one hanging below the other or they may hang side by side from a median knot. This true for secular offices (like Dean or Rector) and also for offices held by Professed Religious, such as Provincial Superior or Prior.
CANONS: Whether Religious (Canons Regular) or secular Canons attached to a Collegiate or Cathedral church, none of which exist in the USA, they make use of a black galero with six tassels pendant on either side. Some contend that Canons Regular may use a galero of whichever color corresponds to the color of their habit. For example Norbertine Canons wear a habit that is all white so the galero and tassels would all be white. As the heraldic privilege is attached to the rank of Canon and not to a particular Religious Community I don’t agree with such a custom. Nevertheless, it exists as a valid argument.
MAJOR SUPERIORS: Here we mean those clerics who exercise Ordinary Jurisdiction over persons in the internal and external forum, hence, canonically considered prelates. These would include Vicars General, Vicars Episcopal and Abbots. They all make use of a black galero from which hangs twelve black tassels from black cords. The same rule about the color of the habit determining the color of the galero, cords and tassels used for Canons Regular is also frequently applied to Abbots as well but I don’t agree for the same reason as above.
In addition, the Abbot employs the use of a veiled crozier placed vertically behind the shield. The veil or sudarium, dates from a time when abbots did not yet enjoy the privilege of all the pontificals, including pontifical gloves, and the veil served to protect the staff of the crozier from soil and perspiration. It remains now in heraldry only and marks one of the few exceptions to the use of the crozier in the coats of arms of persons.
There is also the office of Ordinary of a specific Ordinariate (such as the newly formed Anglican Ordinariates). Such Ordinaries, although not bishops, enjoy the use of pontifical insignia. Therefore, it was suggested by some, including myself, that they should make use of external ornaments that include the black galero with twelve black tassels and the crozier (to indicate their status as an Ordinary) but without the sudarium to differentiate it from the crozier of an Abbot.
It is worth noting that many who hold these offices, Abbots excepted, often are promoted to a rank of one of the three kinds of Roman Prelates and in such cases would make use of a galero proper to that rank.
MONSIGNORI: These are the clergy who have received Roman Honors from the Pope and, as such, are technically members of the Pontifical Household. There are three levels or ranks and all are addressed as “Reverend Monsignor”.
Prothonotaries Apostolic: They are further divided into Prothonotaries Apostolic “de numero” (participatium) and Prothonotaries Apostolic Supernumerary. The Former make up the College of Notaries of the Church and also serve as Canons of the Papal Basilicas in Rome; the latter are those prelates so honored around the world. They all make use of a purple galero from which twelve amaranth red tassels hang from amaranth red cords.
Prelates of Honor: This middle level makes use of a purple galero with twelve purple tassels hanging from purple cords.
Chaplains to His Holiness: This lowest level make use of a black galero from which hang twelve purple tassels from purple cords.
DEACONS: There is no officially sanctioned external heraldic ornament for Permanent Deacons in the Catholic Church. This is partly so because when heraldry first grew and flourished the office of Permanent Deacon did not exist in the Church. Rather, by that time it had receded to being the final step on the way to priesthood and, as such, only Transitional Deacons existed. It was not considered necessary to devise a heraldic emblem for an office held only temporarily. With the revival of the Permanent Diaconate in 1970 the matter should probably well have been addressed but has not been.
There are some authors who contend that on the authority of the Holy See Deacons are to make use of a crest of a ciborium surrounded by a humeral veil like mantling and include on the shield a chief with a bend to suggest a stole worn diagonally in the manner of Deacons. This is FALSE. Such a contention is made up out of whole cloth entirely and enjoys no sanction from the Church. It is ludicrous to suggest that after replacing the secular crest with the ecclesial galero the Church would then devise a crest specific to a particular rank of clergy, especially when a heraldic crest is specific to an individual. In addition, it makes no sense to think that the Church which, again, does not concern itself with the blazon on the shield, would now mandate a chief to be added to the armorial blazon of the arms of Deacons especially when one considers that married men may be ordained to the Diaconate and this could very well mean that such a chief would then be borne by their children, who may not be Deacons, when they inherit the arms from their father.
In the Church of England (and by extension the whole Anglican Communion) there is a provision for Deacons to ensign the shield with a black galero that has no tassels or cords. This was determined by a 1976 Earl Marshal’s Warrant. There are those who contend that such an ensign should be adopted for use by Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church as well. I have not yet fully made up my mind. I don’t oppose the idea from a heraldic or artistic standpoint. As an external ornament it would not be “inheritable” by a Deacon’s heirs but I would rather the Holy See issue an Instruction to clarify the matter or otherwise it remains simply borrowing from another heraldic tradition.
When asked I recommend that armigerous Deacons do one of the following: a) Make use of the shield and motto alone. There is no hard and fast rule that one MUST employ helm, mantle and crest in a heraldic achievement. Indeed the only thing “necessary” is the shield. b) Make use of a “secular” manner of a coat of arms with helm, mantle and crest, especially if the arms are destined to be inherited. c) Compromise by making use of both an ecclesiastical and a secular version of the coat of arms. d) Employ some kind of heraldic augmentation to the shield which would be removed when the arms are inherited (such as an escutcheon in pretense or a canton) or incorporate a charge into the design of the arms that alludes to Diaconal ministry but would not seem inappropriate or offensive when the arms are used by later generations not unlike charges that allude to the occupation of the original bearer but do not indicate the occupation of subsequent generations who inherit the coat of arms.