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Black Pope

The black Pope is a nineteenth-century neologism imputed upon the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. It attests to the influential role of the Jesuit Superior General who has traditionally worn a black habit in comparison to the Pope who wears white. Its earliest phrasing was popularised in fictional works like Jean Hippolyte Michon’s Le Jésuite (1865) where the Jesuit General Jan Roothan returned to the Gesù in Rome to a rapturous crowd: “Celui-là, disaient-elles, est le Pape noir, le véritable Pape. Le Pape blanc n’est rien à Rome sans le Pape noir. Evviva il Papa nero!” (This one, they said, is the black Pope, the real Pope. The white Pope is nothing in Rome without the black Pope. Long live the black Pope!) In contemporary times, the popular press has continued to employ the black Pope motif. For example, a January 2008 headline by the Reuters correspondent Stephen Brown read: Spaniard becomes Jesuits’ new “black pope”.