This editorial ticked a pet peeve of mine: making comments on the pope’s hat and home: “But the mood music is altogether different and not just because of his personal charm and the decision to eschew all the fancy ecclesiastical haberdashery and grand palaces”.
At root of this distrust of papal hats is the heresy of dualism. The physical world isn’t seen as connected to the spiritual, and the particular heresy in this article has a gnostic bent because it sees hats (which are part of the world) as as bad.
The Catholic lens for seeing these things is that external clothes indicate a spiritual truth. For instance, the Papal Triple Crown (last worn in 1963):
Rather than a sign of papal opulence, the crown shows how the pope (like all the baptised) partakes of Christ’s triple role of Priest, Prophet, and King. Historically it was particularly important in showing those with only one crown (Kings) that they didn’t have authority over the Church. At various points in history, States regularly attempt to dictate to the Church what she should believe or who should be in charge of her. Even today China suppresses the Church by choosing Bishops instead of the Pope. If Pope Francis met President Xi Jinping wearing the Triple Crown, perhaps it might influence China to restore freedom to the Church because China would see outwardly how important it is to us inwardly.
The pope’s miter also has spiritual significance:
It is a sign of his office of Bishop, and these outward signs are much like how Prince Harry has a hat and clothes to denote his office in the military:
Using clothes to denote who we are internally has been studied extensively by sociologists. The seminal work was The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman. We all use aspects of our clothing to tell our life story because we are all human: our souls and bodies together make up who we are. This aspect of ourselves is what makes it easy to tell a hipster from a jock, or a cowboy from a gangster. In our daily life, we don’t live as dualists, so it seems foolish to me that a writer would expect a Pope to live up to a heresy any more non-Catholics live up to a heresy. The “haberdashery” is an indicator of who the pope is. Any change is not superfluous or merely external, but an indicator of his nature.
Because the popes nature has been transformed by his ordination to be the very vicar of Christ, he deserves (by his nature, not necessarily by his actions) the best we can offer. If he chooses anything less than that, it indicates personal humility. If he chooses to accept our best (and maybe wears that triple crown again!), it indicates to us the change in nature he has undergone. Either way it is a teaching moment to us.