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Editorial: Someone needs to correct the papal prayerbook. 'Good Humor Prayer' gets comically misattributed

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

There are lots of well-known quotes that for one reason or another get attributed to the wrong person. Winston Churchill, in particular, gets credited with some he didn’t originate. And Rahm Emanuel gets widely credited with the so-called Rahm’s rule, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” even though that was a restatement of a dictate in Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”

So accuracy hounds got to work when Pope Francis recently urged an eclectic group of comedians, the likes of Stephen Colbert and Whoopi Goldberg, meeting in Rome with the pontiff at his invitation, to look up the Prayer for Good Humor, which Francis said originated with Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More (St. Thomas More to Catholics) was, of course, the 16th century English philosopher and high-ranking government official whom Henry VIII had beheaded when More wouldn’t acknowledge Henry as head of the church. Popes, naturally, revere More for that act of heroism (or folly, depending on your point of view) in defense of the Church of Rome.

Apparently, there’s more than a little bit of skepticism around whether More — a religious zealot not generally regarded as a laugh riot in his time — really penned this light-hearted supplication. As New York Times opinion writer Peter Coy observed in a recent short piece asserting that More’s purported authorship of this prayer is almost surely spurious, the language doesn’t exactly fit More’s severe style.

Give me a sense of humor, Lord.

Give me the power to see a joke.

To get some happiness from life

 

And pass it on to other folk.

A More scholar in 1972 pinned the source to an Englishman who lived nearly 400 years after More and died aged 19 in the famously bloody Battle of the Somme in World War I. Coy notes wryly the author probably was a Protestant.

The pope told the comics he’s been reciting the prayer regularly for 40 years. Indeed, he offers the Prayer for Good Humor to the martyred saint himself, the pope has said in the past. Proper credit aside, it’s a nice prayer, and God knows we all can use more laughter these days.

For those of us in journalism, we offer grateful thanks to editors, who often (but not always, as careful readers remind us) keep us from publishing such canonical errors. Catholic doctrinal controversies aside, even the pope isn’t infallible and, it seems, could use an editor. So could we all.

There are worse mistakes. At least His Holiness didn’t spell Thomas More’s name wrong.

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