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To err is human, but Lesus forgives

News outlets are reporting a Latin-related mix-up with the new Vatican medallions honoring the ascension of Pope Francis. The medallions were to bear a quotation from the Venerable Bede’s homily on St. Matthew, Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi sequere me. As I noted in an earlier blog post, this quotation provided the three-word motto on the Pope’s coat of arms, Miserando atque eligendo.

Unfortunately, the Italian mint replaced Iesus (Latin for “Jesus,” of course) with Lesus, presumably mistaking the capital I for a lowercase L, given that the quotation appears in all caps. Note that the medallion text uses Roman-era letter conventions, such as V for U, so the correct letter would have been I, not J as most news outlets are reporting.

Would the erroneous quotation have some other meaning? No, because lesus with an L isn’t a word. The closest Latin words that come to mind are lessus (meaning “lamentation”) and laesus (meaning “hurt” or “injured,” the fourth principal part of the verb laedo).

By coincidence, online research shows that a Chilean 50-peso coin minted in 2008 made exactly the opposite error: an L mistakenly appeared as an I. Surprisingly, it took 10 months for anyone to notice that error; this is even more surprising because the error appeared in the country’s name, represented as “CHIIE,” rather than in an obscure Latin quotation from an 8th-century text. If Pope Francis were from Chile instead of neighboring Argentina, I’d wonder if the same engraver had botched both jobs. Well, to quote a different Pope: to err is human; to forgive, divine.