EWTN Catholic Q&A
coat of arms
Question from liz on 04-25-2005:

What did Pope Benedict XVI choose for his coat of arms and what is the meaning?

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 05-03-2005:

At the time of his appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Archbishop-elect Ratzinger was obligated by custom to adopt a coat-of arms. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote of his choices in his memoirs, Milestones, with a meditation on its design, giving an explanation for each of the elements. There are three key symbols, a Moor wearing a crown, a scallop shell, and a bear with a pack on its back.

The first element, the Moor, was required for his coat-of-arms as it had been the symbol of the Archbishops of Munich and Freising for a millennium. Called the "Moor of Freising," the image has defied explanation, and no one is entirely certain how the tradition began. Cardinal Ratzinger suggested in his reflection that it depicted the Church's universality and the truth that "you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

The scallop shell, the first of two personal additions, has long been used as the emblem of pilgrims, such as those who journeyed to Santiago de Compostela, and was intended to suggest that "here we have no lasting city" (Heb.13:14). The shell also evokes the teaching of St. Augustine who used it to express the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The great saint once discovered a child on the beach trying to fill a hole in the sand with water from the sea by scooping in water with the scallop shell. For Augustine, such a fruitless effort mirrored his own labors to comprehend the vast mystery of God.

The bear with a backpack was a symbol from the legend of Freising's patron, St. Corbinian. While traveling to Rome, Corbinian met a bear that attacked the horse which was carrying the saint's baggage. To punish the bear, Corbinian forced it to carry his pack all the way to Rome. For Ratzinger the bear suggested the weight of episcopal authority and also Augustine's meditation on Psalm 73 and his lesson on the tests of faith.

These symbols were retained when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI and approved his new coat-of-arms.